The Life and Thoughts of a Modern Day American Heathen

Happy Ostara!

Happy Ostara!

I have seen a great many Happy Ostara’s this morning, and why not? It’s Easter after all, another holiday stolen from our ancestors by Christianity. Why shouldn’t we honor our own gods according to the traditions of those ancestors?

But when should we celebrate Ostara’s day? Should we celebrate it on the Christian Easter or should we have a separate day set aside for the occasion? The obvious problem is that Easter shifts each year. Easter is what we call a moveable feast, meaning that it has no set day on the calendar. Instead, it is celebrated either in March or in April and the day is determined according to the lunisolar calendar.

It’s a confusing muddle. In 725, Bede wrote, “The Sunday following the full Moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful Easter,” but it’s a little more complicated than this, since the full moon Bede speaks of is not an astronomical full moon but arbitrarily fixed on the 14th of March while the spring equinox can fall anywhere from the 19th to the 21st. According to the church, the date of the equinox is March 21.

Bede writes that Ostara was celebrated in April and since he is our only witness we have to accept this. Accordingly, we would be within our rights to reject a day for Ostara that falls, according to Christian computations, in March.

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.”

But at the same time we have to realize that our northern ancestors lacked an accurate calendar and that the celebration in all likelihood did not take place on the same day every year. Given Ostara’s function (Simek’s “Spring-like fertility goddess”), it is more likely that the day was chosen that in that particular year marked the advent of spring. And as we all know, that date varies from year to year as well.

This gives modern Heathens some flexibility, I think. We are certainly within our rights to reclaim our holiday, substituting, just as Christians did centuries ago, our deity for theirs, a sort of reverse normative inversion. It must be admitted that this has a certain sense of poetic justice.

Yet Heathens should feel free to mark Ostara’s day in April, based on ancient tradition, though there is no way of knowing what particular day attaches to that tradition. In the end I do not personally see any problem with either calculation. Celebrate Ostara when spring arrives, or on a certain fixed day, or simply on whatever day Easter falls on. Each is equally justified, remembering always that the truly important aspect of all this is that Ostara herself be honored.

Grimm writes,

Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy [...]. Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing [...]; here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess [...].

This seems a reasonable interpretation of events and I have never seen anything to contradict it. In the end, whatever events transpired all those centuries ago, Ostara had her day and her month and she has it still, as she has us, her worshipers.

Let a spring not come again when her children are not here to honor her as of old.

Image from Katia Honour

4 Comments

  1. I always thought that pagans celebrated Ostara on the Spring Equinox , at least I do.

  2. I love the fact that so many Yule and Easter traditions are actually heathen, it makes it easy to celebrate openly in our communities and at the same time. I think community and family are an important part of holidays. The traditions have lingered because we really are all celebrating seasons, even though some Christians don’t want to admit it.

  3. hey Hraf, no posts in over a month? How are you doing?

  4. I IS Celebrated on the SPRING EQUINOX. I’ve been pagan for over 20 years and I’ve never heard it celebrated on the Xian Easter. Blessings!

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