FARGO - While Easter or Spring Break may be a signal for many that it's time for renewal, area pagans and Wiccans recognize spring through ancient festivals during the spring equinox, sometimes called Ostara, and Beltane, the first day of May.

"To us, Ostara (Eostre or Eastre) is the Germanic goddess of the dawn. One of her root words means "to shine"; because of those connotations some rituals that pagans practice have only been introduced during the last 100 years," says Omni Rogers-Mueller, a 38-year-old practicing pagan and Covenant of the Moon High Priestess. However, Ostara has origins dating back to eighth century, Rogers-Mueller says.

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This year the Ostara, or the spring equinox, took place on March 20, a 24-hour period when the day and the night are of almost equal length. To area pagans, the first day of spring highlights a rebirth of energy and ambition.

"Ostara means that spring is here and the earth is waking up," says 35-year-old practitioning pagan Becky McNeil. "Spiritually, it connects us to the spring season and marks a time to shed the darkness of winter in favor of sunlight and more activity."

McNeil, who's been practicing paganism since the late '90s, says Ostara is a time to reconnect with friends and clean out clutter. Rogers-Mueller says her coven celebrates Ostara with food, dance and drink during a closed sabbat.

Sabbat refers to any seasonal festival area pagans or wiccans may observe. Periodically, area pagans and Wiccans will host an open sabbat where non-pagans or solitary pagan practitioners are invited to join them to learn about specific traditions relating to the particular holiday.

"I don't create an open sabbat for the Ostara because it's so close to Lent," Rogers-Mueller says.

And despite what non-pagans may imagine, her coven did not partake in some of the other spring season traditions like going on an egg hunt, which has long been thought of as pagan in its practice. However, Rogers-Mueller says the concept of the eggs brought by a bunny was not part of proto-European tradition at all.

"We celebrate with feasting, dance, chants and merriment," Roger-Mueller says. "We aren't going to do the Easter egg coloring at all because it's not traditional."

Rogers-Mueller says that although Ostara is sometimes associated with fertility, this pagan holiday is more about the rebirth of the Earth and energy.

Beltane, a summer love

For most pagans Samhain, the Oct. 31 holiday of memorial is the height of their calendar, but Beltane (or May Day) is a close second. Rogers-Mueller agrees and says that Beltane is the passionate, fiery holiday many pagans look forward too.

"Beltane marks the beginning of the summer season. It's a good time to celebrate fertility, creativity and growth," McNeil says.

As an organizer of the Lake Agassiz Pagan Community, McNeil says she observes Beltane by renewing protections around her home and cleansing negativity. But she also points out that many pagan "handfastings" or marriages take place on Beltane.

"Beltane symbolizes the marriage of the god and goddess," Rogers-Mueller says. "And at this time, the goddess is a maiden so she is being wooed and courted."

Rogers-Mueller says that before Beltane, the courting is subtle but once it's the first day of May, all bets are off.

McNeil says area pagans and Wiccans will dance the "Maypole tradition" where men and women dance around a living tree in pairs, interweaving large ribbons in honor of Beltane.

"During Beltane the feeling of 'to heck with the consequences' and declarations of love are encouraged," she says. "It's the marrying of the ying-yang, and a time of transition because the maiden goddess will become the mother."

A growing, tolerant community

The Lake Agassiz Pagan Community was created on Meetup.com during early 2006 by Thomas Punton, a now 41-year-old pagan and witch, with a small group of acquaintances so they could find more like-minded individuals. Despite the group's decade-long history, its members have not significantly increased - it remains a small, vibrant community of 20 to 40 pagans.

"It's hard to gauge because a lot of pagans are what's called solitary practitioners. I fall under that and many people do not want to let people know publicly that they are pagan so they will do their own thing in private and they won't go beyond that." says Rev. Scott Wardzinski, an ordained druid priest who has been studying various forms of paganism for more than 10 years.

"You're not going to get much more input from all pagans," Roger-Mueller says. "It's just hard because most do not want share their journey as we are still a minority."

Since Forum News Service published an article about the area pagan community during the fall of 2017, Rogers-Mueller says people from other faith backgrounds have reached out to include her in some interfaith work.

In March, Rogers-Mueller and more than 50 other pagans from the Fargo-Moorhead community traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota for Paganicon 2018. One of the largest gatherings of pagans in the United States, more than 700 people attended the weekend convention.

McNeil says that despite some negative beliefs about paganism, there is absolutely no reason to fear them.

"We are good people who want to see the world become a better place to live in environmentally and socially," she says. "Most of us would be happy to answer any questions or clear up any misconceptions you may have, as long as you treat us with respect just like everyone else."

North Dakota Grand Sabbat

In May, pagans from around the state will gather for the North Dakota Grand Sabbat, a three-day "mini festival" from May 18-20 at Buffalo Lake near Esmond.

Pagans from North Dakota and the surrounding areas are invited to come together, network and meet like-minded people while practicing traditions of paganism.

Find out more by searching "North Dakota Grand Sabbat" on Eventbrite.com or Facebook.