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~ Ēostre ~
Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts. The goddess flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman-inspired putti, beams of light, and animals. Germanic people look up at the goddess from the realm below.
Old English Ēostre (also Ēastre) and Old High German Ôstarâ are the names of a putative Germanic goddess whose Anglo-Saxon month, Ēostur-monath, has given its name to the festival of Easter. Eostre is attested only by Bede, in his 8th century work De temporum ratione, where he states that Ēostur-monath was the equivalent to the month of April, and that feasts held in her honour during Ēostur-monath had died out by the time of his writing, replaced by the "Paschal month". The possibility of a Common Germanic goddess called *Austrōn- was examined in detail in 19th century Germanic philology, by Jacob Grimm and others, without coming to a definite conclusion.
Linguists have identified the goddess as a Germanic form of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, *Hausos, some scholars have debated whether or not Eostre is an invention of Bede's, and theories connecting Eostre with records of Germanic Easter customs (including hares and eggs) have been proposed.
Ēostre derives from Proto-Germanic *austrō, ultimately from a PIE root *au̯es-, "to shine" and closely related to a conjectural name of Hausos, the dawn goddess, *h2ausōs, which would account for Greek Eos, Roman Aurora and Indian Ushas.
The modern English term Easter is the direct continuation of Old English Ēastre, which is attested solely by Bede in the 8th century. Ēostre is the Northumbrian form while Ēastre is West Saxon.
Bede states that the name refers to a goddess named Ēostre who was celebrated at Eosturmonath, one of the months of the Anglo-Saxon calendar. In the 19th century Hans Grimm cited Bede when he proposed the existence of an Old High German equivalent named ōstarūn, plural, "Easter" (modern German language Ostern). There is no certain parallel to Ēostre in North Germanic languages though Grimm speculates that the east wind, "a spirit of light" named Austri found in the 13th century Icelandic Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, might be related.
Eástre (1909) by Jacques Reich. Directly derived from Gehrts' image (above), with the Germanic worshipers replaced by a picturesque landscape.
Jacob Grimm and Ostara
In his 1882 Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob Grimm cites comparative evidence to reconstruct a potential continental Germanic goddess whose name would have been preserved in the Old High German name of Easter, Ôstarâ. Grimm is willing to take Bede's accounts of three pagan goddesses at face value, stating, "There is nothing improbable in them, nay the first of them is justified by clear traces in the vocabularies of Germanic tribes."
Specifically regarding Eostra, Grimm continues that:
We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is found as early as Eginhart (temp. Car. Mag.). The great christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG. remains the name ôstarâ [...], it is mostly found in the plural, because two days [...] were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ, like the [Anglo-Saxon] Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries.
Grimm notes that "all of the nations bordering on us have retained the Biblical 'pascha'; even Ulphilas writes paska, not áustrô, though he must have known the word [...]." Grimm details that the Old High German adverb ôstar "expresses movement towards the rising sun", as did the Old Norse term austr, and potentially also Anglo-Saxon eástor and Gothic áustr. Grimm compares these terms to the identical Latin term auster. Grimm says that the cult of the goddess may have worshiped an Old Norse form, Austra, or that her cult may have already been extinct by the time of Christianization
Grimm notes that in the Old Norse Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, a male being by the name of Austri is attested, who Grimm describes as a "spirit of light." Grimm comments that a female version would have been Austra, yet that the High German and Saxon tribes seem to have only formed Ostarâ and Eástre, feminine, and not Ostaro and Eástra, masculine. Grimm additionally speculates on the nature of the goddess and surviving folk customs that may have been associated with her in Germany:
Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the christian's God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy [...]. Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing [...]; here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess [...].
Hares and Freyja
An Easter postcard from 1907 depicting a rabbit
In Northern Europe, Easter imagery often involves hares and rabbits. Citing folk Easter customs in Leicestershire, England where "the profits of the land called Harecrop Leys were applied to providing a meal which was thrown on the ground at the 'Hare-pie Bank'", late 19th century scholar Charles Isaac Elton theorizes a connection between these customs and the worship of Ēostre. In his late 19th century study of the hare in folk custom and mythology, Charles J. Billson cites numerous incidents of folk custom involving the hare around the period of Easter in Northern Europe. Billson says that "whether there was a goddess named Eostre, or not, and whatever connection the hare may have had with the ritual of Saxon or British worship, there are good grounds for believing that the sacredness of this animal reaches back into an age still more remote, where it is probably a very important part of the great Spring Festival of the prehistoric inhabitants of this island."
Some scholars have linked customs and imagery involving hares to Ēostre and the Norse goddess Freyja. Writing in 1972, John Andrew Boyle cites commentary contained within an etymology dictionary by A. Ernout and A. Meillet, where the authors write that "Little else [...] is known about [Ēostre], but it has been suggested that her lights, as goddess of the dawn, were carried by hares. And she certainly represented spring fecundity, and love and carnal pleasure that leads to fecundity." Boyle responds that nothing is known about Ēostre outside of Bede's single passage, that the authors had seemingly accepted the identification of Ēostre with the Norse goddess Freyja, yet that the hare is not associated with Freyja either. Boyle writes that "her carriage, we are told by Snorri, was drawn by a pair of cats — animals, it is true, which like hares were the familiars of witches, with whom Freyja seems to have much in common." However, Boyle adds that "on the other hand, when the authors speak of the hare as the 'companion of Aphrodite and of satyrs and cupids' and point out that 'in the Middle Ages it appears beside the figure of Luxuria', they are on much surer ground and can adduce the evidence of their illustrations."
Jacob Grimm's reconstructed *Ostara has had some influence in popular culture since. The name has been adapted as an asteroid (343 Ostara, 1892 by Max Wolf), a Mödling, Austria-based German nationalist book series and publishing house (1905, Ostara), and a date on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year (Ostara, 21 March). In music, it has been adopted as a name by the musical group Ostara, and as the names of albums by :zoviet*france: (Eostre, 1984) and The Wishing Tree (Ostara, 2009).
Every Teacher is a Student, every Student a Teacher ~
~ Azhdaya Ravenwolf