Spring Equinox, Alban Eiler, Oestre (Ostara/Eastre/Eostre/Easter) and the Rites of Spring
Oestre (pronounced “Ester”) is celebrated on or near the Spring Equinox. Traditionally, Oestre took place on the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. The Christian celebration derived from Oestre, “Easter,” is calculated by Vatican astronomers to take place on the first Sunday after the first full moon after Spring Equinox each year. As such, it is a movable feast, its timing determined by the Vatican. Its origins, and the logistics of its timing each year, goes unquestioned by most Christian sects — and, indeed, by most Church clergy.
Oestre is the name of an ancient European (Germanic) tribal Goddess. She was a star deity, worshipped as the morning star (Venus) which rises in the East around the Spring Equinox. Her name is associated with Ostara, Aster, Astrea, Astra, Aster, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Asherah, Ishtar, Isis, Esther, Ester, and many other appellations for the celestial Goddess, stars, the East, fecundity, and ovulation. She is the divine patron of new beginnings, dawning realities, rebirth and resurgent life, appearing as the brightest star in the spring skies of the Northern hemisphere, when conception and gestation most commonly occur in plants, animals and humans. In the ancient Near and Middle East, Astarte’s spring festival was celebrated with eggs painted red, as early as 2,500 B.C.E.
Oestre is similar to Alcyone, the central blue star of the Pleiadian cluster, who is the model for the Halcyon bird. The stars scattered across the night sky are seen to be Her eggs. Bird forms for celestial Goddesses are common. The so-called ‘Satanic verses’ of the Koran concern the three ancient Goddesses of Arabia, Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat, described as ‘the high-flying swans, those glorious birds.’ They were symbolised as cranes (like Ma`at of Egypt), as swans (Al-Lat, Mediterranean Lat, Latona, Leto, and Leda), or as geese. The Star Goddesses are the legendary, ancient bird-mothers of the Cosmic twins, Light and Dark, authors of the dynamic polarity by which the Universe operates (Castor and Pollux, Artemis and Apollo, Hesus and Belenus).
The star Goddesses are also associated with milk, as is the moon. The word, “lat,” is the root for milk in numerous Indo-European languages, and the Goddess, Lat, gave Her name to many ethnographies, including those of Latvians and Latins. Milk was seen as the prime material from which the Universe was made and nurtured, which supplies the reason our galaxy is called “The Milky Way.” Like Eurynome (said to have laid the original Cosmic Egg from which all things emerged after being fertilised by the wise serpent, Ophion), Oestre is an aspect of the Great Mother. Portrayed as a long-necked bird with wings spread and often inscribed with breasts and vulva, Oestre is the form of the Goddess most commonly crafted for over 25,000 years across Eurasia, from Siberia to the Aegean. She is the original model for fairy lore’s “Mother Goose,” and “the Goose who laid the golden egg.”
Oestre, being the Goddess of ovulation and conception, is philologically related to the meaning of the words Oestrogen, Estrogen, Oestrus, and Estrus, all deriving from a proto-Indo-European root word basically synthesizing the meaning of “star flower” or ‘star egg,” and signifying the ovulation or flowering season of the Vernal Equinox. For this simple reason, eggs and ever-fertile bunnies have always been central to Oestre’s festival at the Spring Equinox. Painted and decorated egg-shapes have turned-up dating from between 8,000 and 15,000 B.C.E. in Old Europe, the Upper Volga valley, and Boetia, among other regions. To this day, Egg-Trees, Egg-Pyramids, and gifts of decorated eggs are traditional motifs central to Easter celebrations in all parts of Europe. Vestiges of pagan customs centred upon eggs are still widely practised among Czechs, Slavs, Moravians, Serbs, Ukrainians and peoples of the Balkans.
In England, the ‘Pace-Egg’ has become the ‘Easter Egg.’ Pace Egg derives from Pache Egg, also referred to as Paste Eggs. Pache relates to Paschal as in “Paschal Lamb,” and is connected to ideas concerning peace (pax, pac, pacific, passive), blessings, suffering (passus, passion), and sacrifice. “Paste” or pastos means “sprinkled” or anointed, and “Pace” means to stretch or pass. Pasche is cognate with Hebrew “pass over.” Pace-Egg festivities seemed to combine the ideas of ritual cleansing and purging by means of being pelted by eggs. In Portugal the pre-Lenten carnival “frolics consist of throwing hair powder and water in each other’s faces and pelting passengers in the streets with eggs and many other missiles, besides throwing buckets of water on them,” according to Rodney Gallop in his book about the Folk ways of Portugal. He further describes how, “people organised assaults on the houses of their friends, and it is on record that in one such assault on a popular actress living in the Rocio Square no fewer than six hundred eggs were used as missiles.” (One is reminded of Jr. High springtime crushes that seemed inevitably to culminate in “egging” the loved-one’s house late at night.) The roots of such behaviour lie in the festival cycles once observed almost everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, between the Winter’s Solstice and Spring Equinox, by peoples as diverse as Celts, Latins, Mayans, and North Africans.
The vestiges of these festivals can be seen in those currently celebrated as ‘Carnivale’ by Roman Catholic countries, and as Mardi Gras in the Southern U.S. They are still very much in the spirit of their origins in the Saturnalia, Lupercalia, and Februa (‘purification’) of pagan Rome, which culminated with the death/rebirth rites of Attis (divine son of Kybel). Attis was “crucified” in effigy upon a sacred tree and carried through the town, then ceremoniously buried. General mourning was observed, with ashes applied to hair and clothing. After three days he was disinterred and declared resurrected, to the general, cheering jubilation of the populace. Sicilian and Calabrian customs commemorate the resurrection of the crucified Christ in an almost identical manner. A waxen effigy of the dead Christ is exhibited, then carried in solemn, mournful procession. There is weeping and lamentation and the effigy is “waked” for a period of fasting. Then the bishop or priest announces that “Christ is risen,” to which the crowd replies “He is risen indeed,” a signal for cheering, shouting, and joyous noise.
As with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, ritual purification directly preceded the ceremonialised rebirth of all of life symbolised in the resurrection of the god. Rites even older than those of Rome’s cult of Attis lie at the roots of these ideas of spring renewal, in the ancient Egyptian rites of Osirus, Syrian rites of Adonis, and the Mesopotamian women’s “weeping for Tammuz” so reviled in the Old Testament. Practitioners of the Witches’ Wheel, like the ancient pagans, observe the building, seasonal drama of Spring’s hidden incubation of new life. The egg is the ubiquitous, universal symbol for this phenomenon. According to J. E. Cirlot, in A Dictionary of Symbols , “The Easter egg is an emblem of immortality which conveys the essence of these beliefs… the realisation that a secret animal-growth comes about inside the closed shell. By analogy, hidden things (the occult, or what appears to be non-existent) may actively exist.”
Oestre marks the shift from Pisces, the sign of the fish, to Aries. The vesica picis, or “fish vessel,” is a sign for Venus as the “Star of the Sea,” or fish-tailed Aphrodite. The fish was the symbol for the sacred “fool” figure of Osirus (divine, sacrificed son of Isis who was devoured by a Nile fish, then resurrected) long before it became the sigil of Christianity’s sacrificial god. The fish is a symbol of the phallus as well as the womb. Dylan (divine son of Celtic star Goddess, Arianrhod), Yeshua (son of Hebrew Marah), Oanes (also called “Noah,” and “Jonah,” son of Phoenecian Atargatis), Ouranos, Triton, Jeshua (“Jesus”), Marduk, Bel, Baal, Adonis, Eros, Priapus, and many other divine sons of cthonic/cosmic/oceanic Mother Goddesses assumed fish form.
Robert Graves called these early sacrificial gods, “Star Sons.” Their festivals were typically in the Spring, marking alluvial floods and Mediterranean Red Tide, when the dye from seasonal shellfish stained the sea red, as with blood. Fresh or dried fish were eaten in honour of the sacrificed god, and is still a feature of the Coptic Easter festival in Egypt. Fish is eaten by Europeans on Good Friday, and has long been considered the appropriate food for Fridays generally, as Friday is sacred to Aphrodite (named for Freya, Teutonic Venus). Because of this association with Venus/Aphrodite, fish and fish eggs are still considered aphrodisiacs by many. A Mediaeval English hymn characterised Jesus as “the little fish Mary found in the well,” and icons of the Assumption portrayed Jesus framed within the vesica picis. Easter mummers dressed as Fools whacked people with fish for fertility and luck. As well as the April Fool, French custom has “Poisson d’Avril,” or “April Fish.”