By GWEN OREL
The Gregorian calendar may say the new year begins on Jan. 1, but the new planting season begins in the spring. Some religions reflect that by starting the year in spring.
For Wiccans and Pagans, the spring equinox of Ostara is a special time on the calendar. While Samhain, Oct. 31, begins the new year, Ostara marks the start of the astrological calendar.
“Aries is the first sign of the zodiac,” said Karen Aistars, chatting while also serving customers at Mystic Spirit, her metaphysical shop in Montclair, on 324 Bloomfield Ave.
If the word looks familiar, it may be because the holiday is named for Eostra, the same goddess whose name is used for Easter. The spring goddess, or vernal maiden, represents fertility and rebirth.
Ostara, said Aistars, is one of eight Pagan holidays the shop celebrates over the course of the year.
Mystic Spirit will hold an Ostara ritual on Saturday, March 18. For more information, visit mysticspirit.net.
Aistars, who runs the store with her husband Davis, said the rituals usually have about dozen in attendance. At Ostara, participants will plant seeds in pots that they take home with them.
“For me, it is about new beginnings, growth, resurrection. The stirring of life. Warmth is coming back, daylight is increasing.” At the vernal equinox, Aistars said, there is equal day and night, and then the days start getting longer. “This is the waxing cycle,” she said.
The symbols of the holiday may also seem familiar: bunnies and eggs. “Eggs spring with life,” Aistars said. “Rabbits and birds are mating. What is going on around you makes you feel renewed. People are planting. It’s a time to honor and recognize the earth and seasons, gods and goddesses.” For Aistars, who was brought up Catholic, the gods and goddesses are aspects of the Divine, but everyone has their own belief system, she said. For her, “gods and goddesses are part of the all.”
While she was speaking, a couple came in to the shop asking for help removing a malignant spirit from their home. She also had a deadline to carve a love candle for a client. She said she does consider herself a witch, and spells are like prayers. Some get results, some might not be what she had in mind.
For example, she’s never had much luck with seeds, she said. “Sometimes they sprout and died. One year I had a sunflower growing really good. The cat ate it.
“I just keep trying.”
Spring is also the beginning of the Bahá’í calendar year, and occurs near the vernal equinox. While Wiccans and Pagans celebrate Ostara, adherents of Bahá’í will celebrate Naw-Rúz. This year the holiday begins on the evening of Monday, March 20, and lasts until March 21.
For 19 days leading up to the holiday, Bahá’í practitioners fast from sunup to sundown.
“The goal is to have one’s thoughts directed more to spiritual matters, not to be so caught up in the day-to-day,” said Pamela Zivari, of Montclair. She is a member of the spiritual assembly in Montclair; Bahá’ís don’t have clergy. “It’s a time of reflection… looking for clarityand aligning oneself more closely with one’s spiritual goals.” Zivari then said with a laugh, “Make it sound better. I haven’t eaten all day.”
While not eating can make word choice a chore, she said, “Believe it or not it’s easier for me to concentrate. It sounds a bit bizarre, but I’m not distracted by thinking about what I’m going to do for lunch. When I was younger it was hard. I didn’t like it at all. Now I see the wisdom of it.”
Like Aistars, she was not brought up in her current faith. Zivari was an Episcopalian and became a member of Bahá’í in her 20s, she said.
She said was attracted to the inclusivity of the religion, and its encouragement of the rational side of human beings.Montclair has about 20 adults and 10 children who practice, not counting another 10 more college-age kids, she said.
Prior to the fast, there is a period of gift-giving and service-providing that lasts 4 to 5 days, she said. The Bahá’í calendar has 19 months of 19 days, with what are known as intercalary days in between.
At the end of the fast, there is usually a big party to celebrate the holiday. In Montclair, adherents will gather at Zivari’s house.
Participants will have “just experienced the fast, which is a time of reflection, of setting goals for personal growth and service. Having come through this time into a celebratory time, just about the time the weather is turning warmer and spring is arriving– it’s synchronous.
“It’s a realignment. It’s really meaningful.” For Zivari, it’s a time to be grateful for her family and her good fortune, and look forward to finding ways “to contribute to the unity of our community, because we are in such a divisive time right now.”