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Blutwölfin
Tuesday, June 21st, 2005, 05:27 PM
by Kveldulf Hagan Gundarsson and Gunnora Hallakarva


As the days lengthen, the earth thaws and starts its greening after the long, dark, cold winter. These are the early days of spring. Our ancestors would be busy now, making final repairs to their plows, preparing their draft animals to pull them, checking the seed corn to be sure that it was ready to plant. The success of the next year depended entirely on the crop that was about to be put in the earth. Our ancestors knew this, and thus turned to our Gods and Goddesses to ensure the fertility of the earth, the viability of the seed, and the growth and abundance of the crops that would keep them alive through the next hard winter. The rituals that marked the spring planting time are still known by name to us today, called "Easter," or to Asatruar, Eostre, or Ostara in the Anglo-Saxon or Old High German tongues of our ancestors.

The feast of Ostara takes its name from the Goddess Eostre, of whom little is known, except that she must have been a Goddess of spring, fertility, rebirth, and the rising sun. Her name is etymologically connected with both the "east," and with a word for "shining; glorious." The Ostara worship was so strong in the Germanic lands that the somewhat similar Christian feast of rebirth and renewal was given the Goddess's name. Bede recounts that the Christian Paschal feast was named after the heathen Goddess Eostre, and so this celebration is still named Easter among the Christians. There is no specific date on which the Ostara feast must be held. The three mightiest times at this turning of the year are the equinox itself and the new and full moons following the equinox. It is probably better in general to celebrate Ostara during the waxing moon.

Ostara represented many complex, interrelated beliefs to our ancestors. The sun was reborn from its winter banishment to thaw the earth, making it ready for the plow. People felt reborn as well, escaping from close, snow-bound confinement into the new warmth. The Gods and Goddesses of fertility were active once again in the land, causing new growth everywhere. Women often were showing the first swelling signs of pregnancy, engendered in the winter months when bed meant both warmth and entertainment for they and their men. As the wilds burgeoned with new life, so too would the lands inhabited by man, bearing crops in the furrows, kine in the fields, and salmon in the streams.

Ostara is the brightest and most joyful ceremony of the Teutonic year. It is the time in which we celebrate the renewed presence of the Gods and Goddesses of fertility among us, and their marriages which ensure the fertility of the land. Ostara marks the victory of Sunna over the wolves which pursued her down into winter's dark, and Thorburnr's victory over the Frost-Giants. We celebrate the end of winter, and joyously exchange the cold for summer's healing warmth.


Fertility

Perhaps the primary function of the rites of Spring is promoting fertility. The timing of Ostara places it after the spring thaw, yet before planting, to maximize the effect of the blessings of the Gods and Goddesses on the fields. Probably the best known symbol of fertility among our folk is the egg. As one would expect, the egg remains the symbol which modern culture associates most thoroughly with Easter. Painted clay eggs (white with black and red stripes) were found in a Germanic cemetery in Worms (ca. 320 CE) as part of a child's burial goods. The egg is, of course, one of the mightiest symbols of new life, fertility, and "good luck."

It should be noted that among modern Germans today, Eier or "eggs" is still a slang term for a man's testicles. Eggs were often associated with the spring fire rituals that enhanced men's virile power. In the Norse-settled islands north of Scotland (the Orkneys and Shetlands), it was the custom to rub a bull's testes before going out to gather eggs from the cliffs, saying, "I rub the bull's eggs, and I get the gull's eggs ..." The bird's eggs and the other generative organs (ovaries may be assumed as well as testicles) hold the same store of aldri and hamingja; they are the very source of life.

Eggs are still used today in a number of fertility rituals. In Sweden, eggs were thrown over the field during plowing. In Germany, they were hurled in the air before the sowing began "to ensure that the grain would grow as high." In the Orkneys and Shetlands there were certain traditions concerning the Easter eggs. On several days during the Easter season, "Boys went around ... with a mitten begging eggs and would get one or two from each family.... On Sunday a lot of them lit a fire in the hills and boiled their eggs near some plain green, threw up their eggs to see which ones would be longest unbroken, and then ate them." The height of the throws and the "luck" inherent in the unbroken eggs were taken as predictors of the growth of the crops and the luck of the year.

Our ancestors also observed Ostara as one of the "Fire Festivals," in which a bonfire, torches, or other flames became a focal point of the celebrations. The use of fire is directly symbolic of the sun, and perhaps of Freyr's solar aspects as well, and hence a symbol of fertility. The best survival of fire being used at Ostara, surprisingly, is found among the German-descended inhabitants of Fredricksburg, Texas, where on Holy Saturday the inhabitants still light bonfires on the tops of nearby hills. In Germany, sun-wheels were made from oakwood, straw, and green branches, and brought to the top of the highest hills.

There the wheels were set aflame, and the burning sun-wheel sent rolling down the hill and through the fields of the villages below, literally bringing the might of the sun and the warmth of its rays which thaw the earth into the fields which were to be plowed and sown. This custom remained as at least a dim echo in northern England as well, where instead of a flaming sun-wheel, brightly colored eggs were rolled down hillsides on Easter Monday instead. In both Germany and Czechoslovakia, an egg which was lain on Thursday was taken, colored green for fertility, and buried in the largest wheat field.

After burial, the egg was flanked on either side with a burning "hail cross." The "Thursday egg" is an obvious remnant of the worship of Thorburnr, here invoked in his fertility aspect to bless the fields, and as the God of Storm to protect the new crops against springtime hail stones, while the burning cross is a Christianized remnant of the old sun wheel, such as described above. Charred sticks saved from the fires were kept and taken home to protect the home against hail, fire, and lightning, and the ashes of the fires often spread in the fields for fertility. One common belief associated with the fire festivals was that the men alone were allowed to take part, and women were kept strictly away from the vicinity of the fire, suggesting that men will absorb the might and fertility of Freyr or Thorburnr when they participate in such a rite.

Today's Asatruar might adapt these spring fire rites to modern use by using one of the "Catherine's Wheel" type of fireworks, or actually construct a small sun wheel, placed high atop a pole to be lit. Rather than taking the burning wheel around one's home or apartment, burning candles or torches might be lit from it, and be used to carry the flame around instead.

Another symbol of fertility that our ancestors associated with Ostara is the hare or rabbit. Christian belief has kept the overtly pagan hare as a part its Easter celebration in the guise of the friendly Easter bunny - an especially odd feature, as traditional Christian art uses the hare to represent lust. Hares mate when very young, and the does can produce several litters each year, hence the common vulgar expression, "To **** like a bunny."

This conception of the hare brings to mind another Vanic deity, the Goddess Freyja, who is compared in the Eddic poem "Hyndluljodh" to the she-goat Heithrun, running nightly among the male goats in her lust. German children still build nests for the Easter hare to lay its eggs in. In America, Germany, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, and parts of France, children hunt for eggs left by the Easter hare in the fields, orchards, stables, and home. n Germany, a rich buttery bread, decorated with almonds or currants, is often baked in the shape of a hare, as are sweet cakes which may contain whole boiled eggs in the middle. These, like the eggs, are eaten for fertility, luck, and health.


Rebirth

In the Poetic Edda survive what seem to be ritual dramas which concern themselves with rebirth, fertility, and spring. "Skirnismal" is the greatest of these, telling of Freyr's love for the beautiful giantess Gerdr, the descent of his servant into the land of the etins to recover her, and the ultimate winning of the maiden. From the time of the Bronze Age rock carvings, the figure of the fertility God was associated with the sun-wheel. Phallic God figures depicted with the sun wheel as their head or body are frequently shown mating with a long-haired woman, and stags are often depicted with the sun-wheel tangled in their antlers, or the sun-wheel itself is shown with stag's antlers rising from it.

These motifs seem to have attached themselves to Freyr, who has frequently been identified as having "solar aspects," and who fights with a stag's antler as his weapon at Ragnarok. In "Skirnismal," Freyr himself does not descend into the land of giants. That is left to Skirnir, his human servant, a figure who recalls to us the Frodhi-kings of Sweden as almost an avatar of the God. Skirnir, as Freyr's ambassador, goes down into the black and cold of death:

Night is it now, now we shall fare
over moist mountains, to the thurses' throng;
scatheless we both shall 'scape their might,
or else both be o'erborne by the etins.

The greeting given to Skirnir at the edge of the land of the giants shows it to be the land of death: "art thou doomed, or dead already" - the warders of the place do not expect the living. Like the sun, which goes down into the long nights of winter at the time of Yule, the feast of Freyr himself, Skirnir descends into darkness. And like the sun, he wins through, returning from death to give tidings of life, and to promise the wedding of Freyr and Gerdr in the grove of Barri in the spring. "Svipdagsmal" likewise contains the same basic motif.

The idea of Ostara as a time of rebirth of the sun is reflected in a variety of folk practices. In Heidelberg, schoolchildren would go about singing Winter heraus / Sommer herein! (Winter out / Summer in!) and be given pretzels and eggs. In German Moravia, after the children had carried an effigy representing Death out of the town, they would beg for eggs "as payment for Carrying away Death."

The Ostara hunt for the egg is also originally a German tradition. In South Germany, the eggs were deliberately put in a place where the children looking for them would be stung by nettles or scratched by thorns before they were able to reach them. This, like the mock switchings or beatings with green branches which are also common at Ostara time, symbolizes the awakening of the soul through the prick of the thorn - the bright counterpart to the dark "sleep-thorn" of Norse legend. The pricking or switching represents death, while the egg remains a symbol of rebirth.

Groups which practice "Norse Wicca" and some Vanic Asatruar often take this theme as the death and rebirth of the God/sun in winter, and celebrate spring with the "Great Marriage" which re-enacts the union of the God and Goddess. There is some evidence that this type of ritual marriage may have been practiced by our ancestors as well, not only texts such as "Skirnismal" and "Svipdagsmal," but the sagas and classical sources give similar evidence as well.

These sources suggest that the figure of Freyr or Nerthus which was transported around the countryside was provided with a human "husband" or "wife," and in "Gunnars thattr," the delight of the folk over the obvious pregnancy of the Freyr's gydhja seems to confirm the idea of the Great Marriage as a valid part of Asatru belief. Both "Skirnismal" and "Svipdagsmal" contain elements which can be used in creating a dramatic Spring ritual, which might be performed on the night before the dawn celebration of Ostara proper, such as the ritual described in Kveldulf Gundarsson's forthcoming book, Teutonic Religion.

Those who wish to enact the Great Marriage as well can do so, using rituals that range from the ideal actual act of intercourse in a freshly-ploughed furrow, to the symbolic act used by some Wiccan groups which mimes the sex act but does not actually involve intercourse, to using a leek to represent the God and plunging it into a cup or horn of water drawn from a fresh-running stream which represents the Goddess. If the Great Marriage is used as a part of the Ostara celebrations, the rite should probably also be placed on the eve before Ostara as well.

Also associated with the theme of rebirth are "washing rites." Tacitus recounts that the statue of Nerthus and all the trappings, fittings, and furniture associated with the annual spring procession were washed in the holy lake each year, after which the priests who had viewed the holy figure were put to death. The immersion in water symbolized both death (drowning) but also the waters of birth and the emergence from the womb. Similarly, folk customs have preserved rites involving washing or sprinkling with water which may have similar meanings.

In the north of England on Easter Monday and Tuesday, groups of women would surround any man they came across and "heave" him three times over their heads, then sprinkle him with water and kiss him. The next day, the men would do the same thing to the women. This may go back to the name-giving rite in which the newborn was lifted up and sprinkled with water, and at which time she or he could also be given "luck" and surrounded with magical protection. Since Ostara is the time of rebirth, that springing might can be used so that the community can bless its folk as if they too were reborn. Keeping this in mind, another useful portion of our Ostara rites might include a ceremony such as the lighthearted one given above, or simply ritual bathing by the Asatruar participating in the Ostara rituals to symbolize rebirth.


Renewal

Another idea embodied in the rites of Ostara is that of renewal. Participation in the Ostara rites confers upon the worshippers many benefits, not just fertility but luck and health as well. A number of folk beliefs survive which illustrate this idea. On the Orkney island of Rousay, "children were always given eggs to eat. Well-off families encouraged each child to eat as many as he could; in poorer families, children often had to share an egg." This belief in the might of eggs eaten at Ostara time also appears in Germany. In Oldenburg it is said that a weakly man should "eat a few more Easter eggs" and a 17th-century Rhineland source quotes the local proverb, Auf Ostern iss hart gesotene Eyer, dann bist du das gantze Jahr gesundt - "At Easter eat hard-boiled eggs, then you'll be healthy the whole year." This is particularly so if the egg is eaten just before sunrise on Ostara, which will ward off illness.


Ostara Eggs

One of the chief Ostara traditions which has survived in modern Germanic culture is the coloring and painting of eggs at this season. This custom seems to be limited to the Germanic countries, Slavic countries, and America. In Scotland and Ireland the custom is virtually unknown, and the feast passes with little remark, as Kveldulf found out through personal experience. In Germany, on the other hand, the bakery windows each spring are filled with the most beautifully and elaborately painted eggs, which are hung on flowering branches to make "egg trees." Easter is celebrated in Germany more enthusiastically than it is anywhere else in the world. The German Easter decorations go up a good month before the festival is due, and Germans often have parties, egg hunts, and so forth weeks in advance of Easter itself. It is even possible to buy pre-colored hard-boiled eggs in all the stores during the Easter season.

It is traditional in many places to keep Easter eggs or shells all year to ward the family and cattle against harm, and they are also used very specifically as a charm against hail and lightning. For this reason, care and thought should go into the creation of egg decorations, egg-trees, boiled and decorated eggs for eating, and hare cakes. However, Ostara is a time for rejoicing, not a grim and dour rite, so involve your entire family and Kindred in the fun of creating your eggs and other Ostara trappings.

The eggs for Ostara can either be hard-boiled so that they may be eaten, or the eggs may be "blown" while raw, removing the yolk and white while leaving the shell mostly intact for use as hanging ornaments to decorate your home, or to hang on an egg-tree. The actual traditional method of preparing eggs to keep as decorations and to ensure luck over the next year is to decorate raw eggs: the contents of the shell will eventually dry up completely over time. The traditional decorated raw egg is, theologically speaking, the best type of egg to keep, as the "might" of the egg remains within the shell, albeit in a slumbering form. However, if you choose to decorate raw eggs, remember that they are fragile, and if they break before they are completely dry, they will release noxious, "rotten-egg" fumes! Preparation of Ostara eggs can begin as much as a month before the actual Ostara rite is held, whenever it seems that winter is starting to end and summer to begin.


Blowing Eggs

To blow an egg out, make a small hole with a needle at either end, being sure to pierce the yolk. Place your mouth over one end and blow gently until all the contents are out. If this doesn't seem to work, either you're not blowing hard enough, the hole is too small, or you haven't broken the yolk membrane. Reserve the raw egg for use in baking hare cakes or for breakfast on Ostara morning. To hang the blown egg, take a piece of wire which is an inch or so longer than the egg and make a loop in one end. You can either make a hanger out of the wire itself by twisting the bottom end till it won't pass through the hole in the egg, or else tie a piece of yarn or ribbon to the wire and pull it through the egg, tying it off at the bottom.

A traditional use of blown egg shells at Easter time in Texas and Mexico is to make "cascarones," confetti-filled eggs which Asatruar living in Texas often use to break over Ostara celebrants. The might of the egg is represented by the confetti, and is a much nicer way of getting the luck of the egg transferred to a person than performing the same maneuver with a raw egg. To make cascarones, take the blown egg and remove a circle of shell carefully at one end. Fill with confetti, then glue a small piece of tissue paper over the hole to keep the contents in place. Cascarones must either be decorated before the larger hole is made, or spray-painted after filling.


Decorating Eggs

Blown eggs are best painted with a base coat of spray-paint, as it's easier to avoid leakage and the paint itself helps to strengthen the egg. It is easy to hang the eggs securely in an outdoors area, then spray a thin, even coat over the egg. Let each coat dry completely, and add additional coats until the desired base color is achieved. If you are not doing dozens of eggs, then purchasing several different cans of different-colored spray paints may not be feasible.

Instead, try coloring your eggs with tempera or with water soluble, quick-drying acrylic paints. Both temperas and acrylics are generally non-toxic and washable, which makes them ideal for use by children. Tempera or acrylics give you the brightest colors and allow for a great deal of detail in egg design. First put on a base coat or two in the color you want, then hang the egg up until it is dry. After this, you can paint whatever designs you wish on over it. If you mean to hang your eggs outside, or to keep them for more than one season, you can shellac them with several coats of clear spray-on polyurethane, either matte (for a natural finish) or gloss (for a lacquered look). Enough of this makes the eggs not only waterproof, but virtually unbreakable.

Hard-boiled or raw eggs are best dyed with either professional "Easter egg" dye or food coloring mixed with a little bit of vinegar. It is very important to use non toxic dyes when decorating eggs which will be eaten. While it is certainly alright to use commercial decorating kits, some folks prefer to use a more traditional means of decorating their eggs. The simplest traditional method, though it requires a delicate touch, is the scratch-technique: after the egg is dyed, use a steel engraving pen or other sharp tool such as a hat-pin or Exacto knife to carve a pattern of white lines on the surface of the egg. Another method which can create very elegant-looking eggs is applique.

Before the egg is dyed, an item such as a flower, a frond of fern, a piece of lace, or a cut piece of paper is bound onto the egg, and this leaves an undyed area in the shape of the appliqued object. A little rubber cement or a glue-stick can be used to cause your applique item to adhere to the egg, or if you are coordinated and have the ability to melt wax or paraffin safely, you can dip the applique into molten wax and apply it to the egg.

Another, perhaps more accessible, technique, is that of waxing. At its simplest, this merely involves drawing a design on the egg with a wax crayon before dying; afterwards, when the egg is gently heated and the wax wiped off with a warm rag, the design is left in white. The designer must be careful; even if a mistake in wax is removed, it leaves a greasy place where the color does not take. A more ambitious egg-maker can then cover the colored areas with wax and dye the white parts another color, eventually getting as many shades on one egg as he or she has the patience to achieve. This is the technique used to create the elaborate Ukrainian eggs, and at the most elaborate, utilizes a tiny copper funnel with a handle, in which wax is heated and then applied carefully to the egg.

Always dye your palest colors first, shading gradually towards the darkest. After all colors are applied, the egg is heated gently and the wax carefully wiped off, revealing the multi-colored pattern. Another simple wax technique leaves a colored design on a white background. Simply dye the eggs, wax the design onto it, and then soak it in sauerkraut juice or a vinegar solution, the acid of which removes the dye everywhere except under the wax. For a relief effect, wax of different colors can be applied to the egg and left on it. Dyed eggs can also be painted with acrylic.

Some natural dyes which have been used for eggs are carrot, red cabbage, and beets (for red); saffron and gorse flowers (yellow, orange, or brown, depending on the cooking times); spinach, artichoke leaves, sage, mint (green); beetroot, sunflower seeds, elderberry fruit/bark (purple); gall nuts, oak bark, elder twigs or bark (black). Onion peel can be used get any color from yellow to red to dark brown. The egg is gently cooked in a strong solution of whatever colorants you have chosen in water with a few drops of vinegar. From my personal experience, I would say try the natural dyes to see how they work out, but have a selection of food colorings and paint ready anyway.

It is traditional to make eggs with inscriptions declaring love or wishes for the coming year. These should be done in runes. Certain members of our Kindred have found that eggs painted with inscriptions aimed towards luck in love are especially effective, as might be expected from the association of the egg with fertility and new life. Other symbols which are most fittings for an egg are the leek, the sun-wheel or swastika, the ship, the hex-sign (especially when drawn as a flower), the heart (pierced with an arrow or otherwise), and the coiled wyrm. Any images which remind you of spring and rebirth are good to put on the egg. These might include spring flowers, pussy willow, rabbits, chicks, and other traditional Easter images. Wodanists may also make spring eggs for sig with eagles, spears, and fitting inscriptions, anticipating the rites of sigrblot which will be performed after the planting is completed for victory in their summer enterprises.

Here are few general inscriptions for eggs:
ALU, "ale/luck;"
LAUKAZ, "leek" - for a man;
LINA, "flax" - for a woman;
SIG, "victory;"
MIGHT AND MAIN;
WEAL WAX.