Heathen Holidays: Eostre

Heathen Holidays: Eostre

by Trey Wentworth

This is the third blog post in a series on the topic of Heathen Holidays.

In February we began to really see and feel the lengthening of days as we moved away from Yule. Now, the seasons are indisputably changing – in warmer places, flowers are coming up, and even in the cold mountains of Vermont where the snow lingers, it’s finally melting faster than it falls and the air has the smell of spring. In Heathenry, we feel the subsiding of the Wild Hunt that rules the winter, and nights become less dangerous, making space for the beings of the land to flourish once more.

Today, our calendar marks four seasons, but the Venerable Bede tells us that “originally, [the English] divided the year as a whole into two seasons, summer and winter, assigning the six months in which the days are longer than the nights to summer, and the other six to winter.” These months were tracked according to the moon in a lunisolar calendar, information confirmed by Icelandic and other Germanic sources to be a pan-Heathen method of reckoning time. With the coming of the April moon, we transition at last into the summer season, and the “light half of the year.”

As ever, different branches of the Germanic people celebrated this time in different ways. In Scandinavia, they performed a Sigrblot – a victory offering – while in Old English custom, this tide was called Eostre and perhaps centered around a deity by the same name. While academics and pagans debate the historicity of Eostre and her worship, it is indisputable that today, many modern Heathens have found potency in venerating her as one of our gods.

Who is Eostre?

It is not incidental that the Old English name Eostre looks so similar to our word Easter. Most European languages derive their name for this Christian observance from the Hebrew word Pesach – but English, Dutch, and German all retain this same Germanic root, giving rise to Easter, ooster, and Ostern. Clearly this celebration was of particular importance in West Germanic Heathenry! Linguists have proposed that the Old High German equivalent word would have been *Ostara, a familiar word today as it was used in the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year to denote their spring celebration (though they also moved it a month earlier to align with the equinox).

The word Eostre is related to the word east, and derives from a Proto Indo-European root meaning “dawn.” Rob Schreiwer has collected a Pennsylvania Dutch story Oschdre (Where Color Comes From; Origin of the Distelfink), where the figure Oschdra, equivalent to Old English Eostre, is responsible for manifesting the colors of the dawn sky as she walks between her sisters Day and Night.

While few snippets of lore around Eostre remain, she is clearly far more than a simple seasonal figure appearing only at springtime. Instead, she brings the dawn of each day, and the spring is hers because it is the dawning of the year itself. Folklore also suggests a connection with running and welling waters and their magical healing properties.

One folk symbol that has become beloved on Chase Hill at this holiday is that of the Osterfuchs – the Easter fox – who seems to be an older being appearing at this season, eventually displaced by the later and better known Easter bunny.

Celebrating Spring

With the ending of winter, there are many rituals needed to close out the dark half of the year and look toward our summer work. Now that the Wild Hunt’s ride is over, it is safe to call on the spirits of the land once more. After the April full moon, we again put out any statues or garden plaques (such as a Green Man, Wood Wife, or other symbol of the animating forces of nature) knowing that they are safe from being harried by the Hunt. If you saved a symbolic token of your harvest such as a Harvest Queen, she should be buried in the ground at this time to return that fertility to the earth for the coming season. And, of course, we give offerings to the land as well – mead, bread, and eggs to feed the earth with our gifts and our gratitude, in the hopes of a bountiful summer.

German folklore tells us that Easter dawn is an especially potent time for healing rituals. Drawing on these old customs, specially appointed Eostre Attendants wake early before our ritual on Chase Hill, dress all in white, and draw water from the well in silence as day breaks. This water is poured over the hands of everyone at our ritual to help wash away whatever wounds we carry from the long dark of winter. If you have a local spring, well, or stream, you can easily draw your own healing water, so long as you set an early alarm! Wear white to honor Eostre, and don’t speak aloud until you have your water. Make sure to check the potability of your water source before deciding to consume it – but even non-potable water can be used for ritual washing.

Eostre is a time of hope and beauty, with flowers, light, and longer days. But spring was still a harsh time for pre-modern people. This is the so called “hungry gap” between the ending of winter and the first harvests of summer. Local New England lore tells us that the serviceberry tree is so named because when it blooms the ground has thawed enough to bury the bodies of those who died over the winter. Eostre’s arrival in springtime is not one of unfettered joy, but instead a time when we need to catch each other in our ragged post-winter daze and find softness, healing, and a place for the griefs we have endured in the last six months. Only by finding community and gentleness in spring can we recover enough to stand up for the work that summer will demand of us.

Gardening with the Sacred Earth

Gardening with the Sacred Earth

By Katie LaFond

The abundance of life and webs of nourishment in the land where I live are fascinating and ever changing. Whether we are tending a hardy houseplant or doing our best to grow much of the food we eat, we are forming relationships with plants, critters, and fungi, and it is a wonderful way to deepen our relationships with the Sacred Earth.

The first thing to do is to become acquainted —and comfortable—  with failure. 

The ability to fail successfully is incredibly empowering. If you’re just getting started with a garden, you will make mistakes. The way you dance with those mistakes may determine how deep your relationship with your garden will be. I have grown so much from my gardening fails. 

“Listen” as much as you “do.”

Spend time just observing in the garden. Sit in it, make it a beautiful comfortable place with flowers and plants you love, and have a comfortable chair. I have a section of the garden that my toddlers were allowed to dig in and it became a place we all wanted to be. I would notice what plants were doing well (those sunflowers really love that sunny spot!) and what plants didn’t seem too happy (is it too hot for those peas?). Before you even decide on a spot to plant things, spend time outside, observing how the light and water move through the day and seasons, and where the snow melts first. I also enjoy planting phenology, or watching for signs for when to plant things. Blooming crocus means it’s time to plant spinach. Daffodils are blooming when it’s time to plant beets.

Honor your boundaries and needs. 

Some of us have a lot of time and energy, and a large garden with orchards and a flock of chickens makes sense. Others feel stressed out just by the thought of maintaining all of that. You are part of the relationship you’re building with the land. Listen to your needs and desires as you make decisions. 

Enjoy your first date.

Speaking of desire, plant things that will bring you joy. I love eating tomatoes, I love fresh flowers on the table, and I am amused by fast growing plants, so the first year we lived at our home in the Hilltowns I planted tomatoes, flowers, and peas, and I mulched my plants because I don’t enjoy weeding. Listen to yourself, and get your hands dirty. 

Commitment and perennials

Perennials are fantastic; herbs, asparagus, berries, and walking onions are some of my favorite friends in the garden, but they take time to establish. Take time to listen to where the plants want to be, think about where you can realistically commit to tending them regularly, and make the decision together. You can always replant, but it will take a couple years for them to sleep, creep, and then leap again. 

Plants have friends and frenemies too

We all have different needs and wants, and some needs conflict. If you observe and remain open to your plants, they will often let you know if things are (or aren’t) working for them. I had a close call with planting some trees one year; the town offered a group rate on purchasing black walnut trees, and I liked the idea of nut trees on the land where I live. After I placed an order, I had a strange dream and a gut feeling that I should google walnut trees, and in fact, tomatoes won’t grow near walnut trees (walnuts create juglone which is toxic to tomatoes). My friend was two trees richer, and my tomatoes were glorious that year.

Begin to think in circles and webs. 

So often, we think of input and output, and cause and effect, as if things have a beginning and an ending. Healthy relationships, like the ones we’re building with the land, are often more complicated. Listen and open to the Earth, nourish your relationships with it, and let it guide you as you plant, feed your soil with organic matter, encourage mycelial webs to stretch out their fingers to tickle roots, and dance with water flow in your garden. Notice what grows well and look up what it is telling you; different plants grow well in different conditions. If you notice that chickweed is abundant, perhaps your soil is compact, and you might want to grow some daikon radish to loosen the earth a bit. Have tea with the bees and plant flowers, bringing cycles of fertility to your garden and beyond. Feed the worms and microbes with compost, and then let them be; digging disrupts the fascinating and fertile communities that live beneath the surface.

As we in the Northern Hemisphere turn again towards the bright half of the year, I’m looking forward to the sleeping land waking up and stretching new green to the sky. I’m looking forward to warm sweaters and looking for the first snowdrops poking their heads through the snow. I’m looking forward to seeing how huge my heat-loving pepper plant will grow in the microclimate I have near the bricks and asphalt, and I’m looking forward to my children’s faces smeared with dirt and raspberries, with spinach in their teeth. Our relationship with the Sacred Earth is a blessedly messy one, and I wish you all the luck with your plant relationships this year. 

In the Spirit of the Earth,

Katie LaFond

Massachusetts, March 2023

Deep Peace Meditation

by Deb Banks, daughter of Janet

This piece was written for Deep Peace, our celebration of mothers, in 2018.

Close your eyes
And settle your mind
Taste the spring air
Smell the wet soil
Hear the stream full and rushing
Feel you feet on the ground
Our roots go deeper than
We will ever know

Hidden from our view
Roots, seeds and all manner of being
Are held by our Earth Mother
Until it is time to arise

Never too early
Never too late
Always arising at the moment
When She knows
It’s time
She does not think
Or overanalyze
If the time if right
It just is

She does not stop to worry
If all the pieces will fall into
Their proper place
They will

She does not fret that it will not be
It won’t

IMG_0921She is not afraid
Of failure
It’s not a matter of being perfect
She isn’t

Each time
The beings arise
They are

By their
Never the same
And no two ever alike

A flower with
A slightly different color
A berry that is sweeter
Because of more rain
All perfect in their

We don’t seem to question this
About our Earth Mother
We trust in the system of Nature
To Know.

How would we be different
If we trusted
Ourselves to know
When that time
Was right
To arise?

I invite you
To open

To the possibility
That you

To that which is in you
Ready to arise

To the possibility
That this time
The story may be

To the hope
That we can sense all around us

To the mystery
Of what is to come

To yourself
And Arise!