The celebration of Ostara or the Spring Equinox and Alban Eilir (the festival of trees) normally falls around 20th March every year. Day and night are balanced for just a short moment before the days grow noticeably longer and warmer.
Deep within the earth life is sprouting, as wildlife and cattle prepare to give birth. The joyful rebirth of the Earth has truly begun. Everything in nature is coming alive and Demeter has been reunited with her daughter Persephone who is back from the underworld of Hades.
Ostara or Eostre is a popular mainstream name used today in place of the term Spring Equinox in some pagan communities. She is seen as an Anglo- Saxon goddess who is portrayed as the goddess of Spring, but is there any historical evidence to support this?
The only reference that can be found is in the writings of the Venerable Bede (673-735) titled The Reckoning of Time which describes the solar and lunar cycles followed by Pagans which they used to determine the course of the year. He explains that the months took their name from the moon, “for the moon is called mona and the month monath”. He continues, “The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giulli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April Eosturmonath…”
Talking about Pagans he explains,”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”.
This is the only source that we have on Ostara. We don’t know anything about the kind of feasts that took place and there is no mention of chicks, eggs, rabbits or hares; only that she was honoured in April. Christians then applied the name which today is Easter to one of their most important feasts.
If the Anglo-Saxons did honour a goddess at the time of the Spring Equinox then it would have been the goddess Hrede for whom Hrethmonath was named after.
Modern mythology attempts to associate Ostara with hares, eggs and hot cross buns, but there is no evidence at all for these. In some parts of 17th and 18th century England, however, it was customary to hunt hare on Good Friday or to try and catch a hare on Easter Monday. Eggs were painted and eaten on Easter Sunday with relish as they were forbidden during Lent and the cross on hot cross buns again is a Christian symbol.
So any stories that you do come across pertaining to the goddess Ostara are sadly just that, stories. Like the tale of Ostara finding a dying bird and being unable to save it transforms it into a rabbit. This story is said to be the origins of the Easter Rabbit.
Another explanation for the Easter Rabbit comes from the confusion of hares giving birth in shallow depressions in the ground that look like bird nests. Some birds like plovers, nest in the ground and when people used to come across the eggs they believed that the hares had laid them.
The Easter Rabbit was first mentioned in German literature in 16th century, when good children who decorated their hats with nests would be rewarded with painted eggs.
Rabbits were also considered lucky by minors and there is evidence of the association of tin and rabbits inside several churches in Devon that have roof ornaments called Tinners Rabbits. These triangular carvings depict three rabbits sitting down, facing different directions and all joined by the ear.
The hare is also seen as sacred to the Lunar goddess and witches were thought to be able to turn themselves into hares too.
Some pagans believe that at this time of year the goddess is still a maiden, young and carefree just like the god. She courts the young god and their relationship is consummated at Beltaine.
If you know of any tales or ancient customs associated with this time of year then I would love you to share them.