Eostre - Spring Goddess or NeoPagan Fancy?

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Wigington, Patti. "Eostre - Spring Goddess or NeoPagan Fancy?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 17, 2017, thoughtco.com/eostre-spring-goddess-or-neopagan-fancy-2562488. Wigington, Patti. (2017, August 17). Eostre - Spring Goddess or NeoPagan Fancy? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/eostre-spring-goddess-or-neopagan-fancy-2562488 Wigington, Patti. "Eostre - Spring Goddess or NeoPagan Fancy?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/eostre-spring-goddess-or-neopagan-fancy-2562488 (accessed September 23, 2017).
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Was Eostre truly a Germanic spring goddess?. Image by Paper Boat Creative/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Every year at Ostara, everyone begins chatting about a goddess of spring known as Eostre. According to the stories, she is a goddess associated with flowers and springtime, and her name gives us the word "Easter," as well as the name of Ostara itself.

However, if you start to dig around for information on Eostre, you'll find that much of it is the same. In fact, nearly all of it is Wiccan and Pagan authors who describe Eostre in a similar fashion.

Very little is available on an academic level, from primary sources. So where does the Eostre story come from?

Eostre first makes her appearance in literature about thirteen hundred years ago in the Venerable Bede's Temporum Ratione. Bede tells us that April is known as Eostremonath, and is named for a goddess that the Anglo-Saxons honored in the spring. He says, "Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month.

After that, there's not a lot of information about her, until Jacob Grimm and his brother came along in the 1800s. Jacob said that he found evidence of her existence in the oral traditions of certain parts of Germany, but there's really no written proof.

Carole Cusack of the University of Sydney says in The Goddess Eostre: Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s)that "it has been established that within medieval studies there is no one authoritative interpretation of Bede’s mention of Eostre in DeTemporum Ratione.

 It is not possible to say, as it is of Woden, for example, that the Anglo-Saxons definitely worshipped a goddess called Eostre,who was probably concerned with the spring or the dawn."

Interestingly, Eostre doesn't appear anywhere in Germanic mythology, and despite assertions that she might be a Norse deity, she doesn't show up in the poetic or prose Eddas either.

However, she could certainly have belonged to some tribal group in the Germanic areas, and her stories may have just been passed along through oral tradition. It's fairly unlikely that Bede, who was a scholar as well as a Christian academic, would have just made her up. Of course, it's equally possible that Bede simply misinterpreted a word at some point, and that Eostremonth was not named for a goddess at all, but for some other spring festival.

Patheos blogger and author Jason Mankey writes, "The most likely “historical Eostre” is a a localized goddess worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons in present day county Kent in Southeastern England. It’s in Kent where we see the oldest references to names similar to that of Eostre ... It’s recently been argued that perhaps she was a Germanic Matron Goddess . Linguist Philip Shaw ... links a localized Eostre to the German Austriahenea, a matron goddess connected to the East ... If Eostre is indeed linked to goddesses like Austriahenea she might not even be a single goddess. Matron goddesses were often worshipped in triplicate. For me there is more than enough evidence that there was a goddess name Eostre. Was she worshipped throughout Europe as a goddess of the Spring?

That’s pretty unlikely, but she’s most likely related to other deities and yes, perhaps other Indo-European goddesses of the dawn. There’s nothing to suggest that she threw colored eggs out to people and walked around with bunnies, but deities do evolve." 

As if all of this weren't confusing enough, there's also been a meme floating around the internet for the last couple of years linking Eostre and Easter with the goddess Ishtar. Nothing could be more inaccurate, as this particular meme is based on completely inaccurate information. Anne Theriault at The Belle Jar has an absolutely brilliant breakdown of why this is wrong, and says, "Here’s the thing. Our Western Easter traditions incorporate a lot of elements from a bunch of different religious backgrounds. You can’t really say that it’s just about resurrection, or just about spring, or just about fertility and sex.

You can’t pick one thread out of a tapestry and say, “Hey, now this particular strand is what this tapestry’s really about.” It doesn’t work that way; very few things in life do."

So, did Eostre exist or not? No one knows. Some scholars dispute it, others point to etymological evidence to say that she did in fact have a festival honoring her. Regardless, she has come to be associated with modern-day Pagan and Wiccan customs, and certainly is connected in spirit, if not in actuality, to our contemporary celebrations of Ostara.