Ostara – The Goddess that Wasn’t (perhaps)
Ostara, or Eostre or Eastre, is the Germanic Goddess of spring and dawn – well so we read from a singular historical source.
That source was the Venerable Bede who, writing in 8th Century, linked the Eostremonath (the old Anglo-Saxon names for April), the pagan Anglo-Saxons help festivals in her honour. However, the festival had ‘died out’ by his time to be replaced with the Christian festival of Easter.
So, was there a Goddess Ostara?
Well, some suggest that She is the invention of the pagan-phobic Bede, but why he would invent such a Goddess remains a perplexing question.
19th Century writer Jacob Grimm maintains that she was “goddess of the growing light of spring.”
We explore this in more detail in our Ostara Newsletter (you can get a copy here)
But what about other Easter Traditions that might seem a little ‘odd’ or ‘off the wall’?
Here are a few culled from various sources.
Czech Republic – men can swat the women they fancy with small, soft, whips. Clearly more than a hint of fertility there then, not so sure about the swatting of women. Surely, in these days there could a little more equal…
Cyprus to have entire neighbourhood’s of young boys scour the town for scraps of wood to use in a communal bonfire. The neighbourhood with the largest fire at the end of the day gets Easter bragging rights for the rest of the year.
Bermuda to symbolize Christ rising from his grave and ascending to Heaven, the people of Bermuda fly kites.
People of Florence, Italy are hard at work making Rube Goldberg machines of explosive terror to celebrate Easter with. All good Goldberg machines need some epic origin story, so obviously, the one in Florence is started with a holy fire using shards of flint from Christ’s supposed burial place, the Holy Sepulchre, as a match.
In Norway, it is Easter tradition to sit down with your family and read or watch murder mysteries together, so you can all try to figure out who the killer was together as a family.
Denmark’s Easter tradition does involve having children dressing up as witches and warlocks while going door-to-door for candy, the kids are also expected to give the people something in return – they’re just required to give each house they visit a decorated willow branch, as thanks for the chocolate gifts they’ve received.
Finland – They watch grass grow to signify the start of Spring.
France – Silent Saturday. On the days leading up to Easter, the churches in France will stop ringing their bells as a sign of remembrance to the passing of Jesus. The explanation told to children is that the bells have stopped ringing because they have actually come out of their towers to fly to Rome to see the Pope. When the bells return to France, they drop coloured eggs and bundles of candy for all of the children to enjoy.
Poland – butter lamb is a lamb made entirely out of butter. They’re usually crafted by hand, but in the last few decades, lamb moulds have come into popular use, due to their ability to make a more realistic-looking lamb for your table. What is the butter lamb used for? Well, it somehow signifies the start of Spring, and you eat it. You eat butter that has had hands rubbed all over it to give it the shape of a lamb.
Back to Norway, not content with simply being murder-loving crime solvers, actually have even crazier traditions than that. Outside of murder mysteries, the country doesn’t have a whole lot else to do. So they just shut everything down. For a week.
You don’t go to work, your kids don’t go to school, you don’t cash your checks, and you don’t go to the grocery store to stock up on food. Everything is closed down for nearly the entire week of Easter, with the only exception being the grocery stores opening on Saturday before.
As church bells ring to mark the end of mass on Easter Saturday, residents of Corfu hurl clay pots off their balconies to loudly celebrate that death has been beaten by the Resurrection. The tradition was inspired by the Venetians, who threw their old and unwanted possessions out of their windows on New Year’s Day. It was adopted by the Islanders and applied to the most important day in their calendar.
Texas – Residents of Fredericksburg dress up as Easter Bunnies, pioneers and Comanches and parade through their tiny town before setting the hills surrounding it on fire. As the fires blaze the towns’ lights are lowered as part of the Easter Fires Pageant. The ceremony began in 1847 to celebrate the peace accord signed between German settlers and Native Americans.
The Philippines – On Good Friday devoted Catholics across the Philippines line up to take part in re-enactments of Christ’s crucifixion, complete with self-flagellation and cross dragging. The city of San Fernando holds a passion play, culminating in the actual nailing of at least three devotees to wooden crosses in front of spectators. The Catholic Church has tried to dissuade followers from the practice and the Department of Health suggests participants should get a Tetanus shot and use sterilised nails.
Churches across Greece celebrate midnight mass with a fireworks display but the island of Chios takes it to the next level with two rival churches engaging in a ‘rocket war’ or Rouketopolemos. The parishes of St. Mark’s and Panaghia Ereithiani are built on hilltops 400 metres from each other and they fire hundreds of homemade rockets at the opposition’s belfry throughout the night. Direct hits to the bell tower are counted the next morning when the winner is declared.
Italy – The procession of La Madonna Che Scappa (The Dashing Madonna) is held on Easter Sunday in Sulmona, in the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy. Followers carry statues of the Risen Christ, Saint John and Saint Peter to the Church of San Filippo Neri to announce the news of the Resurrection to the mourning Madonna of Loreto. After persuasion from the saints, the Madonna slowly moves out and then suddenly dashes to meet her son, with the sound of firecrackers accompanying her sprint.
France – Villagers in Haux, Gironde embark on their yearly quest to feed all 1,000 residents with a giant omelette on Easter Monday. On a hand built fire in the town square chefs use 5,000 eggs and 110 pounds of bacon, onion, and garlic to create the 10 ft wide dish. The village feast has only been an annual event for 30 years but many trace it back to a tale that Napoleon demanded a giant egg dish be prepared for his troops as they passed through the countryside.
Slovakia – On Wet Monday dedicated men follow the ancient tradition of dumping a bucket of cold water over an unsuspecting young woman when she answers her front door. This Slovak gem is said to bless the soaked individual with fertility and strength. The men are then invited in and rewarded with dyed eggs, money and vodka.
Coast 2 Coast 30/03/18 with work experience student Chyna Watson