Happy Easter. Happy Freya’s day?
It’s one of those curious paradoxes that Easter, like Hell, was originally a pagan word. Setting Hell aside for a time (hopefully a long time J ), I’ve been thinking about the origin of Easter lately, and probably because I’m choc-full of Easter eggs this morning I’ve decided to write them down.
The English historian Bede, writing in the seventh century, recorded what little we know about the pre-christian English calendar in his work “The Reckoning of Time”. He also explained how we came to use a pagan term for a Christain celebration. Translated, chapter 15 of his work outlines how the fourth month of the Anglo Saxon year was called Eosturmonaþ-Easter Month- "after a goddess of theirs [the Pagan English] named Eostre". He goes on to say that the reason the name persisted into Christian times was that feasts or celebrations were held in honour of this goddess in that month, and that the English kept the name for traditional reasons: "calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance".So who was Eostre? There is a fair amount of speculation about it, but most works tend to say that her origins are "obscure", mainly because there does not seem to be any other references to a specific female goddess of that name, nor an equivalent in the Old Norse pantheon. However, a little bit of conjecture can lead us to a reasonable (well to me anyway) conclusion. As we are in the territory of historical irony, the ancient northerners (anglo Saxons, norse etc.) seemed to think their gods came from the East. It must cause some degree of discomfort to modern day white supremacists that the Vikings they think of as their ancestors referred to their Gods as "Aesir"- quite literally "Asians". It’s also cognate with Easterners or "From the East" which again is usually referred to as for reasons now obscure. I have a theory about this too: It’s relevant to stars in the night sky, but that’s for another post sometime. Or maybe the great Viking novel I’ll hopefully someday get round to writing.
This concept seems to go right back into the mists of time to the roots of the Germanic pagan religion (or maybe further) as the pagan Anglo-Saxons who became the English used the term "Os" for their deities, which also denotes the East. Eostre (with the root of our modern word "East" fossilized in it) is a female variation of the same concept, so to me the likely conclusion is that "Eostre" was not the actual name of the goddess, but a term referring to one of the female pagan gods we already know about. There were a few female pagan Germanic monsters (like Hell), but not that many goddesses, and really it comes down to just 2 main ones: Frigg (after whom the day Friday is named) and Freya. There is lots of further speculation that these two were probably originally the same persona, only split apart in the later dark ages, so in the time period we are talking about for the pagan anglo-saxons (4th or 5th century) the chances are that they were one.
So the most obvious conclusion is that if Frig/Freya was important enough to name a day of the week after, then she was probably also loved enough to have a spring festival called after her. So happy Easter, and happy Eostre.
Given Frigg/Freya’s associations with fertility, it makes me look at those eggs again too