Eostre, Most Popular Goddess in the Pantheon

          Eostre, the fiery dawn,
         
the waxing sun,
         
the warmth of spring:
         
Open the gates and bring to me
         
the growth of joy,
         
the light of life,
         
the glow of beauty.

Photo by Lisa Tancsics via Creative Commons 3.0
Photo by Lisa Tancsics via Creative Commons 3.0

The Anglo-Saxon pantheon is obscure to modern Pagans – even most Heathens! The lack of mythology, written records, and its relatively brief existence play a large part in this. But there is one Anglo-Saxon deity that is honored by most Pagan groups this time of year: Eostre.

The Goddess who lent Her name to Easter, Eostre is almost always pictured as a young maiden surrounded by bunnies, eggs, and all manner of symbols of spring. The truth is, though, we have almost as little information on Her as we do for most of Her pantheon.

In the lore, She is attested to only by the Venerable Bede in De Temporum Ratione, where he talks about the Anglo-Saxon month of Ēostermōnaþ. He claims it is named for the Goddess Eostre who was honored that month. Her existence is not attested to by other authors or place-names, and Bede gives no information about Her nature, but thankfully She is rather easy to trace through the etomology of Her name.

According to Ceisiwr Serith, an expert on Proto-Indo-European religious reconstruction based on linguistics, there was probably a PIE Goddess whose name would have sounded like Xáusōs. In fact, She’s one of the only PIE Goddesses we can pin down.  Her name, and probably Her functions, are the etomological source of many Indo-European Goddesses, such as Eos, Aurora, Saule, and our Goddess, Eostre.

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts, 1884
Ostara by Johannes Gehrts, 1884

This indicates that She is a Goddess related to the dawn – to the liminal time between light and dark – but it does not tell us anything specific about an association with the spring.  No other Indo-European dawn Goddesses that I could find have specific spring associations.  However, Bede tells us that the entire month (near our modern-day April) was named after Her.  Her association with the season was apparently so strong in Anglo-Saxon England that Her name supplanted the more traditional, and Christian, European name for Easter (variations of Paschal).

It is my opinion that the Anglo-Saxons who dedicated the month of Ēostermōnaþ to their dawn Goddess did so because of the symbolic connections between dawn and spring – dawn is the beginning of a new day, of light and warmth, just as spring is the beginning of a new year, of that same light and warmth. Her liminal nature, pushing away the darkness and ushering in the light, works symbolically for both times.

There’s no way to know how the ancient Anglo-Saxons would have felt about Her, but to me She strongly retains the dawn Goddess imagery. Crowned by the light of the rising Sun, She ushers in the day. And what is spring but dawn writ large? As Pagans and Heathens, much of our concept of time runs in circles rather than in a straight line. Straddling the gap between day and night, summer and winter, Eostre is the Goddess who turns the wheel from dark to light.

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