The Meaning of Eostre

Within modern Paganism these days an alternative name for the Spring Equinox is that of Eostre.  When I initially underwent my studies in contemporary Wytchcraft back in the 1990s, the only alternative name that I was aware of for the Spring Equinox was the use of the adjective “vernal”.  This has since led to research into who or what Eostre is.  One of such pages that shed some light about Eostre was , who provided the following information.

The name Eostre is thought to be derived from a goddess of German legend, according to Jakob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie. A similar goddess named Eostre was described by the Venerable Bede, an English Benedictine monk of the 7th century. Bede indicated that this name was used in English when the Paschal holiday was introduced. Since then this name (not the holiday) has been converted to Easter, or in German Ostern. Some scholars question both Bede’s and Grimm’s conclusions due to a lack of supporting evidence for this goddess. Others argue that a lack of further documentation is not surprising given that Bede is credited with writing the first substantial history of England (in which he described Eostre as a goddess whose worship had already passed) and Grimm was specifically attempting to capture oral traditions before they might be lost.

Despite these reservations, the idea of Eostre has become firmly established in many minds. Without any consideration of these problems, the folklorist Dr Jonathan Young categorically states:

Easter has deep roots in the mythic past. Long before it was imported into the Christian tradition, the Spring festival honored the goddess Eostre or Eastre.

According to Bede and Einhard in his Life of Charlemagne, the month called Eostremonat (Ostaramanoth) was equated with April. This would put the start of ‘Ostara’s Month’ after the Equinox in March. It must be taken into account that these ‘translations’ of calendar months were approximate as the old forms were predominantly lunar months while the new were based on a solar year. Thus start of ‘Eostremonat’ would actually have fallen in late March and could thus still be associated with the Spring Equinox.

The holiday is a celebration of spring and growth, the renewal of life that appears on the earth after the winter. In mythology it is often characterized by the rejoining of the goddess and her lover-brother-son, who spent the winter months in death. This is an interesting parallel to the Biblical story in which Jesus is resurrected (the reason Christians celebrate Easter), pointing to another appropriation of pre-Christian religious figures, symbols and myths by early Christianity.

Etymologically, Eostre, or, as it is sometimes called, Ostara, may come from the word ‘east’, meaning dawn. Others have also tried to link Eostre with ‘estrogen’ and ‘estrus’. These words, however, are more widely considered to be derived from the Greek oistros, meaning ‘gadfly’ or ‘frenzy’. Interestingly, the word ‘spring’ (from to spring, to leap or jump up, burst out, Old English springan, a common Teutonic word, ccompare German springen), primarily the act of springing or leaping, is applied to the season of the year in which plant life begins.

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