Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Equinox or Ostara

Pagans and witches celebrate Ostara (also known as Eostre) when the sun enters 0 degrees of Aries, around March 21. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Spring Equinox ushers in warmer weather, days that are longer than nights, and the advent of new life. Christianity adopted this joyful period of the year for the celebration of Easter (which usually falls near the Spring Equinox). Ostara gets its name from the German fertility goddess Ostare; the word Easter derives from the same root. Both holidays celebrate the triumph of life over death.
The Holiday’s Significance
The Sun King’s chariot continues climbing higher in the sky, reaching the point at which day and night are of equal length on Ostara. Therefore, this sabbat is associated with balance, equality, and harmony.
The Spring Equinox marks the first day of spring and the start of the busy planting season in agrarian cultures. Farmers till their fields and sow seeds. Trees begin to bud, spring flowers blossom, and baby animals are born. Ostara, therefore, is one of the fertility holidays and a time for planting seeds—literally or figuratively.
Ways to Celebrate
On Ostara, sow seeds that you want to bear fruit in the coming months. This is an ideal time to launch new career ventures, move to a new home, or begin a new relationship. If you’re a gardener, you’ll start preparing the soil and planting flowers, herbs, and/or vegetables now. Consider the magickal properties of botanicals and choose plants that represent your intentions. Even if you aren’t a gardener, you could plant seeds in a flowerpot to symbolize wishes you hope will grow to fruition in the coming months.
Witches connect each plant—herb, flower, and tree—with specific magickal properties. Sage, for example, is used for purification rituals. Mint and parsley can be added to prosperity talismans to attract wealth. White snapdragons insure protection and roses play an important role in love magick.
Ostara Symbolism
In an old German story, a rabbit laid some sacred eggs and decorated them as a gift for the fertility goddess Ostara. Ostara liked the beautiful eggs so much that she asked the rabbit to share the eggs with everyone throughout the world.
Some popular Easter customs have their roots in Ostara’s symbolism. Eggs represent the promise of new life, and painting them bright colors engages the creative aspect of the sabbat. You might enjoy decorating eggs with magickal symbols, such as pentagrams and spirals. And rabbits, of course, have long been linked with fertility.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Unexpected Perks of Being a Writer

Recently I had the pleasure of editing author Judy Hall’s new book, 101 Power Crystals. Judy is one of the world’s most respected crystal workers and authors, so you may be familiar with her best-selling books, including The Crystal Bible and The Encyclopedia of Crystals. Along the way, Judy mentioned she wanted to acquire specimens of a unique stone known as Llanite and a particular pink-colored granite that she’d seen years ago while visiting the Gulf Coast of Texas. Now Judy lives in England’s beautiful Dorset––but neither of these stones do. As synchonicity would have it, however, both Llanite and Texas Pink can be found in Llano, Texas, about sixty miles from where I live.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Llanite (and hey, who outside Texas is?), here’s what Judy has to say about it: “With this stone, you truly create your own reality.” Pretty powerful stuff, right? (She discusses it more fully, but you’ll have to get her new book to discover all its properties.)
Immediately I thought: Road trip. So in the name of publishing excellence and disseminating knowledge, I coerced two girlfriends into taking the day off to come rock-hunting with me. On a gorgeous, sunny March day, we drove to lovely Llano in the heart of the Texas Hill Country and like prospectors of old, began our search along the Llano River.

Before long, we’d filled our bucket with dozens of pieces of rose-colored Texas Pink, but alas, no Llanite. So we stopped at a local granite company that specializes in tombstones––ironically called Living Granite––where we were gifted with a chunk of Llanite and a polished slice of Texas Pink. Then we visited Enchanted Rocks and Jewelry, a local gem shop, to have a look around. (Actually, we’d tried twice before, and finally on the third attempt caught proprietor Frank Rowell in residence.) There we found lots of smooth, tumbled pieces of Llanite––even a Llanite lazy susan––along with other assorted crystals, gemstones, and jewelry.
At the end of an altogether delightful day, we came home with a trunk full of rocks and a treasure trove of happy memories, which included meeting lots of friendly and generous people, a private tour of the local nineteenth-century jail conducted by Frank and his friend Steve Roberts, and a delicious lunch of barbecued ribs at Cooper’s. Such are the myriad joys of being a writer! Seek and ye shall find.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Authentic Writing

Recently I started writing a novel set in the Jazz Age, 1925. Doing so has required me to get up close and personal with the period––not just familiarizing myself with history-book facts, but also the day-to-day details of ordinary life at that time. What did people wear, eat, read? What jobs did they perform and how did they entertain themselves in their leisure hours? What art did they enjoy, what music did they listen to? How did they travel and communicate with one another? And what words did they use to express themselves?
In a writing class I teach, several of my students are also writing period pieces. One person’s novel is set in the 1600s, another in the mid-1700s, and another in the early 1950s. Each presents the same set of challenges: how to write with authenticity and colorfully depict the era, while avoiding embarrassing goofs. Authentic writing means you don’t make assumptions. You don’t just guess and think your readers won’t realize you’re “all wet” (a Jazz Age term). I can promise you they will. For example, if you’re writing a story set in New England in 1879, don’t show your characters drinking orange juice for breakfast––oranges don’t grow in New England, and transporting them there wasn’t feasible at the time.
Just today, in fact, one of my students read a section from her book, set in the mid-1950s, and mentioned Wal-Mart. The problem is, Wal-Mart didn’t open its doors until 1962. The word “groovy” was another gaff, because as all you old hippies recall, the term became popular during the mid-1960s. But it’s not just amateur authors who make these sorts of mistakes. Stephen King once called a particular type of pistol a revolver when in fact, it wasn’t––and he heard about it from his readers.
So what’s a writer to do? The answer, in a word, is: research. Today, the Internet makes it incredibly easy to gather data of all sorts about any time period that interests you. Want to find out how people washed their clothes in ancient Greece? Or how stained glass windows were made in the Middle Ages? Or how the early American colonists furnished their homes? Google it. It’s all there, anything you want to know.
Here are some other tips:
• Visit museums and historical sites to see what sorts of utensils, clothing, furnishings, tools, etc. people used at different times.
• Read books written during the time period you’re writing about––you’ll learn about social customs and mores, language patterns, political and religious viewpoints, and a whole lot more.
• Peruse old magazines, newspapers, and catalogs. The Sears catalog is a terrific resource. Some of these publications can be found at libraries, others may be available through dealers of vintage literature.
• If possible, interview people who lived during that time. I had the good fortune to talk to a woman who was in her teens during the period in which my novel is set. I was able to ask her intimate details about women’s life at the time, things you won’t find in history books, such as what sort of sanitary materials did menstruating women use then, before the advent of tampons?
Lest you think research is a boring waste of time, I wish to suggest that researching your time period will immerse you more deeply and richly in your story, bring your characters to life, open your eyes to a world you couldn’t possibly have imagined, and inspire you to write better. Honestly, it’s a lot of fun, too. And when you find yourself in one of those “blocked” stages, research is the best way I know to jump-start your creativity.