Eostre & Ostara, We Need to Have a Talk

So here is the deal, we need to talk about Eostre. Every single year it would seem we run the gamut of people not only being woefully ill-informed and spreading misinformation but also people debunking misinformation. But the problem with this is that you also have overzealous debunkers who throw the good out with the bad. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to try to break out my sources to debunk someone else who is trying to debunk something about Eostre. And you know what? If those people are incorrect they are even more likely to cleave to their misinformation than those they are trying to debunk. Here is the thing, I’m a college educated historian, I study history. I can be swayed if the sources are compelling enough; I have altered my opinion many times as new information comes to light. Furthermore, I have come across lay historians who have no degree at all who are as well informed in their preferred subject or more so than I am. It is not a degree that matters in history; it is adherence to the historical method. But if you are trying to have a historical argument and the primary sources are staring you in the face and contradicting everything you are arguing then you’re not really having an academic argument and you should not keep that pretense. Heathenry is full of contrarians fueled by their own self-righteousness claiming they are academics yet many are ignorant of the sources or fully willing to ignore sources entirely. Reading Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology doesn’t make you an expert or an academic. This is not only an Eostre issue, it is a wider issue in heathenry, but today I am talking about Eostre.

The main source for Eostre comes from the Venerable Bede, in particular his book De temporum ratione (The Reckoning of Time). In this book he goes into a brief aside about the English months and how they were named.

 

The Latin source regarding Eostre reads:

“Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretetur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cuius nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant; consueto antiquae observationis vocabulo gaudia novae solemnitatis vocantes.”[1]

 

The Faith Wallis translation reads:

“Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs names 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.”[2]

 

The primary source telling us about the names of the months of his time period and their origins, Bede, has informed us that the month was named after a goddess who was celebrated by feasts in the same general season as Paschal. Some people argue that Bede is lying and that no such goddess existed. First off, Bede has no reason to lie about this because it was not ordinary for clerics to invent new gods but was however common to find them arguing against ancient gods that they knew about from earlier times. Basically, he has no reason to lie about so small a detail. Furthermore, he is generally a very reliable source of information when he is relaying information from his own time period. Bede is not a bullshitter; if he wrote it in this capacity then it is very fair to say that he genuinely believed it was true. Also since he was writing about things within his own area of the world he was better equipped to know about this material than most anyone else. We can then conclude that the evidence we have is indeed pointing toward the existence of belief in a goddess named Eostre.

So who was Eostre?

This is where the record gets a little bit murkier. There is no Anglo-Saxon source for understanding what Eostre is associated with or how she acts as a goddess. But then again it is an Indo-European religion and there is a considerable overlap between Indo-European religions; religion must have developed before the tribes broke apart and migrated considering the overlap. The religions of each culture developed with their own flair but in many cases a core kernel of continuity can be discovered and many times there are linguistic or mythological links between the cultures. Essentially, it is accepted practice to examine Indo-European religions for similarities because those similarities can help inform on the other religions.

 

In this vein of thinking, if we examine Eostre we can see that she is not the isolated unknown and unknowable goddess that some try to make her out to be. Eostre is linguistically related to several goddesses through the PIE root word *haéusōs: Eos (Greek), Aurora (Roman), Aušrinė (Lithuanian), Auseklis (Latvian), Ushas (Vedic).[3] Each of these goddesses is linked both to dawn and the east in this linguistic way, which makes sense given the location of dawn in the east.

 

I will provide a more full and actionable reconstruction of Eostre through these goddesses as a lens soon.

 

Now you know I feel conflicted about Jacob Grimm. On the one hand his book is incredibly old and full of too many leaps than a historian should make and stay within the boundaries of the evidence. On the other hand, Grimm also says many things most historians think in the subject but would never say because to do so would be to step beyond the evidence. Grimm is also biased. Grimm is a nationalist and wanted to condense and boil things down into a Germanic mythology. But Grimm was also pretty damn good at historical linguistics. Grimm, being German-centered, goes straight to Ostara. Now I can hear your alarm bells going off – *warning*Ostara alert *warning*. But really, we have to examine in ourselves why we react this way to Ostara. Let’s examine what Grimm actually has to say on the subject and then we will examine his sources and thought process.

 

“We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is found as early as Eginhart (temp. Car. Mag.). The great christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears the oldest of OHG. remains the name ôstarâ gen. –ûn; it is mostly found in the plural, because two days (ôstertagâ, aostortagâ, Diut. 1, 266a) were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ, like the AS. Eástre, must in the 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. All the nations bordering on is have retained the Biblical ‘pascha’, even Ulphilas writes paska, not áustrô, though he must have known the word; the Norse tongue also has imported its pâskir, Swed. påsk, Dan. paaske. The OHG. adv. ôstar expresses movement toward the rising sun (Gramm. 3, 205), likewise the ON. auster, and probably an AS. eástor and Goth. áustr. In Latin the identical auster has been pushed round to the noonday quarter, the South. In the Edda a male being, a spirit of light, bears the name of Austri, so a female one might have been Austra; the High German and Saxon tribes seem on the contrary to have formed only an Ostarâ, Eástre (fem.) not Ostaro, Eástra (masc). And that may be the reason why the Norsemen said pâskir and not austrur: they had never worshipped a goddess Austra, or her cultus was already extinct.

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 to the resurrection-day of the christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter, and according to a popular belief of long standing, the moment of the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy (Superst. 813). Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing (Superst. 775, 804); here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on 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 (see Suppl.).”[4]

 

Obviously he is incorrect on a number of his ideas like the thought of male counterparts and trying to shoehorn the Norse into having an Eostre goddess. I cringe a bit in reading them. But Grimm is not trying to tell you the gods-honest-truth here; he is trying to spitball ideas. Furthermore, his goal is to find some overarching Germanic mythology and to stop short of at least trying to spitball the idea would not have fulfilled his biases. But just because his work is biased and flawed does not make it useless. I read here in this section more truth than falsehood on the whole, but only if you are able to distinguish the two. The key to this section though is that he sees a link between Eostre and various other PIE dawn goddesses, and in this he is almost certainly correct. He further links Eostre to Ostara, and rightfully so. And that is a link all too often ignored because of many heathens having overriding bias against anything perceived as being too touched by Wicca or something else similar. Here is the thing though; Ostara is not the “fluffy” and baseless thing many of you have been led to believe.

 

A brief history of Ostara:

Ostara is first mentioned in Eginhard’s Vita Karoli Magni (the Life of Charlemagne):

 

Latin:

“Mensibus etiam iuxta propriam linguam vocabula inposuit, cum ante id temporis apud Francos partim Latinis, partim barbaris nominibus pronuntiarentur. Item ventos duodecim propriis appellationibus insignivit, cum prius non amplius quam vix quattuor ventorum vocabula possent inveniri. Et de mensibus quidem Ianuarium uuintarmanoth, Februarium hornung, Martium lenzinmanoth, Aprilem ostarmanoth, Maium uuinnemanoth, Iunium brachmanoth, Iulium heuuimanoth, Augustum aranmanoth, Septembrem uuitumanoth, Octobrem uuindumemanoth, Novembrem herbistmanoth, Decembrem heilagmanoth appellavit.”[5]

 

English translation:

“He gave the months names in his own tongue, for before his time they were called by the Franks partly by Latin and partly by barbarous names. He also gave names to the twelve winds, whereas before not more than four, and perhaps not so many, had names of their own. Of the months, he called January Winter-month (Wintarmanoth), February Mud-month (Hornung), March Spring-month (Lentzinmanoth), April Easter-month (Ostarmanoth), May Joy-month (Winnemanoth), June Plough-month (Brachmanoth), July Hay-month (Hewimanoth), August Harvest-month (Aranmanoth), September Wind-month (Witumanoth), October Vintage-month (Windumemanoth), November Autumn-month (Herbistmanoth), December Holy-month (Heiligmanoth).”[6]

 

Of course there is a lot to work with in this list for calendar reconstruction shenanigans but of interest in this capacity currently is Ostarmanoth. I have never seen a sufficiently compelling argument for how Ostarmanoth existed without there being a native festival on the continent when it is fairly obvious that the naming convention persisted in the continental Germanic world until the time of Grimm when he noted the naming convention was still in use. I once read, though I cannot remember where, a theory thrown up by historians that Ostarmanoth was an English export and that British monks popularized it based on their own Eosturmonath. There are many theories but ultimately they are lacking evidence, especially when what we do have argues against what they are saying. We should, as historians, be led by the sources whenever possible and not try to shape them to our biases and desires. Those historians who try to brush this under the rug are completely avoiding and obfuscating the truth of the matter, Eosturmonath has no plausible path to influencing Ostarmanoth. There is this big and gaping hole in the matter. If Eostre existed in England and had an Anglo-Saxon festival and a month and these were named after the goddess Eostre, and indeed these are so given the sources already presented as evidence, then the Anglo-Saxons as Germanic migrants to England would have originated on the Continent and the cult would have had some continental precedent prior to migration. These people did not typically just spontaneously develop new gods and goddesses willy nilly, most of them were well entrenched before migration, especially when they carry linguistic cognates to one another. Eostre parallels and cognates out to several related PIE goddesses of the east and dawn. This shows a level of continuity. And you then also have Ostarmanoth appearing on the continent? And you’re going to conveniently ignore that just because some Wiccans? That’s not good historical practice.

 

What this shows is that through this continuity you can essentially show Ostara to be a perfectly well founded continental Germanic goddess and the festival equally well founded. There is enough proof and enough corroborating evidence through the Venerable Bede and through Eginhard to argue these things perfectly well. What we do not have in these sources is how to celebrate this festival. That comes through folk traditions and other survivals.

 

Let me break it down for you another way:

  • Bede says Eostre is a goddess and the month Eosturmonath is named for her.
  • Bede has no reason to lie and is generally reliable.
  • Eginhard says that the Germans also have an Ostarmanoth.
  • There is no plausible reason not to have Ostarmanoth as a native festival.
  • They are from similar time periods (Bede ~725, Eginhard ~814).
  • Eosturmonath and Ostarmanoth are perfect linguistic cognates of one another having shifted with their respective languages.
  • If Eostre is the root of Eosturmonath, then Ostara should be the root of Ostarmanoth.
  • The Angles and Saxons and Jutes came from Germania and migrated into England.
  • Eostre cognates out with several other PIE dawn goddesses, so too does Ostara.
  • The linguistic evidence shows religious continuity.
  • This gives evidence that they brought Eostre with them from the continent.
  • If they brought her with them, she must have existed on the continent prior to migration.
  • It is reasonable then to say that Ostarmanoth is the continental continuation of the festival expressed in England that was held in common with the local Germanic peoples of that area of the continent.
  • It is reasonable and indeed logical to say that Eostre is to Eosturmonath what Ostara should be to Ostarmanoth.

These all show continuity and give evidence to say it is only logical that Ostara was indeed a local Continental Germanic goddess and that it is a parallel path in the development of some proto-Germanic goddess that split into Eostre on the one hand and Ostara on the other in much the same way that Thunor and Donar developed along parallel linguistic lines.

 

And this all continued; Easter is still Ostern today in Germany. They have a whole range of nice words based on that root. Furthermore, the practice of calling it Ostarmanoth had persisted until quite recently as Grimm noted that it was still in use in his time. That this survived shows no shallow import theory is plausible; instead this must have been a deeply engrained, native cultural phenomenon to survive conversion against the grain of Paschal.

 

Some final thoughts:

 

The Historian’s opinion in me:
I cannot support the idea that Ostara historically extended to the Norse peoples because the linkages are simply not there. They celebrated Paschal up there just fine with no real evidence of Eostre or Ostara to speak of. There is no one Germanic paganism, but instead there were many variations expressed regionally and in time. These variations morphed and adapted.

 

The Pagan’s opinion in me:
Heathens were and are polytheistic. If a goddess jives with you then worship her. Plus you’d basically be a fool in today’s time to pass on the feasting and wonderful cultural traditions involved in Easter. It is culturally relevant to English speaking people and as “Norse” as someone’s religion may be you’re living in an English colony, speaking the English language, and steeped in English culture. Eostre is big enough for the both of us as long as you understand and respect her history.

 

So the next time you hear someone bad talking Eostre or even Ostara, inform them that there is in fact enough evidence to show Eostre and Ostara were indeed culturally specific goddesses and had festivals in that spring time of year. If you want, you can also inform them that it is generally people unable to remove their bias that argue otherwise. Further inform them that there are also ample linkages to be able to do a reconstruction of the goddess from other PIE dawn goddesses for personal religious use. Or you can just tell them that they can go shove it, either or.

 

 

[1]The Venerable Bede, “Caput XV: De mensibus Anglorum”, Beda Venerabilis: De Temporum Ratione, accessed August 12, 2019, http://www.nabkal.de/beda/beda_15.html

[2] The Venerable Bede, Bede: The Reckoning of Time, translated by Faith Wallis (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 54. (This is in my opinion the best translation of this work that I have ever read and it is well worth buying if you’re into Bede. But be aware that the pertinent section for calendar reconstruction of the English months is literally two pages so if you buy it do so for the whole thing and not just for the two pages on the English months.)

[3] J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), 300-301, 409. (This can be accessed online on this site if you want to check it out: https://smerdaleos.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/ie-mallory-adams.pdf )

[4] Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Vol. 1, translated from the fourth edition by James Stephen Stallybrass (London: George Bell and Sons, 1882), 290-291. (You can access this volume using this link: https://archive.org/details/teutonicmytholog01grim/ )

[5]Einhard, “EINHARDI VITA KAROLI MAGNI”, The Latin Library, accessed August 12, 2019, http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/ein.html#29

[6] Einhard, “The Early Lives of Charlemagne by Eginhard and the Monk of St Gall”, edited by A.J. Grant (London: Alexander Morning Limited, 1905), Project Gutenberg, accessed August 12, 2019, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/48870/48870-h/48870-h.html#id52 (I have inserted the original month names from the corresponding footnote in parentheticals next to the translated month so that both may be viewed at once; besides this, the quote is direct.)

Advertisements

Yule – Tis the Season

Yule falls this year on December 21st. The evening of the 20th would technically begin Yule as time was reckoned differently on the evenings and not on the mornings as can be seen on holdovers like “Christmas eve”. Yule proper would then encompass the entire night before and day of the 21st. While this is the official beginning to the celebration, it could last as long as you can manage (12 days according to the laws of Alfred and 3 days according to the Saga of Hákon the Good). There are no real hard rules on this but you can celebrate as little or as much as you care to. (In my house we’ll be celebrating the nine nights before and three nights after to more or less accommodate both.)

As for hard evidence about the ancient traeditions of Yule? We have very little primary source material. We know that Yule fell on the Winter Solstice (Thank you Venerable Bede for your Reckoning of Time) and that it was a multi-day affair. Yet the verdict is out as to if the celebrations should have been before or after as Alfred doesn’t give that direction and Hakon has his days off such that it makes it difficult to reckon properly. Generally we know just enough to know it was a very important holiday.

So are we left out in the cold with no information then? No, not at all. The Christians did a very good job of preserving our holidays and celebrations. They passed these traditions down, stripped of their religious significance to the modern times. Those folk traditions are many and varied. I’ll touch on a few.

What about Santa? Well we all know he’s definitely a heathen holdover, but who is he? Which god is most involved in Yule? Most will tell you that the answer to that is obviously Woden but in reality it is not so cut and dried. Different Yule customs point to the possibility of Woden, Thunor, or Ing being involved in the Yule season.

The case for Woden:

The eight legged horse and the eight reindeer… the stockings and the old custom of leaving boots outside with hay… the black helpers (Sinterklaas version) and Hyge and Myne (Hugin and Munin)… the evidence piles up. The beardy guy who transverses the world through magical means is in all likelihood a holdover from beliefs about Woden. They just modernly neglect to remember the reason why he’s flying around, the Wild Hunt; which completely legitimizes the fear all those children have of the man in the red suit.

The case for Thunor:

The Yule goat is a thing. A pretty ancient thing that remains popular even today in certain places. Yet its pagan origins likely link back to the god riding the goat-chariot, Thunor. The Yule goat brings presents or demands presents depending on the tradition. This even shows up in the Slavic heathen version of Yule, Koliada. Chances are that most demonized portrayals of goat things during this season are also related somehow.

The case for Ing:

That holiday ham you’re so fond of? It has its roots in pagan rituals because of the Sonargöltr which was basically a boar upon whose bristles Yule oaths were sworn. The boar in this case links back directly to Ing.

So which of these guys had a role in Yule? All of them, depending on local beliefs. Heathenry is regional and not at all standardized in this regard. That means it’s up to you which one you use in your celebrations.

Even something as Christian as Advent. How Christian is it? Jesus was not even born near the 25th. Also Advent picked up a lot of local practices and is not something that goes back to Christianity’s origins. The oldest Christian tradition was to fast, and this was the local Roman response, but as Advent spead outward it picked up strange other traditions like some involving burning bales of straw in the fields or toting around effigies and panhandling. These certainly were not Christian practices, so why do they do it? There’s no real telling for certain but it was probably pagan practices that were morphed into a form tolerable under Christianity.

This is not uncommon. Think of it like this – if the Christians weren’t doing it before they moved into an area and suddenly start doing something then it’s probably a pagan practice. This means that the entire Christmas season with the exception of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and all that jazz is lifted from paganism. Santa, the tree, the Yule log, the Christmas ham, and all the rest of it – those are pagan.

In all honesty, Yule is so intermingled with the western idea of Christmas that if you celebrate Yule it will seem very familiar to anyone you might invite over. Yule was appropriated by Christianity ages ago and they do a good job of celebrating it in pretty pagan ways.

One thing of note worth elaborating on though: the night of the 20th is Mother’s Night (Modraniht). This night is sacred and should be devoted to the honoring of your female ancestors and motherly goddesses. This was the night before the day of Yule, in this case the evening of Yule before the proper day of Yule. Take the time to honor your mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother (collectively, your Modru) as well as known and unknown female Ides (Disir) from ages past. Devote time to be spent in reflection and prayer that night toward your female ancestors and to the goddesses. Maybe even take the opportunity to do some fibercrafts as the Wyrde (Norns) would be of great importance in the night’s feeling. It is a subdued night, not boisterous like Yule, but instead reverent and contemplative.

So, what can we do to celebrate Yule?

– leading up to Yule, the night before you could celebrate Modraniht (Mother’s night)

– give small presents on each of the days you celebrate Yule (12? 3? You choose)

– drink mulled cider, mulled wine, or mead

– find an apple tree and actually go wassailing

– throw a party for your friends on the 21st and introduce them to Yule

– offer in a ritual

– have a bonfire shaped like a goat if you care to, or just a bonfire, or burn hay in the field to get rid of evil wights that destroy harvest

– have a Yule log or a tree for inside

– enjoy your friends and family

– some folks do sunwait, it’s like advent candles but pagan.

– sing, be merry, eat, offer, pray, fill your day and night with joy

– If you have kids and were considering stockings you could leave boots filled with hay outside for Woden to feed his steed and fill them up afterwards with doodads. (This is an old equivalent to stockings but more pagan feeling, although there’s no proof it’s actually any more pagan.)

– It’s also a wonderful time for story telling about the gods and goddesses.