The Goddess Ostara

We actually know nothing about the goddess Ēostre. There is only one reference to her in early literature, and this by the seventh/eighth century English monk Bede in his De temporum ratione (‘The Reckoning of Time’). He wrote that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the lunar month of March/April) Pagan Anglo-Saxons had once held feasts in Ēostre’s honour, but the tradition had died out by his time.  Based on this single source, folklorist and recorder of fairy tales Jacob Grimm attempted to reconstruct a possible Germanic equivalent goddess calling her Ostara, arguing that since Germans called April ôstarmânoth while most countries retained the Biblical pascha for Easter, the word must relate to áustrô, from the Old High German adverb ôstar which “expresses movement towards the rising sun”, concluding that the putative deity would have been a goddess of dawn.  [1] Given the lack of any direct evidence for Ostara or Ēostre, scholars have dismissed the goddess as a pure invention of Bede, [2] concluding that the Old English word eastre is a simply an approximation of the Latin albae (’white’), a word sometimes applied to Easter. [3] [4] It has to be said that this doesn’t mean the goddess  Ēostre/ Ostara didn’t exist – it is unlikely that Bede made her up – but we have one very brief mention of her name, and Jacob Grimm made a connected between her name and the word for east, the direction of the rising Sun. We certainly know nothing at all about her worship, and there is most definitely no mention of hares and eggs as cult symbols, as I sometimes read. Neither is there a linguistic connection with the Latin word oestrus (relating to ovulation and eggs), nor with the Middle Eastern goddesses Ishtar and Astarte.  Nevertheless, the name resonates with modern Pagans, and as long as we don’t make up fake histories for it, we can happily call the vernal equinox Ostara. if we wish.

© Anna Franklin text and illustration

[1] Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology. (J.S. Stalleybrass edition) George Bell & Sons, London, 1883

[2] Karl Weinhold, Die deutschen Monatnamen

[3] Philip A.Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World, Bristol Classical Press (Bloomsbury Academic), London, 2011

[4] Philip A.Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World, Bristol Classical Press (Bloomsbury Academic), London, 2011


Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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