As we celebrate Springtime and the renewal of life, we’ve been visiting with our childhood memories, not just to fill ourselves with nostalgia, but to learn something about the wellsprings of juiciness that inform who we are now.
Spring is the time of the Maiden, the Goddess in Her young, juicy aspect, full of bright promise. Over the coming days, I invite you to join me as we celebrate Her in some of her many guises.
As you probably know, Christians around the world celebrated their most important sacred day yesterday, the festival of Easter. “Easter” is the name that was given to their rites in some parts of Europe around the 8th century, C.E. Previously, it had been simply called Pesach, as it was held at the time of the Jewish feast Passover, which is when the events they celebrate occurred. So why the name change, and what does “Easter” mean?
In 325 C.E., the church council of Nicaea decided that the observance of their God’s resurrection should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox of March 21. This meant that they were parting ways with holding it in tandem with the prescribed dates of Passover, the Pesach.
As the new religion spread across Europe, its Jewish characteristics blended in with the existing Pagan customs and beliefs of the population. Always held in early spring, rites of fertility, renewal, and celebration of new life fit right in with the theme of the dying and reborn sacrificial God, a theme that far pre-dated Christianity.
The English word “Easter” is derived from the name “Eostre” or “Eastre.” Eostre is the Anglo-Saxon word for Ostara, the Germanic Goddess of the Dawn. Bede the Venerable, a scribe who lived around 673-735 C.E. wrote that the fourth month of the year, “Esturmonath” was named for Her and April, in Anglo Saxon, Old High German, and some modern German dialects, is called “Ostara’s month.” Place names suggest that Ostara was venerated throughout ancient Germany and Denmark.
In climates where Winter was a life and death matter, the return of the Sun, the lengthening of daylight, the warming of the land, and the birth of new livestock were anticipated and celebrated with gratitude and joy.
One of the most important of spring festivals among pre-Christian Germanic tribes, Ostara was honored with colored, decorated eggs, symbols of fertility. In fact, our word “estrus” comes from Her name — one of the more notable signs of springtime.
Some modern Norse traditions equate her with Freya and other Sun Goddesses, although strictly speaking, no ancient texts refer to Her in this way. Current Scandinavian practices intertwined with Easter customs are probably rooted in Germanic influences, rather than “pure” heathenism.
According to the commentaries written in 1835 by Jacob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie, various traditions throughout Germany were still practiced in Her honor, involving the Ostern Hare, Ostara eggs, the Ostara sword, and hilltop ceremonies at dawn.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue our journey, visiting with some more Goddesses of Spring, renewal, and youthfulness.