• Proto-Indo-European Religion
• Indo-European Languages
• Proto-Indo-European Goddesses
• Proto-Indo-European Myths
• Proto-Indo-European Rituals
• Festivals, Food and Farming
• Easter Eggs
| The hearth
fire is personified among the Indo-Europeans as several Goddesses, including
Greek Hestia, Latin Vesta, and Sanskrit Vastu. While all of these deities are
cognate forms of the Proto-Indo-European Goddess *Aeusos,
especially the form *Haeustero, our particular interest here is in the Germanic
forms. In Anglo-Saxon England she was known as Eostra and in
Saxony (in Germany) she was personified as the Goddess Ostara
(properly Ôstarâ), while in Old Norse, (s)he was known as the dwarf Austri, a
masculine form of the name. In addition, the Austriahenae are Goddesses who are
invoked on votive altars found at one site in northern Germany but little is
known about them. Among the Saxons (in England and Germany) the Goddess Eostra
or Ostara is especially associated with the month of April, and along with the
dwarf Austri, the direction to the East. In this they are distinct from the
Roman Goddess Vesta who is especially worshiped at the Summer Solstice, and
forms of her name are associated with the direction to the South (for example
Auster, the South Wind). In modern English, the form of the name of the festival
of the Goddess Eostra is Easter and that would be the modern
English name of the Goddess. Among Neo-Pagans, she is now often called
after the Old High German form of her name, Ostara.
*Austro and feminine *Austra are forms of the name of this Goddess as reconstructed in Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of all the Germanic languages, a subset of the Indo-European languages. These forms were reconstructed by Jacob Grimm based on the Goddesses known at that time, Eostra and Ostara, see Deutsches Wörterbuch, Vol. 7, page 1371, under oster. This construction is confirmed by modern linguistic research and also somewhat by the discovery in 1958 of the inscriptions for the Austriahenae.
As is typical of votive inscriptions, the first element is the name of the deity or deities to whom the vow has been made (‘to the Mothers Austriahenae’) and this is followed by the name of the person who offered it, M. Antonius Sentius here. The rest of the inscription consists of a standard formula expressed through abbreviations of single initial letters which confirm that the vow has been “paid” as promised, by the erection of the altar or other project. The editor of l’Année Epigraphique expands the abbreviations P • S • E • S as pro se et suis. The final letters L • M are typically interpreted as laetus/libens merito ‘gladly/willingly and deservedly’ where the L may be understood as either laetus or libens, but with much the same import in either case. The custom of votive offerings was extremely widespread among the Roman Pagans and continues today among Roman Catholic Christians. It seems to have been common among Celts before the Roman invasions and it was also very widespread among Greek Pagans and continued in the Greek Orthodox church through the Middle Ages.
The interpretation of Austriahenae is more problematical. The ending -henae is found in a number of names of Matronae in which the other part of the name, in this case Austria- is associated either with the name of a tribe or with a local town or other place name, see Goddesses in Celtic Religion--Cult and Mythology: A Comparative Study of Ancient Ireland, Britain, and Gaul, thesis by Noemie Beck. This document does not have page numbers; this is Part III, Section A. In some cases the ending -henae, presumably a Germanic form, is replaced by a Latin ending -ium, also indicating a place name. One inscription found at this site is for the Matronae Austriatium.
It is very interesting to see the name of a Goddess or Goddesses in a German-speaking area which has exactly the form that Jacob Grimm reconstructed for her (*Austro) although he could not possibly have known about the inscriptions since they were not discovered until 1958 and he died in 1863. However, beyond the bare name and the votive context which indicates with certainty that they are Goddesses, we have no specific information about them that would connect them with other forms of the Goddess of Spring, like Eostra or Ostara. It would be helpful if more information about these Goddesses were to be published, especially pictures.
To this statement, Grimm adds a footnote, No. 77 which gives a variant reading of this text from the ms. Kolmesen opusc. p. 287, and according to him this reference is given in Rathlef’s Hoya and Deipholz 3, 16. This source reads (with my translation):
Although Grimm goes on to give several more references to the early use of the word Ostarmanoth for April, including the reference by Einhart, secretary to Charlemagne, only one additional source mentions Ostara specifically as a Goddess. Bosworth and Toller, under eáster, on p. 235, give their source for the form Ôstarâ, dea [‘Goddess’], attributing it to “Ottf.”
“Ger. M. H. Ger. ostern, f: Ker. óstarun, óstrun: Ottf. óstará, óstoron dea, pascha: A. Sax. Eástre, the goddess of the rising sun whose festivities were in April. Hence used by Teutonic christians for the rising of the sun of righteousness, the feast of the resurrection, Bd. de Temp. Rat. Works, vol. ii, p. 81: Grimm’s Deut. Mythol. 8vo. 1855, pp. 180-183.”
While this appears to be a quote from Deutsche Mythologie, it does not match the text I have. “Ottf” must be Otfrid von Weißenburg (Wissenbourg in Alsace, c.790 to c.875) who wrote an Evangelienbuch in Old High German and a set of Latin glossaries which I have not been able to find but which are apparently among our earliest glosses for Old High German. His work appears in various books edited and published by modern authors.
Austri, the dwarf
Note here the names Northri and Suthri / Austri and Vestri which simply mean North and South, East and West. These names are quoted in the Younger Edda in the same context on page 26 in the Brodeur translation which is also on sacred-texts (see below for the link).
In the Skaldskaparmal (‘Poetry of Skalds,’ part of the Younger Edda), Snorri Sturluson gives various kennings or poetic metaphors for the sky, in accord with his expressed intention to preserve the knowledge of ancient poetry by explaining the metaphors used in the stories or at least the relationships that form the basis of it. Here, Snorri somewhat clarifies that it is in these positions, the cardinal points of the compass, the four dwarves are the pillars that hold up the sky (p. 133-134, also in the Brodeur translation),
XXIII. “How should the heaven be paraphrased?” Thus: “Call it Skull of Ymir, and hence, Giant’s Skull; Task or Burden of the Dwarves, or Helm of Vestri and Austri, Sudri or Nordri”, and so on.
Here the name of the dwarf Austri can clearly be seen to indicate East as a direction. This text is also available on Sacred-texts at Younger Edda.
Conclusions for Eostra as a Goddess
• Easter Rituals, which include fires, and special cakes
Here's a little poem that I translated from German.
The words Easter in English, and Ostern in German are still used for the festival and for the season of flowers and rainbows and new life, including baby animals and birds.
This page used to be at pierce.yolasite.com/easter but Yola went out of business.
© 2011, last updated 3/13/2013, piereligion.org/easter.html