Beyond the Trees

Ostara – The original Easter

This is another post in my “Pagan/Holiday” series and this one might be more controversial because to be blunt, the only way to explain Ostara is to accurately articulate how Christianity absorbed this pagan holiday. This isn’t an anti-Christian piece. We are just going to make some observations here please take it in the spirit in which it is offered, an examination of Ostara.

Ostara is celebrated on the spring equinox around March 21. The feast marks the beginning of the summer half of the year and is a celebration of fertility and was known as a fire festival. It is named after the goddess Ostara who was an integral part of pre Christian Germanic culture that the Christians stole and absorbed it as their own spring feast which was adapted for the Paschal holiday, and was converted to the Christian Easter. Her name is related to the Germanic words for “east” and “glory”; she was the embodiment of the springtime and the renewal of life.

We have to keep in mind that the evolution of holidays/celebrations are fluid there is no fixed “time” for any of it. Easter (check the origin of this name…) is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ but this wasn’t always the case. In the very early years of Christianity Christ’s resurrection was celebrated weekly. It can’t be emphasized enough here how important his resurrection is to the Christian narrative. It wasn’t for another 200 years or so that Christians decided to celebrate it once a year, on or around the largest holiday of their closest rival’s pagans.

May Day is coming soon !

You have to keep in mind that the word in 200 AD was filled with “pagan” religions. Christianity was just another one of many it was not large. However, Christians had one thing many pagans did not. Their drive to further the word of Christ convinced them that others needed to be “converted” part of that conversion, in the early years was copying, and eventually absorbing holidays. Many Christian celebrations happen around the equinoxes, Easter is no exception and so we have this melding.

The Easter bunny? Pagans were decorating eggs at Ostara hundreds of years before Christ. The Hare was a sacred beast for the goddess. Pagan’s of the time decorated eggs and hid them for a hunt to signal to Ostara the hastening of the lands rebirth at spring.  It is a major pagan holiday; the spring solstice marks the beginning of the summer period. This meant you survived the winter which was no small task at the time of its inception. Christianity was very smart in their approach to bringing their religion to the tribes of Europe.

They created their own holidays and celebrations close to those of the pagans and wove in parts of the tradition to help make the transition more palatable for the common person. Conversion at the time was far different then what you see in movies. Most of the narrative around Christianity is born from the medieval period. These events were taking place 1000 years before that. Conversion was a process that was not forced. Christians at the time did not have armies and countries to enforce their will they had the word of god and their will to share it with others, and their wit.

So this year if you paint an Easter egg, or hear of the Easter bunny maybe Ostara will smile down at you and make your spring time fruitful and full of joy and rebirth.

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Norse Mythology – How Odin created the world.

In most if not all (I haven’t studied all of them) religions/myths there is a world origin story. Now many of them are fairly silly… Norse Mythology is one of those silly origin stories. To be clear, I am a pagan but like most spiritual people I do not follow literally the doctrine of a religion per se more so the intent of the prose. Simply put, it’s been my experience that most practioners of faith seek the message rather than the literal. We often get caught up in historic nuances as many religions were taught literally.

This is mainly due to the masses being illiterate and a literal rendition of a concept was the simplest way to convey the message. Once the masses began to have available to them books and literacy we enter the period of enlightenment (in the west anyway) where individuals were able to discern the meaning rather than take literally the text. Here we are in 2022 and many of the old religions don’t translate well. I had a wise old man once say to me “Today’s religion is tomorrows myth” and what he meant was, faith evolves.

Thousands of years ago your ancestors were likely worshiping idols of gold or statues of some kind. They were wishing for and hoping for the same thing as you are now but the times dictated a different means to the same end. Faith is a wonderful ideal and if you can get there, regardless of the path I tip my hat to you. So what about the Norse mythos of how the world was created?

In the beginning there was Muspell.

The Vikings saw the world as created by Odin differently. When they looked up at the sky, they believed that it was the skull of Ymir (a god Odin killed) and the world they lived on must be his dead body, mutilated and stuffed into his skull. If that’s the case, then the oceans must be his blood, the mountains his bone, and the clouds his brains.

We find the tale of Ymir in many Edda’s and there are some rune stones that depict this episode. The leap of detail though (the body parts making up the physical world) is a creation of the story tellers at the time. They had no other way to discern how all these things got here. How do you explain why a mountain is where it is in 650 AD? You attribute it to the gods. “Why there though?” someone asks and your best guess is after killing the prior good Ymir they cast his body aside and it formed the world.

I mean do you believe the clouds are an old giants brains? I suppose it’s possible but we now know through science how water, dust sun light etc. plays roles in the formation of weather on the planet.

The point here was to illustrate to you faith is a hard thing to discuss because we often decide (rightly or wrongly) that our faiths are the word of god(s) and its absolute. We examine a little closer, with knowledge, and see that many of the stories we hold dear are part of our religions are in fact creative acts of fantasy. The overall message? God created the planet. That’s what the Norse pagans believed and many of us practicing today believe. Very similar to other religions, do we think it’s because he defeated the great giant Ymir and used his body parts? No, however we do concede its possible….

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