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Eostre - Teutonic Goddess or NeoPagan Fancy?

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Eostre - Teutonic Goddess or NeoPagan Fancy?

Was Eostre truly a Germanic spring goddess?

Image (c) Suza Scalora/Getty Images

Every year at Ostara, everyone begins chatting about a goddess of spring known as Eostre. According to the stories, she is a Teutonic goddess associated with flowers and springtime, and her name gives us the word "Easter", as well as the name of Ostara itself.

However, if you start to dig around for information on Eostre, you'll find that much of it is the same. In fact, nearly all of it is Wiccan and Pagan authors who describe Eostre in a similar fashion. Very little is available on an academic level. So where does the Eostre story come from?

Eostre first makes her appearance in literature about thirteen hundred years ago in the Venerable Bede's Temporum Ratione. Bede tells us that April is known as Eostremonth, and is named for a goddess that the Anglo-Saxons honored in the spring. He says:

"Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month.

After that, there's not a lot of information about her, until Jacob Grimm and his brother came along in the 1800s. Jacob said that he found evidence of her existence in the oral traditions of certain parts of Germany, but there's really no written proof.

Interestingly, Eostre doesn't appear anywhere in Germanic mythology, and despite assertions that she might be a Norse deity, she doesn't show up in the poetic or prose Eddas either. However, she could certainly have belonged to some tribal group in the Germanic areas, and her stories may have just been passed along through oral tradition. It's fairly unlikely that Bede, who was a scholar as well as a Christian academic, would have just made her up. Of course, it's equally possible that Bede simply misinterpreted a word at some point, and that Eostremonth was not named for a goddess at all, but for some other spring festival.

So, did Eostre exist or not? No one knows. Some scholars dispute it, others point to etymological evidence to say that she did in fact have a festival honoring her. Regardless, she has come to be associated with modern-day Pagan and Wiccan customs, and certainly is connected in spirit, if not in actuality, to our contemporary celebrations of Ostara.

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