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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It is time for Thorrablot

As this blog entered 2022 I said that I would spend more of my prose on holidays, not just U.S. but some of the old Norse holidays. For the new reader, I am a pagan. Let me be clear here though, paganism like any other religion has a wide swath of individuals who practice. The level of zealousness in said practice can vary person to person, season to season. You see this in all religions really, some more than others. I no longer practice as much as I used too. There was a time when I was younger I insisted on a yule log instead of an Xmas tree, I participated in other pagan ceremonies as well.

Those days are passed for me, I am older and wiser and realize now that spirituality doesn’t lie within external expression but rather internal reflection and external application. Maybe I am lazy, or more diplomatically, more comfortable with life. At 52 I have enough of a back story to pull from to make the present more seneschal and the future less harrowing. Some call it wisdom, but I digress…

But you are here for Thorrablot….

Fenrir has not broken his bonds…… YET

First let’s get one thing out of the way. In Norse lore, a blot is a blood sacrifice to the gods. Yes, a living thing is sacrificed (killed) in the hopes that it will please the gods and they will give you their favor. There should be no illusion about this, a thousand + years ago your pagan ancestors were sacrificing humans and animals to their gods. Maybe they weren’t Norse ancestors but somewhere in your vast family tree.

The Thorrablot was specific to Thor, as you might have surmised who, in ancient times, protected Midgard (earth) from the frost giants. It was believed that prayer and sacrifice to him would make the winter more bearable. With religion we have to be very careful on the nuances of words. “Frost Giants” reads literal but the giants likely meant the large storms, winds, cold, snow cumulatively. For most ancient peoples the natural world and its events were oft described by unnatural causes, like giants as an example.

This particular blot happened mid-February usually and is often combined with Disting. They are basically one in the same but I suspect subtlety different depending on the region you lived. There was a sacrifice and a feast and essentially the gist was “please god(s) let us survive the winter”. Today many Norse pagans follow Asatru which is kind of a blanket/catch all for everything Norse paganism today. Its codified holidays, assigned its meaning, even made official holidays etc.

Do we celebrate anything like this today? Sort of, we have ground hog’s day a pseudo mechanism by which we try and determine how much more winter there is. That’s all our pagan ancestors were trying to do as well. They didn’t have oil burners in their home and amazon and door dash weren’t a thing yet for food, so their stress level in the middle of winter was slightly higher…..

So the next time you are out this week and if it is very cold, imagine life in 692 and you are freezing your ass off. You might pray to whatever god would listen too….

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