March brings us the promise of returning life in spring, and for me at least, a time to look again at the pandemic. In 2020, the pandemic really started in March, after news of cases appearing in February. Then, in March of 2021, the vaccines became widely available in many industrialized countries such as the United States. (Oh, if you’d rather skip all the covid stuff and go right to the practices and online rituals, just page down).
At the time, I naively thought that nearly everyone would eagerly get the vaccine, and the pandemic would be over here within months. I grossly underestimated the power of the anti-science movement in the United States, which led to dozens of millions avoiding the safe and effective vaccine. Looking back at the Spring Equinox Approaches posts here at Naturalistic Paganism shows this progression. Here they are for 2020, 2021, 2022, and now here is 2023 (this post).
By now, most people are vaccinated (except mostly anti-vaxxers), and most anti-vaxxers have caught covid – and whether they survived or not, they are much less to spread covid as much either way – giving our population increasing immunity. Worldwide, it’s not as good – there are still large populations with little immunity, and the unequal distribution of the vaccines has highlighted how different life is for those privileged as opposed to those who aren’t.
The data also reflects our population immunity in the United States. From the graph above, we can see that this is the first winter since the pandemic started in which there wasn’t a big wintertime spike. For this, to compare statistics I’m looking at deaths instead of other metrics so as to be able to compare apples to apples. Various factors have changed some of the other main metrics making pandemic wide comparisons unreliable. For instance, the arrival of inexpensive and plentiful home tests means that today, people often test at home and positives (and negatives) aren’t recorded – making both the number of positive cases and the % positive measures different than before. Deaths, on the other hand, are nearly always recorded (except in the early days of the pandemic when covid as the cause may have been missed), and don’t suffer from various testing changes. The blue arrows show each March, when this column was written since 2020. Because the weather is warming up in March, and hence cases are likely to be falling, this can make the future course of the pandemic look overly optimistic in March – so who knows what the future will bring?
Some things we do know, however – we can see from population wide studies that literally millions of lives have been saved by the vaccines, and that the anti-vaxxers have caused the deaths of at least hundreds of thousands of Americans. More on that later. Scientists also solved a longstanding mystery about viral spread peaking in the winter (and not even by looking at covid specifically)! For years, we’ve known that illnesses like the flu peak in the winter months – and peak 6 months later in the Southern hemisphere. We’ve heard common explanations like “when your body is cold, your immune system doesn’t have the strength to fight off infection.” and so on. But now we know a specific way that cold temperatures increase the spread of these infections! It turns out that instead of your overall temperature being important, that the temperature of your nose matters. The cellular immune response along the inside of our noses is significantly depressed when the nose is cold.
Plus, this also helps us understand another reason why masks are helpful in slowing the spread of infection in covid. In addition to physically blocking many of the viruses, in cool or cold weather, masks help keep the nose warm, mimicking the warmer nose environment during warmer weather.
In any case, many aspects of our world are probably permanently changed. Some of these changes are good and some are not. Among the good changes, I think, is the much greater acceptance and use of remote meetings and working from home. Similarly, I hope that the many opportunities for online rituals which the pandemic has brought us remain after this virus is gone.
This year, Ostara falls on Monday, March 20 for most of the world. Whether you are celebrating the weekend before, after, or on the Equinox, here are several online opportunities for Ostara, and more to come! I’ll update this as Ostara approaches, so you may want to check back in a week – and be sure to check the CUUPS ritual page in the list below – both for newly added online rituals as well as for in-person rituals near you. Also, see also printable coloring pages for kids below. Those may be more important than anything we adults do.
Because the daylight cycle leads our seasons, the days are already as long as they were in early October – though of course still much colder. For me, this growing daylight (reinforced by the start of Daylight Savings Time) is a reminder from our Earth itself, one of those many helpful features of our seasons, to begin thinking about, and planning for, the Spring Equinox/Ostara. Last year I wrote about the bizarre, warm-blooded plant which blooms around Ostara here in Michigan. I find it to be a wonder, like so much of our Universe around us. However, we Pagans live in many different climates, with many different plants and animals.
(also, the approach of Ostara also means that Pi Day is coming up quick! This is a fun day in our family – check out that link for lots of ways to celebrate.)
“Ostara” derives from the name of a Germanic goddess of the spring, Eostar or Eostre, who is celebrated as bringing the rebirth we see around us in the coming spring. Eostar is also the same word from which Christians get “Easter”, which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the New Moon after the Spring Equinox. It’s no coincidence that Christians chose this time to celebrate their god’s resurrection.
In ancient pagan traditions, there are many stories of dying and rising gods and goddesses. This is the time when Neo-Pagans celebrate the triumph of the god of the sun over is dark twin and the powers of darkness and the return of the spring goddess from the underworld. Now is the time we celebrate green life surging upward from the dark earth, just as the goddess Persephone returned to the arms of her mother Demeter, from the underworld where she had been kidnapped by Hades, and just as the goddess Ishtar rose from the underworld with her lover Tammuz, whom she had rescued from her sister, the queen of death.
With kids, employment, the house, and so much more, celebrations in my family need to be thought of well in advance if they are going to happen, so this overview is being posted now, giving everyone time to build up to the sacred time coming in just two weeks. There are several things I’ll do leading up to any of our holidays, reminding me on a daily basis of the turning Wheel of the Year, and the ongoing life we enjoy. For many of them (including Ostara), changes to the house décor (usually some decorations) and to the family altar presage a coming holiday. I also change my computer background to something related to the coming holiday as well – mostly because it is something I see often in my day to day life. Music is an important part of life for many of us, and Bart Everson gives us this collection of Vernal Equinox music.
Ways to Celebrate
With the moment of the Equinox at 11:50 pm EDT this year, the actual Equinox will be on March 19th for some and on the 20th for others. Whichever day you choose, here are some of the many ways Naturalistic Pagans will be celebrating.
Anna Walther offers five ways to play on the Spring Equinox.
John Halstead celebrates the Spring Equinox with his children by “charming the plow”, decorating their garden tools with brightly colored ribbons. Here is John Halstead’s Spring Equinox ritual script, which is especially useful for those with children.
As part of his spring equinox celebration, NaturalPantheist offers the following exposition:
“As I stand here on this celebration of Ostara, the vernal equinox, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn. As my ancestors did in times before and my descendants may do in time to come, I honour the old ways. As the dark half of the year comes to a close at this time and nature shifts, the day and night are of equal length and balanced. From now on the sun triumphs over the darkness, bringing warmth and energy as we head towards summer. This is the time of Alban Eiler, the Light of the Earth, a feast to celebrate the renewal of life. The birds return from the southern lands bearing spring time beneath their wings. Nature has awoken, seeds are sprouting, tree buds are bursting, daffodils and flowers are blossoming, and birds and animals are preparing to have their young. I rejoice in the renewal of life.”
For me, with the weather still cold, the full blossoming of life fits much better at Beltaine/The Spring Equitherm, the Spring Equinox celebrates the first visible life (in Deep Time, around 1 billion to 600 million years ago), and thus corresponds to the energy and happiness of young children, when lives begin to take visible shape. On the Naturalistic Paganism discussion group, I provide a method for coloring eggs with natural dyes, and suggest making equinox cookies – half dark, half light. (See the group’s files section for details.) We also plant the seeds (in starter flats indoors) which we’ll put in the ground at Beltaine/Spring Equitherm, and the kids find Ostara baskets. For more details, here’s our full post on coloring eggs with natural dyes and other celebrations for Ostara. While probably not new, I’ve also just learned of using shaving cream to make swirled Ostara egg patterns.
Mark Green celebrates this holiday as “High Spring” – reflecting the very different climate in California compared to other places.
The Pagaian celebration of Eostar is described in this video, though with this Mooncourt in Australia, they are preparing for the Fall Equinox now (meditations like this are available to sample, and purchase, here). For others in the Southern Hemisphere, here’s an overview of Fall Equinox celebrations.
This is an updated version of the yearly Spring Equinox post. Feel free to share your own naturalistic celebrations below. An overview of the eight holidays of the Wheel of the Year, from a naturalistic perspective, is here.
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