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Oestara’s Ever-Present Communion and Gift of Joy
Article ID: 11637
Age Group: Adult
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“According to the historian Bede the Venerable (673? -735), writing in chapter 13 of his De temporum ratione, the heathen Anglo-Saxons called” their fourth month after the goddess Eostra” (Asherman, 1992) Although there is little direct evidence of Her and Her followers, “April, in Anglo Saxon, Old High German, and some modern German dialects, is called ‘Ostara's month.’ …One of the most important of spring festivals among pre-Christian Germanic tribes apparently was dedicated to the goddess Ostara, whose name suggests ‘east’ and thus ‘dawn’ and ‘morning light.’ (Asherman, 1992).
Indeed, checking with my German neighbor, “Oestara” means “eastern star.” Further, according to Asherman (1992), place names suggest that Ostara was venerated throughout ancient Germany and Denmark.
Scholars also seem to concur with Brewer (1898) that “Easter eggs, or Pasch eggs, are symbolic of creation, or the recreation of spring. The practice of presenting eggs to our friends at Easter is Magian or Persian... [the practice] prevailed not only with the Persians, but the Jews, Egyptians, and Hindus.” Thus, the painting of eggs and presenting them as gifts is ancient indeed. But what of the Easter Bunny?
The “tradition of the Easter bunny was introduced to American folklore by the German settlers who arrived in Pennsylvania during the 1700s. Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e. "German") children believed that if they were good the Oschter haas would lay a nest of colored eggs for them. The children would build their nests in a secluded place in the home, the barn or the garden. Boys would use their caps and girls their bonnets to make the nests” (Take Our Word For It, March 11, 2004).
Among today’s Pagans it is thought that Oestara had the hare as Her sacred animal or that Her head was that of rabbit (Aubin, March 11, 2004). Most charming is the tale shared by Dorothy Morrison (2001, p. 163) in which Oestara, to amuse some children, turned Her bird into a bunny, and the bunny, being actually a bird, laid colorful eggs.
Unfortunately, neither Aubin nor Morrison cite their sources for these myths and considering what scholars say of the scanty evidence extant of Oestara, Aubin’s and Morrison’s recountings may well be modern inspirations.
However, we Witches and Pagans believe the Goddess is alive and communicates with us today, and so even if these tales are modern they are still true in the way that mythos is true. These stories still *feel right* and are in keeping of what we know of how the Goddess Works Her Ways. Oestara is giving joy to Her children.
For example, when I was attending one of the Phoenix Phyre Festivals and enjoying the hot tub with the other Pagans, one woman grumpily, crossly asked why a bunny laying eggs would be a tale of Easter when everybody knows rabbits do not lay eggs.
I leaned over (I was sitting up on the rim with my feet in the water) and conspiratorially told her that the Goddess Oestara had turned Her bird into a bunny to amuse some children, and so of course it laid eggs since it was really a bird, not a bunny.
Joy dawned on the woman’s face! “Oh!” she exclaimed happily, “so that’s what happened!”
Thus, it does not matter when the myth was created, just that the myth is truly mythos--holding emotional truth powerful enough to connect us to the Lady. It is the connection to the Lady that is important not when the inspiration for connection came.
While the Anglo-Saxon and other Germanic tribes that worshipped Oestara did so in their fourth month, and so perhaps in April, other cultures did have Spring Equinox celebrations. Indeed, the Venerable Bede, monk and English historian who lived from 673-735, noted that the astrological Spring Equinox had slipped three days from the date traditionally observed--March 21st (Weisstein, March 12, 2004).
Also, the Catholic Church tended to move the holidays the Pagans celebrated to either just before or just after the Pagan date of celebration to emphasize the holiday was now a Christian one. So the likelihood is that the celebration on March 19th as St. Patrick’s Day is because it is a commandeered Spring Equinox celebration.
The ancient Greeks also held what is probably their most famous festival, the festival of Dionysus, during “the last week of March” (Brockett, 1982, p. 25). Surely this was a Vernal Equinox celebration too. The festival of Dionysus was the festival at which the competition of plays took place that yielded the masterpieces of Antigone, Oedipus Rex, The Bacchae, Lyssestrata, etc. that are still enjoyed today.
The Vernal Equinox is a particularly important Sabbat to me personally because the Spring Goddess is the deity who has called me to Her Service. Throughout my life She has urged me to an awareness of my connection with Her.
For instance, my parents were married on the Vernal Equinox. When I was a small child, my father, a professor of theater history, was wont to give us children books and toys about the theater.
One day while playing with a paper model 18th century theater, I started to worry. I knew that all the other arts had patron gods. I knew this because my father read us Greek myths as bedtime stories. Yet, no story he had read us told which God was the God of the theater.
Why would the theater be neglected? So, I went to my father and asked him who the God of the theater was. At first he refused to tell me, saying I would learn that when I went to college. I stamped my feet and asked when that would be, and then named the biggest number I could think of for the amount of years it would be.
He answered, “Longer, in about fourteen years.”
“Fourteen YEARS!” I yelled.
Then more calmly, using all the wiles of a small child I asked reasonably, “Why do I have to wait? I want to know now.”
So, he told me it was Dionysus who was carried in a boat, parade fashion, to the festival of plays held in His honor. I went back to my paper model theater, happy and at peace in new-found knowledge, and perhaps happy too in having been urged by the Goddess to find the Lord’s spring aspect and being successful in the fulfillment of that divine charge.
Another gesture of the Spring Goddess occurred when I was in college. I met one of my life long friends then; her last name is Oesterriecher, which is German for Easterner. Oestara is the Goddess of the East, Dawn, and the Spring. When it is considered that English spelling has only been fixed for the last two centuries, it is no wonder that some spellings of Oestara are of an “OE” rather than an “EO” and some begin with simply an “O.”
Another nod to me from the Spring Goddess occurred one Yule. My brother informed me that he was “changing” his birth date. My brother chose as his new “birth date” the date that *felt right* to him--yes, he chose March 21st, a day on which the Spring Equinox often falls.
While ancient Pagans usually celebrated their Spring Goddess when spring arrived for them, we modern Pagans and Witches celebrate the Spring Goddess at the Vernal Equinox probably because our scientifically minded culture regards the equinoxes as worthy of special note. For us, it feels right to celebrate on this day, and it is this feeling of rightness, this urge towards the appropriateness of recognizing balance that is one of the ways the Lady, in Her Guise of Spring communes with us and we with Her.
While researching for this paper, I had yet another contact with the Lady, one I found quite amazing. Last year I wrote an article about how the myth of the Goddess Bathing appears in different eras in different forms teaching a lesson appropriate for the culture.
What had inspired me to write the article was a story I ran across one day when I browsing in a bookstore. I had sat down with an intriguing looking book and flipped to a section that told of an ancient Roman myth of the Goddess coming down to bathe in the lake at Nemi and the stag that ran to Her for protection from the hunters. The stag was of course, the Horned God. Later, when I wished to cite this source, I could find this myth absolutely nowhere. I in fact gave up looking for it, thinking what I read must have been an interpretation about the women’s sanctuary at Nemi, or worse, that I had not read it in the book, my mind had simply wandered off into fantasy while I held the book on my lap.
To my astonishment, as I checked through my Witchy books, I found in Grimassi’s Italian Witchcraft (2000, pp. 146-147) as part of his ritual for the Vernal Equinox his presentation of a myth of the Ascent of the Goddess from the Underworld wherein the Lady, to lure the Lord to Her, bathes naked in the lake at Nemi, and the Lord, trying to pretend He is not interested, approaches Her in the form of the Stag. While the story I so distinctly remember reading and Grimassi’s are different in plot, the salient features of the Goddess bathing and the God approaching Her as Stag are the same.
The Lady is ever-present in our lives and She tells us of Her Ways to each of us in the ways we are most likely to hear.
Asherman, D.L. (Editor) (1996) Ostara's Home Page: The Germanic Goddess of Springtime http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/ostara.html
Aubin, Cristina (2004) . www.witchvox.com/holidays/ostsra/ostara_details.html
Brewer, Cobham, E. (1898) . Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
Grimassi, Raven (2000) . Italian Witchcraft. Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications.
Morrison, Dorothy. (2001) . The Craft: A Witch’s Book of Shadows. Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications.
#Spotlight Take Our Word For It: The Only Weekly Word-Origin Webzine. http://takeourword.com/Issue081.html
Weisstein, Eric (2001) . Eric Weisstein’s World of Biography. http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/biography/Bede.html
Copyright: © 2003 Cynthia Joyce Clay All rights reserved
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