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Eostre, also spelled Ostara, is a goddess in Germanic paganism associated with the spring season and the dawn. Her name is derived from the Old Germanic word for “east,” symbolizing the rising sun. She represents rebirth and renewal, in sync with the arrival of spring after winter.
However, historical evidence about Eostre is limited, and most knowledge comes from the writings of an 8th-century English monk, Bede. What’s more, scholars speculate that there’s a strong connection between Eostre and the Christian celebration of Easter. Let’s take a look at this unique goddess, her symbols, origins, and possible connection to Easter.
Origins of Eostre the Goddess of Spring
Eostre is the Germanic goddess of dawn, celebrated during the Spring Equinox. Bede, a Benedictine monk was the first to describe Eostre. In his 725 AD 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, the German author and folklorist, 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 in England.
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.
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 it would be easier for Anglo-Saxons to accept Christianity if aspects of their pagan worship was incorporated into the religion. Over time, many pagan rituals associated with spring and perhaps Eostre, became a part of Christian celebrations. As paganism declined, many deities like Eostre were slowly left behind.
What’s Eostre’s Connection to Easter?
There is a longstanding debate among scholars about Eostre’s connection to Easter. Bede mentioned that the month corresponding to April was called “Eosturmonath” by the Anglo-Saxons, which later translated into “Easter month.” He suggested that the Christian festival of Easter was named after Eostre. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this claim is true.
It’s true that there is a connection between Eostre’s symbols of hare and eggs, which have been carried forward into Easter traditions and lend some credence to a connection. However, it’s also possible that these symbols of fertility and rebirth were common in many ancient springtime festivals and may not directly link Easter to Eostre.
The connection between Eostre and Easter is still largely speculative, and more research is needed to definitively establish the relationship between them. Regardless, Eostre’s lore provides a fascinating look into the rich tapestry of folklore, myth, and celebration that marks the arrival of spring.
Symbolism and Symbols 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:
1. 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. It is not difficult to see the comparisons with many other iterations of Eostre. For example, in Greek mythology, the Titan goddess Eos brings dawn by rising from the ocean.
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.
2. 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.
3. Symbol of Resurrection and Rebirth
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.
4. 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.
Hares are a symbol of Eostre. 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.
Eggs are a symbol of fertility, new beginnings, and spring. They were often used in celebrations related to Eostre.
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.
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.