Yesterday, I saw MANY Witches and Pagans wishing others a happy Ostara or Eostre. As you may know, yesterday was Easter. If this confused you, you are not alone. I was also confused by this. As a teacher and mentor, I became concerned when “experienced” witches and mentors, who should know better, we’re doing the same. Yes, Easter is based on a Pagan holiday, which has roots with the Goddesses Ostara, and Eostre. It may also have roots or influences from the goddess Ishtar. However, when we teach or proclaim something without context, we only end up confusing the data, in this case, Easter vs. Ostara.
I will share with you a couple of resources related to each goddess at the end of this post so you can explore them and their aspects on your own. If you have resources you would like to share, please link them in the comments.
Here is some of my research and my take on this. I hope it will help put things into perspective while inspiriting you to know more.
For Pagans in Germanic countries, the spring equinox was a time to celebrate. It was a time to begin planting new crops for the coming season and recognize the renewal of the earth. Early Pagans survived the long cold winter, and with the growing warmth, they had renewed hope for the coming year. The spring equinox is not unfamiliar to tribal cultures everywhere. There is evidence showing that other cultures from around the globe had their own ways of observing this event, including Native Americans and Celts. Most often, this event is observed sometime between March 20 – 25, in association with the vernal equinox.
Since we were not around centuries ago to witness how Easter hived off from the Spring Equinox, we can only use history to better understand what may have occurred. There are many possibilities as to how and why Easter and Ostara are so similar. One likely influence is the historical need of the Christian Church to convert people to the new religion. This trend was due to their need to control the populous. As history shows, the church with the help of monarchs & kings, etc. got together and made it mandatory that all people follow the same religion. This was the church’s way of defragmenting the many pockets of belief out there. Through unification, control and regulation are made more accessible.
Another influence may have come through the claims made by Venerable Bede. His authority may have helped spur this transmutation of a pagan holiday into a Christian one. As we know, many pagan religions and tribal beliefs were verbal, meaning they were never written down. As an example, Celtic cultures often believed that by writing these things down, you created dogma and prevented the practices and beliefs from remaining flexible or allowing them to evolve as needed. This philosophy makes sense since we know that the Celts were very in tune with nature, so hypothesizing that they would also model their practices as such is not farfetched. However, because they did not write much down, we have almost nothing to reference. Our only written accounts come from monotheistic invaders who did not speak their language or understand their practices. This is when we see the influence of patriarchal manipulation take hold. We also begin seeing the extinction of female role models and goddesses. If these divine female influencers were not completely cut-out, they were transformed into harmless docile women who pose no threat to the new rule.
In the coven, when apprentices begin researching and choosing their patrons, I always encourage my students to dig as deeply as they can into the true aspects of their deities. Many goddesses, as we know them (through modern interpretations), are white-washed and dusted in cotton candy or pink glitter. If not, then they have been demoted from their divine statuses to hate-filled and spiteful creatures. We see this clearly when we study the modern interpretations of goddesses like Medussa and Tiamat. Even well-known authors seem to have missed this information. One example is in the book, The Great Work: Self-Knowledge and Healing Through the Wheel of the Year by Tiffany Lazic, glorifies Marduk making him a god of light, glossing over his role as the aggressor. This is where goddesses are transformed into terrible and dangerous creatures. These new versions are built to instill a sense of anxiety – rather than teach and empower us on our path. Many deities (gods and goddesses alike) have been made one-sided, stripping them of their true power, and preventing us from truly knowing them.
Think of it like this… Your story is being written by someone who has never met you. To make matters even more complicated, this perfect stranger is translating your story through the accounts of someone else who may know you. You have no idea if the person telling your story likes you, understands you, or even how they might know you. To complicate things even further, the person dictating your story does not speak the same language as the person telling your story. RIGHT! In this scenario, it would be almost impossible to get the details right. This also leaves plenty of room for improvising. So, in the end, your story becomes fiction and hearsay, instead of truth.
So when we look at the origins of pagan holidays and deities, it is essential to remember that thousands of years and countless interpretations are between you and the truth. What you read and interpret should always be taken with a grain of salt, and should never be considered hard fact. As you dig more deeply, you will also notice a delightful trend. You may find that many traditions and deities seem to link to one another, even though they are from entirely distant cultures. This is no coincidence. The more we learn, the more we can recognize the collective consciousness of humanity and how the divine influences us.
With that said, here is some limited info on Ostara and Eostre, and more.
Ostara, or Eostre or Eastre, is the Germanic Goddess of spring and dawn. She is often portrayed as a maiden or a young woman. Sometimes she is riding a horse or stag, and often dressed in flowers and other spring plants. The name “Eostre” (Old Germanic “Ostara”), my also related to that of Eos, the Greek goddess of dawn, and both can be traced back to a Proto-Indo-European goddess of dawn.
Ishtar (from the Akkadian language, also known as Inanna in Sumerian) was the first deity for which we have written evidence of having aspects related to romantic love and familial love. She is also known for her aspects related to loving bonds between communities as well as sexual desire. In contrast, Ishtar was also a warrior deity with a capability of erecting vengeance. In our current dichotomous culture, it is hard for us to relate to her many aspects, but as I was saying before, ancient deities are multi-faceted. They are not one-sided as we are often led to believe. These seemingly opposing personalities have raised scholarly eyebrows, both ancient and modern. Ishtar is a love deity who is terrifying on the battlefield, and she will seek vengeance when necessary. Her beauty is the subject of love poetry and her rage often compared to a destructive storm. She is expansive in her abilities and personality.
Here are a couple of resources you can use to feed your desire to know more.