Ēostre is closely related to a reconstructed name of the dawn goddess, which would account for Greek “Eos”, Roman “Aurora”, and Indian “Ushas”.
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 name of Easter, Ostara.
Grimm details that the 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 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.
Ostara, Eástre seems, therefore, to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of up-springing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing.
In Northern Europe, Easter imagery often involves hares and rabbits. Bonfires were lit at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, the hare gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy … Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing … 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.
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.”
In some forms of Germanic Neopaganism, Eostre (or Ostara) is venerated. Regarding this veneration, Carole M. Cusack comments that, among adherents, Eostre 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 Heathens associate Eostre with Idunn, keeper of the apples of youth in Scandinavian mythology”
Mad as a March Hare:
Spring equinox is a time for fertility and sowing seeds, and so nature’s fertility goes a little crazy. In medieval societies in Europe, the March hare was viewed as a major fertility symbol — this is a species of rabbit that is nocturnal most of the year, but in March when mating season begins, there are bunnies everywhere all day long. The female of the species is superfecund and can conceive a second litter while still pregnant with a first. As if that wasn’t enough, the males tend to get frustrated when rebuffed by their mates, and bounce around erratically when discouraged.
According to the Venerable Bede, Eostre was the Saxon version of the Germanic goddess Ostara. Her feast day was held on the full moon following the vernal equinox. One popular legend is that Eostre found a bird, wounded, on the ground late in winter. To save its life, she transformed it into a hare. But “the transformation was not a complete one. The bird took the appearance of a hare but retained the ability to lay eggs…the hare would decorate these eggs and leave them as gifts to Eostre.”
Many modern Wiccans and Pagans celebrate Ostara as a time of renewal and rebirth. Take some time to celebrate the new life that surrounds you in nature — walk in park, lay in the grass, hike through a forest. As you do so, observe all the new things beginning around you — plants, flowers, insects, birds. Meditate upon the ever-moving Wheel of the Year, and celebrate the change of seasons.
In some early cultures, the nocturnal hare was actually considered a symbol of the moon. In addition to feeding at night, the hare’s gestation period is approximately 28 days — the same as a full lunar cycle. In European folklore, the rabbit connection to eggs is one based on confusion. In the wild, hares nest in what is known as a form — basically, a nest for bunnies. When the hares abandoned a form, it was sometimes taken over by plovers, who would then lay their eggs in it. The locals would then find eggs in the hare’s form.
The Sacred Animals of Ostara
The symbolism of the snake is complex. It can be male and phallic or female, representing wisdom, in touch with the powers of the waters and the underworld, from which it emerges- a symbol of communication between the two worlds. The healing aspect of the snake occurs in Celtic myth. It is associated with healing waters and the god Cernunnos, who is often shown holding a snake, or horned snake as a symbol of virility and fertility. As a vegetation god Cernunnos emerges from the underworld at this time to flourish and grow- symbolic of the shoot emerging from the seed below the earth.
The hare is the most important Goddess totem at Ostara. In folk tales all over the world it is described as a witch familiar, the witch can turn herself into a hare and run across the countryside, drinking from cows in fields and pulling pranks. The witch hare could only be stopped by a silver bullet. The mad behaviour of hares in March is said to resemble a coven of witches dancing. For the Celts the hare was a sacred animal and there was a strict taboo on killing it. In Celtic countries, well into Victorian times, people would not eat the hare. The taboo was lifted at the equinox or Beltane and the hare was eaten to partake of its magical fertility. The Easter hare pie scramble still takes place in Hallaton in Leicestershire.
Sacred Plants of Ostara
With Ostara comes the real arrival of spring. Fresh leaves green the trees, new vegetation covers the land and flowers are abundant. Modern pagans can observe these same customs by eating the fresh greens and early vegetables abundant now: dandelion greens, nettles, asparagus, and the like. Some take the opportunity to fast or detox to purify themselves beforehand.
The sacred plants of Ostara reflect the theme of the renewal of the Sun and Vegetation God and the beginning of the light half of the year. The common daisy blossoms roughly from equinox to equinox and is sacred to the Celtic sun god Belenos. Tansy celebrates the Sun Lord’s renewal and is used in a traditional Easter pudding.
Some herbs were used to purify the body after winter to prepare it for the new life cycle of spring, such as tansy and gorse, the early flowering of which celebrates the renewal of the Spring Goddess.
Garlands and Ostara circle decorations should try to utilise the sacred plants, or sun coloured spring flowers such as daffodils, forsythia etc.