Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Who is Ostara?

In planning my kindred’s Ostara ritual for this year, which we canceled, I ran across an interesting association with similarly named dawn goddesses. The goddess Ostara may be older than we think.

First, some background. The name Ostara is the continental version of the Old English name Eostre, from which modern English derived the word Easter. Although Ostara does not appear in Icelandic texts, and is therefore not among the goddesses in Icelandic Asatru, most American Asatruars celebrate Ostara, for two main reasons.

Firstly, we are culturally American and we grew up with certain folk customs surrounding Easter which the wider society in which we live consider to be the “secular” aspects of the Christian holiday of Easter. These include an association with rabbits and eggs, which are obvious symbols of fertility.

Secondly, most American Asatruars are not actually of Icelandic descent. Iceland just happened to be the place which had the most complete version of heathen literature written down, because it was the last heathen nation to convert to Christianity, so the Icelandic stories and names for the gods became the basis of heathen faith in America. Many American Asatruars take a pan-heathen approach and include various aspects of continental European and English heathenry in our Asatru.

Several years back I encountered a devotee of Ostara / Eostre who said Ostara was the same goddesses as Eos, the Greek goddess of dawn. So when I happened to run across a link to an article on Eos while I was planning my Ostara ritual, I followed it, wondering if it might tell me more about a possible Eos / Eostre connection. The article did not link Eos with Ostara / Eostre, but it did link Eos with Ushas, a dawn goddess in Hinduism who appears in the Rig Veda. Are these all the same goddess? Is Ostara a cultural and linguistic variation on Ushas? Are other dawn goddesses from other Indo-European cultures also all the same goddess? How would I find that out? Who could answer that question?

So, I thought, why not ask Ostara herself? Over the past few years I’ve developed what modern pagans and polytheists have termed a godphone, that is, the ability to be internally quiet enough so I can listen to the divine. Other traditions call this meditation.

I had never contacted her before, but it didn’t prove difficult. I confirmed some aspects of our modern Easter / Ostara celebrations to make sure the traditional things like the eggs and chocolate bunny and so forth were things she liked. Then I asked her, is she also Eos? And she smiled an amused little smile and responded, “In a way.” And I asked her, is she also Ushas? And she smiled again and responded, “In a way.”

So there we have it, the both / and answer so typical of such questions. I can’t say that she is Eos, and Ushas, but I also can’t say that she is not Eos, and Ushas. Trying to wrap my mind around this paradox, I remind myself that the gods are not limited in either space or time the way humans are. They don’t have the same kind of physically bound existence that we do.

Because I’m such a geek, the image that came to mind when I tried to picture what a both / and sort of existence meant was DS9 Odo and the Great Link. He’s a science fiction character. He has an individual existence with a name, personality, will, memories, and even a body, but he can also merge with the rest of his people and essentially become a giant lake with no individual body, sharing memories and thoughts and will, and yet he can also come back out and be an individual again. Some gods and goddesses may be like that, when they are being Great Goddesses—that is, unified forms composed of multiple goddesses—and yet still be individuals too. That’s the best my merely human mind can do with this concept.

Image: "dawn goddess" via pxfuel

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners. An updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path, is coming in 2020 from Red Wheel / Weiser. Erin was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, is gythia of American Celebration Kindred, and admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office. She is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press for 5 years, created the Heathen Calendar 2017 and 2018, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Tuesday, 24 March 2020

    I remember Deep Space 9 sufficiently to get the analogy.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Tuesday, 24 March 2020

    Anthony, glad it was clear!

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