Eostre- the Anglo-Saxon Dawn Goddess

According to my reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Calendar, the fourth month, Ēosturmōnaþ, began last Tuesday (April 13, 2021). Bede tells us it was named after the goddess Ēostre. Like Hreðe, the only thing we know about Ēostre from attested sources is her name and the month she was worshipped in (roughly corresponding to the month of April), and again Bede is our source. He tells us in chapter fifteen of The Reckoning of Time:

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.

The Reckoning of Time, the Venerable Bede, Chapter XV

Like Hreðe, her name provides the clue to figuring out who she is. Unlike Hreðe, however, her name ties her to related goddesses in neighbouring cultures. We can use these related goddesses to flesh out more details about her.

Let’s begin with the pronunciation of Ēostre. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, it’d be written as /ɛːɔstrɛ/. The first e is pronounced like the ey in they, the o is pronounced as the o in not, and the last e is pronounced as the e in red. So it would be Ey-os-tre. It appears to be connected to the Old English words ēast, meaning the cardinal direction of east. The word east ultimately traces back to the Proto-Indo-European word *h²ews, which means dawn. Makes sense, considering at dawn the sun rises in the east.

The name Ēostre traces back to the Proto-Germanic *Austro(n), a reconstructed Proto-Germanic goddess, and can be further traced linguistically to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *H²éusos, the reconstructed goddess of the dawn whose name literally means the dawn. (For convenience, I will refer to this goddess as Heusos, with the 2 removed, which really only means anything to PIE linguistic scholars anyways). Other than Ēostre, many Indo-European goddesses are linguistically derived from Heusos, including (but certainly not limited to) the Hindu Ushás, the Lithuanian Aušrine, the Greek Eos, and the Roman Aurora. All of them are dawn goddesses, and the meaning of their names in their respective languages are connected to either the east or to the dawn.

I will be basing my reconstruction of Ēostre mainly on the reconstruction of Heusos, which was made by scholars who compared all the goddesses derived from her in the PIE cultures and found the commonalities that likely descended from Heusos. I will then try to flesh her out a little bit more by looking at the Roman Aurora, the pagan culture that the pre-Christian Germanic tribes had the most contact and thus the most likely to trade ideas about deities with. (The Anglo-Saxons would have also had extensive contact with the Celtic inhabitants of Britain at the time of their migration, but by this time the Britons would have been Christian for a couple hundred years.) We will also look at what the timing of her festival can tell us about her.

In the reconstructed mythology of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, Heusos is the daughter of the sky father and earth mother. In the Anglo-Saxon mythology, Folde (also known as Eorþe) is the earth mother. Tīw (known to the Norse as Tyr) linguistically traces back to *Dyeus, the PIE sky father. Heusos was the sister of the sun goddess and moon god, who in Anglo-Saxon mythology is Sunne and Mona respectively. She wakes her sister every morning and rides ahead of her to clear the way for her daily trek across the sky, though sometimes she does it reluctantly. She rides ahead of Sunne until the sun is fully risen, then goes on her own way.

The Roman Aurora is an eternally youthful goddess, and has many lovers. Some of her lovers are Titans, some are gods, and some are humans. With so many lovers, she’d obviously be a goddess of passion.

The month of Ēosturmōnaþ, which roughly corresponds with April, begins in winter but ends in spring (remember, the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons divided their year into only these two seasons). It is during the full moon of Ēostre’s month that summer begins. Going by the day-year analogy which sees winter as night and summer as day, this month would be the dawn of the year. Ēostre the light bringer would then also be the life bringer as life began to return to nature. In this way, Ēostre would also be a spring goddess, and a fertility goddess.

So, let’s put together all the pieces of the puzzle that we’ve assembled and apply them to Ēostre. Much like the other Indo-European goddesses that she is cognate to, Ēostre should be understood as the daughter of Tīw and Folde, and the sister of Sunne and Mona. As a dawn goddess, she wakes her sister every morning and clears the way for Sunne to rise. Once Sunne has risen completely, Ēostre goes her own way.

Ēostre is also a passionate and ever-youthful goddess. She presides over the dawn of the year, bringing life back to the natural world after Hreðe has defeated winter. As a life bringer, she would also be appropriate to petition for matters regarding the beginning of life: in matters of conception, pregnancy, and birth.

So what about the feasts held in Ēostre’s honor this month that Bede mentioned? We’re not really sure of the dates or number of feasts that were held this month in pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon England. In modern times, Anglo-Saxon Heathens tend to celebrate the beginning of summer on the full moon of Ēosturmōnaþ, and celebrate Ēostre’s role as life bringer, and bringing the summer in. The traditions that Anglo-Saxon Heathens observe on this day can be numerous and varied. But that is a blog post for another time.

I want to end this blog post with a prayer to Ēostre I have written. This short prayer is well suited for offering to her in her month:

Hail Ēostre, the light bringer!

Winter has been long, it has been dark.

But you have returned to us, bringing the light of summer.

I give you thanks for the light and the life that you are returning to the earth. With gratitude, I give you this gift of [mead/salt/eggs/etc] for the gifts you have brought to us.

May it be well received. A gift for a gift!

I have signed the Declaration of Deeds

As long as I have been a Heathen, Heathens have been complaining about Declaration 127. Rightfully so, as it is entirely inadequate as an inclusivity statement. It’s a condemnation of a racist organization- the Asatru Folk Assembly. That is admirable, but it’s not an inclusivity statement. Inclusive Heathenry has been trying to shoe horn into something it’s not.

Beofeld, author of the Anglo-Saxon Heathen blog Wind in the Worldtree, has written such an inclusivity and non-bigotry statement. Called the Declaration of Deeds, it makes clear that there is no basis in Heathenry for prejudice based upon things outside one’s control such as race, sex, gender identity, etc. It is a much stronger and better defined statement of inclusivity and non-bigotry for Heathenry.

I want to declare that I agree with and am in support of Beofeld’s Declaration of Deeds. I have signed it, and I encourage all of my readers to give it a read and to sign it if you agree with it. This is a grassroots movement, but together we can accomplish something great- steer Heathenry away from the Folkism that so many non-Heathens assume all of us Heathens belong to. Join us in our bid to make Heathenry inclusive to all!

RuneTyper 0.3.1 released

I’ve added an Old English keyboard to RuneTyper. In addition to all the runes, it should have all the letters you need to type in Old English, including Ƿ, Þ, Ᵹ, Ð, Æ, ⁊, and Ꝥ. It has two function keys: SH toggles between capitalising and lowercase the letters, while ALT adds the bars over vowels to make them long, and the dots over c and g. Check out the screenshot below:

It still has all the features of the older versions as well, with:

  • Keyboards for the Anglo-Saxon runes (Futhorc), Elder Futhark, and the two variants of Younger Futhark (Long Branch and Short Twig).
  • Whatever you type into the text input box can be copied to your phone’s keyboard, and used in any app that supports Unicode (which includes Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, and probably many more!).
  • Easily Clear the text input box with the Clear button, and backspace with the left pointing arrow will remove the character behind the cursor (by default, the last character in the box.

This app is 100% free. There are no ads or in app purchases. There is a donation button in the settings menu, but it’s purely to show your appreciation for the app if you so choose. It doesn’t unlock any new features.

Screenshots of the various keyboards are below:

I’m working on getting it up on the Google Play Store, but have ran into some snafus getting my Google Play Console account set up. It may take a while to get it resolved, but there’s no need to to wait until then to get the app. You can download it below!

Download RuneTyper 0.3.1 here!

Releasing RuneTyper 0.2.0: Four Rune Sets are now in the App!

Three days ago, I published an apk of my RuneTyper. It’s an app that allows you to type in runes and copy it to your phone’s clipboard so you can post it to other apps. Any app that uses Unicode (which is every social media site I’ve tried it on, so far). The last version only had the Anglo-Saxon runes available, but I’ve now updated it to also include Elder Futhark and both variants of the Younger Futhark (Long Branch and Short Twig)!

My next goal is to put it on the Google Play Store. I’m going to need a Google Play Developer’s License, which requires a fee. If you’d like to help offset the cost of the license, please consider donating to my Ko-Fi !

Download RuneTyper 0.2.0 here!

Introducing RuneTyper 0.1.1

I created an app that uses Kivy/Python to be able to type Fuþorc runes (also called Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Frisian runes) and copy it to the clipboard so that you can paste it into other apps. It’s currently only available for Android at the moment.

Here’s a screenshot of the app. In the text input, the screenshot has Wes þu hal (OE for Hello) written in runes: ᚹᛖᛋ᛫ᚦᚢ᛫ᚻᚪᛚ᛬

Screenshot for RuneTyper 0.1.1

I have big plans for this app. An ambitious plan is to allow one to switch between the various rune sets for the keyboard, but currently only the Fuþorc is available in the app. I also plan to release Windows and Linux versions, but need to add keyboard support first. If you can think of any other features that you’d like to suggest or run into any problems, post a comment below. If you enjoy the app or have any constructive criticism, please let me know in the comments as well!

If you want to download it, click on this link. I’m currently hosting it on my Google Drive, but will be starting a Github project for it soon. I will include the source code there as well when I get it set up.

Download RuneTyper 0.1.1 here!

Mægen for Spēd: A Framework for Understanding Offerings

A question that a lot of newcomers to Heathenry might wonder is What’s the point to offering to the gods? They may wonder how pouring some alcohol into a bowl is helpful to the entity that you are offering to. They may also wonder how it’s going to benefit them. The gifting cycle (basically, a gift demands a gift in return) is fundamental to not only Heathenry, but to most European pre-Christian spiritualities. But how is pouring an offering into your offering bowl actually giving to the gods?

This blog post is my attempt to put into words my understanding of how an offering works. It is by no means the only way of understanding the subject. I’m not sure how widespread this particular viewpoint is, so feel free to sound off in the comments what you agree and what you disagree with.

My understanding is based upon two concepts: mægen and spēd. They’re both Old English words, and I will give a brief overview of what they mean. I will also link to another Anglo-Saxon Heathenry blog that goes into more detail on each, in case you want more details on these words.

Mægen (pronounced my-ehn, as the combination æg made the vowel sound in my and try in Old English) basically means might or strength. But it’s not just referring to your physical might and strength, but also spiritual might and strength as well. We naturally generate mægen, but how well you take care of yourself (in a holistic way, meaning physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually) determines how much we have. The more mægen you have, the more you will be able to do, the more successful you will be in what you do. For more details, check out Beofeld’s page on his blog: More on Mægen

Spēd (pronounced like the modern English word spade) literally means “speed, success, means, substance, power, faculty, ability, opportunity”. The term Godspeed has its roots in this word. It basically means “May God grant you success”. In the context of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, it means the things “which we are blessed with by the gods.” For more info, check out Spēd, from Wind in the Worldtree.

When we offer an object to the gods, we are literally imbuing that object with some of our mægen. We’ve already given of our mægen for the money spent for the offering (in the case of handmade objects, the money to buy the materials we used and the time and effort we used to make it), as well as the hours of time it took to earn that money. But with our prayers and ritual action, we imbue the object with the spiritual variety of our mægen. The physical and spiritual varieties of our maegen become saturated within the offering object. After the ritual is done, we ritually “destroy” it by removing it from further human use. In a modern context, this is usually done by throwing away or burying the object. When this is done, all of that mægen is transferred to the entity that we offered it to. In a sense, we are nourishing that god or other spiritual being by providing them with strength.

So how do we benefit from offering to these beings? As I mentioned earlier, the gifting cycle forms the basis of Heathen spirituality. We give mægen to the gods in our offerings. They often choose to return the favour by giving us spēd. The form this spēd takes varies, but it’s usually some benefit done on our behalf. It may not even be something that we recognize as being from the gods, as I believe the gods work within the natural order that they help to maintain. For a farmer, for example, it may be just a little extra rain from Thunor over his particular plot of land that helps his crops grow a little bit better than that of his neighbours. Sometimes, it may be something major that we do recognize as being from the gods. I believe that the gods always repay a gift of mægen with spēd though, whether we recognize the spēd or not. I believe it’s part of the order that they established and maintain.

My Reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Calendar for 2021

For details on how I reconstruct my calendar, see my page on the Anglo-Saxon Calendar. I will add a couple notes here, however.

This year only has twelve new moons between the previous December solstice and this year’s December solstice. Therefore, it will not be a lap year, and only have twelve lunar months.

Each month begins on the young moon, when the first sliver of the moon is visible after the new moon. I estimate this for my calendar by adding 36 hours to the new moon’s time.

The Months

Month Name Begins on
Æfterra Gēola Thursday January 14, 2021
Solmōnaþ Saturday February 13, 2021
Hreþmonaþ Sunday March 14, 2021
Ēostremōnaþ Tuesday April 13, 2021
Þrimilcemōnaþ Thursday May 13, 2021
Ærra Liða Friday June 11, 2021
Æfterra Liða Sunday July 11, 2021
Weodmōnaþ Monday August 09, 2021
Hāligmōnaþ Wednesday September 08, 2021
Wintermōnaþ Thursday October 07, 2021
Blōtmōnaþ Saturday November 06, 2021
Ærra Gēola Sunday December 05, 2021

Holy Tides

Holiday Date
Ēastre Monday, April 26, 2021
Midsumor Monday, June 21, 2021
Winterfylleþ Thursday, October 21, 2021
Gēola Tuesday, December 21, 2021

My Hallowing Ritual

Wes þu hāl! When I wrote my blog post about My Ritual Format, I was in a bit of a pickle due to the Hallowing section of it. I had just learned that the Weonde song that I had been using was written by a very unsavory character (Swain Wodening). So I wrote a short invocation to the flame itself asking it to hallow my altar area. It works (fire itself has an intrinsic power in Heathen ritual), but it never felt quite right.

Shortly after I wrote that blog post, I discovered the Hallowing ritual used on Wind in the Worldtree blog. I fell in love with it instantly. It was written for outside rituals, so I adapted it slightly for use with an indoor ritual. So without further ado, here is how I do my Hallowing.

You will need two candles. One is your hearth fire, I like to use a votive candle for it. The second candle will be your “torch” candle. I like to use a small taper candle because it somewhat resembles a torch.

Light the torch candle. Holding the torch candle high over the edge of my altar that is opposite me, I say: “May the gods guide us!

Then I move the candle to the edge of the altar that is to my right, and say: “May our oaths keep us!

Holding the candle over the edge of the altar closest to me, I say: “May our deeds free us!”  

Holding the candle over the left edge of the altar, I say: “May our ancestors aid us always!

Then, starting back at the edge of the altar opposite me, I will circle the altar three times with the torch candle, saying this (one line for each rotation):

“May the gods banish from this place all ill and wrong, |
Hallow this space, shield this area from all baneful wights. |
Let the gods’ blessing be over our heads!”

With the torch candle, light the hearth candle. I then place the torch candle in a candle holder that sits next to the hearth fire, and start my prayers.

It’s a simple little ritual, but unlike other Hallowing rituals it is based upon the  Anglo-Saxon corpus. This gives it a little historicity. Beofeld (the author of Wind in the Worldtree) based it upon Lacnunga 133 (an Old English charm against “flying poison“), but  re-heathenized it. It’s worked powerfully for me. If you’re looking for a Hallowing ritual, I highly recommend giving it a try.

I Wrote a Heathen Fable: “The Old Wanderer”

I use to write fiction (mostly sci-fi short stories) quite a bit in my younger days. As I got older and had to spend more and more time doing the whole “adulting” thing, I spent less and less time writing. Until it fell by the wayside almost completely.

I decided recently that I needed to make time to start writing again, and the idea came to me that I should start with a fable. I initially posted this as a Twitter thread, but decided to do some slight editing and post it to my blog as well.

THE OLD WANDERER

An old wanderer came to a prosperous city. He pleaded for a meager meal and somewhere to sleep for the night.

The city folk replied, “We don’t like outsiders. Outsiders are nothing but trouble, bringing crime to our peaceful city. Be gone from us!”

So the old wanderer continued on.

He soon came upon a small town. Again he pleaded for just a meager meal and a place to sleep for the night.

The town’s people replied, “No, we will not give you a meager meal. We shall prepare for you a feast!”

As they ate and drank, the old wanderer told them about his travels, and the many places he had been. In exchange for their hospitality, he taught them many of the folk remedies he had learned along the way. Remedies for every ailment that plagues humanity.

After his meal, they provided him with the best room in town.

A few weeks after the old wanderer departed, a plague fell upon the land. The prosperous city was devastated. Many died.

The small town fared much better. Many became sick, but thanks to the old wanderer’s remedies, they all recovered without a single death. They gave many offerings of thanks to Woden the great healer for their good fortune.

Upon his great throne from which he could see all the seven worlds, Woden smiled as he saw the ‘good fortune’ of the small town that had welcomed him with open arms.

I started out writing a fable about hospitality. I think it does a good job at that, but I’ve noticed other Heathen values that could be gleaned from this as well.

There is a small demonstration of the gifting cycle. The town’s people provided him with a meal, and in return he gave them knowledge that saved many lives. In exchange, they gave him offerings of thanks for the ‘stranger’ that gave them the knowledge that allowed them to survive.

There is the concept of mægen (literally means strength, but it is often used to describe spiritual strength which attracts success and/or luck, and is roughly equivalent to the more generalized Heathen concept of luck) being strengthened by good deeds, and being diminished by evil deeds. The city folk turned him away, and so they did not get the knowledge he could have given them to save themselves. The town’s people welcomed him, and so they got that knowledge and so was able to mitigate the effects of the plague.

I would love to read your thoughts on The Old Wanderer. What did you like and/or dislike about this little story? Would you like to see more such content? Do you see any other Heathen concepts within this little fable? (I see a hint of wyrd, for example.) Feel free to sound off in the comments below!

The Afterlife

Heathenry, like much of paganism, is a religion which focuses on this life. Heathens worry more about cultivating relationships with their divine beings to gain their aid in making this life better, rather than trying to please a god to gain entrance into the hereafter. But to say Heathenry has no afterlife would also be inaccurate. While some Heathens believe this life is all we get, the majority believe that death is only a transition into an afterlife of some kind.

The fact that Heathens make offerings to their deceased family and friends imply that they believe they continue to exist in some form beyond the grave. Otherwise, these offerings would be being made in vain. In fact, this is our biggest clue that ancient Heathens believed in an afterlife of some kind. The grave goods which were made as gifts to the deceased, especially when weapons and food were the offerings made. This shows that they believed the ancestors needed these items in the afterlife.

While we can’t say with one hundred percent certainty what the Anglo-Saxons believed about the afterlife, I’d say the belief in an underworld- the realm of the dead- is a safe bet. Belief in the underworld seems to be almost universal in ancient cultures, and according to Isabelle Wallace, it may be “as old as humanity itself”.

Anglo-Saxon belief in an Underworld can be inferred from Old English literature. King Alfred refers to Cerebus, the hound that guards the entrance into the Greek underworld Hades, as the hell hund. This tells me that his Heathen ancestors’s view on Hell was similar enough to the Greek underworld, Hades, to equivalate the two. The Anglo-Saxons also used the word hellegod (“hell god”) as a gloss for an underworld deity. It would appear that to the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons, Hell was their name for the underworld.

Looking at Norse mythology, there is also an underworld, called Hel. Like the Greeks and Romans, the Norse underworld was ruled over by a deity that had the same name as the realm of the dead (though the Norse underworld was ruled over by a goddess instead of a male god).

So who would be the Anglo-Saxon hellegod? Following the example of other European mythologies would give a deity with the same name as the underworld. In the case of the Anglo-Saxons, it would be the goddess Hell. In The Old English Gospel of Nicodemus, there is actually a female character named Hell who flyts (has a competition of trading insults) with Satan and she even tells him to get out of her home! This Hell, I believe, is a survival in Old English folklore of the goddess of the underworld herself.

So what would an afterlife in the realm of Hell be like? The underworld is generally described as a dark and dreary place, but some mythologies include within it places they aren’t so. For example, in Hades you have the Elysian Fields and the Asphodel Meadows. The first was for Heroes, whereas the second was for ordinary souls who hadn’t committed any major crimes. The wicked were sent to Tartarus, which was more similar to the Christian Hell.

If you accept Frau Holle as an Underworld deity for continental Heathenry, then her underworld contained orchards and cottages, and doesn’t appear to be too much different than life on earth.

One thing is certain. None of the pre-Christian underworlds, including the Anglo-Saxon Hell, were like the Christian Hell. There is no fire and brimstone. Tartarus, in the Greek mythology, is close to the Christian Hell, in that the wicked are punished there, but that’s not the entirety of Hades. All humans went to Hades in the ancient Greek religion, and only the wicked were punished. Most ended up in the Asphodel fields.

A common euphemism in many ancient languages for death is something along the lines of “went to be with his/her ancestors” or “joined his/her ancestors”. In just about every ancient culture, they believed the soul of the deceased was united with their ancestors. They didn’t hope to be with their gods when they died, but rather to be with their loved ones who passed on before them. As mentioned, humans ended up in the underworld after they died, so that’s where they hoped to end up.

So what about Valhalla? Contrary to popular belief, Valhalla isn’t the Heathen heaven. Valhalla is, in Norse mythology, Odin’s hall where half those who are slain in battle go after they die. There, they fight to the death every day, and then are resurrected to do it all again the next day. It’s a training ground for Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle that kills almost all the gods, giants, and humans. Neither Ragnarok nor Valhalla, as far as I’ve been able to uncover, is attested to in any of the non-Norse Germanic sources, including Anglo-Saxons. Some believe they were inventions of Snorri (the Christian monk who wrote down most of the Norse mythology that has survived), based upon its similarities to the Christian Armageddon. But either way, it’s nowhere to be found in Anglo-Saxon Heathenry.

Before getting into my personal beliefs of the afterlife, I would like to talk about the ancient Heathen belief in the multi-part soul. The ancient Heathen concept of the soul divided it into several interdependent and connected parts. The number of parts and their names and functions very likely varied in different areas and times. But basically, different aspects of one’s self was ascribed to different parts of the soul. So one part was responsible for rationality, another for emotions, another for memory, etc. There was also a part that was said to travel outside the body (the fetch in certain traditions), the breath was considered a part of the soul, as was the body. The subject gets much more complicated, but this basic overview will suffice for the discussion at hand. (A more in depth discussion can be found at the blog Wind in the Worldtree, found here.)

So here is my personal belief on what happens after death. The multi-part soul fractures a bit when our breath leaves us at death, as I believe it is the glue that holds it together. The parts of the soul responsible for a person’s personality (emotions, memories, rationality) stay together, still tied together by the personality of who that person had become. This part begins a journey to the underworld asking with their grave goods, and there is reunited with their ancestors. The afterlife is spent with the soul maturing by learning from the stories of its ancestors, and by observing what continues to go on in the world with their descendants. When the soul reaches a certain maturity, it can return to our world to act as “guardian angels” (for lack of a better term), to protect and to aid their descendants.

Other parts of the soul become ghosts that stay in our world, remembering only a fraction of what had happened in their lifetime. They can eventually join other groups of wights such as elfs, dwarfs, etc, and become that type of wight. (We have Norse sources where the Norse regarded some of these wights as their ancestors, particularly some elfs and disir.) I do not believe all wights are parts of humans souls left behind, of course, but I believe some of them are. I think a part of the soul left behind may even join with the forming soul of a fetus, explaining why some people have fragments of memories from past lives while others seem to remember nothing at all with even the best past life regression techniques.

This is simply my beliefs about the afterlife, based upon my research and experiences. I am not dogmatic about them, and always love to hear differing viewpoints! So I’d love to hear your thoughts on the afterlife in the comments section below.

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