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CHAT: Easter & the Saxon Calendar (was: Passover/Easter)

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Friday, April 28, 2000, 17:42
At 10:15 pm +0100 27/4/00, Raymond Brown wrote:
>At 12:20 pm -0400 27/4/00, bjm10@CORNELL.EDU wrote: >>On Wed, 26 Apr 2000, Raymond Brown wrote:
>>> We have IIRC only the Venerable Bede's authority to connecting 'Èastre' >>> with the name of the goddess Eostre (or Eastre) whose name begins with a >>> short e. Do we have any independent accounts or evidence about this >>> goddess. Is here name really derived from the same root as East, Latin & >> >>I have yet to find any at all. > >Me too
>What I was really asking is whether Bede tells us that Eostre's festival >was at the Vernal Equinox. If he does not, then what evidence do we have >that it was? As certainly pagans in the mediterranean area used the moon >as well as the sun for determining festivals, is it not possible that her >festival was also calculated according to a lunisolar calendar?
>I must track the passage down. The goddess is vanishing before my very eyes.
-------------------------------------------------------------- Well, I have tracked it down - and what a search it was! I patiently waded through site after site after site telling me that Easter is named after the (Saxon) goddess Eostre whose festival occurred at the Spring Equinox, *without ever giving one iota of evidence*. Most of these sites indeed told me that the goddess's name was actually Ostara and, quite often, I was invited to celebrate her Equinoctial festival with this coven or that coven. I also waded through almost the same number of sites where fundamentalists were telling me that there is no scriptural reference to the celebration of Easter (which I am well aware of, tho there are references a-plenty to the Pasch), that the feast is pagan (tell that to the Council of Nicaea!) and that no right-minded Christian should celebrate it. Well, I have & will continue to celebrate Easter - but it's not the first time I've been told that I'm not a right-minded Christian :) [BEDE'S EVIDENCE & THE "SAXON CALENDAR"] However, I did, as I said, eventually track down the passage from Bede; it comes in his "De Temporum Ratione" (Concerning the Reckoning of Seasons), chapter 13 where one finds: "Rhedmonath a dea illorum Rheda, cui in illo sacrificabant, nominatur ...... Antiqui Anglorum populi, gens mea.......apud eos Aprilis Esturmonath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum, quae Eostra uocabatur et cui in illo festa celebrantur, nomen habuit; a cuius nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquae obseruationis uocabulo gaudia nouae solemnitatis uocantes." I would dearly like to have the whole passage in context with the lacunae filled; but this will have to suffice. According to the very few people who actually referred to this passage with any detail, Bede is telling us the Old English month names and, indeed, giving us some, tho not full, information on the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon calendar; John Robert Stone's web-site attempts to reconstruct the calendar, see: Bede is telling us the a month corresponding roughly to March was called Rhedmonath and that April was called Esturmonath. I translate it thus: "[March] is named Rhedmonth from their goddess Rheda, to whom they make sacrifice in that [month].......The ancient peoples of the Angles, my nation.....among them April has the name Eastermonth, which is now translated as 'paschal month', from a former goddess of theirs who was called Eostra and for whom feast days [neuter _plural_] were celebrated during it; from its name they now name the paschal season, calling the joys of the new sollemnity by a word made customary from ancient observance." If we assume, for the moment, that Bede is not repeating folk etymology and that his statements are basically true, then it must be noted that he *makes no reference whatever to the Spring Equinox*. Indeed, by equating her month with April and quite specifically making it clear that her festival occupied more than one day (festa....celebantur [plural]), it seems to unlikely that her festival was not at the equinox, but rather occurred later over two or three (or more?) days. Indeed, John Robert Stone says of the whole Bede passage (this is why I'd like to see the whole of it and not just the "Easter" extract), and I quote: - The [Old] English month is a lunation, a cycle of lunar phases. - The month names are listed with approximate Julian correlates. - The beginning of the year falls on Christmas Eve, which was called by the heathens "Mother's Eve". - The year was divided into two seasons, winter & summer. Winter began at Winterfylle [final letter is eth], which Bede explains as "Winter-full-moon." - In intercalary years a third month named Lia was inserted in summer and made a lunar year of thirteen months, which Bede designated a "year of three Lias". - The origins and meanings of the month names are speculated upon. The month names Stone gives are: Bede's name Normalized West Aprroximate Saxon Gregorian equivalent Giuli [after] Geola January Solmonath Solmona February Rhedmonath Hremona March Esturmona Eastermona April Thrimilchi rimilche [init. eth] May Lida [ere] Lia June Lida [after] Lia July Weodmonath Weodmona August Halegmonath Haligmona September Winterfilleth Winterfylle October Blodmonath Blotmona November Giuli [ere] Geola December (Remind anyone of the months used in the Shire? :) Now, I'm getting onto familiar ground - a lunisolar calendar. A lunation is 29.5 days; all the lunar calendars I've met, whether the Jewish, Muslim or the various ancient Greek ones, basically alternate 29 & 30 day months. Those who, like the ancient Greeks & the Jews also take the sun into account, intercalate a 13th month at fairly regular intervals to keep the seasons in line. In days when most people were illiterate and agriculture was the chief occupation, using the sun & moon as one's calendar was the obvious thing to do, and I'd already hazarded a guess that the ancient Germans would've used a similar calendar. That the moon was important to the ancient Germans is futher confirmed by the Roman Historian Tacitus: "[The German Chiefs] assemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either at new moon or full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transaction of business." What about the equinoxes and/or solstices? With these other calendars, _one_ of these dates was significant as it sort of determined when the year began - in theory, on the new moon/full moon following the event. But practice varied considerably among the ancients about which event to take. I can find no evidence whatever that the equinoxes had any particular relevance for the ancient Germans; but I do agree with Stone when he says: "Bede's description of the calendar bristles with solstitial clues. The year began at Christmas which was anciently associated with the winter solstice [25th Dec was once actually the solstice]. The two double months, Geola and Lia, bracket the solstices like bookends.......the Geola ("Yule") months, according to Bede, take their name from the turn of the sun towards the increase of daylight. So, we gain confidance that this calendar was solstitially bound". In particular, the eve of the Winter Solstice. "Mother's Eve", marked the beginning of the year. Exactly how this fitted in with the lunations and how the intercalation of 'middle' Lithe was determined must, I guess, for ever remain subjects of speculation. For those who want to follow this up further, have a look at John Stone's web-site. OK - Where does this get us? As I see it, so far I find: - no evidence of a Spring Equinox festival called "Easter". - a festival of two or more days called "Easter" during the 4th month, Eastermonth, of the Saxon lunisolar year. - Eastermonth corresponded roughly to April, thus the pagan "Easter" occurred roughly at the same time of Spring as the Christian Easters & Jewish Passover generally occur. - the feastival and month took their name from that of the festival's goddess, namely Eostra (in Bede's spelling). [EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GODDESS] What of the goddess herself? All the authorities I've been able to track down agree that there is no other ancient evidence other than the passage of Bede quoted above. Neither Hreda nor Eastra are mentioned in any other ancient writings; there are no equivalent names even in either the Prose Edda or the Poetic Edda. There is certainly no inscriptional, epigraphic or archeological evidence to support the existence of either goddess. In fact there is complete silence until the 19th century when Jacob Grimm discusses them in his Deutsche Mythologie in 1835. So, what evidence does Grimm adduce for their existence? Volume I of his Mythologie, Chapter 6 deals with goddess, and section 7 of this chapter with the goddess he names as _Hruoda_ (Hrede) and _Ostara_ (Eastre). HRUODA Grimm quotes a document of 1404 which names a month as Redtmonet, tho he admits it is not clear which month is meant; in the Appenzeller reimchronik (date?) a month called Redimonet is given, but means "February"; Oberlin, quoting from Chorion's Ehrenkranz der teutschen sprach (1644) gives Retmonat for "March". This IMHO does no more than confirm a Germanic name for a month named something like R(h)edmonath around February or March. There is no further evidence here for any goddess. Nevertheless, Grimm is able to say the Saxon goddes was called Hrê, or Hrêe and reconstructs the Old High German as Hruod or Hruodâ. But whence is his certainty? I find none. He also admits that the Anglo-Saxon adjective hrê means 'crudelis' or perhaps 'victoriosus'. He further says that when the AngloSaxon Menologue, line 70, translates 'Martius' by rêe, this may stand for hrêe. Indeed it may - 'cruel/victorous' = "martius" looks fine to me. So why doesn't Grimm make the obvious inference: hrêmona = martius mensis? I find no sound evidence in Grimm of any goddess called Hrede or Hruoda - rather a very clear hint that we have a Germanic month name which is a calque of a Roman one. OSTARA He says that the Germans of his day still called April 'Ostermonat' & that ôstarmânoth is found "as early as Eginhart". So what? Easter is _the_ major Christian festival; it seems very reasonable to me to call April 'Eastermonth'. He tells us that in Old High German the festival is called ôstarâ (plural - gen. ôstarûn). He says it's plural because the festival lasted more than one day. Well, we know that from Bede! And, of course, both the Jewish & the Christian Pasch last more than one day. Then he suddenly treats Ostarâ as the name of the goddess - but look as hard as I can, I can find no evidence for this sudden leap of faith that translates a plural festival name into a singular personal name. He even connects her name with Latin 'Auster' - a _masculine_ noun meaning "the _south_ wind". This seems to me a very desperate attempt to find external verification. Grimm has to admit that there is no other evidence from Germanic sources for this goddess; the best he can do is to find a male being in one of the Eddas called 'Austri', "so a female one might have been called Austra". Er, yes - but if *Austra was this goddess whose festival was so important the Christians couldn't supplant its name but had to be content with merely 'christening' it, isn't it a little surprising that her name is not found except in Bede? Wondering why the Norsemen called 'Easter' "pâskir" and not *austrur, he concludes "they had never worshipped a goddess Austra, or her cultus was already extinct." Strange for a goddess who is supposed to have been so important. And what of the Goths? Ulpilas writes 'paska', not *áustro. Only, it seems did the Saxons & the High Germans call the festival 'Easter(n)s' and I have no reason to doubt that there was such a pre-Christian festival, of several days, held during the 4th month of the Germanic lunisolar calendar. The east, of course, is the region of radiant dawn, uprising light, of resurrection of new life after winter; both the timing & the symbolisms must have fitted well with the Christian Paschaltide; little wonder, it seems to me, the name was retained. [CONCLUSION] I have no doubt that Bede is correctly reporting the Saxon month name and quite correct in saying it took its name from the festival dayS celebrated during that month (i.e. round about the time of the Passover/Pasch). But the goddess seems now even more shadowy than ever; the only evidence is the short passage in Bede. Grimm's attempts of the last century to resurrect Eastre (still less to rename her Ostara) look desperate to me & IMHO carry little conviction. I do not for one moment think Bede is deliberately misleading us; but I am inclined to the view that her name is a bit of "folk etymology" to explain the name of a festival whose origin had been forgotten. Ray. ========================================= A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G. Hamann 1760] =========================================