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Easter is a popular celebration for Christians and is an annual event of worship and celebration of Jesus, commemorating his resurrection after his crucifixion by Roman soldiers. This event has held great influence in the last 2000 years of the history of humanity and in the beliefs of many around the world. It’s a day to celebrate new life and rebirth, normally during the spring month of April.
However, behind the name of Easter and the famous Christian holiday associated with this name, lies a mysterious deity that ought to be demystified and explained. Read on to find about the lady behind the Easter.
The Origins of Eostre the Goddess of Spring
Eostre is the Germanic goddess of dawn, celebrated during the Spring Equinox. The name of this mysterious spring deity is hidden in its numerous iterations in European languages, stemming from its Germanic roots -Ēostre or Ôstara.
The name Eostre/Easter can be traced back to proto-Indo-European h₂ews-reh₂, which means “dawn” or “morning”. The name of Easter thus predates modern monotheistic religions, and we can track it back to the Proto-Indo-European roots.
Bede, a Benedictine monk was the first to describe Eostre. In his treatise, The Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione), Bede describes the Anglo-Saxon pagan celebrations held during the month of Ēosturmōnaþ with fires being lit and feasts being set up for Eostre, the Morning Bringer.
Jacob Grim, who describes the practice of worshiping Eostre in his piece Teutonic Mythology, claims that she is the “… goddess of the growing light of spring”. At one stage, Eostre was highly worshipped and held significant power as a deity.
Why Did Eostre’s Worship Fade?
How then does time turn against such a powerful and significant deity?
The answer perhaps lies in Christianity’s adaptability as organized religion and its capacity to graft onto pre-existing cults and practices.
We have accounts of Pope Gregory sending missionaries in AD 595 to England to spread Christianity, who encountered pagan worship of Eostre. In his 1835 Deutsche Mythologie, Grim adds:
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.
The missionaries were aware that Christianity would be accepted by the Anglo-Saxons only if the essence of their pagan worship remained. This is how pagan rituals for Eostre, the goddess of Spring, turned into the Worship of Christ and his resurrection.
Similarly, the feasts for Eostre and other spirits of nature turned into feasts and celebrations for Christian saints. Over time, the worship of Jesus replaced the worship of Eostre.
Symbolism of Eostre
As a deity that embodied spring and nature, Eostre was an important part of the collective consciousness of Germanic and pre-Germanic cultures. Regardless of her name, or gender (which was male in some old-Norse sources), Eostre seems to embody numerous cross-societal values and symbolism that transcend the boundaries of one specific society. These were as follows:
The Symbol of Light
Eostre is not considered a sun goddess but is a source of light and a bringer of light. She is associated with dawn, morning, and radiance that brings joy. She was celebrated with bonfires.
Although not a goddess of the sun herself, the concept of Eostre, especially its proto-Indo-European iteration Hausos, impacted other deities of light and sun, like the goddess Saulė in the old Baltic mythologies of Latvia and Lithuania. In this way, Eostre’s influence extended beyond the regions where she was actively worshipped.
The Symbol of Colors
Color is another important symbol associated with Eostre and spring. Painting eggs with red is closely related to the Christian easter celebrations. However, this is an activity that comes from the worship of Eostre, where spring colors were added to eggs to highlight the return of spring and the colors it brings with flowers and the rejuvenation of nature.
The Symbol of Resurrection and Rebirth
The parallel with Jesus is obvious here. Eostre is also a symbol of resurrection, not of a person, but of the rejuvenation of the entire natural world that comes with spring. The Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ always comes around the time of the Spring Equinox that was venerated by many pre-Christian cultures as the ascent and resurrection of light after long and arduous winters.
Symbol of Fertility
Eostre is associated with fertility. As the goddess of springtime, the birth and growth of all things are an indication of her fertility and fecundity. Eostre’s association with hares further strengthens this symbolism because hares and rabbits are symbols of fertility thanks to how quickly they reproduce.
The Symbolism of Hares
The Easter bunny is an integral part of Easter celebrations, but where does it come from? Not much is known about this symbol, but it has been suggested that spring hares were followers of Eostre, seen in spring gardens and meadows. Interestingly, egg-laying hares were believed to lay eggs for Eostre’s feasts, likely impacting today’s association of eggs and hares during Easter festivities.
The Symbolism of Eggs
Although there is an obvious connection with Christianity, coloring and decorating eggs most certainly predates Christianity. In Europe, the craft of decorating eggs for spring festivities is noted in the ancient craft of Pysanky where eggs were decorated with beeswax. German immigrants brought the idea of egg-laying hares to the new world of America as early as the 18th century.
And as historians like to say: “the rest is history” – eggs and hares went through a process of commercialization and monetization of festivities and turned into staple chocolate products loved by millions all over the world.
Why is Eostre Important?
The importance of Eostre is visible in her presence in Christianity and faint glimmers seen in Christian festivities that were originally set up for her.
Germanic and especially Northern Paganism associate her with an image of a fair maiden that brings spring and light, clothed in white and radiant. She is presented as a messianic figure.
While her worship may have transcended into the worship of other messianic figures like Jesus Christ, she remains relevant to this day.
A good illustration of the renewed interest in Eostre is her comeback in literature. Neil Gaiman’s anthropological exploration of the connection between humans and the deities they worship in American Gods centers around Eostre/Ostara, one of the old gods struggling to survive in the world where new gods are worshiped.
Gaiman introduces Eostre as Ostara, an ancient European spring deity that migrated with her worshipers to America where her power, fed by the worship, is dwindling due to her worshipers turning to Christianity and other religions.
In an interesting series of twists and turns, Eostre/Ostara, presented with hares and spring dresses, pops back into pop-culture relevance once again both in literature and an on-screen adaptation of Gaiman’s work.
The TV series based on Gaiman’s work, American Gods highlights the quid-pro-quo relationship between gods and humans as a relationship in which gods are under the mercy of their worshipers and may easily dwindle should their loyal followers find another deity to worship.
The proliferation of the New-Age religion and further disenfranchisement with predominant monotheistic religions and the erratic speed of technological change and global warming have led many to turn towards re-evaluating the cult of Eostre.
Paganism is resurrecting Eostre/Ostara in new worshiping practices, emanating old-Germanic literature and Eostre-related aesthetics.
Online portals are popping up on the internet dedicated to Eostre. You can even light a “virtual candle” for Eostre, and read poems and prayers written in her name. The following is an Adoration to Eostre:
I adore You, Goddess of spring.
I adore You, Goddess of the wet and fertile field.
I adore You, Ever-brightening Dawn.
I adore You, Who hides Your mysteries in liminal places.
I adore You, Rebirth.
I adore You, Renewal.
I adore You, aching tug of awakening hungers.
I adore You, Goddess of adolescence.
I adore You, Goddess of bursting bloom.
I adore You, Goddess of the new season.
I adore You, Goddess of New Growth.
I adore You, Who awakens the womb of the earth.
I adore You, Who brings fertility.
I adore You, laughing dawnlight.
I adore You, who looses the hare.
I adore You, Who quickens the belly.
I adore you. Who fills the egg with life.
I adore You, Holder of all potentiality.
I adore You, Opening passage from winter to summer.
I adore You, Whose caress causes winter to yield its sway.
I adore You, Who sweeps away cold with a kiss of light.
I adore You, Alluring One.
I adore You, Who delights in the rising cock.
I adore You, Who delights in the wet cunt.
I adore You, Goddess of playful delight.
I adore You, friend of Mani.
I adore You, friend of Sunna.
I adore You, Eostre.
Eostre may not be as well-known as she was in the past, but she remains a representation of the rebirth of nature and the return of light. Although overshadowed by Christianity, Eostre continues to be an important deity among Neo-Pagans.