Pagan Sabbats: The Goddess Ostara and Natural Egg Dyeing

With spring arriving, it’s almost time to celebrate Ostara and the vernal equinox. This year, it falls on March 20th. The vernal equinox is when night and day are mostly equal, signalling the end of the dark winter nights.

Ostara is one of the Pagan sabbats, and takes its name from the goddess Ostara. She is a goddess of new life, associated with the spring as this is when the earth awakens after the cold of winter. Take some time to plant seeds, gather wildflowers, or go for a long walk to appreciate the new growth which surrounds us. Here in Japan, the plum blossom trees are beginning to flower which is a wonderful burst of colour after the dreariness of February!

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts
Ostara, goddess of new life. Image from Wikipedia.

As symbols of life and fertility, eggs are also sacred to Ostara. Decorating eggs is a fun, traditional activity which everyone can take part in. You could paint their shells, or if you want some messy, outdoor fun then these egg seed bombs and confetti bombs look amazing.

I had a go at dyeing eggs naturally using vegetables, and made this little guide from my experience. These make a pretty addition to any picnic, and great homemade gifts!

You will need:

  • eggs – try to find ones with pale shells, as the colours will show up better on these
  • salt
  • onion skins – lots of them! Both red and white work, it just depends on the colour you want the eggs to be
  • beetroot
  • stiff gardening twine or elastic bands
  • flowers/leaves – either dried or fresh will work
  • olive oil
  • saucepans

Prepare the Dye

If you’re using both beetroot and onion skins, you’ll need a separate saucepan for each of them. I used three small beetroots and my dye turned out quite pale, so perhaps use larger ones or add more for a stronger colour. With the onion skins, I just used white ones. It’s up to you whether you want to mix white and red together, or separate them and use a third saucepan. Be sure to leave some of the larger skins out, as you’ll need them to wrap the eggs in later.

Ostara naturally dyed eggs

Fill each saucepan with enough cold water to cover the contents, add a little salt, and put them on a medium heat. Once they start boiling, let them simmer on a lower heat. The beetroot should take around 30-40 minutes to cook depending on the size and quantity, and it will take around 30 minutes for the colour to come out of the onion skins.

Cook the Eggs

Next, hard boil some eggs. To do this, put a saucepan of cold water on a medium heat and add a bit of salt. Once the water is boiling, add the eggs and let them simmer for approximately 12 minutes (or put an egg timer in with them like I did).

Ostara naturally dyed eggs

Once the eggs are done, remove them from the water and put them in a dish to cool. Do not remove the shells.

Once the beetroot and onion skins are done, take them off the heat. Remove the beetroot and do with it whatever you like doing with beetroot (for me this was immediately calling for my partner to come and eat it since I can’t stand the stuff, sorry beetroot!) but leave the onion skins in the water. Leave both pans to cool. They don’t need to be completely cold, just cool enough so that they won’t cook the eggs further.

Next comes the tedious bit! Take your cooled eggs and wrap them in the leftover onion skins, securing them with the garden twine or elastic bands. Press the flowers and leaves onto the eggs underneath the skins, and they will take on the imprint of these once in the dye (mine didn’t work fantastically for 3 reasons – not enough beetroot, not enough onion skins left to completely cover the eggs, and I used sewing thread instead of twine which was too loose to hold the flowers in place. So make sure you avoid my mistakes!)

Ostara naturally dyed eggs

Once your eggs are wrapped, check the saucepans of dye. If they’re still hot, you can either wait a bit longer or top them up with cold water. However, bear in mind that adding water will dilute the colour. When you’re ready, place the eggs into the dyes. Make sure they are completely submerged.

Ostara naturally dyed eggs

The Long Wait

Initially I left my eggs for around 1 hour, and by then the onion dye had started to stick to the eggshells but it wasn’t very bright. The beetroot hadn’t done anything (I found out afterwards that if you put the beetroot dye in the fridge it’s more potent, so if yours is also pale try that!) I ended up leaving them overnight, and the following morning they were much better.

Once you’ve left your eggs for a significant amount of time and you’re happy with the results, remove and unwrap them. Pat them dry with a tea towel, and then use kitchen roll to rub a little olive oil on them. This will make them nice and glossy, so the colours look brighter.

And there you have it – beautiful, naturally dyed eggs! They will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week, giving you plenty of time to admire and show off your handiwork before you eat them.

Ostara naturally dyed eggs

There are other natural things besides onions and beetroot which you can use to make different colours of dye. This article uses cabbage, spices, and tea, and this one uses fruit and vinegar. Let your inner kitchen witch run wild and have fun experimenting! Tweet your dyed egg pictures to me @amyelize – I’d love to see them!

 

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Amelia Starling is a writer and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and is a content editor for Folklore Thursday. She loves travelling and collecting stories, and spent 15 months living in Japan doing this alongside teaching English. Amelia blogs about folklore and fairy tales at The Willow Web. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize.