Ēostre or Ostara (Old English: Ēastre [æːɑstrə] or [eːɑstrə],
Northumbrian dialect Ēastro ,
Mercian dialect and West Saxon
dialect (Old English) Ēostre ; Old High German: *Ôstara )
is a Germanic goddess who, by way of the Germanic month bearing her
name (Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old
High German: Ôstarmânoth), is the namesake of the festival of Easter
in some languages.
Ēostre is attested solely by
Bede in his
8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where
Bede states that during
Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-
Saxons had held
feasts in Ēostre's honour, but that this tradition had died out by
his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of
the resurrection of Jesus.
By way of linguistic reconstruction, the matter of a goddess called
*Austrō in the
Proto-Germanic language has been examined in detail
since the foundation of
Germanic philology in the 19th century by
Jacob Grimm and others. As the
Germanic languages descend from
Proto-Indo-European (PIE), historical linguists have traced the name
Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn *H₂ewsṓs (→
*Ausṓs), from which descends the Common Germanic divinity from whom
Ēostre and Ostara are held to descend. Additionally, scholars have
linked the goddess's name to a variety of Germanic personal names, a
series of location names (toponyms) in England, and, discovered in
1958, over 150 inscriptions from the 2nd century CE referring to the
Ēostre with records of Germanic
including hares and eggs, have been proposed. Particularly prior to
the discovery of the matronae Austriahenae and further developments in
Indo-European studies, debate has occurred among some scholars about
whether or not the goddess was an invention of Bede.
Ostara are sometimes referenced in modern popular culture and are
venerated in some forms of Germanic neopaganism.
2 De temporum ratione
3 Jacob Grimm, *Ostara, and
4 Locations, personal names, and the matronae Austriahenae
5 Theories and interpretations
5.1 Dea ex Machina and the matronae Austriahenae
5.2 Hares and Freyja
6 In popular culture and modern veneration
7 See also
Ēostre continues into modern English as
Proto-Germanic **Austrǭ, itself a descendant of the
Proto-Indo-European root *h₂ews-, meaning 'to shine' (modern English
east also derives from this root).
The goddess name
Ēostre is therefore linguistically cognate with
numerous other dawn goddesses attested among Indo-European
language-speaking peoples. These cognates lead to the reconstruction
Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess; the Encyclopedia of
Indo-European Culture details that "a
Proto-Indo-European goddess of
the dawn is supported both by the evidence of cognate names and the
similarity of mythic representation of the dawn goddess among various
Indo-European groups” and that “all of this evidence permits us to
Proto-Indo-European *haéusōs 'goddess of dawn' who was
characterized as a "reluctant" bringer of light for which she is
punished. In three of the Indo-European stocks, Baltic, Greek and
Indo-Iranian, the existence of a
Proto-Indo-European 'goddess of the
dawn' is given additional linguistic support in that she is designated
the 'daughter of heaven'."
De temporum ratione
In chapter 15 (De mensibus Anglorum, "The English months") of his
De temporum ratione ("The Reckoning of Time"), Bede
describes the indigenous month names of the English people. After
describing the worship of the goddess Rheda during the Anglo-Saxon
month of Hrēþ-mōnaþ,
Bede writes about Ēosturmōnaþ, the month
of the goddess Ēostre:
Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea
illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen
habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto
antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes.
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.
Jacob Grimm, *Ostara, and
In his 1835 Deutsche Mythologie,
Jacob Grimm cites comparative
evidence to reconstruct a potential continental Germanic goddess whose
name would have been preserved in the
Old High German
Old High German name of Easter,
*Ostara. Addressing skepticism towards goddesses mentioned by Bede,
Grimm comments that "there is nothing improbable in them, nay the
first of them is justified by clear traces in the vocabularies of
Germanic tribes." Specifically regarding Ēostre, Grimm continues
We Germans to this day call
April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is
found as early as Eginhart (temp. Car. Mag.). The great Christian
festival, which usually falls in
April or the end of March, bears in
the oldest of OHG remains the name ôstarâ ... it is mostly found in
the plural, because two days ... were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ,
like the [Anglo-Saxon] Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted
a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the Christian
teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own
Grimm notes that "all of the nations bordering on us have retained the
Biblical pascha; even Ulphilas writes 𐍀𐌰𐍃𐌺𐌰, not
𐌰𐌿𐍃𐍄𐍂𐍉 (paska not áustrô), though he must have
known the word". Grimm details that the
Old High German
Old High German adverb ôstar
"expresses movement towards the rising sun", as did the
Old Norse term
austr, and potentially also Anglo-Saxon ēastor and Gothic
𐌰𐌿𐍃𐍄𐍂 (áustr). Grimm compares these terms to the
identical Latin term auster. Grimm says that the cult of the goddess
may have worshiped an
Old Norse form, Austra, or that her cult may
have already been extinct by the time of Christianization.
Grimm notes that the
Prose Edda book
Gylfaginning attests to
a male being called Austri, who Grimm describes as a "spirit of
light." Grimm comments that a female version would have been *Austra,
yet that the High German and Saxon peoples seem to have only formed
Ostarâ and Eástre, feminine, and not Ostaro and Eástra, masculine.
Grimm additionally speculates on the nature of the goddess and
surviving folk customs that may have been associated with her in
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
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.
In the second volume of Deutsche Mythologie, Grimm picks up the
subject of Ostara again, connecting the goddess to various German
Easter festivities, including
But if we admit, goddesses, then, in addition to Nerthus, Ostara has
the strongest claim to consideration. To what we said on p. 290 I
can add some significant facts. The heathen
Easter had much in common
with May-feast and the reception of spring, particularly in matter of
bonfires. Then, through long ages there seem to have lingered among
the people Easter-games so-called, which the church itself had to
tolerate : I allude especially to the custom of
Easter eggs, and to
Easter tale which preachers told from the pulpit for the people's
amusement, connecting it with Christian reminiscences.
Grimm comments on further
Easter time customs, including unique sword
dances and particular baked goods ("pastry of heathenish form"). In
addition, Grimm weights a potential connection to the Slavic spring
Vesna and the Lithuanian Vasara.
Locations, personal names, and the matronae Austriahenae
A cluster of place names in England contain and a variety of English
and continental Germanic names include the element *ēoster, an early
Old English word reconstructed by linguists and potentially an earlier
form of the goddess name Ēostre. The
Council of Austerfield called by
Aldfrith of Northumbria
Aldfrith of Northumbria shortly before 704 convened at a place
described in contemporary records both as in campo qui Eostrefeld
dicitur and in campo qui dicitur Oustraefelda, which have led to the
site being identified with
Bawtry in the West Riding
of Yorkshire. Such locations also include
Eastry (Eastrgena, 788
CE) in Kent,
Eastrea (Estrey, 966 CE) in Cambridgeshire, and
Eastrington (Eastringatun, 959 CE) in the East Riding of
The element *ēoster also appears in the
Old English name Easterwine,
a name borne by Bede's monastery abbot in Wearmouth–Jarrow and which
appears an additional three times in the Durham Liber Vitae. The name
Aestorhild also appears in the Liber Vitae, and is likely the ancestor
of the Middle English name Estrild. Various continental Germanic names
include the element, including Austrechild, Austrighysel, Austrovald,
In 1958, over 150 Romano-Germanic votive inscriptions to the matronae
Austriahenae were discovered near Morken-Harff, Germany. Most of these
inscriptions are in an incomplete state, yet many are at least
reasonably legible. Some of these inscriptions refer to the
Austriates, evidently the name of a social group.
Theories and interpretations
Dea ex Machina and the matronae Austriahenae
Some debate has occurred over whether or not the goddess was an
invention of Bede's, particularly in the 19th century before more
widespread reconstructions of the
Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess.
Writing in the late 19th century,
Charles J. Billson notes that
scholars before his writing were divided about the existence of Bede's
account of Ēostre, stating that "among authorities who have no doubt
as to her existence are W. Grimm, Wackernagel, Sinrock [sic], and
Wolf. On the other hand, Weinhold rejects the idea on philological
grounds, and so do Heinrich Leo and Hermann Oesre. Kuhn says, 'The
Anglo-Saxon Eostre looks like an invention of Bede;' and Mannhardt
also dismisses her as an etymological dea ex machina." Billson says
that "the whole question turns ... upon Bede's credibility", and that
"one is inclined to agree with Grimm, that it would be uncritical to
saddle this eminent Father of the Church, who keeps Heathendom at
arms' length and tells us less of than he knows, with the invention of
this goddess." Billson points out that the
Christianization of England
started at the end of the 6th century, and, by the 7th, was completed.
Billson argues that, as
Bede was born in 672,
Bede must have had
opportunities to learn the names of the native goddesses of the
Anglo-Saxons, "who were hardly extinct in his lifetime."
Writing in the late 20th century,
Rudolf Simek says that, despite
expressions of doubts, Bede's account of
Ēostre should not be
disregarded. Simek opines that a "Spring-like fertility goddess" must
be assumed rather than a "goddess of sunrise" regardless of the name,
reasoning that "otherwise the Germanic goddesses (and matrons) are
mostly connected with prosperity and growth". Simek points to a
comparison with the goddess Rheda, also attested by Bede.
Scholar Philip A. Shaw (2011) writes that the subject has seen "a
lengthy history of arguments for and against Bede's goddess Ēostre,
with some scholars taking fairly extreme positions on either side" and
that some theories against the goddess have gained popular cultural
prominence. Shaw, however, notes that "much of this debate, however,
was conducted in ignorance of a key piece of evidence, as it was not
discovered until 1958. This evidence is furnished by over 150
Romano-Germanic votive inscriptions to deities named the matronae
Austriahenae, found near
Morken-Harff and datable to around 150–250
AD". Most of these inscriptions are in an incomplete state, yet most
are in a complete enough for reasonable clarity of the inscriptions.
As early as 1966 scholars have linked these names etymologically with
Ēostre and an element found in Germanic personal names. Shaw
argues against a functional interpretation of the available evidence
and concludes that "the etymological connections of her name suggests
that her worshippers saw her geographical and social relationship with
them as more central than any functions she may have had".
Hares and Freyja
Easter postcard from 1907 depicting a rabbit
In Northern Europe,
Easter imagery often involves hares and rabbits.
Easter customs in Leicestershire, England where "the
profits of the land called Harecrop Leys were applied to providing a
meal which was thrown on the ground at the 'Hare-pie Bank'", late
Charles Isaac Elton
Charles Isaac Elton theorizes a connection
between these customs and the worship of Ēostre. In his late
19th-century study of the hare in folk custom and mythology, Charles
J. Billson cites numerous incidents of folk custom involving the hare
around the period of
Easter in Northern Europe. Billson says that
"whether there was a goddess named Ēostre, or not, and whatever
connection the hare may have had with the ritual of Saxon or British
worship, there are good grounds for believing that the sacredness of
this animal reaches back into an age still more remote, where it is
probably a very important part of the great Spring Festival of the
prehistoric inhabitants of this island."
Some scholars have linked customs and imagery involving hares to
Ēostre and the Norse goddess Freyja. Writing in 1972, John Andrew
Boyle cites commentary contained within an etymology dictionary by A.
Ernout and A. Meillet, where the authors write that "Little else ...
is known about [Ēostre], but it has been suggested that her lights,
as goddess of the dawn, were carried by hares. And she certainly
represented spring fecundity, and love and carnal pleasure that leads
to fecundity." Boyle responds that nothing is known about Ēostre
outside of Bede's single passage, that the authors had seemingly
accepted the identification of
Ēostre with the Norse goddess Freyja,
yet that the hare is not associated with
Freyja either. Boyle writes
that "her carriage, we are told by Snorri, was drawn by a pair of cats
— animals, it is true, which like hares were the familiars of
witches, with whom
Freyja seems to have much in common." However,
Boyle adds that "on the other hand, when the authors speak of the hare
as the 'companion of
Aphrodite and of satyrs and cupids' and point out
that 'in the
Middle Ages it appears beside the figure of Luxuria',
they are on much surer ground and can adduce the evidence of their
In popular culture and modern veneration
Jacob Grimm's reconstructed *Ostara has had some influence in popular
culture since. The name has been adapted as an asteroid (343 Ostara,
1892 by Max Wolf), and a date on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year
(Ostara, 21 March). In music, the name Ostara has been adopted as
a name by the musical group Ostara, and as the names of albums by
:zoviet*france: (Eostre, 1984) and The Wishing Tree (Ostara, 2009).
In some forms of Germanic neopaganism,
Ēostre (or Ostara) is
venerated. Regarding this veneration, Carole M. Cusack comments that,
Ēostre is "associated with the coming of spring and
the dawn, and her festival is celebrated at the spring equinox.
Because she brings renewal, rebirth from the death of winter, some
Ēostre with Iðunn, keeper of the apples of youth
in Scandinavian mythology".
Politically, the name of Ostara was in the early 20th century invoked
as the name of a German nationalist magazine, book series and
publishing house established in 1905 at Mödling, Austria.
Ostara is portrayed by
Kristin Chenoweth in the TV series American
Gods based on the novel of the same name. In the series, Ostara has
survived into the modern age by forming an alliance with the Goddess
of Media (Gillian Anderson) and capitalising on the Christian holiday.
Odin (Ian McShane) forces her to accept that those who celebrate
Easter are worshipping
Jesus and not her, causing her to join his
rebellion against the New Gods.
In 1853, Scottish protestant minister
Alexander Hislop published The
Two Babylons, an anti-Catholic tract. In the tract, Hislop connects
Easter with the
East Semitic theonym
Ishtar by way of
folk etymology. For example, from The Two Babylons, third edition:
What means the term
Easter itself? It is not a Christian name. It
bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead.
Easter is nothing else
than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of heaven, whose
name, as pronounced by the people of Ninevah, was evidently identical
with that now in common use in this country. This name as found by
Layard on the Assyrian monuments, is Ishtar.
Because Hislop's claims have no linguistics foundation, his claims
were rejected, but the Two Babylons would go on to have some influence
in popular culture. In the 2000s, a popular Internet meme
similarly claimed an incorrect linguistic connection between English
Easter and Ishtar.
Old English "Mother's night," also attested by Bede
Hengist and Horsa, euhemerised
Old English deities also possibly
Old English extension of the
Proto-Indo-European sky deity
Old High German
Old High German lullaby, a lullaby in
Old High German
Old High German that mentions
Ostara, generally held to be a literary forgery
Aurvandil, a Germanic being associated with stars, the first element
of whose name is cognate to Ēostre
Dellingr, a potential personification of the dawn in Norse mythology
^ Sievers 1901 p. 98
^ Wright, 85, §208
^ Watkins 2006 : 2021.
^ Mallory & Adams (1997:148–149).
^ Giles (1843:179).
^ Wallis (1999:54).
^ Grimm (1882:289).
^ Grimm (1882:290).
^ Grimm (1882:290—291).
^ Grimm (1882:291).
^ a b Grimm (1883:780–781).
^ Cubitt, Catherine (1995). Anglo-Saxon Church Councils c.650–c.850.
London: Leicester University Press, pp 302f. ISBN 0-7185-1436-X
^ Shaw (2011:59—60).
^ Shaw (2011:60).
^ Shaw (2011:52 and 63).
^ a b Billson (1892:448).
^ Simek (2007:74).
^ Shaw (2011:52).
^ Shaw (2011:70—71).
^ Elton, Charles Isaac (1882). Origins of English History.
^ Boyle (1972:323—324).
^ Schmadel (2003:44)
^ Hubbard (2007:175).
^ Diesel, Gerten (2007:136).
^ Cusack (2008:354–355).
^ Simek (2007:255).
^ Griffiths, Eleanor Blye (19
June 2017). "
American Gods mythology
guide: Meet Germanic spring goddess Ostara". Radio Times. Retrieved 21
^ Hislop (1903:103).
^ See, for example, contemporary discussion in anonymous
^ D'Costa, Krystal. "Beyond Ishtar: The Tradition of Eggs at Easter".
Scientific American. Archived from the original on 28
Anonymous (1859). Review:
The Two Babylons
The Two Babylons in The
Vol. VIII, pp. 338-340. John W. Parker and Son.
Barnhart, Robert K. (1995). The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of
Etymology: The Origins of American English Words. HarperCollins.
Billson, Charles J. (1892). "The
Easter Hare" as published in
Folk-Lore, Vol. 3, No. 4 (
December 1892). Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
on behalf of Folklore Enterprises Ltd.
Boyle, John Andrew (1974). "The Hare in Myth and Reality: A Review
Article" as published in Folklore, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Winter, 1973).
Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises Ltd.
Cusack, Carole M. (2008). "The Return of the Goddess: Mythology,
Witchcraft and Feminist Spirituality" as published in Pizza, Murphy.
Lewis, James R. (Editors). Handbook of Contemporary Paganism. Brill
Publishers. ISBN 9004163735
Diesel, Andreas. Gerten, Dieter (2007). Looking for Europe: Neofolk
und Hintergründe. Index Verlag. ISBN 3-936878-02-1
Grimm, Jacob (James Steven Stallybrass Trans.) (1882). Teutonic
Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition with Notes and Appendix
Vol. I. London: George Bell and Sons.
Grimm, Jacob (James Steven Stallybrass Trans.) (1883). Teutonic
Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition with Notes and Appendix
Vol. II. London: George Bell and Sons.
Hislop, Alexander (1903). The Two Babylons. Third edition. S.W.
Hubbard, Benjamin Jerome. Hatfield, John T. Santucci, James A. (2007).
An Educator's Classroom Guide to America's Religious Beliefs and
Practices. Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 1-59158-409-4
Giles, John Allen (1843). The Complete Works of the Venerable Bede, in
the Original Latin, Collated with the Manuscripts, and Various Print
Editions, Accompanied by a New English Translation of the Historical
Works, and a Life of the Author. Vol. VI: Scientific Tracts and
Appendix. London: Whittaker and Co., Ave Maria Lane.
Mallory, J. P.; Adams, Douglas Q. (1997). Encyclopedia of
Indo-European Culture. Taylor & Francis.
Shaw, Philip A. (2011). Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World:
Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons. Bristol Classical Press.
Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names, fifth
edition, illustrated. Springer. ISBN 3-540-00238-3
Sievers, Eduard (Albert S. Cook Ed. Trans.) (1903) An Old English
grammar Third Edition. Ginn and Company
Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern
Mythology. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-513-1
Wallis, Faith (Trans.) (1999). Bede: The Reckoning of Time. Liverpool
University Press. ISBN 0-85323-693-3
Watkins, Calvert (2006 ). The American Heritage Dictionary of
Indo-European Roots. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Wright, Joseph and Wright, Elisabeth Mary. (1914)
Old English Grammar
Second Edition. Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press
Anglo-Saxon paganism and mythology
Gods and divine figures
Wayland the Smith
Hengist and Horsa
Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem
De temporum ratione
Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
Nine Herbs Charm
Old English language
Society and culture
Mōdraniht (New Years)
Æfterra Gēola (January, Yule)
Ærra Litha (June)
Æfterra Litha (July)
Halegmōnath aka Hærfestmōnath (September)
Ærra Gēola (December, Yule)
Burial of Jesus
Crucifixion of Jesus
Dormition of the Theotokos
Friday prayer for the Jews
Resurrection of Jesus
Burning of Judas
Clipping the church
Easter egg tree
Egg decorating in Slavic culture
Holy Week procession
Pace Egg play
Scoppio del carro
Easter games and customs
Ecclesiastical new moon
Paschal Full Moon
Reform of the date of Easter
Divine Mercy Sunday
Octave of Easter