Hail Holy Ostara! Hail the daughter born at Delling’s door,
At the gate of day who bears the morning light!
Hail Ostara, Lady of the Spring Dawn!
~ Heathen Kinship Blessings
As you probably know, the Vernal Equinox arrives on Tuesday, March 20 (at 1:15am, Eastern time). For Pagans, Witches, and many other Earth-centered spiritual paths, this Quarter Holiday is known as Ostara.
We may surmise it is named for a Goddess, but why? And what is known of Her?
First a little bit of background.
Christians around the world will soon celebrate their most important sacred day, 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, or pascha in Greek, because it was held at the time of the Jewish feast Passover. The reason, of course, is that it was at Passover that the events around their dying and resurrecting God took place. 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, thus parting ways with the prescribed Jewish dates of Passover, the Pesach.
As the new religion spread across Europe, many of its Jewish characteristics faded and blended in with the Pagan customs and beliefs of the local populations.
Always held in early Spring, most indigenous people held rites of fertility, renewal, and celebration of the return of life. Naturally, this fit right in with the theme of the dying and reborn sacrificial God, which is a theme that far pre-dates 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.
It is probably no coincidence that the similarly named Greek Goddess of the dawn is the beautiful, chariot driving Eos.
Bede the Venerable, a scribe who lived around 673-735 C.E. wrote that the fourth month of the year, “Esturmonath” was named for Ostara. 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.
Sadly, we do not know very much about Ostara Herself. While some have said She is another form of the Goddesses Frigg or Freya, many Heathen scholars dispute that, noting that Ostara’s etymological and mythological origins portray someone rather different from the other two.
Ostara’s name means, “Movement towards the rising Sun,” and our word “estrus” comes from Her name — one of the more notable signs of Springtime.
In climates where Winter was a time of constantly living on the edges of death, the lengthening of daylight, the warming of the land, and the birth of new livestock were celebrated with gratitude and joy we can scarcely imagine today.
As a Goddess of fertility, She would have been a grain Goddess, and offerings of bread and cakes were made to Her.
In addition, in one of the most important of Spring festivals among pre-Christian Germanic tribes, lovely Ostara was honored with offerings of colored, decorated eggs, as symbols of fertility. These eggs were often placed at gravesites, probably as a charm of rebirth. (Egyptians and Greeks were also known to place eggs near graves).
Rabbits are sacred to Ostara, especially white rabbits, and She is said to be able to take the form of a rabbit.
One legend says Ostara found a bird dying from the cold, because She had been late one year, restoring the warmth to the land. Filled with remorse, She changed it to a white snow hare, to save its life. Yet it was still able to lay eggs like a bird. Thus, some stories tell us this is how the Ostara Bunny brings eggs to children on Easter.
According to the scholarly collection of German oral histories and myths Deutsche Mythologie, published in 1835 by Jacob Grimm (yes, the same one, who with his brother, collected faery tales), various traditions throughout Germany were still practiced at that time in Her honor. From these records we know of the Ostern Hare, Ostara eggs, the Ostara sword, and Pagan hilltop ceremonies, particularly celebratory bonfires, at dawn.
May Ostara, the Lady of the Dawning Springtime, shine upon you, bringing you sweet awakenings and returning life to all you cherish. Blessed be!