Women Transcending Boundaries invited the Circle of the Rising Phoenix to share with us their celebration of Ostara, the Spring Equinox, led by Terra Harmatuk on March 24 at Jowonio School.
Everyone who attended our meeting experienced something special. As we entered the meeting space at Jowonio, chairs were arranged in a circle surrounding a special Spring altar filled with candles, flowers, and statues. A wicker basket decorated with flowers and filled with red eggs sat beside on the floor. The members of The Circle of the Rising Phoenix, some wearing capes and flowers garlands, gathered to include us in a pagan Ostara ritual welcoming Spring.
The Circle of the Rising Phoenix is a closed Wiccan coven that celebrates pagan traditions of oneness with Nature and seeing the Life Force in every aspect of our world. Pagans celebrate the eight Sabbats; Ostara is the ritual of the Spring Equinox, a time of balance, rebirth and renewal. Persephone, Daughter of Demeter (the Earth Goddess), who has been dwelling with her husband, Lord Hades in the underworld, returns to her mother the Earth Goddess each Spring as maiden Goddess Kore, bringing new life.
Before the ritual began, the circle was cleansed. The area outside the circle was gently swept, circled by a bell, circled by incense (though this was not used today).
Each of the four Elements—Incense/Air, Candle/Fire, Water, Salt/Earth—was blessed and consecrated. Air and Fire, Water and Soil were combined and honored as sacred and holy onto itself, and asked to bless this circle and all within, Terra circled with a bronze incense censer, sweeping air toward each woman with a feather; another woman circled blessed with salt and water.
We “cast” the circle—one by one we joined hands with the person next to us and stated an intention (in the name of kindness, understanding, peace…). A chant sealed the circle: “Hand to hand the circle is cast/Joining present, future, past.” Candles on the altar representing the Four Directions and the Center were lit. Different members of the coven called upon the energy of each of each element to assist in our ritual. Separate members of the coven invited the Goddess Demeter, Goddess Persephone/Kore, and Lord Hades. The Ground/Center was invoked in the center of our circle and as the center of the Earth, and of our bodies. We breathed deeply and chanted together.
After the Charge of the Goddess, coven members took on the roles of Demeter, Persephone/Kore and Lord Hades—the sadness of Demeter missing her daughter, the parting of Hades and Persephone, the reunion of Demeter and Kore—as they reenacted Persephone’s yearly return from the land of shadows, bringing life back to the earth and balance into our lives.
Each Element and Direction speaks to a different kind of balance (East – knowledge and intellect, South – passion, spirit of change, West – emotional healing, North – family, prosperity and social action).
The Equinox is a time of balance and most of us need to change to bring balance back into our lives.
Eggs are sacred to the Goddess who split open the Cosmic Egg to give us the gift of life. A Sister passed the basket of red eggs to each in the circle; we were invited to choose an egg and write a wish for the year upon it. What do you most need for balance in your life? We each placed our egg in the basket in the center of the circle. We raised energy as we circled around the eggs rattling shakers and chanting the Equinox chant—“Onward we go round the spiral/Touching darkness, touching light/Twice each turn we rest in Balance/Make choices on this night/Make choices on this night”—circling faster and faster and ending by touching the egg basket and saying “So Mote it Be.”
As we sat in the circle, we were invited to share what we had written on our eggs; it was a quiet, accepting, reflective time of supportive sharing.
Many of us joined in as coven members circled again chanting of the Goddess “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes.”
The Cup was blessed as the holy grail of immortality, the work of the Goddess in the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Small cups of grape juice were passed to all around the circle and each toasted. Then the Bread was blessed: the fruit of the Earth–seeds sprout, grow and are harvested. A basket of bread was passed around the circle in Gratitude for all that comes from the Earth. “Blessed Be.”
Each of the Guardians, Elements and Center were thanked and released. The Goddess Demeter and Kore and Lord Hades were thanked and released. We closed the circle by holding hands chanting: “By the Earth that is her Body/By the Waters of her Living Womb/By the Fire of her Bright Spirit/By the Air that is Her Breath/May the Circle by Open.” At the end of the final chant: “May the Circle be open, but unbroken/May the Love of the Goddess be ever in your heart/Merry Meet and Merry Part and Merry Meet Again” we unclasped hands.
After a break for snacks, Terra and the coven sisters graciously answered many questions about Pagan faiths and their individual paths to this tradition. Among points raised: There is a stigma to being Wiccan in many areas and among many people, partially related to the mistaken belief that Wiccans practice animal sacrifice. Wiccans honor the seasons and the earth, honoring different Goddesses and Gods depending on the season; it is nature-based and eco-friendly. Wiccan is a fairly new pagan tradition: Paganism is an ancient belief system and runs the gamut from ancient to more expansionist practices. Many other faiths have incorporated pagan traditions: some we mentioned were egg symbolism, the cup and bread, solstice celebrations.
The experience was special —as evidenced by the fact that so many women lingered reflecting together and sharing impressions.
NOTE: Women brought donations of baby supplies in response to a call from Eastern Farmworkers on behalf of a young disabled woman who is about to give birth but has few necessities for her newborn.