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Hippity-Hoppity Ostara's on it's way...

Ostara is approaching yet again. It seems like every year I refine my thoughts on explaining Ostara more and more. I'll be posting in a few days some photos of my personal altar for Ostara, as that's already set up with an explanation of the items on the altar (as I think that helps people learn how to make their own in a way meaningful for them).

This year despite the signs of Spring around us in Texas, Ostara is playing fickle with us. The 60 degree Fahrenheit weather we've been enjoying with sunny skies, will descend Saturday morning into a cold rainy day with plummeting temperatures throughout the day and possible snow flurries by nightfall.

There are two references to Ostara/Easter in our collected lore that I am aware of.

The first is from Bede (De temporibus ratione 15). All he states is that April month in the Anglo-Saxon tradition was called Ēostur-monath, and that he thought the name came from an Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the Spring. Some scholars debate the reliability of this information, since Bede phrased it in a less than absolute manner.

Outside of this specific reference there is only one other mention in our lore I am aware of to Ostara/Easter in passing. It can be found in Heimskringla (Saint Olaf''s Saga: Chapters 107-110) and the story of King Olaf killing Olvir of Egg (somehow "egg" referred to his farmstead), for his continued celebration of pagan practices. It was the time of the Christian Easter festival in King Olaf's court. Shortly after those observances the King heard that there were pagan sacrifices continuing.

When the king questions a man there about such rumors, he is answered "It is their custom to perform a sacrifice in the fall to welcome winter [most likely corresponds with winter nights], a second at midwinter [elsewhere in the saga this is also called Yule], and a third in the summer to welcome it's arrival. ...and this spring it falls to Olvir to make ready the feast." And Olvir was preparing for the ritual even as the King's men eventually seized him, killed him. And then Olaf had other guilty parties preparing for this heathen ritual either slain, mutilated, outlawed/exiled or fined.

Now key clues here to pay attention to: "to welcome summer's arrival" this is not the summer solstice (which is the middle of summer or midsummer, not the start of summer). And the last line of that quote makes it quite clear 'this spring' and the sacrifices are being prepared NOW. I'll be the first to admit this reads a bit awkward when time was summer/winter and suddenly they're talking about spring too. Also remember that Christian Easter just concluded so the timing seems ripe for a possible connection for the pre-Christian origins of the name 'Easter'.

I'm sure some of you are thinking... wait a second. If Easter took it's name from the Pagan festival, wouldn't it be celebrated at the same time? To this my answer is that traditional heathen timing conventions (i.e. calendar) DIFFERED with the Jewish calendar (i.e. the years and determination of dates and months and timing of festivals) varied between the pagan time-keeping method and the Jewish calendar. So while the Christians may have merged their festival with an old pagan one... there may very well have been years when the timing was near one anothe,r but didn't sync up exactly. This is why today some years the Christian celebration of Easter falls in March, and other years in April. It can vary by as much as 4 weeks.

Additional Things to Consider:
Ostara, or Old English Eastre or Northumbrain Eostre, is believed to etymologically derives from a proto-germanic term meaning to shine, and that also relates to the east or the dawn (and this placement of the dawn and the east, correlates to the "Venus" star of the spring). Please also note that the etymology for the Old English term Eastre is believed to derives from the Old English ēast (in other words the cardinal direction), and thus suggests again another association with the dawn.While evidence is inconclusive, there are references to a possible Proto-Germanic goddess known as Austro. But if we look back to the big old Proto-Indo-European family tree we also see correlating Goddesses in other traditions, including the Roman Goddess Aurora and the Greek Goddes Eos, and even the Indian Goddess Ushas. Etymologically speaking, the names of these Goddesses all are 'in the family'.

While there's no bit of history connecting the phenomena of the Aurora Borealis of Northern Lights that we know of to the aforementioned Goddesses... I personally think that the timing of this natural phenoma is of special note. It begins at the start of our autumn, and concludes around the start of our spring. Syncing up with the 'winter' of this ancient culture.

* Please note Proto Indo European theory (from which descends Proto-Germanic) is debated within academia, it is a theory about human migration and the development of human culture and civilization.

So Let's think this through:
There is NO Christian origin for the term of Easter, so the church appropriated the term. It obviously meant something before it was associated with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So the term had to come from somewhere, and pagan origins is obviously likely. As we do have evidence in other cases, the Christian church opften did appropriate previously pagan festivals and have them as part of the timing for the new Church festivals. So this past history that we can prove elsewhere, AGAIN suggests that there was some form of pre-Christian religious festival held at this time.

We DO know that the ancient peoples (especially among the Scandinavians) really saw the year as having two seasons. Summer and Winter. Winter began around when most of us would consider the start of Autumn at a very important 3 day religious festival called Winter Nights and Summer began at what we'd consider Spring, i.e. the timing of 'Ostara'. It seems a reasonable conclusion that IF they celebrated the transition of summer into winter, that it makes complete sense they'd also celebrate the transitional boundary of winter into summer.

Furthermore, if we think in very vague general terms about ancient rites and what was going on in the calendar year we see a pattern emerge. Since this was very much an agricultural religion, much of the holy tides revolve around the necessary life cycles. Spring was about re-seeding life, and new life, and new growth. Summer was the continuance of growth 'maintenance' of the crop, and also the time for war, travelers, and traders. The fall marked the harvest of the crop, and preparations to survive winter. And winter was a time to hold up, rest, and sleep, and a time of death as well. As such... a spring ritual about rejuvenation, renewal... isn't too far off with what Easter is celebrating for Christians (i.e. conquering death, Christ's resurrection). Let's see... ring a bell to the symbolism of the agricultural cycle and our modern notion of the 4 seasons?

With all of these things combined, I think it is REASONABLE jump of logic to come to the conclusion, that Yes Virginia, there was both an Ostara Goddess and a ritual to her at this time of year.

As to the 'traditions' alot of that is just a hodge-podge of what OTHER cultures did, or surviving folk traditions from these areas in Europe that weren't really written about until much later. The true origins and symbolism of some of these items may be somewhat obscured to history. But I think most of us feel pretty confidant in saying it really boils down to thinking about this as what it represented, what it TOOK to live with the land and the agricultural cycle to survive. So it was a time of life returning, of growth and renewal. 'Nuff said. ^_^