Sunday, March 24

A Timeline of the Goddess "Ostara"

Is Ostara an ancient goddess from Europe?  Is she actually named Ester/Eostre and of Norse heritage?  Was there a goddess at all?  Or was this actually just an old word for "springtime"?  Was she just a smudge of ancient sarcasm that was taken too seriously by some?   

Mama Stacey took a dig through some history and invites you to take a look.

725 BCE

The Venerable Bede, a Northumbrian monk, publishes a work titled "De Temporum Ratione" (On the Reckoning of Time).  Within this work, he features a chapter that attempts to explain the origins of the names of English calendar months.  This chapter features two sentences regarding the Easter season:   

“Eosturmonath [April] has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate the Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”

And that’s it.  That’s the first written record of Eostre.   

Since it's writing, Bede's comments have been dashed by scholars from the age of medieval academia through to today’s anthropological researchers.  Why?  Well, for starters, the conversion to Christianity had been complete for over a century when Bede wrote his book, and yet De Temporum Ratione is littered with the names of obscure Pagan goddesses.  Researchers have performed scholarly acrobatics in an attempt to trace the existence of these goddesses, but have had very little success. 

In general, although Bede seemed to enjoy writing about Pagan practices and rituals, the information he provides is considered questionable.  It is now viewed by some in the academic world as either a tongue-in-cheek reference or a whimsical flourish at best.

Supporters of Bede, however, point to the surviving linguistic fossils within English and German language, citing that the word for the Christian Resurrection holiday in both languages (Easter and Ostern, respectively) could viably be descendent from the word 'Eostre'.  For some scholars, it makes sense that an Anglo-Saxon (a blend of early British and German peoples) term would filter solely into modern English and German language, especially in light of the fact that the word for the holiday in most other languages and cultures is derived from the Hebrew word Pesach (think Passover). 

1835 CE

Jacob Grimm (yes, that Grimm) wrote a piece which tried to trace the origins of the German Ostern.  He decided Bede’s goddess Eostre was the root word, however reconstructed the word in German to be “Ostara”.  Yes, Grimm himself invented the word we use to this day.

Grimm was a firm believer in Bede’s goddess and wrote to support it, although he makes some pretty severe academic leaps while doing so.  His writings used many phrases such as “must have”, “probably”, “might have”, and “seems to”.  Grimm’s works were notoriously willy-nilly in their fact checking… so much so that when Grimm put out the second version of his book on German grammar he noted in the preface that he had gladly torn the first version to pieces and that the new version was a complete rewrite.  

Ultimately, Grimm supports Bede’s goddesses by noting that a devout Christian probably wouldn’t have been in the business of creating Pagan deities on a whim. 

This idea is supported by modern scholars like Audrey Meaney who wrote that Bede was probably surrounded by older monks who had a wealth of information regarding the Pagans.  However modern decriers, like that of Raymond Ian Page, cite the act of historical romanticism as probable evidence that Bede was not inaccurate only in his writings of Paganism, but also in his writings of Christian history.  Page cites evidence that Bede romanticized the ousting of Pagan priests, mass baptisms and forced conversion when historical documentation shows the process was far from bloodless, easy, or pleasant for most.  

1859 CE

Georg Zappert, an unaccredited literary scholar, announced that he had found a portion of a 9th or 10th century manuscript which included five lines of an Old High German lullaby on it.  Translated, the fourth verse reads “Ostra for the child leaves, honey and sweet eggs.”  

"Althochdeutsches Schlummerlied", the Old High German Lullaby
 Unfortunately, Zappert had been suspected of previous literary forgeries and this one was no different.  It is generally agreed to be a forgery, although Grimm believed so much in the lullaby that he was to write a defense of the piece, but never did.  Zappert died that same year and the matter has been left to scholarly debate.

1882 CE

Jacob Grimm puts out another revision of his work “Deutsche Mythologie” (Teutonic Mythology) which includes an etymological analysis of the word Ostara.  He links the word to the Norse ‘austr’, the Old High Germanôstar’, and the Gothic ‘áustr’.  These words all correlate to the rising sun.  

Trying to relate this back to the existence of an ancient goddess, Grimm quotes from the Prose Edda, a collection of Icelandic poetry which includes the Gylfaginning (The Tricking of Gylfi).  The story includes a character named Austri, one of four dwarves or spirits in Norse mythology who hold up the sky.  Austri is most commonly placed in the East, where the sun rises.  Grimm suggests that there may have been a feminine version of Austri named Austra and that she was an Old Saxon goddess of the dawn.  He proposes no other backing for the claim however and further suggests that she is little known because her cult would have died out before Norse culture was in full swing.

1959 CE

Scholar J. Knoblach links the word Eostre to the name of a regional Christian feast in the spring and not a goddess.

1970s CE

Modern Germanic Heathery is revived in Europe, Iceland, and America.  The reconstruction relies heavily on historical fact checking and verifiable manuscripts from Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon antiquity.  Ostara is rejected as a goddess and holiday in favor of the more historically accurate Sigrblót and/or Sumarmál.

1981 CE

Gale Owens-Crocker, a professor of Anglo-Saxon culture at University of Manchester, published a work wherein she included the name Eostre in a listing of Indo-European deities representing ‘dawn’.  The linguistic links between dawn goddesses of many cultures is fairly convincing and generally accepted etymology: the Hindu ‘Usas’, the Hellenic ‘Eos’, the Roman ‘Aurora’, and Bede’s ‘Eostre’, etc.

1989 CE

Friedrick Kluge’s dictionary of German Etymology traces the word Ostern to the root words for “orient” and “dawn” instead of Bede and Grimm’s Eostre. 

Mama Stacey's Thoughts

Modern Paganism is largely romanticized.  Really, it’s a string of reconstructed faiths and re-written and Disney-fied cultural practices.  So, on occasion, inventive flair goes too far, flying in the face of facts and actual history.  We Pagans are pretty light on the discussion of blood sacrifices (Capacocha ceremonies anyone?), but we'll talk your ear off about the historical use of comfrey right?  It's our faith, we're making it up as we go, and that's okay.  Just know that Eostre/Ostara is no different.  

Previously, I’ve written on the invented mythology of the Goddess Ostara and her transformation of a bird into a hare.  Similarly, Eostre is erroneously cited as the ultimate root-word for femininity, so much so that it is the namesake of the female hormone ‘oestrogen’.  This is simply untrue.  

But, in the end, was Eostre a goddess?  Personally, I feel that she was not.  I feel that these words (Austra, Eostre, Ostara) were more the embodiment of the spring season.  The linking of the word to the dawn and the coming of new light are reflected in the season for me.  Spring is a new beginning, a fresh "day" as it were.  

Do you have to come to the same conclusion?  Nope.  But I hope you got a little something out of this research and that maybe it answered some questions for you.

Sources for those who wish to know more:

1-      Sermon, Richard.  "From Easter to Ostara: the Reinvention of a Pagan Goddess?".  Time and Mind, Volume 1, Number 3, November 2008 , pp. 331-343
2-      Cusack, Carole.  “The Goddess Eostre: Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s)”.  The Pomegranate, Volume 9, Number 1, 2007, pp. 22-40

Free Google Document = The Goddess Eostre/Cusack
3-      Grimm, Jacob.  Deutsche Mythologie”.  1800’s

Free electronic document of the 1882 English translation = Teutonic Mythology/Grimm

Sunday, March 17

Falsities in Modern Paganism: Saint Patrick & Ostara's Rabbit

I've written about the importance of creating traditions for your family, and firmly believe that mythology is an integral part of that process.  However, what I do not like to see is the passing along of false information.  There are a handful of "ancient" stories and "true" histories that have become popular in Pagan communities which then spread like wildfire, either because they spark a sense of indignation in the hearts of those who would defend the legitimacy of Paganism to the death, or because they are a clever/cute way of tying our new practices to some honorable and traditional practice from days of yore.

The internet and the ease with which just about anyone can get a book e-published these days has enhanced the speed with which these falsities can spread.

Pagans As Snakes

Today, the Catholic celebration of Saint Patrick, is an excellent example of falsities spreading throughout the Pagan community.  If you're on Facebook, Pinterest, or any other form of social media today, you'll likely see images like these on your feed.

There are many sources for the origin of this very recent idea.  Many can be found in this Wild Hunt article.  Mama Stacey has found the following source to be outstanding to the point of being almost entertaining.

In 2006, Betty Rhodes used a vanity press to publish a small run of a fictional work entitled "Keeper of the Celtic Secrets".  In this work, she covers topics such as: the missing link, the origin of races and Rh-negative blood, as well as the wandering planet of Hibiru.  Within this Daniken-style work of fiction, Rhodes reveals an ancient secret... that the snakes driven out of Ireland were not actual snakes, but the Druidic priesthood, whose symbol was that of the snake.   

Rhodes makes this claim after having "spent many hours studying ancient history, astrology, the origins of religion, New and Old Age writings, and philosophy".  Personally, I feel the need to put more stock in the word of persons who have dedicated their lives and careers to the study of a subject... and not just a few hours, BUT to each their own.  This theory has been repeated on blogs, in workshops, in teaching materials, during rituals, and pages, even getting a passing mention on Wikipedia for a bit.

Zazzle offers these pins for about $3.00

Since the publication of Rhodes' book, Pagans throughout the United States have adopted the wearing of a snake image on this day to honor the Druids whom Saint Patrick allegedly burned, murdered, and converted right out of Ireland. 

Mama Stacey is not one of them.

Ostara and the Myth of Egg-laying Bunnies

[img source: Thalia Took]
Have you heard this one?

There is an ancient Anglo-Saxon legend about the Goddess Ostara.  She was late arriving one spring and felt horrible about it when she came across a bird freezing to death.  She gathered the animal in her arms and transformed its outer appearance into a rabbit, granting it thick fur to keep warm with.  The animal was still a bird inside however, and continued to lay eggs.  Of course, after having been touched by the magic of Ostara, the eggs came in every color that symbolizes spring instead of the usual white.

... and that's where the legend of colored egg laying rabbits at the equinox comes from.  

Sometimes this story shifts.  At times the bird is Ostara's pet or companion.  Sometimes the bird isn't cold, but instead injured by some men and the transformation heals the animal.  In some versions, the story is far lustier and the rabbit is Ostara's lover.  When she catches the animal consorting with other women, she angrily throws him into the sky and he became the constellation Lepus.

When one looks to academia, history, and other forms of scholarly research to find the source of this tale... none exists.  Pagans suffer a significant level of cognitive dissonance regarding this.  To make sense of things, some Pagans respond that "the history of some mythologies are long lost to time" or that "oral stories don't have a written record".   However, anthropologists and historians alike agree that even oral stories can be traced through etymology or cultural transference.  Unfortunately, the tale of Ostara and the egg-laying rabbit is absent of any traceable history.

This convenient tale which so easily explains the presence of rabbits and colored eggs in the spring (and securely ties them to a Goddess named Ostara) seems to be a much more modern invention.  It doesn't seem to date back any further than the 90s (yes, the 1990s).  Mama Stacey doesn't have an exact date to cite as the only sources for this tale are web-based, however I first read the myth a few years before my son was born in 2002.  It shows up as "ancient myth" or "well known mythology" on hundreds of websites (Pagan and non-pagan alike). 

Once one peers down the rabbit-hole (ha!) the entire conglomerate of Eostre and Ostara becomes questionable.  I'll not challenge every point here today, however those interested in the scholarly side of Paganism may wish to take a look at Carole Cusack's article "The Goddess Eostre: Bede's Text and Contemporary Pagan Traditions".

Mama Stacey will have a more in depth blog post on Eostre and Ostara traditions later this week (providing I don't go into labor!  LOL).  

For now though, I'd like to leave you with a note about families who may still choose to work the idea of an egg-laying rabbit into their spring celebrations or the wearing of snakes on Saint Patrick's Day...

But... What if You LIKE Those Stories???

What if you WANT to show solidarity with Paganism by wearing a snake on St. Patrick's day?

[img source]

That is perfectly fine.

Some Pagans wear a snake on March 17th to show their protest for religious intolerance or their anti-support of missionary work.  And that's okay.  But do it for those reasons, not because of a flawed "historical" theory from an allegedly ancient journal from the 1650s (a good 1200 years after Patrick's death).

And what if you LIKE the simple story of Eostra transforming a bird into a rabbit?

[img source]
That's wonderful.  I'll admit, that it's uncomplicated and easy for children to grasp.  

Many Pagans recognize that we are practicing a living faith and the creation of new stories and mythos are a part of that.  I know parents that have created things like the "Samhain Faerie" who takes trick-or-treat candy and replaces it with toys or fruit on the night of October 31st.  I have heard tales of gnomes who visit children on Midsummer's Eve and leave them magical gifts... and I LOVE it.  The creation of tradition is vital to including children in faith.

BUT, if you're going to use the Ostara myth... please don't quote it as some ancient Anglo-Saxon legend.  It is not.