The Bifröst – Rainbow Bridge of the Gods… or is it?

So the other day I was thinking about the colors of the rainbow when something I had read in the Prose Edda came back into the back of my mind and began to nag and eat at me. The Prose Edda says that the Bifröst has three colors. Three colors. Three. That just did not compute for a hot minute. I sat there stumped thinking about how a rainbow on even a meagre day has more colors than that. So I decided to look it up and see what else I may have glazed over. As it turns out there are actually a few potential hiccups with our interpretations of the Bifröst, especially in how the texts we have described the thing itself. (Check out the rest of the Bifröst source material at the end of this post if you want more than I post to read here.)

 

The best description for the Bifröst comes from the Prose Edda and reads:

English, Brodeur Translation (1916):
“Then said Gangleri: ‘What is the way to heaven from earth?’
Then Hárr answered, and laughed aloud: ‘Now, that is not wisely asked; has it not been told thee, that the gods made a bridge from earth, to heaven, called Bifröst? Thou must have seen it; it may be that ye call it rainbow. It is of three colors, and very strong, and made with cunning and with more magic art than other works of craftsmanship. But strong as it is, yet must it be broken, when the sons of Múspell shall go forth harrying and ride it, and swim their horses over great rivers; thus they shall proceed.’
Then said Gangleri: ‘To my thinking the gods did not build the bridge honestly, seeing that it could be broken, and they able to make it as they would.’
Then Hárr replied: ‘The gods are not deserving of reproof because of this work of skill: a good bridge is Bifröst, but nothing in this world is of such nature that it may be relied on when the sons of Múspell go a-harrying.’”[1] Gylfaginning XIII

Old Norse:
Þá mælti Gangleri: “Hver er leið til himins af jörðu?”
Þá svarar Hárr ok hló við: “Eigi er nú fróðliga spurt. Er þér eigi sagt þat, er goðin gerðu brú af jörðu til himins, er heitir Bifröst? Hana muntu sét hafa. Kann vera, at þat kallir þú regnboga. Hon er með þrimr litum ok mjök sterk ok ger með list ok kunnáttu meiri en aðrar smíðir. En svá sterk sem hon er, þá mun hon brotna, þá er Múspellsmegir fara ok ríða hana, ok svima hestar þeira yfir stórar ár. Svá koma þeir fram.”
Þá mælti Gangleri: “Eigi þótti mér goðin gera af trúnaði brúna, ef hon skal brotna mega, er þau megu þó gera sem þau vilja.”
Þá mælti Hárr: “Eigi eru goðin hallmælis verð af þessi smíð. Góð brú er Bifröst, en enginn hlutr er sá í þessum heimi er sér megi treystast, þá er Múspellssynir herja.”[2]

 

English, Brodeur Translation (1916):
“Then said Gangleri: ‘Does fire burn over Bifröst?’
Hárr replied: ‘That which thou seest to be red in the bow is burning fire; the Hill-Giants might go up to heaven, if passage on Bifröst were open to all those who would cross. There are many fair places in heaven, and over everything there a godlike watch is kept. …’”[3] Gylfaginning XV

Old Norse
Þá mælti Gangleri: “Brenn eldr yfir Bifröst?”
Hárr segir: “Þat, er þú sér rautt í boganum, er eldr brennandi. Upp á himin mundu ganga hrímþursar ok bergrisar, ef öllum væri fært á Bifröst, þeim er fara vilja. Margir staðir eru á himni fagrir, ok er þar allt guðlig vörn fyrir. …”[4]

 

From this we can gather that the Bifröst is *perhaps* called a rainbow, has three colors, and is covered in a visible burning fire.

 

We find mention in both Prose Edda and Poetic Edda the quality of the Bifröst burning or being covered in visible fire (Þat, er þú sér rautt í boganum, er eldr brennandi). Sure they say it was perhaps called rainbow (kann vera, at þat kallir þú regnboga), but they never said that for certain merely that it could be (kann vera). It also said it had three colors (Hon er með þrimr litum). These things simply do not jive with each other if it is a rainbow. But perhaps we’re thinking about it in the wrong way, perhaps our entire interpretation of the Biföst is some kind of mild misunderstanding. Now let me spin you a tale.

 

What if the Bifröst is not a rainbow at all as we know it but is instead the Aurora Borealis? The Aurora Borealis is unlike the rainbow in many ways but is like the rainbow in others. It is multi-colored like a rainbow and can technically be seen in several colors, but it really only usually comes in three (or four) main colors – red, green (sometimes blue in there), and like a pinky violet.[5] And this apparently has to do with what elements the solar wind is affecting and at what height in the atmosphere.[6] I am not a physicist so I’m relying on others here and my sources being from student website projects done at the University of Fairbanks Alaska (because they were concise and had understandable graphics that help). So it is not a precisely perfect color match entirely to fit *perfectly* in the three; but because it is less frequent to see and it is variable it is then also far more likely that they could register and justify three colors typical for the Aurora than they could three colors for a rainbow.

auroracolors[7]
This image shows that the greatest possibility is within the green spectrum but that technically a fourth color of blue is possible but is still within the mostly green spectrum.

 

AuroraSpectrum[8]
This image shows a comparison between the ordinary rainbow which is represented by the spectrum of light and also the spectrum of light possible in the Aurora which greatly reduces the number of colors you can see in relation to the rainbow.

 

The other quality and one that is mentioned far more often is the burning nature of the Biföst. Nobody to my knowledge has ever mistaken a rainbow for burning. But that is precisely what has happened time and time again through history with the Aurora Borealis.

One notable example comes from Seneca who was discussing the various phenomena visible in the sky when he began talking about the Aurora Borealis –

“Among these should certainly be placed a phenomenon of which we often read in the chronicles – the heavens appeared to be on fire. The blaze of it is occasionally so high as to mount to the very stars; occasionally it is so low as to present the appearance of a distant fire. In the reign of Tiberius Caesar the fire brigade hurried off to the colony at Ostia supposing it to be in flames; during the greater part of the night there had been a dull glow in the sky, which appeared to proceed from a thick smoky fire. No one has any doubt that these burnings in the heavens contain flame as really as they display it; they have a certain substance in them.”[9]

Now here we have a Roman talking about the Aurora Borealis and speaking of it that it truly contained flames as it appeared so full of them. Yet in the next paragraph section he wonders about the illusory nature of the rainbow because it appeared to be some kind of illusion or phantasm or apparition and did not seem substantial.[10] This can show that to the ancient world there is a big difference in the realness of these two astronomical events, the Aurora Borealis is something that is so real looking and so flame like that it warrants mustering the fire brigade while one wonders if the rainbow is just a trick and illusion. This is further not the only occurrence of the flame-like quality of the Aurora Borealis, history and folklore of people the whole world wide who have remarked on the flaming nature of the Aurora.

 

The next thing to consider is that the Norse peoples would have been far enough north to see the Aurora in ways that more southern folks would not have been able to see. This works two ways, making it probably somewhat more likely for it to work its way into their myths and conversely making it harder for southern-minded people to recognize it when the northern-minded people wrote about it.

 

To recap, there are three descriptions for the Bifröst written about in the Eddas: that the Bifröst is perhaps called a rainbow, that it has three colors, and that it is covered in a visible burning fire. All three of these are well suited to describing the Aurora, however only one of these is useful in describing an actual rainbow. But the most telling aspect may be in the name itself, Bifröst. Let’s discuss etymology.

 

We can learn from the etymology which for Bifrǫst seems to be either from bifa (“shake, tremble”) or in the case of the variant Bilrǫst would be from bil (“moment”).[11] Neither of these is incredibly conducive for describing a rainbow but do fit fairly well with the Aurora which moves and shimmers and shakes in ways that the rainbow never has and never will and is furthermore far less predictable and far more in the moment than a rainbow. The “-rǫst” is somewhat more puzzling and I propose more important because it is related to “rest”.[12] The word Bifrǫst seems odd to use “-rǫst”, rest, when it could have used “-brú”, which would have been applicable seeing as how it means bridge, a word they were well accustomed to using even when describing supernatural bridges; unless the “rest” aspect is in fact very important.[13] I propose that it is precisely this that gives us the last clue that the Bifröst is indeed the Aurora Borealis – “-rǫst” being rest indicates evidence that it took place at night when people were intended to be resting.

 

Being a person living in the south and never having seen the Aurora, I would like to think that the Bifröst would be the rainbow for selfish reasons that I would get to see it. However, I can no longer personally support that conclusion because everything in the evidence is screaming at me that the Bifröst is actually the Aurora Borealis. It typically has the proper number of colors, it appears as if on fire and indeed was historically mistaken for fire, it is rainbow-like, it shimmers and shakes, and perhaps most importantly it appears when people are resting – hence the “-rǫst”. Given these things, it is most probable that the Bifröst is best understood as the Aurora Borealis.

 

 

 

 

Sources for the Bifröst:

 

Fáfnismál – Poetic Edda

Sigurth spake:
14. “Tell me then, Fafnir, | for wise thou art famed,
And much thou knowest now:
How call they the isle | where all the gods
And Surt shall sword-sweat mingle?”

Fafnir spake:
15. “Oskopnir is it, | where all the gods
Shall seek the play of swords;
Bilrost breaks | when they cross the bridge,
And the steeds shall swim in the flood.[14]

 

Grímnismál – Poetic Edda

  1. Kormt and Ormt | and the Kerlaugs twain
    Shall Thor each day wade through,
    (When dooms to give | he forth shall go
    To the ash-tree Yggdrasil;)
    For heaven’s bridge | burns all in flame,
    And the sacred waters seethe.

  1. The best of trees | must Yggdrasil be,
    Skithblathnir best of boats;
    Of all the gods | is Othin the greatest,
    And Sleipnir the best of steeds;
    Bifrost of bridges, | Bragi of skalds,
    Hobrok of hawks, | and Garm of hounds.[15]

 

Gylfaginning – Prose Edda

XIII. Then said Gangleri: “What is the way to heaven from earth?” Then Hárr answered, and laughed aloud: “Now, that is not wisely asked; has it not been told thee, that the gods made a bridge from earth, to heaven, called Bifröst? Thou must have seen it; it may be that ye call it rainbow.’ It is of three colors, and very strong, and made with cunning and with more magic art than other works of craftsmanship. But strong as it is, yet must it be broken, when the sons of Múspell shall go forth harrying and ride it, and swim their horses over great rivers; thus they shall proceed.” Then said Gangleri: “To my thinking the gods did not build the bridge honestly, seeing that it could be broken, and they able to make it as they would.” Then Hárr replied: “The gods are not deserving of reproof because of this work of skill: a good bridge is Bifröst, but nothing in this world is of such nature that it may be relied on when the sons of Múspell go a-harrying.”

 

XV … Each day the Æsir ride thither up over Bifröst, which is also called the Æsir’s Bridge. These are the names of the Æsir’s steeds: Sleipnir [The Slipper] is best, which Odin has; he has eight feet. The second is Gladr [Bright or Glad], the third Gyllir [Golden], the fourth Glenr [The Starer], the fifth Skeidbrimir [Fleet Courser], the sixth Silfrintoppr [Silver-top], the seventh Sinir [ Sinewy], the eighth Gisl [ Beam, Ray], the ninth Falhófnir [ Hairy-hoof], the tenth. Gulltoppr [ Gold-top], the eleventh Léttfeti [ Light-stepper]. Baldr’s horse was burnt with him; and Thor walks to the judgment, and wades those rivers which are called thus:

 

Körmt and Örmt | and the Kerlaugs twain,
Them shall Thor wade
Every day | when he goes to doom
At Ash Yggdrasill;
For the Æsir’s Bridge | burns all with flame,
And the holy waters howl.”

Then said Gangleri: “Does fire burn over Bifröst?” Hárr replied: “That which thou seest to be red in the bow is burning fire; the Hill-Giants might go up to heaven, if passage on Bifröst were open to all those who would cross. There are many fair places in heaven, and over everything there a godlike watch is kept…”

 

XVII. Then said Gangleri: “Thou knowest many tidings to tell of the heaven. What chief abodes are there more than at Urdr’s Well?” Hárr said: “Many places are there, and glorious. That which is called Álfheimr is one, where dwell the peoples called Light-Elves; but the Dark-Elves dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike in appearance, but by far more unlike in nature. The Light-Elves are fairer to look upon than the sun, but the Dark-Elves are blacker than pitch. Then there is also in that place the abode called Breidablik, and there is not in heaven a fairer dwelling. There, too, is the one called Glitnir, whose walls, and all its posts and pillars, are of red gold, but its roof of silver. There is also the abode called Himinbjörg; it stands at heaven’s end by the bridge-head, in the place where Bifröst joins heaven. Another great abode is there, which is named Valaskjálf; Odin possesses that dwelling; the gods made it and thatched it with sheer silver, and in this hall is the Hlidskjálf, the high-seat so called. Whenever Allfather sits in that seat, he surveys all lands.

 

XXVII. “Heimdallr is the name of one: he is called the White God. He is great and holy; nine maids, all sisters, bore him for a son. He is also called Hallinskídi and Gullintanni; his teeth were of gold, and his horse is called Gold-top. He dwells in the place called Himinbjörg, hard by Bifröst: he is the warder of the gods, and sits there by heaven’s end to guard the bridge from the Hill-Giants. He needs less sleep than a bird; he sees equally well night and day a hundred leagues from him, and hears how grass grows on the earth or wool on sheep, and everything that has a louder sound. He has that trumpet which is called Gjallar-Horn, and its blast is heard throughout all worlds. Heimdallr’s sword is called Head. It is said further:

Himinbjörg ‘t is called, | where Heimdallr, they say,
Aye has his housing;
There the gods’ sentinel | drinks in his snug hall
Gladly good mead.
And furthermore, he himself says in Heimdalar-galdr:
I am of nine | mothers the offspring,
Of sisters nine | am I the son.

 

  1. … In this din shall the heaven be cloven, and the Sons of Múspell ride thence: Surtr shall ride first, and both before him and after him burning fire; his sword is exceeding good: from it radiance shines brighter than from the sun; when they ride over Bifröst, then the bridge shall break, as has been told before.[16]

[1] Snorri Sturlson, The Prose Edda, Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (New York, NY: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1916), accessed August 15, 2019, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre04.htm (I have formatted the structure of the paragraph to better match the Old Norse but have not altered the text.)

[2] Snorre Sturlason, Snorres Edda, accessed on Völuspá.org August 15, 2019, http://www.voluspa.org/gylfaginning11-20.htm

[3] Snorri Sturlson, The Prose Edda, Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (New York, NY: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1916), accessed August 15, 2019, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre04.htm  (I have formatted the structure of the paragraph to better match the Old Norse but have not altered the text.)

[4] Snorre Sturlason, Snorres Edda, accessed on Völuspá.org August 15, 2019, http://www.voluspa.org/gylfaginning11-20.htm

[5] Christina Shaw, “Why are there Colors in the Aurora?”, University of Alaska Fairbanks, accessed August 15, 2019, http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/211.fall2000.web.projects/Christina%20Shaw/AuroraColors.html

[6] Christina Shaw, “Why are there Colors in the Aurora?”, University of Alaska Fairbanks, accessed August 15, 2019, http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/211.fall2000.web.projects/Christina%20Shaw/AuroraColors.html

[7] Christina Shaw, “Why are there Colors in the Aurora?”, University of Alaska Fairbanks, accessed August 15, 2019, http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/211.fall2000.web.projects/Christina%20Shaw/AuroraColors.html

[8] Alex Slaymaker, “Welcome to Colors”, University of Alaska Fairbanks, accessed August 15, 2019, http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/webproj/212_spring_2014/Alex_Slaymaker/Alex_Slaymaker/Colors.html

[9] Seneca, Physical Science in the Time of Nero: Being a Translation of the Quaestiones Naturales of Seneca, translated by John Clarke (London: MacMillan and Co., Limited, 1910), 40-41. Accessed August 15, 2019, https://archive.org/stream/physicalsciencei00seneiala#page/40/mode/2up

[10] Seneca, Physical Science in the Time of Nero: Being a Translation of the Quaestiones Naturales of Seneca, translated by John Clarke (London: MacMillan and Co., Limited, 1910), 41. Accessed August 15, 2019, https://archive.org/stream/physicalsciencei00seneiala#page/40/mode/2up

[11] “Bifrǫst”, Wiktionary, accessed August 15, 2019,  https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Bifr%C7%ABst#Old_Norse (Bifröst is my usual spelling but my source here uses the more accurate Bifrǫst)

[12] “Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/rastō”, Wiktionary, accessed August 15, 2019,  https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/rast%C5%8D

[13] “brú”, Wiktionary, accessed August 15, 2019, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/br%C3%BA#Old_Norse

[14] Henry Adams Bellows, trans., The Poetic Edda (New York, NY: Princeton University Press, 1936), “Fafnismol”, accessed August 15, 2019,  http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe24.htm

[15] Henry Adams Bellows, trans., The Poetic Edda (New York, NY: Princeton University Press, 1936), “Grimnismol”, accessed August 15, 2019,  http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe06.htm

[16] Snorri Sturlson, The Prose Edda, Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (New York, NY: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1916), accessed August 15, 2019, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre04.htm (I added the translations for the horse names from the footnotes but did not bother with the other name translations in other verses. I like horses.)

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.)

Neither Omnipotent, nor Omniscient, nor Omnipresent, nor Omnibenevolent

There is an interesting story in the Gylfaginning (LXII) in the Prose Edda, you may know the one about how the walls of Asgard were built. Yet this story shows something else of interest – the gods are not omnipotent, nor omniscient, nor omnipresent, nor omnibenevolent. If the gods were omnipotent then they could have built their own wall instantly if they had so chosen to. If they were omnipotent then they would not even require walls. If the gods were omniscient then they could have foreseen the issues in the plan. One of the most telling aspects of the story though is that Thor was away doing Thor things during this time, otherwise he would have apparently put a stop to it quite early, and he is called back to fight the giant. The text reads: “Now that the Æsir saw surely that the hill-giant was come thither, they did not regard their oaths reverently, but called on Thor, who came as quickly.” Thor was away, but the gods called to him and he came seemingly immediately. This is not an omnipresent or omniscient deity or he would have no need of being called on nor could he be away. Finally this story shows that the gods are not omnibenevolent; omnibenevolent gods would not bargain away the sun, moon, and Freyja, even at the prospect of having a free wall built, no matter how certain they were of coming out ahead. There is one more thing to be gleaned from this, the importance of speaking prayer aloud and of titling it correctly. Thor can seemingly travel instantly, but he is shown numerous times in other stories having to travel longer ways than instantaneously. Perhaps this is showing the importance of calling the gods to us, speaking their names aloud and inviting them into our sacred spaces. What if their travel and vision is limited to when and where they are called? That seems preposterous to people accustomed to an omni-deity, but our deities are not omniscient and not omnipresent so perhaps we truly have to call to them if we want their attention. Now this is only one story, but these kinds of examples exist across the myths of our religion. These myths tell the story of mighty and powerful deities who are often benevolent and certainly are incredibly wise, but they are not omni-deities.

The gods are not omnipotent. The gods are not omnipresent. The gods are not omnibenevolent. The gods are not omniscient. Everything we have says the gods may have been incredibly powerful but they were not omni-anything. Here are some more examples that by no means exhaust the extensive amount of ways these things can be shown.

The gods are not omnipresent – Beyond the above examples, how many stories do the gods travel in? All of them that I can think of. An omnipresent deity would have no need to travel because they would exist simultaneously in all places so no movement would be necessary. When Thor travels to Utgard, he hoofs it most of the way because his goat gets broken – that’s not an omnipresent deity. When the gods borrow those hawk-cloaks or when they turn into eagles to get somewhere – that’s not omnipresent.

The gods are not omnipotent – The gods fought each other in many conflicts and come up against giant kind too. In all of these rumpuses, the gods are not able to achieve total victory. The gods also can and do die in several stories and in at least one they age rapidly without the input of some magic fruit. They are often incapable of doing things and certain gods are better at certain things than other gods. None of that screams omnipotence. Lest we also forget the Utgard business again – Thor is strong, very very very strong, but he is not omnipotent. He is way potent, but not omnipotent, otherwise why would he struggle and fail? Omnipotent deities do not ever fail at anything ever, they do not struggle at anything ever.

The gods are not omnibenevolent – The gods are often quite benevolent, but they are not universally so. Ample examples exist of both their benevolence and instances where they withhold their benevolence. Utgard provides an example here too; Thor totally swans off with those human children because of some goat breaking that occurs. That’s not omnibenevolent. He didn’t strike them all dead, but he didn’t just let it go either. Omnibenevolent, no; often benevolent especially to those he likes or who honor him, yes.

The gods are not omniscient – Contrary to popular belief the gods do not see all or know all and there is ample proof. Frigg is noted in the Lokasenna as being able to know the fate of all but the fates in this case was “örölg” and not “urðr”. One reference (poorly translated due to deficiencies in modern language) to knowing the “fates” of all and folks kick the omni-deity mode into overdrive. Does it not matter that on many other occasions the gods have expressed not being able to know anything much about the future? For goodness sake they didn’t know Baldr was going to die until he started having bad dreams about it himself. They couldn’t tell their own future so they contracted out to get it seen by a dead witch. They contracted out for the Voluspa as well. They go out and get intel where they can and have some pre-cognitive abilities and certainly they can predict some things, but are they all knowing or all seeing? That can be a definitive no. As for Frigg, it being orlog (OE orlæg) and not urðr (OE wyrd) is noteworthy because it means that she knows the past that brought us to the present, she knows the original foundations of all, the root of actions, but not where all things end up.

In the end it is simple – the gods are very incredibly powerful, but they are not omnipotent; the gods are far seeing and know way more than us and more than we will ever know, but they are not omniscient; the gods can potentially be anywhere or anyone or invisible and go really really fast so they potentially could be anywhere, but they are not omnipresent; the gods are usually very good to people, but they are not omnibenevolent. We worship great gods, not omni-gods, and that is the way it is and was and all is right in that. They probably don’t know the number of hairs on your head; they likely do not much care to know. Our personal, ingrained, cultural definition of gods may need to be mentally adjusted then to accommodate this shift.

 

Certain pieces specifically referenced:

Building of the walls of Asgard and Thor

  • The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning XLII) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

Traveling to Utgard and all that jazz

  • The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning XLIV – XLVIII) of Snorri Sturlson

Baldr has bad dreams

  • The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning XLIX) of Snorri Sturlson
  • The Poetic Edda (Baldrs Draumar)

The gods contract out their divination

  • The Poetic Edda (Voluspa)
  • The Poetic Edda (Baldrs Draumar)

Frigg and the “örölg” bit (If you are still curious, you’ll want to get a look at the actual Old Norse and compare definitions of the different words as well as get a good handle on orlog/orlæg vs urðr/wyrd in ancient world view because a simplistic view of “fate” is unsatisfactory and anachronistic here.)

  • The Poetic Edda (Lokasenna 29)

Midsummer – Liþa

Midsummer was this past week, the summer solstice, the longest day and the shortest night of the whole year. For heathens, Midsummer is one of the holiest tides we can celebrate throughout the year.

The Anglo-Saxons celebrated Midsummer as Liþa, midnesumor, and midsumordæg. These celebrations were likely as important in their own right as Yule was when considering the similarity in the month structure of their calendar as recorded by Bede. The calendar was primarily lunar, with the months based on the movements of the moon. The two exceptions to this are the celebrations of Liþa and Geola (Yule) which were celebrated by the solstices. These also represent the midpoints in the seasons, Liþa as the middle of summer and Geola as the middle of winter. They used these solar points to reset their primarily lunar calendar to maintain order throughout the year; thus it was a lunisolar calendar and gives Midsummer and Yule great importance.

Today we can trace back many pre-Christian midsummer rituals throughout Europe. They were collectively incorporated into early Catholicism under St. John’s day. They existed and persisted throughout Eastern and Northern Europe where to this day you can find many individuals practicing ritualized activities surrounding Midsummer. Bonfires are a commonality as well as general frivolity such as singing, dancing, floral hats, games, etc. It is and was a celebration of fertility, plenty, and the gentleness of this time of the year.

The ritual I created for my local group for Midsummer was simple enough and I will outline it here:

[Say these words after you have cleared your area bu the method of your choice.]

Six months have passed since Yule and we have gathered this day in thanks and celebration. The sun rose this day, and the longest day, to beat back the night. Tonight, the shortest night, we light fires to bring that light down into our lives.

Hail to thee, Sunne, day rider 

Hail to thee, brightener, shiner, awakener

Hail to thee, goddess of sunny summer so bright

Hail to thee, sister to the shadowy moonlight

Sunne, we thank you for your ride this midsummer.

You chased the shadows back to hiding

Today, longest of days, we give thanks to you.

Shine on us this evening, shine on us as you ride this year.

Shine on us and let the light and day into our lives.

[Say these words to each if you will be passing a blessing bowl:]

Sunne shine on you and let her light fill your life

[Pour out the remainder of the offering onto the focal point, be it a hearg, altar, tree, or ground.]

This Midsummer we offer to you that your bright gifts to man

Shall never be taken for granted by us, long though the days span

Though your ride is unwaveringly regular, though gentle the days may be

Let none here today forget the gift that was bright Sunne to see.

Sun Chariot
Trundholm Sun Chariot from Trundholm moor in Odsherred and now housed in the National Museum of Denmark.