Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Foundations of Magick: Ethics and Magick

For the most part, those choosing to work magick want to work magick with some kind of ethical guideline, some type of balance. This is all to the good, because whatever is done always comes back to the practitioner. Realizing that there are ethics involved in the practice of magick is the first step in avoiding the dangers of magick.

Magickal Ethics and Responsibility

The greatest ethical principle concerning the practice of magick is taking responsibility for one’s own life. It is the acknowledgment that everything in that life is there because of a choice that has been made, usually by the practitioner himself. These choices may have been made subconsciously, but they have been made nonetheless.

These choices relate to every aspect of life. Every decision made regarding relationships, career, family, spirituality, thoughts, and material matters are a direct result of choice. You have made your own bed, so the saying goes.

The Wiccan Rede and Causing Harm

There is much more to magickal ethics than simply taking responsibility. There are certain laws and principles that govern the ethical practice of magick. There is the Wiccan Rede, as an example, which states, “An ye harm none, do as ye will.” In plain language, this means that whatever one does, it must not harm anyone, including yourself; the idea of harm includes the physical, emotional, and mental. Everyone and everything is connected. Harm to one does harm to all.

There are many forms of harm, and it can be difficult to avoid them all. However, one of the most difficult things to resist, and the thing that can sometimes do the most harm, is to interfere in the lives of others. As a result of this, most ethical practitioners will not perform magick for anyone without first obtaining their informed consent. If someone does not want the help that magick can offer, it would be wrong to force it upon another individual.

The Threefold Law and Magick

The Law of Return, sometimes called the Threefold Law, basically states that what is send out returns, or like for like, to phrase it another way. This means that if one were to send out a curse, then he or she would likely end up cursed as well. Send out love, and love returns. Acting out of love and compassion, no matter the situation, is much safer, in the long run, than acting out of anger or vengeance.

There are many models for ethics and magick, such as the Witches' Pyramid. The application of ethics to the practice of magick is an important factor when deciding to follow a magickal path. The connection that is made between the subconscious mind and the Higher Self will depend, at some point, on the moral compass of the magician. Truly embracing magickal ethics will only serve to enhance the magick within.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Sabbat of Ostara: The Egg and Ostara

It is unlikely that you will find a symbol more connected to spring than the egg. It is an archetype of life, death, and renewal, embodying all that is the Spring Equinox. The idea of rebirth in the spring is a recurring theme in most of the spring festivals around the world, from Ostara to Easter.

How Did the Egg Come to Symbolize Spring?

In ancient times, symbolism was derived from the close observation of nature. Before the advent of the home refrigerator and the arrival of a truly global marketplace, food was truly a seasonal commodity. One of the commodities available through the spring and summer was the egg.

The laying of an egg is controlled by sunlight. When the retina (the part of the eye that captures light) of an egg-laying hen is stimulated by sunlight for a period of twelve consecutive hours of light, she will lay eggs. When this stimulation has ended, the hen will cease to lay eggs. In ancient times, the only light man had access to was fire, and fire is not strong enough to fool the retina of a hen. Only natural light would work, and it was only between the Spring Equinox and the Fall Equinox that there was more than twelve hours of light. Therefore, fresh eggs were only available for six months of the year.

It would be hundreds of years before the science of a hen’s retina could be fully understood, but the pattern was easy enough for anyone to discern. Hens would begin laying eggs at the Vernal Equinox, the festival of fertility and rebirth. At the Autumnal Equinox, the festival of death and rest, hens would case laying eggs. This cycle meant that eggs were a natural symbol of new or returning life.

How are Eggs Used to Celebrate Spring Around the World?

Eggs are commonly used for ritual or symbolic purposes, and also for decoration. In many areas, such as west-central Africa and remote areas of Eastern Europe, eggs are buried near cemeteries to encourage reincarnation. This practice also occurs in the southern Appalachian Mountains of the United States.

In many parts of Asia, eggs are dyed red and offered at funerals or births. It may seem odd that the same gift offered for birth would also be given for death. However, ancient thought saw life, death, and rebirth as different points on the same cycle. They were connected, and this connection endures in the modern era.

Ukrainian traditions regarding eggs abound. Eggs dyed a bright yellow, often called krashanka, are eaten to celebrate the rebirth of the sun around the time of Ostara. The more intricate eggs, decorated with bright colors, that so many people recognize are often called pysanky. These beautiful eggs are used as talismans of fertility, protection, and prosperity.

Easter eggs are a common practice. While generally made to entertain children, there is a deeper meaning behind these ‘Eostre’ or ‘Ostara’ eggs. They honor the return of light to the earth, invoke the powers of fertility, and celebrate the idea of reincarnation. Easter eggs, along with the Easter Bunny, are a holdover from a previous time, and are still enjoyed throughout the world today.

The egg has been a symbol of life, death, and rebirth for many thousands of years. The connection of the egg to the celebration of the Vernal Equinox is also important to the modern Wiccan festival of Ostara, and many egg rituals exist today that rely upon its power.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Sabbat of Ostara: Ostara Celebrations Around the World

According to most archaeologists, it is likely that the equinoxes and solstices, including the Spring Equinox, were celebrated as much as 12,000 years ago. These powerful days in the solar calendar were celebrated with ritual by the ancients. This idea of celebrating the Vernal Equinox, the date that marks the return of light to the world, with ritual and other festivities persists into the modern era.

The Acknowledgment of the Spring Equinox in Europe

The power of light is still very much a part of many cultures around the world. However, most of the traditions associated with the return of warmth, at least as far as modern Wiccan practice is concerned, come from Europe. Across the European continent, this date is known as Ostara, Eostre’s Day, Alban Eiber, Bacchanalia, Lady Day, Jack-o-the-Green Day, or simply as the Spring or Vernal Equinox.

Ostara was considered the Kalends of March in ancient Rome and was observed around March 25th, the approximate date of the Spring Equinox 2000 years ago. The old Roman calendar specified March as the beginning of the years. This was still accepted by much of Europe until the adoption of the new calendar in the Middle Ages.

Though the new calendar took the place of the old, and placed January at the beginning of the year, the Spring Equinox remained as the beginning of the astrological year. The first astrological sun sign is Aries, which begins at the Vernal Equinox.

The Festival of Janus was celebrated around the time of the Spring Equinox in ancient Rome. It is no coincidence that the first month of the new calendar was named after Janus. January is a silent homage to this Roman god, a god who is often associated with balance and renewal.

The Celebration of the Vernal Equinox Around the World

Romans were not the only ones to celebrate the power of light in the ancient world. The Indian festival of Vaisakhi was celebrated on the new moon closest to the Spring Equinox, and was considered the first day of the year. The same was true of the festival of Kalacharka in Tibet. However, this festival is now on a fixed date: March 15th.

Other spring festivals celebrating similar themes to Ostara include:
  • The Feast of Isis;
  • The Feast of Cybele;
  • The Festival of Astarte;
  • The Feast of Inanna;
  • The Festival of Athena;
  • The Feast of Bacchus;
  • The Feast of Libera;
  • Summerfinding (the Scandinavian equivalent of Ostara); and
  • Li Chum.
And, of course, the most recognizable form of Ostara, the holiday of Easter. It is certainly no coincidence that Easter occurs on the first Sunday following the first full moon after Ostara. And the two holidays share many similar symbols and practices (such as the decorating of eggs and the idea of an Easter or Ostara Bunny). There are many such variations revolving around the celebration of the return of spring.

The exact nature of each festival may vary. However, they all do have a common theme — the veneration of the return of light and life.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Wheel of the Year: How to Celebrate Ostara

The Spring Equinox is a powerful time of the year for many of the Wiccan faith. Though an Ostara ritual is probably the most common way to mark this occasion, there are many other ways to celebrate the Vernal Equinox.

Decorating and Crafting for the Spring Equinox

Since Ostara falls so near to Easter, and its symbols are similar, you can usually find suitable decorations quite easily. The lore of Ostara speaks of fertility, resurrection, and love. It is also said to be a good time of year to tackle new projects. So decorations associated with new beginnings are the most appropriate.

Look for items in the colors commonly associated with fertility and birth, such as pastel blue, green, or pink. Silver is also a good color for the Vernal Equinox. These same colors can be used to decorate your home and temple, or simply purchase candles and flowers in these colors. Scatter them around your space and you’ll have a festive ambiance.

Eggs are a powerful symbol of fertility. They also make a wonderful spring craft and can also be used for decorating. Dye and decorate hard-boiled eggs. If you want your eggs to last for several years, poke a small hole in both ends of a raw egg. Rinse well and decorate. Be sure to store these carefully so they do not break.

Masks can be fun to make. Consider the season and choose a theme based on spring or fertility. Try making fairy or leprechaun masks. You can also create animal masks, such as chicks or rabbits. These masks can be worn or simply used to decorate the ritual space.

Making Merry at the Vernal Equinox

Some Wiccan groups select a Spring Queen and Spring King for the Sabbat of Ostara. These people preside over the celebration, holding a place of honor. They may be elected or selected at random. After the celebration, the Spring Queen takes home all flowers used in decorating the ritual area.

Bless baskets of spring treats during ritual. Choose decorated eggs, chocolate bunnies, or any other treat you like. Distribute these filled baskets to friends and family.

You can also make special divination eggs. Take hard-boiled eggs and draw mystical symbols on them with a white crayon. Use runes, ogham, or even alchemical sighs. Place these eggs in a basket and allow your friends and family to choose one at random. Place these in a natural dye to reveal the symbols; then, help each other to interpret the messages revealed. Alternatively, you can use eggs for egg spells.

Consider building an Ostara fire. Collect three pieces of nine different woods, if possible. Dance wildly around this fire, either skyclad (nude) or robed, celebrating the pure love of the Vernal Equinox. You could also organize a trip to the beach, if it's warm enough. This is the perfect spot for some beach magick.

Mundane Actions to Celebrate the Sabbat of Ostara

The Spring Equinox is a time of new beginnings. Launching new projects or committing to those things that can be completed in the fall are both appropriate actions for Ostara.

Start your seasonal garden, planting those crops that can be harvested in the fall. If it’s too cold in your region to plant outdoors, start your crops inside, transplanting them when the conditions are right.

There are many creative ways to celebrate Ostara. This is a period of whimsy, a time to cast off the inhibitions of winter. Any activity that embodies these qualities is perfect for the Vernal Equinox.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Wheel of the Year: The Vernal Equinox and Its Lore

The Vernal Equinox, also called the Spring Equinox, Ostara, Eostre, and Eostar, is celebrated around March 21st. Its exact date can be found on many calendars, often marked as the ‘first day of spring.’ It is on of the two days of the year when light and dark are equal, and so it is a time of balance.

The Themes and Practices of the Spring Equinox

This festival takes its most common Wiccan name, Ostara, from the Saxon goddess Eostre. She is the goddess of desire and of love, both the morning and the evening star. She searches for her lost lover, ready to do battle to secure his return.

Many Wiccans set aside some time at dawn on this day. This time is usually reserved for the contemplation of the return of spring and all that this means for the world. Fertility of animals, crops, and humans is celebrated. The balance of darkness and light, and so female and male, is acknowledged. It is also a time when the mother-daughter bond is at its height, as illustrated by the myth of Persephone and her mother Demeter.

The Christian holy day of Easter is based upon the festival of Ostara, and is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox.

As a part of the Wheel of the Year, the Spring Equinox is the time when the God begins to leave His childhood behind as He moves toward adulthood. At the same time, the Goddess senses that Her lover draws near, and begins to seek Him out. This is the root of the sexual nature of Ostara.

Some symbols associated with Ostara include:
  • Colored eggs;
  • Baskets;
  • Rabbits and hares; and
  • Brightly colored ribbons.
The Feast of Ostara

Traditional foods at this time include meats such as hare or rabbit, and possibly ham or fish. Seasonal vegetables can also be served, including sprouts, shoots, and a variety of early spring greens. Eggs and cheese are also common.

Some feasting suggestions for this holiday include:
  • Hot crossed buns;
  • Chili eggs;
  • Tender baked white fish;
  • Spring sprout salad;
  • Baked sandwiches;
  • Pasta with goat cheese;
  • Omelets;
  • Gammon ham; and
  • Egg and artichoke pie.
Beverages For the Vernal Equinox

There are several beverages suitable to Ostara. Red wine, symbolizing blood, is very common. Milk, eggnog, or Honey Mead are also appropriate. Mint wines also make a lovely addition to an Ostara feast.

Celebrating Ostara

There are many ways to celebrate the Spring Equinox. Since Ostara is, in many ways, an ancient version of Easter, you can use many of the same traditions, perhaps modified only slightly. Consider holding an ‘Egg Hunt.’ Dye some eggs red to symbolize fertility and resurrection and hide them well, indoors or out. Have your family and friends hunt for these eggs, anointing a winner at the end. The winner is the Spring Queen/King for the day.

Children usually love crafts. Have them create ‘Wheel Charms’ to represent balance. You can also choose to celebrate this Sabbat with an Ostara Ritual. Magick would typically not be worked during this ritual, as Sabbats are celebratory in nature.

Dressing for the Vernal Equinox

Fancy dress can be a wonderful way to experience the magick of Ostara. You may wish to wear ritual robes, or you might prefer something simpler. Either way, try to wear something special, perhaps in the traditional Ostara colors of silver, green, or lavender.

The Vernal Equinox, which is celebrated in many forms around the world, is a time of celebration and balance for Wiccans around the world. It is a time of merriment and a chance to welcome warmth back to the Earth.