Ostara is the Spring equinox, the second of the fertility festivals, and usually falls around March 21st. The sun has been growing in strength and the days becoming longer. The spring equinox represents the point where day and night are of equal length, before the days officially become longer than the nights. The promise that was made at Imbolc is being fulfilled, and the flourishing of the earth can already be seen, with the earliest of spring plants starting to bloom.
This is a festival of fertility, where we celebrate the plants, and the crops that are about to grow. Eggs are an important symbolism at this time, as they represent fertility and new life, as is nurturing that which has just been brought into the world. At Imbolc we sowed the first of our seeds, and will continue to do so as the conditions demand; for example, many vegetables require planting around about March/April time. It is important for many seedlings to keep them warm and covered, especially against the frost. This is easier said than done, as with the effects of climate change, we are becoming more prone to later frosts. However, this care and compassion is necessary to ensure a successful harvest later on.
This festival is often associated with the Germanic Goddess Eostre. But who was she? And, possibly the most pressing question, was she 'real'? Or made up by an 8th Century Saint?
There is no reference to Eostre in pagan sources. The only reference to her is from Saint Bede in his 8th Century works De temporum ratione (The Reckoning Of Time). In his works, Bede discusses the names of the months as referred to by the indigenous English peoples through the following translated text:
Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a Goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.
This is the one time up until this point that Eostre is mentioned. There are no inscriptions, no depicitions, nothing. This has lead some scholars to believe that Bede invented Eostre, or at the very least took some 'creative licence' in basing her off of other deities.
In 1835, Jacob Grimm entered the fray with his own view on Eostre. Here are some of the passages taken from some of his writing about the Goddess:
We Germans to this day call April 'ostermonat', and 'ostarmanoth' is found as early as Eginhart [a Frankish scholar]. The great Christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG remains the name 'ostara'...it is mostly found in the plural, because two days...were kept at Easter. This 'Ostara', like the [Anglo-Saxon] 'Eastre', 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.
Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian's God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy ... Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing ... here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great Christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.
But if we admit, goddesses, then, in addition to Nerthus, Ostara has the strongest claim to consideration. To what we said on p. 290 I can add some significant facts. The heathen Easter had much in common with May-feast and the reception of spring, particularly in the matter of bonfires. Then, through long ages there seem to have lingered among the people Easter-games so-called, which the church itself had to tolerate : I allude especially to the custom of Easter eggs, and to the Easter tale which preachers told from the pulpit for the people's amusement, connecting it with Christian reminiscences.
Grimm's view was essentially that Eostre was a local Goddess based on a more widespread Goddess, and it was Grimm that named this Goddess as Ostara. Like Eostre, it is difficult to tell whether Ostara existed in the wider world, or whether this was all speculation on Grimm's part.
As I said, Eostre and Ostara's validity as 'real', ancient deities that were worshipped and venerated is a hot topic amongst scholars. Other theories around deities with similar names, roots of names, etc. - far too many to go into here. For example, a cluster of place names in England contain a variety of Germanic and English names which include the element 'eostre'. There is no doubt as to the word 'eostre' existing, but whether it was also the name of a Goddess, and a Goddess related with Easter, is still very much up for debate.
However, don't let this stop you from working with this energy! My personal view of deity is that there is one 'universal energy', and that deities are interpretations of this energy - like the faces of a diamond. As such, she is just one face of this energy, and is no less valid. She may very well have existed, or she may well be a retelling of some other ancient Goddess. However, whether she exists or not is an interesting scholarly debate, and one which appears to be very divisive!
The Weekly Witch:
Once I week I talk about something 'witchcraft' related I have done with my week. How we incorporate witchcraft into our every day lives is always a topic that has interested me, so I wanted to start this blog to explore it further!