Published: 06:00, 03 April 2021
As chocolate eggs line the shop shelves across Kent this weekend, some will instead be celebrating Easter's pagan roots.
Ostara is one of eight neo-pagan sabbats (festivals) which celebrate change in the seasons - including Yule (Christmas), Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain (Halloween), Litha, and Mabon.
Ostara is the spring equinox - March 19 to March 22 - and celebrates the tipping point between the darker days of winter to the lighter days of summer and how this encourages spiritual renewal.
Albion Tony Grey, 56, the Pagan Federation Regional Coordinator for Medway, said: "Ostara and Mabon - the autumn equinox - are both about balance as they are two points in the year when the day and night are the same length.
"In our ancestors' beliefs they would have adjusted their lifestyles for the coming time. It's about the Earth telling you when to do things.
"Paganism is very much a return to roots. A lot of religions had absorbed paganism and made it their own."
When Romans began to occupy Britain between 43AD and 410AD, many churches were built on pagan sites and Christian holidays were marked on similar days to sabbats as they began converting the country.
Though often thought to be a single religion, paganism is an umbrella term for a diverse range of religious 'paths' which often worship nature and the many Gods which represent it.
These paths include druidry, wicca and witchcraft, hellenism (Greek religions) and heathenry (Germanic religions) and are followed by around 2,881 people across Kent, according to the 2011 census.
As modern sabbats are celebrated between a range of pagan faiths, there are a wide range of ways they can be celebrated in moots (pagan meetings).
Albion, who follows Norse, traditional witchcraft and druidry, says: "Different moots will write their own ritual for that year which will reflect upon the things that have happened in that year and what they want to happen in the following year.
"When we do a ritual, we are usually calling upon the quarters - the different elements - and the Gods and Goddesses. We normally try and get to a sacred site like Kits Coty.
"As part of the ritual you have what's called 'cakes and ale' where we pass it round the group and we say 'may you never go hungry' or 'may you never go thirsty' and take a piece each.
"Whatever is left at the end you give as an offering to the spirits as a way of honouring them - because if you want them to favour you, you have to give something back in return."
Though moots were held over Zoom this year, the isolation of lockdown has made personal rituals all the more important.
One of these is building an Ostara alter which would include candles, spring-time ornaments such as flowers, eggs and hares and iconography of Gods and Goddesses, such as Freya or Osiris.
The Goddess Eostra, who symbolizes dawn and fertility, is often featured on these alters. Ostara is the day Eostra, the Earth, was joined in a sacred marriage with the Sun God.
The March Hare is a symbol of immortality and fertility and has a few interpretations; such as being the son of spring or a totum for lunar Goddesses. This is where the roots of the Easter bunny came from.
Other rituals might include getting out into nature or cultivating nature in your own garden, casting a circle with seasonally coloured candles and a bowl of milk and sugar, and various types of grounding or earth meditations.
The next sabbat is Beltane on May 1 - about halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice - which is a fire festival celebrating the coming of summer.
Albion has his own personal ritual planned for the coming celebration.
He said: "I do mindful ritual every single day where I go down to the beach and commune with Rán, the norse god of the sea, and Odin.
"For Beltane, I've rewritten a ritual from The Wicker Man where Lord Summerisle opens up beer kegs and lets beer flow into the sea. I take a couple of bottles of beer and cider to the beach and do a small ritual by myself and during I'll open the bottles and let them flow into the sea. That would be my offering to them for the year."
Paganism to Albion is largely about tolerance and a sense of community. He added: "Great Britain has been invaded by the Saxons, Vikings, Normans and they've all brought their own little bits of belief and they've been incorporated into the UK now.
"So we're not just one people - we're the sum of all those people. That's part of what paganism celebrates, the old ways which have influenced the now.
"I don't put anyone down for what they believe. It's all personal choice. Who's to say we're not all worshipping the same thing but in different ways."