While in many places the frost still crouches deep in the ground and the mountains sleep under a thick blanket of snow, the first harbingers of spring are already appearing in sheltered corners and sunny places: snowdrops and crocuses greet the first warming rays of sun, the young trees begin to bud and the first birds move into their nesting places.
In these delicate signs – in the sun, which now moves on higher paths across the sky, in the groves and bushes, in whose veins the juices of life swell – the activity of the youthful deity of the morning light is revealed, as it was once probably worshipped in the entire Indo-European region. There is evidence of the Greek goddess Eos, who is closely related to the Roman Aurora – the eponym of the northern lights (Aurora Borealis). Also, the Baltic tradition knows the goddess Aušrine and the god Auskelis (god of the morning star) among the Lithuanians and Latvians. All these deities are etymologically related and are traced by linguists to the presumed Indo-European deity “*h₂éwsōs” (from *h₂(e)wes – “shine, glow red, flame”). Also the Indian Rig Veda knows a light goddess named Ushas, likewise the cardinal direction of the sunrise – the east – has arisen from this etymology line.
Although in all these deities the mythological relation to spring is obvious, it is the Germanic goddess Ostara who best illustrates this connection. She is first mentioned by the Christian Anglo-Saxon chronicler Beda, who assigns to her the Eosturmonath (April; ahd. Ôstarmânôt or Easter month) and describes that the Anglo-Saxons worshipped a goddess named Eostre during this time before their conversion to Christianity.
Archaeologically, this goddess is difficult to prove, and often the assumption has been made that Beda invented her as a mythologem with the poetic license that was quite common at the time. However, if one considers that in the entire Indo-European area deities of comparable name with spring-like and light-filled attributes were and are worshipped, the theory of the Germanic Ostara gains new weight. In addition, there are several marginal notes in chronicles and reports of the early modern period, which report in places of the Saxon settlement area of pagan spring fires, which were lit in April or at the spring quinox; in this context, for example, the Westphalian Externsteine are still called “Eostrae Rupes” (Ostara’s rocks) in 1750.
In any case, it is certain that the Christian Easter also inherited its name from that mysterious deity of spring awakening and morning light, and many fertility symbols (hare, egg, flowers and blossoms) can still be found today in the popular decoration of Easter celebrations. Also the scheduling of Easter on the first Sunday after the spring full moon shows pre-Christian references: The Germanic tribes followed a lunisolar calendar and always celebrated their traditional rituals on the full moon after the solar festivals (the summer solstices and equinoxes). Thus: No matter what we call it – Ostara, Eostre, Auskelis, or Aurora – the youthful deity continues to assert itself in this world, unstoppable as the first bud that unfolds into blossom under the warm fingers of the spring morning.
About the author
Postmodern skald, looking for echoes of the eternal gods in germanic myth and poetry.