Thursday, March 21, 2019
Ostara is the Germanic goddess of spring and the rising morning sun. She represents nature’s resurrection from its deep winter sleep. A daughter of Woton and Fricka, she accompanied her brother Donar when he led the many processions celebrating victory over the winter giants in spring. She was also called the May Queen and the figures known as the May Count and May Countess, who often presided over Easter pageantry and spring festivals, most certainly are references to Donar and Ostara.
Reverence for the goddess was so firmly rooted in ancient ceremonies celebrating the vernal equinox that her name was subsequently transferred to the Christian feast day commemorating the resurrection of Christ. “Ostar” means morning, or rather, the direction from which the first spring rays of sunshine emanate. Easter month is the month of April, the time of nature’s reawakening and the Christian festival of resurrection.
On Easter Sunday the sun purportedly took three leaps of joy – delighting over the return of spring according to early pagan beliefs. The priests said these “jubilatory jumps” honored the risen Christ.
According to folk tradition, Easter water must be collected from a flowing stream at daybreak and the person who carries it home must not let any sound escape from his lips. If he forgets, the Easter water becomes babbling water and it loses all of its healing properties. The water must be scooped up at the precise moment the sun rises and the collector must bow three times in the direction of the sun. Sealed bottles of this holy water were stored in dark places and used throughout the entire year as healing agent against eye ailments and other sufferings.
The rabbit, considered to be Ostara’s favorite animal because of its fecundity, and the egg, considered to be a symbol of germinating life, were therefore dedicated to the goddess and forever associated with springtime celebrations. This gave rise to the belief that the Easter Bunny laid Easter Eggs on Maundy Thursday. Naturally, the eggs were dyed the colors of Donar and Ostara, red and yellow. Such colorful eggs were then brought to the gods as spring offerings. The custom of dying and presenting eggs at Easter has survived to this day.
The first night in the mild month of May was dedicated to the goddess Ostara. Giant fires were lit symbolizing the power of Donar and May flowers were strewn to honor the goddess Ostara. There were celebratory processions and in some locations it was popular to burn an effigy representing the giant-winter. Conquered by Donar’s superior power, this ritual burning signified winter’s power now broken. As Europe became Christianized, this spring narrative changed from “Nature is awakening” to “Christ is risen”.
Later, an attempt was made to remove the fervently revered goddess Ostara from the picture altogether, replacing her with the Holy Saint Walpurga. The saint’s feast day was set on the eve of April 30 to May 1st. Easter bonfires were now referred to as the devil’s fire and Ostara and her attendants became witches. The festival associated with the goddess was now referred to as the witch’s Sabbath and was supposedly held at Blocksberg Mountain. Blocksberg is the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz region of Germany. This mountain is closely tied to German folklore as is the Teutoburg Forest. On Walpurgistnacht witches were said to ride their firey broomsticks through the air and meet at this dancing site.
To protect against such dreadful demons, a farmer was advised to paint three crosses on his barn door and place a broom across the threshold because malevolent spirits were said to retreat at the sight of a cross and broom. Whoever did not take such precautions might find that his cows had been visited by a dreadful disease in the morning, or that they now gave red instead of white milk.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
From the Gesta Romanorum: The Drinking Horn
There is a small mountain in the kingdom of England (also known as land of the Angles) that looks like the shape of a man reaching for the pinnacle. Knights and huntsmen often sought this place as a refuge when they were exhausted from heat or thirst. Indeed, once it happened that a solitary wanderer who had been separated from his comrades climbed this mountain. He spoke to himself as if in the company of another: “I am really quite thirsty!” And immediately a cupbearer appeared at his side and in his extended hand he held a large drinking horn decorated with gold and precious stones. This is the type of drinking horn some people used instead of a cup. The cupbearer offered him this vessel filled with an unknown but extremely sweet nectar. Immediately after he drank from it, the heat and fatigue faded from his body and it seemed that he hadn’t exerted himself at all but rather should now take up the task at hand with renewed vigor. After he had sipped the drink the servant gave him a clean linen cloth to dry his lips. And upon finishing this service he vanished without expecting a reward for his assistance nor was there another request or demand. The wanderer did this for many years until he reached an advanced age and it had become a well known and daily occurrence. Finally a certain knight was out hunting and arrived at the very spot and demanded a drink. When he received it he did not return the drinking horn after he sipped, as was the custom, but rather he kept it for his own further use. When his lord discovered this matter he condemned the thief to death and gave the drinking horn to an English King, Henry the Old, so that no one would think that he had approved such an enormous transgression.