Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
The German goddess of spring, fertility, and rebirth is considered by many to be Eostre, sometimes referred to as Ostara. Some say Eostre is the ancient Norse goddess of spring. Both the name Eostre and Ostara are often used in Germanic Neopaganism, which is the contemporary revival, or reconstruction, of the ancient religion of the Germanic or Nordic peoples.
Since the 8th century scholars have debated over who the goddess Eostre was and where she originated from. The Venerable Bede (672 or 673 - 26 May 735), an English monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, was the first to mention Eostre in writing.
In De temporum ratione, The Reckoning of Time, written in 725, Eostre is attested to by Bede and claimed that by his own time, the goddess was no longer worshiped and the celebration in the month of Eosturmonap (April) had instead become the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus in the Christian Paschal month. In chapter 15 of The Reckoning of Time, Bede wrote that the name Eosturmonath was used to honour the goddess Eostre with feasts to celebrate her in a "time-honoured" tradition of observance.
The name Eostre in the common German language means "to shine" and could be related to Hausos, goddess of Dawn. Hausos was a beautiful young woman and the personification of dawn. Eostre in Old English is Eastre. Since Eostre was thought to have given her name to the Christian holiday of Easter, other scholar's have done deep research into the goddess and Bede's account.
Some scholars, such as Wilhelm Grimm (1786 - 1859) the German author and younger of the Brothers Grimm, had no doubt as to the existence of Eostre and the attestation of Bede. Other scholars were divided on the subject.
Jacob Grimm seems to have agreed with his brother and accepted Bede's account exactly the way it was written. In his Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob wrote that Germans (in his day) referred to the month of April as Ostermonat. He continued by writing that the Christian teachers tolerated the name due to the fact that Ostara, as in the Anglo-Saxon "Eastre" must have referred to a higher being, so applied the name to their own major anniversaries.
Jacob Grimm further wrote that Ostara or Eastre seems to be "... a spectacle that brings joy and blessing ..." which was easy to adapt to the Christian God and the resurrection. Jacob also connected Eastre to some of the customs of German Easter festivities such as Easter eggs and wrote that of all the proposed goddesses related to the Easter holiday, Eastre had the strongest claim of consideration. Other later scholars also linked the hare to Eastre and that the sacredness of the hare reaches far back into antiquity.
Some forms of Germanic Neopaganism hold Eostre, or Ostara, in high regard and celebrate her at the Spring Equinox. She is seen as the goddess of renewal, rebirth, and promise, bringing forth the spring each year in glorious light after the dark of winter has left.