Friday, February 28, 2014

E is for Eostre the Goddess

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts
Eostre, the fiery dawn,
the waxing sun,
the warmth of spring:
Open the gates and bring to me
the growth of joy,
the light of life,
the glow of beauty.

Though it's a bit early in the year to be talking about Her (even earlier than most Pagans might think, but that's a topic for the next 'E' post) the letter is 'E' and it is coming up on spring - so Eostre it is!

Eostre is a rather elusive deity.  In the lore, She is attested to only by the Venerable Bede in De Temporum Ratione, where he talks about the Anglo-Saxon month of Ēostermōnaþ; claiming it is named for the Goddess Eostre who was honored that month.  Normally, if all the evidence we had for a deity was one post-conversion scholar, I would probably dismiss it.  But the curious thing about Eostre is, though Her existence is not attested to by other authors or place-names, She is rather easy to trace through the etomology of Her name.

According to Ceisiwr Serith, an expert on Proto-Indo-European religious reconstruction based on linguistics, there was probably a PIE Goddess whose name was similar to Xáusōs - in fact, She's one of the only PIE Goddesses we can pin down.  Her name, and probably Her functions, are the etomological source of many Indo-European Goddesses, such as Eos, Aurora, Saule, and our Goddess, Eostre.  This indicates that She is a Goddess related to the dawn - to the liminal time between light and dark - but it does not tell us anything specific about an association with the spring.  No other Indo-European dawn Goddesses that I could find have specific spring associations.  However, Bede tells us that the entire month (near our modern-day April) was named after Her.  Her association with the season was apparently so strong in Anglo-Saxon England that Her name supplanted the more traditional, and Christian, European name for Easter (variations of Paschal).

It is my opinion that the Anglo-Saxons who dedicated the month of Ēostermōnaþ to their dawn Goddess did so because of the symbolic connections between dawn and spring - dawn is the beginning of a new day, of light and warmth, just as spring is the beginning of a new year, of that same light and warmth.  I'll discuss this more next week as well; but until 1751, the new year of the British calendar began on March 25th, the traditional date of the vernal equinox - making an obvious 'beginning' connection.

In this way, I think of and honor Eostre in Her dual roles: that of Goddess of the Dawn, and also Goddess of Spring.  Her associations with eggs, flowers, and rabbits have been touted for years, but I feel it's also important to recognize Her fiery sun aspect, and also Her association with in-betweenness and liminality.  Straddling the gap between day and night, summer and winter, She is the Goddess who is ultimately responsible for the changing of unfortunate circumstances into blessings.

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