From Academic Kids

Eostre is widely said to be an Anglo-Saxon goddess, but her existence in any authentic pre-Christian Germanic mythology is undocumented, save in one ambiguous reference in Bede (see below).

Modern sources associate her with various aspects related to the renewal of life: spring, fertility and the hare (allegedly for its quick and numerous reproduction). Eostre has been made to be a "goddess of Dawn" by modern writers, improvising on the theme of Eos; there is no sanction for this aspect in any historical document or ancient tradition. Though it has been said that she was sometimes depicted with a hare's head, no authentic animal-headed deities appear in Germanic or Celtic cult objects. And, perhaps for good reason, there is no Celtic depiction of an Eostre whatsoever.


Bede's account of Eostre

According to Bede (died in 735 CE), writing in De Tempore Ratione ("On the Reckoning of Time"), Ch. xv, "The English months", the word is derived from Eostre, a festival. Bede connects it with an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the month answering to our April, and called Eostur-monath, was dedicated. The connection is often assumed, without quoting Bede himself, who says,

"In olden times the English people— for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other nations' observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation's— calculated their months according to the course of the Moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans, [the months] take their name from the Moon, for the moon is called mona and each month monath.
"The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath [...etc.]
"Eosturmonath 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 that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance."

What is secure in Bede's passage is that the lunar month around the month of April in the Julian calendar was called the Eostre-monath. And as the Christian tradition of Easter, which has also fallen in April, arrived in some Germanic-speaking regions, the people named the then-unnamed Christian day after the festival, that is, in English as Easter, and in German as Ostern. It is alleged that remnants of Eostre's characteristics can also be found in the Easter Bunny celebrations, though as Eostre's characteristics as a goddess have never been recorded, this is entirely speculative.

Eostre in Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie

The first mention of Eostre after Bede occurs in 1835 in Robert Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie. Grimm does not provide any additional evidence for her existence and admits that there is no such evidence in Germanic sources. [1] (http://listserv.brown.edu/archives/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0004d&L=conlang&F=&S=&P=61727)

Etymologies of Eostre

In a widely-reported etymology of Eostre, the word originated in Old Teutonic, derived from the same root that gave the conjectural *austrôn-, meaning "dawn".

It is alleged that Eostre's name is also spelled Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Estre, Eostre, Eoster, Eostra, Eastre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron, and Ausos; but none of these appear in the Icelandic Eddas nor in German texts. There is no parallel to Eostre in Old Norse.

Speculative alternative etymologies

Much speculation has been erected on Bede's single remark, including an attempt to derive an etymology of oestrogen from Eostre. This almost certainly results from a train of thought involving the hormone oestrogen, human egg cells, Easter eggs and fertility.

Oestrogen derives directly from the word oestrus. The meaning of oestrus comes directly from Greek oistros, originally referring to a "gadfly"— specifically the gadfly that Hera sent to torment Io, who had been wooed and won in her heifer form by Zeus. Homer uses the word to describe the panic of the suitors in Odyssey book 22. The modern technical Latin meaning of estrus became more prominent after it was revived in 1890 to describe the female equivalent of "rut": hence "estrogen", the "hormone that generates oestrus".

Oestrus/oistros also meant "frenzy". Euripides uses it both to describe the madness of Orestes, and of Heracles. In x (line 1144), Heracles has murdered his own children and cries, 'Where did the madness seize me? where did it destroy me?'

More to the point, Herodotus (Histories ch.93.1) uses oistros to describe the desire of fish to spawn.

Oestrus is an irrational drive: Plato, Laws, 854b:

“My good man, the evil force that now moves you and prompts you to go temple-robbing is neither of human origin nor of divine, but it is some impulse bred of old in men from ancient wrongs unexpiated, which courses round wreaking ruin; and it you must guard against with all your strength."

In the Republic, Plato again uses the word, to describe the soul "driven and drawn by the gadfly of desire".

The earliest English language sense is of "frenzied passion."

The name Eostre also bears some resemblance to the name Ishtar, a Babylonian goddess. Other variants on Ishtar include Astarte and Ashtoreth. This resemblance has resulted in extensive speculation, often presented as fact, that Easter is Ishtar's festival. (Fakelore is often constructed to support such speculative continuities.) There is, however, no evidence that Ishtar was ever worshipped in Europe, nor is there any plausible process by which such worship could have been preserved and exported.

The most determined proponents of an Ishtar/Easter connection are not neopagans but certain fundamentalist Christians, notably Ralph Woodrow, whose Babylonian Mystery Religion includes the Easter/Ishtar hypothesis and condemns the celebration's trappings as unChristian. This is a curious example of Christians and neopagans alike supporting theories of a continuity of goddess worship in the absence of any evidence beyond the possibilities inherent in a single word.

A distracting apparent early reference to 'Easter' in the Authorized Version translation of the New Testament, Acts 12:4, is simply an anachronistic mistranslation of the Greek pascha ("Passover"), in which King James's committee followed such earlier translators as Tyndale and Coverdale. The Acts passage refers to the seven-day Passover festival (including the Feast of Unleavened Bread); "it is reasonably certain that the New Testament contains no reference to a yearly celebration of the resurrection of Christ."

Common misapprehensions concerning Eostre

Multiple modern sources describe Eostre's festival as a celebration of the Spring Equinox. Bede, however, never states this. He equates the 'Eostur-monath' with April and notes that there were multiple feasts rather than a single feast day. Since the Spring Equinox falls on a single date in March rather than April, there are no grounds for associating Eostre with the Spring Equinox. In any case, celebration of the Equinoxes was unknown among the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon peoples, though the Solstices may have had some significance [2] (http://www.kami.demon.co.uk/gesithas/calendar/obs_bede.html).

The association of Eostre with the Spring Equinox is a neopagan convention, stemming from the significance of the Equinoxes in the Wheel of the Year. Neopagan celebrations of the Equinoxes involve goddesses from diverse cultures; rituals held to honour Eostre at the Spring Equinox have presumably given rise to the belief that the equinox was her festival day.

Bede attributes the month of the Spring Equinox to a different goddess altogether, Hretha. The month equivalent to March was named the Hrethmonath which according to Bede was 'named from their goddess Hretha, whom they sacrificed to in that month'. Perhaps significantly, there is no ancient evidence of Hretha either, leading some academics to conclude that both she and Eostre were inventions of Bede's.

The belief that Eostre had hare's ears or a hare's head may well derive from Nigel Pennick's Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition in which an image of the Saxon moon god Mona from A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence is shown, with the accompanying text describing Mani incorrectly both as a Goddess and as 'Eostre in her spring guise' [3] (http://www.planetfusion.co.uk/~pignut/oestra.html).

Eostre in modern fiction, movies, etc.


International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia Geoffrey Bromley, ed.: 'Easter'

it:Eostre de:Ostara nl:Ostare


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