Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Heralding Ostara: Lady's Day


Ostara has officially embraced the land as the early spring bulbs and vegetation bursts forth!  It has always been one of my favorite holidays, not the least of which is because it is near to my birthday (14 March), but also because I have a chocolate addiction, and that I love the pastel decorations adorning our Altars at this time of year.  In fact, I distinctly remember once, when me and my brother were little (shortly before they were divorced, unless I am remembering incorrectly).  We had just returned, presumably, from an Easter breakfast with a relative when, as soon as we had changed out of our coats and shoes Mom excited told us that she just saw the Easter Bunny out the kitchen window and he was running towards the front yard (why he's thought to be male, I cannot tell); so, me and my brother (Jared) darted towards the living room window just a short distance away.  We didn't see him (damn he's quick!); however, no longer than me and Jared had our backs turned, Mom had retrieved our Easter baskets out from her hiding place and had got them positions onto the kitchen table.

As a Pagan, however, Easter--or Ostara--has a much more significant meaning to me; and I recall having taken many of these new beliefs for granted when I was first a student of the Mysteries.  Or at least I thought so!  It was at the mid-point of my education in a more historical vein of Paganism that I was shocked to discover that the existence of Ostara as a goddess of the dawn was severely in doubt--especially by many within the Pagan community.  It was during this phase that I acquired a book by Jane Raeburn called Celtic Wicca.  In this work, which has its pros and cons (though I have long-since moved on and disposed of my copy), she insists that Ostara is merely "presumed" to have been a goddess whom, she implies, may have merely been a divined lexicon meaning "dawn" or "beginning".[1]  Here she seems to be citing, without direct attribution, Prof. Ronald Hutton and his work, The Stations of the Sun.  However, in so doing, she appears to be, at least superficially, misrepresenting Prof. Hutton's conclusion in which he establishes, based upon Indo-European linguistics, that while he doubts that Ostara was a pagan goddess, it is distinctly possible that she was, in fact, an Indo-European dawn-goddess who was appropriately worshipped "at the the season of opening and new beginnings".[2]  As a consequence, to finally put this "debate" to rest, once and for all, I would like to share a passage from an unfinished MS. that I am writing, Whence the Witches Sabbat wherein I have found recent scholastic evidence proving the existence of Ostara as a pagan goddess:

Ôstara and Ēostra or Ēastra (“east”) is an enigmatic heathen goddess who first enters the historical record, presumably, with the Venerable Bede’s eighth-century ce work De Temporum Ratione (“On the Reckoning of Time”) in reference to the month of April.  As a consequence, it has been widely assumed within academe that this personage, for which there is but a single literary reference was a fabrication by the monk, himself.  However, as the early Victorian folklorist, Jacob Grimm, and Folklorist Venetia Newall was quick to observe, Bede was more than merely hostile to the remnants of the pre-Christian religious traditions of Britain and would not have so easily volunteered—let alone invented—data that was non-existent; he would have been far more likely to have severely downplayed what he knew as he penned his manuscript.  Moreover, the sources for portions of his De Temporum have ultimately been traced to districts of eastern Kent in England where there survives a local place-name to the goddess as a linguistic noun after whom the parish of Eastry was named.  A cache of Romano-Germanic votive offerings were also discovered near Morken-Harff in the late 1950s which further affirm the existence of the goddess; they were dedicated to the matronae Austriahenar (“eastern mothers”), thus connecting her with the fertility Cult of the Matrons who oversaw prosperity and the growth of vegetation.
Ultimately, Ôstara seems to have been a purely local, indeed a sub-tribal goddess without a homogeneous cult following throughout the pan-Germanic world.  While, her associations with the dawn or the season of spring may be entirely incidental; the Christian festival of Easter (Ôstarûn) seems to have been named not after the goddess, but for the month in which this celebration was most commonly observed—April, or Ēostur-monath.[3]  Still, it has been deduced that her common epithet is derived from the proto-Indo-European root-word *aues- (“to shine”) or *eus- (“to burn”)[4] which signifies the blazing light of the sun.
Folk-lore, I believe, also needs to be examined with a finer comb.  Unfortunately, many pagans seem to have adopted a sort of orthopraxy that is decimated by a very small league of professional historians that are presently en vogue within the pagan community.  As a consequence, it is staunchly believed that folk-lore cannot be used, in any case, as a barometer to glean a picture of the rites, ceremonies, or even the believes of authentic paganism.[5]  Indeed, a recent and profound examination of Indo-European folk-lore by professor M. L. West (Emeritus Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford)--a formidable branch of academic study that has been continually ignored by Prof. Hutton since writing his controversial and obsolete treatise, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles (Blackwell, 1993)--has conclusively shown that district folk-lore does, indeed, provide an insight into Indo-European pagan antiquity.  One of the strongest of these leitmotivs is the imagery of the wheel:
Swinging is a recurrent feature of Indo-European springtime and mid-summer festivities.  In India, besides the Mahavrata, it had a role in the spring-time Dolayatra festival, at which the image of Krishna was swung to and fro on a swing three times a day.  In Europe we find it in ancient Athens (the Aiorai, incorporated as part of the spring Anthesteria), Latium (the Feriae Latinae, April), modern Greece (around Easter), Russia and the Balkans (Easter), and Latvia (Easter and midsummer).  A South Slavonic myth relates that as Grosdanka was swinging on Easter day the sun came down on his own invisible swing and carried her up to heaven to make her his wife.  Here, the ritual swinging performed by mortal girls is put up in direct contact with the cosmic swinging of the sun.
Hopping, jumping, and dancing are also characteristics of the spring and midsummer festivities.[6]
Indeed, many of the ancient rites and rituals surrounding the dawn goddesses, particularly from Greece and India relate to cultic dancing of young girls.  One little-known Grecian dawn-goddess was named Agido ("she who leads"), and local maidens would routinely dance in her honor.[7]  Dancing may have also featured in the rites of the Hindu dawn-goddess, Uas Dyotana ("The Light-Bearer"), as the hymnal texts depict the goddess adorning herself with her precious jewelry and accoutrements “like a dancing girl”.[8]  Even the infamous solar wheel features in the rites of spring, such as the Hot Cross Buns, and the pancake races that occur on Shrove Tuesday that are run by housewives which were probably originally customs of the Rites of Spring.[9]

Notes:

[1] Raeburn, Jane (2001).  Celtic Wicca. Citadel Press: pp. 153.
[2] Hutton, Ronald (1996).  The Stations of the Sun.  Oxford University Press: pp. 180.
[3] Stations, pp. 180-81; Newall, Venetia (1971).  An Egg at Easter: A Folklore Study.  Indiana University Press: pp. 384-85; Shaw, Philip A. (2011).  “Eostre: Pan-Germanic Goddess or ‘Etymological Fancy’?” in Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons.  Bristol Classical Press: pp. 49-71; Simek, Rudolf (trans. Angela Hall, 1993).  “Ēostra”.  Dictionary of Northern Mythology.  Boydell & Brewer: pp. 74-5; “*Ostara”.  Op. cit., pp. 254-55.

[5] Hutton, Ronald (1999).  The Triumph of the Moon.  Oxford University Press: pp. 112-13.
[6] West, M. L. (2007).  Indo-European Poetry and Myth.  Oxford University Press: pp. 212-15.
[7] Ferrari, Gloria (2008).  Alcman and the Cosmos of Sparta.  University of Chicago Press: pp. 92.
[8] O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (trans., 1981).  The Rig Veda: An Anthology.  Penguin Classics: pp. 57, 66, 76, 81 n.5, 85, 115, 122, 152, 154, 179-81, 199-200.
[9] Kramer-Rolls, Dana (2002).  "The Ritual Year: Neo-Pagan Holidays and Festivals" in The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism.  Shelley Rabinovitch and James Lewis, eds.  Citadel Press: pp. 232.

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