Wednesday, August 20, 2014



Appeal: Spring, Renewal, Fertility, New Beginnings


goddess_eostre_by_ginqueeen-d4yieg8.jpgEostre or Ostara is a Germanic divinity who is the namesake of the festival of Easter.  Eostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where Bede states that during Eosturmonap (about April), Pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Eostre's honor, but that this tradition had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  The date of Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March Equinox.  She is linked with records of Germanic Easter customs, including hares and eggs. 

Eggs were relatively common in the Middle Ages and an important source of nutrition in a society where meat was a rare treat.  Monks and priests were often given presents (payment) on important Christian holidays, with Easter being one of those.  Eggs were a common gift, and they were often given to priests in baskets.  In Russia it was common for priests and nobility to give out eggs as gift, especially around Easter.  Eventually the eggs that were passed out were elaborately decorated, and the custom spread throughout the country.

Rabbits have been associated with fertility from Pagan times into the present.  They are famous for their complicated partner-choosing rituals that they do in Spring.  It seems likely that the Easter Bunny is an Ancient Pagan tradition, but the first references to the Easter Bunny only date back to the 1500′s.

One tale about Goddess Eostre, who was responsible for bringing spring each year, was feeling guilty about arriving so late one year.  To make matters worse, she arrived to find a pitiful little bird who lay dying, his wings frozen by the snow.  Lovingly, Ostara cradled the shivering creature and saved his life.  Filled with compassion for him since he could no longer fly because of his frost-damaged wings, the Goddess Ostara turned him into a rabbit.

She also gave him the gift of being able to run with astonishing speed so he could easily evade all the hunters.  To honor his earlier form as a bird, she also gave him the ability to lay eggs, but he was only allowed to lay eggs on one day out of each year.

Eventually Ostara lost her temper with him and she flung him into the skies where he would remain for eternity as the constellation the Hare, forever positioned under the feet of the constellation Orion (the Hunter).  But later, remembering all the good times they had once enjoyed, Ostara softened a bit and allowed the hare to return to Earth once each year, but only to give away his eggs to the children attending the Ostara festivals that were held each spring.


Eostre is connected with renewal and fertility.  Eggs and rabbits are sacred to her, as is the full moon, since the ancients saw in its markings the image of a rabbit or hare.  She is also a dawn Goddess, and may be related to the Greek Goddess of the dawn Eos.

iconurl.jpgIn some forms of Germanic Neopaganism, Eostre is venerated.  Regarding this veneration, Carole Cusack comments that, among adherents, Eostre is "associated with the coming of spring and the dawn, and her festival is celebrated at the spring equinox.  Because she brings renewal, rebirth from the death of winter, some Heathens associate Eostre with Idunn, keeper of the apples of youth in Scandinavian mythology".

In Northern Europe, Easter imagery often involves hares and rabbits.  In his late 19th-century study of the hare in folk custom and mythology, Charles 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."

There's not a lot of information about her and she doesn't show up in the Poetic or Prose Eddas.  Evidence of her existence is found in the oral traditions of certain parts of Germany, but there's really no written proof.  Regardless, she has come to be associated with modern-day Pagan and Wiccan customs, and certainly is connected in spirit, if not in actuality, to our contemporary celebrations of Ostara.

Many modern Pagans celebrate Ostara as a time of renewal and rebirth.  Take some time to celebrate the new life that surrounds you in nature - walk in park, lay in the grass, hike through a forest.  As you do so, observe all the new things beginning around you - plants, flowers, insects, birds.  Meditate upon the ever-moving Wheel of the Year and celebrate the change of seasons.


Hail, and welcome!
Green life returns to the earth
blooming and blossoming
once more from the soil.
We welcome you,
Goddesses of spring,
Eostre, Persephone, Flora, Cybele,
in the trees,
in the soil,
in the flowers,
in the rains,
and we are grateful
for your presence.



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