Ostara marks the true beginning of Spring, the return of the light and warmth. We begin planting at Ostara, because the earth has warmed enough to turn and with the return of the sun, plants can grow.
Though the celebration went by many different names, the Spring Equinox was always a time for celebration and planting for our ancestors. We plant at Ostara to honor our ancestors’ practices, but also because it is a great time to plant healing gardens, witch’s gardens, and edible gardens (or a combination thereof).
Agriculture started a new kind of relationship for our ancestors with the earth. We started as hunters and gatherers, leaving our homes to find food and return with it. Agriculture allowed us to cultivate food where we lived, reducing time away from family. It also meant we could create a surplus of food, feeding more people not involved in the growing process, allowing their time to be instead focused on new trades. It required a new understanding and respect for the earth. The introduction of agriculture is what led to many of the celebrations and rituals we still practice today for the sabbats, as our ancestors asked the gods and goddesses for blessings on their crops.
Like many other things throughout human history, agriculture was adopted by many different cultures around the same time without communication between the cultures. Historians differ in their opinion on what led to different cultures beginning similar practices independent of each other, but likely it happened because of an evolutionary desire for more food.
What was grown initially by our ancestors were those plants already seen in abundance around them. This was maize in Mexico and Central America, potatoes in South America, yams in West Africa, rice in Southeast Asia, wheat in the fertile crescent, and so on. Our hunting and gathering lifestyle already made us tend to settle near water, because marine life was easy to hunt and water contributed to abundant plant life. In beginning agriculture, our ancestors could use the nearby water to irrigate crops.
Agriculture changed the landscape and nearby environment. Our ancestors, though they came up with their own tools and technology to make agriculture successful, were more mindful of the impact their agriculture had on their surrounding ecosystem. The rituals they performed for the gods and goddesses were not only about plentiful crops, but about respecting the balance that must be found in all things. Unfortunately, as technology advanced and populations grew, that respect for the entire ecosystem was largely abandoned in favor of more production (and more profit).
Why is this history important to us as we plan our Ostara activities, rituals, and celebrations? Because it is a reminder that as we alter the landscape around us, we need to be mindful that we aren’t destroying in order to create. We must find a balance between what we need to grow and what is needed for the ecosystem to survive.
Ostara is a time for balance, with the light and dark occurring in equal measure. It also opens the connection between worlds and across time. It is a great time to connect with our ancestors, not only through reflection on our roots, but through actually working with soil and planting.
All of nature holds memory, and there is magick in that memory. When you reach your hands into soil to turn it and prepare it for planting, when you place a seed in that soil, you are touching the magick of your ancestors. But you must be aware of that magick in order to connect with it, and must respect what came before.
Much of where we live was at one point agricultural but transformed into housing and population centers grew and spread, and agriculture became more industrialized. There is a good chance that where you are planting your herbs for spellwork, someone once planted crops meant to feed their entire family or village. Where you live might not have been an agricultural center once, but it likely housed vegetation that was frequented by foragers to collect nuts, grains, fruits, and vegetables to feed and nourish them. If you don’t have a place to plant at your home, getting space at a community garden is a wonderful way to connect to our ancestors through planting. Not only was that area once used by ancient ancestors to plant and grow, but it has the express purpose of bringing a community together again in the act of planting. There is magick in that too.
Before you plant, meditate on those that planted before you, what they left in the earth through their work, and how that shaped and changed the earth you will plant in. As you work, feel the past and its power in your hands, take the time to pause and connect with the earth. Thank your ancestors and ask for their guidance and assistance as you plant. This is deep and meaningful magick that you can tap into, if you open yourself properly to it.
Looking into the “old ways” of planting and growing is another great way to connect to the magick of your ancestors when cultivating. Research the ways they used the surrounding natural elements to contribute to their crop. Can you create a way to divert rainwater to irrigate your garden? Can you grow plants that improve and complement what is already naturally growing around you? Can you improve the local ecosystem by planting things that benefit local wildlife, such as early blooming pollinating flowers for bees? There are many things you can do to honor your ancestors and respect Mother Earth, heightening the power and magick of your garden.
The past still impacts us today. The sweat that fell from our ancestors into the earth as they worked remains there today. The blessings they asked for, the offerings they left, the magick they invoked - all of those memories are kept by the soil, the water, the rocks. Focus your intention and feel that magick as you plant.
May you have a healthy garden bountiful harvest.