Meaning of Name: Stems from Proto -Germanic *Austrō(n), meaning ‘dawn’.
Pronunciation: ‘Ay-Aw-Struh’ The ‘e’ is pronounced as the ‘a’ in the word ‘ray’, the ‘a’ is pronounced as the ‘o’ in the word ‘hot’ and the final ‘e’ is pronounced as the ‘u’ in ‘cub’.
Other names/ spelling variations: Ēostre (In the Northumbrian dialect), *Ôstara (Old High German, Old Saxon).
Function: Ēastre is a goddess of the dawn, both literally and figuratively, with dawn being used as a metaphor for the death of Winter and the lengthening of days. Each year she retreats to the Underworld for the duration of Winter and is reborn anew each Spring, bringing with her, fertility and abundance.
Iconography: As a goddess associated with Spring, symbology related to renewal and growth would seem appropriate. Grimm states in his Deutsche Mythologie, that Easter eggs (possibly related to renewal and fertility) and bonfires may be a survival from an earlier, Heathen celebration. Hares are also typically associated with the Goddess.
Attested Sources: Ēastre appears solely in Bede’s De temporum ratione, in which he writes:
“ Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”
There is some evidence to suggest a similar goddess named *Ôstara, may have been venerated on the continent, based on Old High German, ‘Ôstarmânoth’. According to Grimm:
“We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is found as early as Eginhart (temp. Car. Mag.). The great Christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG remains the name ôstarâ … it is mostly found in the plural, because two days … were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ, like the [Anglo-Saxon] Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the Christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries.”
A number of place-names in England possess the ‘ēoster-’ prefix. Austerfield in Yorkshire, Eastry in Kent, Eastrea in Cambridgeshire and Eastrington in the East Riding of Yorkshire, are all believed to be named after the Goddess. The abbot at Bede’s monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow was recorded as ‘Easterwine’, which bears the ‘ēoster’ prefix. It is for this reason that Philip A. Shaw believes that Eostre was actually a Kentish regional deity and not a Northumbrian, as is popularly thought.
In 1958, over 150 Romano-Germanic inscriptions were discovered dedicated to the Matronae Austriahenae, dating from 150-250 CE. While most of these inscriptions are incomplete, and shed little light on the role of these deities, it provides an early, etymological connection to Ēastre, and further validates Bede’s claims of Ēastre’s authenticity.
“To the Mothers Austriahenae,
[by] M. Antonius Sentius,
for him and his,
gladly and deservedly.”
Interpretatio Romana: Possibly Aurora.
Contemporary Bīnaman: Frumlēoht (First Light), Rodorlīhtung (Illumination of the Heavens), Wintresdēaþ (Winter’s Death), Dægrēd (Dawn), Eftnīwung (Renewal), Blōstmbǣrende (Blossom Bearing), Bēomōder (Bee Mother), Hunigflōwende (Flowing-with-Honey)
Further Reading: Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda, and the Cult of the Matrons, (Bristol Classic Press: Chippenham and Eastbourne), 2011.