Every Spring Equinox, I join a circle of women who gather and celebrate the coming spring by telling the story of Ostara, a goddess from Europe from whose name the word “Easter” comes. Since elements of her story are part of the Easter tradition being observed today all over the world, I thought I would tell her story and how I think it is as meaningful for today’s world as it was hundreds of years ago.
Ostara was a gentle and compassionate goddess who loved to take walks through the forest, reveling in the chirps of the birds, the blooms of the delicate woodland flowers, and the romping of the animals who made the forest their home. One day in very early spring, just about the time of the Spring Equinox, she was walking and shivering because the season had been especially cold this year. She came upon a small bird, frozen and close to dying, unable to fly away to someplace where it could be warm and live. She quickly transformed the bird into a rabbit so it could hop away to a nice, cozy hutch to recover. She had to work so fast, however, that the transformation was not complete, and from that time on, the bird-made-rabbit still lay eggs. Every year, at about the time of its rescue, the grateful rabbit would hop through the forest, placing beautifully decorated eggs along Ostara’s path for her enjoyment.
I love so many elements of this story. I am moved by Ostara’s deep love for each being of the forest, that a goddess would stop to save one small bird. To me, this is an important message of spring, when each small spring bloom seems so precious because it has been so long since we have seen flowers. Each baby animal and bird needs nurturing by its parents as well as by all of us, even if this means not disturbing a nest, no matter how much we would like to look at the babies. So many hearts need healing after this past long winter that has held so much sorrow all over the world. When so many deaths have been counted in the thousands from both natural and human-made disasters, focusing our loving attention on each small being is an affirmation of the sacredness of every life and the spectacular wonder of our planet.
I love that Ostara turns her focus so quickly from enjoying her forest walk to compassionate service. She reminds me of Tara, who sometimes is shown sitting in a lotus position with one leg extended, ready to spring into action whenever she “hears the cries of the world.” Ostara reminds me that when I need help, it is okay to peep that I need a little transformation and that help will come. Assistance may not come in the form I expect and life may never be the same as it once was, but assistance will appear, even if it is just me identifying the problem so that I can find again my own inner power to solve it.
Like everyone else, I sometimes hesitate to help because I do not feel that I am the best for the job; that maybe if I stay behind, someone else who is more perfect will come along to do the job better. I sometimes doubt my own abilities to do even those things I feel called as a sacred mission to do. Ostara reminds us that we do not need to be perfect to help. A half a rabbit is better than a dead bird. And sometimes our imperfect help makes an even more perfect outcome – without Ostara’s almost-but-not-quite transformation, our Easter baskets would be much less beautiful, just as sometimes the help that isn’t quite what we had planned causes us to be more resilient, with a wider experience, and sometimes leads us in a direction we hadn’t mapped for ourselves but turns out to be just the right way to go.
Finally, I love that the rabbit expresses its gratitude in such a tangible way – those beautiful eggs along the forest path. It is so easy to feel gratitude without expressing it. I find that so many times people do for others and never know how much their help is appreciated. I’m sure that there have been years when Ostara was sorrowful during her Spring Equinox walks for one reason or another and was cheered by seeing those lovely eggs and being reminded that what she does makes a difference.
I think that this year I will celebrate this day by finding one person who has helped me without being asked, who always springs into action at the first sign that someone is having trouble, and who does what she or he can without worrying that what is done is perfect, and find a “colorful egg” way to say thanks. Maybe I will write a check their favorite foundation. Maybe I will bake a cake and leave it on their doorstep. Maybe I will write a note of gratitude and ask how I can make their next difficult task a little easier. Maybe I will simply take a walk through the forest and thank the Earth by looking for small beings who need help – a plant that is growing on the path and needs to be moved out of the way of hiking feet perhaps – and being Ostara for the day.