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5 Great Things to Heathens Can Do to Celebrate Eostre Anytime (and While Under Quarantine)

5 Great Things to Heathens Can Do to Celebrate Eostre Anytime (and While Under Quarantine)

Okay, by now you’re all probably sick and tired of the quarantines and stay-at-home directives. It’s no big thing for me because I’m a writer, and more importantly, an introvert. (Gosh, a writer with a scientific degree? An introvert? Unheard of!) Anyhow, while the Christians are bemoaning they can’t go to mass for Easter, we Heathens can still celebrate the month of Eostre. Even if you’re the sole Heathen among people of other faiths in your household, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy yourself during this time. Here are five ways you can celebrate the Feast of Eostre (whether or not you believe she is a goddess):

1. Dye Eostre Eggs with Your Own Natural Dyes

This one takes a little bit of work and some ingredients, but the colors are spectacular and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try it at least once. Most of the ingredients are probably already in your refrigerator or pantry. Here are some links to recipes for dyeing your eggs with natural ingredients that are completely safe (unless you have an allergy to particular food ingredients):

  • Kitchn has some eggcellent recipes for dyeing your eggs colors such as blue, pink, lavender, yellow, and orange. They tell you what your eggs will look like if you use white eggs or brown eggs. (Hint: use both and have a host of cool colors!)
  • Good Housekeeping has similar recipes, but includes a way to make your eggs dark blue. I like their suggestions.

Dyeing eggs with your own colors is more fun than using tablets out of a package. And you’ll probably like the results better.

2. Eostre Egg Hunts for the Kids (and Pets)

This one doesn’t have to be for kids only, but if you’re alone or staying home with your significant other and no one else, this isn’t probably as fun as it could be. Naturally if you have a yard, hiding eggs becomes easier, but you can also hide eggs in a specific room. If you hide eggs inside, be sure to have an egg count, otherwise you may be in for a nasty surprise (and smell) in a couple of weeks. And while you’re at it, if you have a pet, you might want to hide some treats for them and show them the first few treats, so they might get the idea of searching for treats. Dogs can usually figure this out, but I’m not discounting cats.

3. Have a Feast in Honor of the Gods and Goddesses of Spring

Whether or not you believe that Eostre was the Anglo Saxon goddess (or Ostara, a Germanic goddess) of spring and fertility, we can always hold a feast in honor of the gods and goddesses of spring. Roast a pig or ham in honor of Freyr, and dedicate the feast in honor of him, Freyja, Thor, Gerdr, Sif, and Idunn, among any other gods and goddesses you’d like to include. Even if you’re a solitary Heathen, you can make yourself some pork and make an offering or blot to the gods.

4. Get Your Garden Planted

Whether you live on a farm, in the suburbs, or in the city, you can have your own garden, even if it is only a container garden. In most parts of America, it’s warm enough to start seedlings outdoors, and for those of us who live in the colder climates, we can start them indoors. Not sure what to plant? Start with herbs. Most are easy enough to grow, and you can dry them and use them in a number of recipes and in rituals. Container gardens are great for apartment dwellers because they take up very little room and they are portable.

5. Meditate Outdoors

It’s springtime, which means that you should probably enjoy the outdoors. But with the quarantine, you may be pressed to find a spot where you can enjoy yourself. With meditation, you don’t need a big place to get away: your balcony or backyard will do. Or, if you’re not under a strict stay-at-home order, find a quiet place in a park or forest where you can be away from people and simply meditate. Never meditated before? Check out Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. Meditate on the season and the world around you. It will help ground you as a Heathen plus put you more in touch with the gods and goddesses of Heathenry.

Okay, so now you have some things to do for celebrating the Feast of Eostre. Go, and have fun. And stuff yourself with chocolate bunnies, because I said so. Next post, I’ll give you ideas for keeping yourself and the kids busy while indoors.

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How Heathens can Celebrate Easter with Christians

How Heathens can Celebrate Easter with Christians

If you’re like me, chances are you have Christian relatives who celebrate some form of the Christian holiday of Easter. If you’re the only Heathen in your family, you may get an earful about what is considered the most holy time that Christians celebrate.  Still, unless you’re looking to cut ties with your family–and I don’t recommend that–you may be looking for ways to enjoy the Easter celebrations.  If you’re a Heathen who loves to get into fights with family members over Christian holidays, or at least not willing to put aside your differences for one or two days, this post isn’t for you.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can get involved with minimal headaches.

Put Your Pride on the Back Burner (or Don’t be an Asshole)

Unless you have an extremely open-minded family/extended family, most of them are going to take a dim view of you not being Christian.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. They’ve been indoctrinated into the Christian belief system, and it’s unlikely you’re going to change their minds. You’re going to the Christian hell, and that’s all there is to it, (unless they can persuade you into the fold/back into the fold), and they really don’t get why you would worship pagan gods.  At this point, all you can do is grit your teeth and hope to get through the Christian talk without losing your cool.

That being said, understand that this is a Christian holiday, even if they took on the pagan trappings surrounding it.  Easter is considered to be more important to the Christian religions than Christmas, so realize that you are the outside here. It is you who is extended the olive branch, not them.  So, don’t expect for them to understand/accept you being Heathen in their most holy time.

Because this is their most holy time, mentioning the appropriation of Eostre’s holiday at the Easter dinner is probably not going to do you any favors. Yes, they eat ham, which honors Freyr, but let it slide. Yes, they decorate eggs.  Yes, they associate chicks and bunnies with Christ’s death and resurrection, but pointing out the incongruity of it all won’t cut it. If we want to maintain the peace in our celebrations, it is better to sit and listen rather than fight a foolish battle. This is their Easter–not ours, so let’s respect their religion, just like we’d want them to respect ours.

So, What Can You Enjoy?

At this point, you’re wondering what you can enjoy out of Easter.  There are a lot of cool things you can do and still be part of the Easter celebration.  Here are some of the things I recommend.

Egg Coloring

We color eggs for springtime, so there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy coloring eggs with your Christian family. Talking about spring and its renewal, as well as the cycle of life, is fairly safe.

Easter Egg Hunt

Why not hold an Easter egg hunt? Put together some of those plastic eggs and fill them with goodies. Hide them and watch as your family searches for them. You’ll all enjoy it.

Chicks and Bunnies

Whether live, toy, or simply drawings, the images of chicks and bunnies are pretty much safe territory.  You may want to talk about the Oschter Haws which was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers. Avoiding the Urglaawe references, your Christian family may be delighted to learn that that’s where the Easter bunny who laid colorful eggs came from.

Easter Candy

Easter candy originates from clever marketing by candy makers in the 19th century to capitalize on an untapped market. There’s no reason for you to mention this, nor is there any reason why you can’t have some yummy candy in pagan symbols such as rabbits, chicks, and eggs.

Easter Brunch or Dinner

Never turn down a good feast, even if it’s in honor of a god you don’t follow.  All the trappings are Heathen, or at least, pagan, so enjoy spending time with family and friends. You may want to even bring some mead so your family may enjoy something a little different than the traditional grape wines. Toast to your family and to those family members who are no longer with you. You’ll be honoring the ancestors and still not offend your family.

Talk about Family, both Present and Past

Speaking of family, strike up a conversation about your family and your ancestors. Talk positively about them, or if someone in the family knows a particularly good story about an ancestor or a relative who is alive, encourage them to relay that story.  As the good Doctor says, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.”

Listen to Your Family, Even if You Disagree with Them

If your family starts talking about Christianity, listen to them. You don’t have to agree with them, but when they tell you about their faith, they tell you about themselves. Ask questions. Ask why they believe what they believe, and don’t argue with them over their beliefs. You may discover that your mom believes in the Christian god because she finds comfort in a god who promises to care for her. Or your dad might actually not believe in the god but goes to church because the family does it. Or maybe your cousin is an atheist at heart.  You can learn a lot about your family just by listening.

Go to Church with them

This suggestion is somewhat dangerous when it comes to family, not because you’re likely to change your faith, but more likely because you may offend or get into an argument with a family member. Some Christians, most notably Catholics, have rules against participating in sacraments such as the Eucharist (the bread and wine) because they believe you must be of their denomination to participate. (It has to do with transmogrification, but that’s another long post.)

Why go to church with your family?  Well, first it puts you on the same page as your family members so if they discuss the sermon, you know what was said. Secondly, you can see Christianity with all its pagan influences.  Third, churches often have amazing artwork that is worth seeing.

Just sit and watch as they go through sitting, kneeling, and standing routines. Listen.  It may seem worthless, but in a way you are gathering intelligence about this religion. That way, you understand your family’s behavior a bit better.

Take Time Out for Our Gods, Wights, and Ancestors

I’ve given you ideas for keeping the peace with your Christian relatives.  But this isn’t about Heathenry, it’s about keeping the peace in your extended family. Before you join in the Easter festivities, make an offering to the gods, especially Frigga and Frau Holle, the wights, and your ancestors for a peaceful gathering. And thank them after the day for their help, especially if things went successfully.

Hopefully, I’ve given you ideas for staying sane around Christians during their holiday.  If, in the end, you do decide to try out some of these ideas, I’d be interested to learn how they worked out.

If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a patron of The Rational Heathen.  For about the cost of a Starbucks’ coffee a month, you can get information not on the blog as well as early releases of the post such as this one.  There are other levels of support as well, so feel free to check it out.  What’s more, you only pay for the posts you get.  So, if I don’t produce anything, you don’t owe anything.  It’s a great way to encourage me to write, and to produce really cool things.  Join up at Patreon and become The Rational Heathen’s patron!

Hail the Goddesses and Gods of Spring

Hail the Goddesses and Gods of Spring

As we approach the vernal equinox, winter starts to lose her icy grasp and  spring slowly slips in. Spring for me means mud season, which isn’t  something I or my livestock particularly enjoy. One of my goats gave  birth on the Ides of March to a lovely buckling.  I had to come up with  makeshift quarters for them and bring the kids inside at night due to  the cold and predators.  I’m now on kid watch for the last pregnant doe  of the season, which means checking on her every couple of hours.  Yay  me.  Hence the lateness of the blogs.

Here up  north, we’re still in Skadi’s grasp, although the winter goddess is  slowly relenting to the gentle hands of the spring goddesses and gods.   These goddesses and gods are powerful in their own right, and while we  may not know everything about them, I think we can make some good  assumptions about them.  Let’s look at them.

Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

Eostre or Ostara

If you want to start up an argument between  Heathens or between Heathens and Christians, mention Eostre, the Anglo  Saxon goddess of spring and rebirth. (In German, it’s believed to be  Ostara.)  A goodly portion of recons think that Eostre was simply the  name of April and St. Bede suggested it was the name of a goddess when  it wasn’t.  Christians will accuse you of trying to undermine Easter if  you mention it.  Nevertheless, if you wish to enjoy a feast day to  Eostre, do it. I have a whole post dedicated to Eostre and why I think she was probably a real goddess.

In Urglaawe, practitioners believe in the goddess  Oschdra (Ostara?) who  gives the Oschter Haws (Easter Rabbit) the  ability to spread color throughout the world in the spring. The Oschter Haws was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers where the Easter rabbit laid colorful eggs.

That  being said, if you’re an Eostre believer,  celebrate with candy,  colored eggs, bunny rabbits, and chicks. (The candy, incidentally, is a  later addition of more modern times.)  Have fun and enjoy yourself.   Make an offering to Eostre for the spring.

Idunn

Idunn, of the golden apples fame, is the goddess of spring,  renewal, and immortality, is certainly a terrific goddess to honor in  the springtime. She’s interesting not only because she’s a powerful  goddess, who keeps the gods young, but she wasn’t born into the Aesir or  Vanir (though you can make a case for her being Vanir, being a goddess  of fertility.)  She hails from alfar blood, making her one of the Elves.

She’s  particularly important because without her, the gods would grow old and  die.  Her apples bring youth to those gods who do age.

Freyja

When talking about spring, I feel that you simply must  include Freyja.  Freyja is a Vanir and a fertility goddess.  Without  Freyja we would have no beginnings when it comes to new life. She is  literally the conception of life, and my own UPG suggests spring is  indeed her time. As such a powerful goddess, she has many roles: goddess  of war, love, beauty, seidr, and death.

Freyr

If Freyja one of the quintessential goddesses of spring,  Freyr is one of the gods of spring. One could make the argument  (successfully, I might add), that he is a summer god.  But Freyr also  has the duty of gestation and growth.  He is the male god of fertility,  but he is often associated with germination. It just makes sense he is a  fitting god for spring.

If you think about Easter  celebrations, you’ll note that a traditional Easter meal is a ham.  No  surprise there.  I’ve read that Christianity was happy enough to  incorporate the pagan traditions of eating ham at Easter when ham was  originally eaten in honor of Freyr. As Heathens, having a traditional  ham dinner is certainly a great way to celebrate spring and Freyr.

Thor

On first blush, Thor seems out of place in the list of  deities having to do with spring. But the thunderer is certainly  considered a god who brings the rains which helps the fields to grow.   Little wonder that he is married to Sif, who is a spring/summer goddess  in her own right. Thor presides over the wind, rain, and even the  crops.  It makes sense that he is considered a major god and one who  presides over spring and summer.

Sif

If Thor brings about  rain to the crops, it is Sif, his wife, who receives the rain. She’s  definitely a fertility goddess and an earth goddess.  The story about  how Loki cuts her golden hair and must find a substitute for her is a  suggestion that her hair is the wheat crops. (Incidentally, cutting a  woman’s hair was a sign that she was unfaithful — something to think  about when reading that Loki found his way into her bedroom and cut her  hair while she was sleeping.)  But, I digress here.  Sif is certainly an  earth goddess and spring and summer is her time.

Honoring the Gods and Goddesses of Spring

Springtime  is a transition time. As modern day Heathens, we acknowledge that the  equinox is the first day of spring.  However, in ancient times, our  ancestors looked at spring differently.  Spring was believed to maybe start with Grundsaudaag or Groundhog’s Day in Urglaawe tradition.  The groundhog replaced the badger or bear in German tradition.  While,  we’re well past Groundhog’s Day, we can hold a feast in honor of spring  and our spring gods and goddesses.

Sigrblot usually comes in April and is celebrated with offerings to Freyr and Freyja.  Most pagans consider May 1st as a celebration time of spring which  includes Walpugisnach.  While it may be a more modern interpretation of  the Heathen calendar, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy it. Unless  you’re a member of the recon rabble, there’s no reason why you can’t  adopt Heathen and pagan traditions your own holidays as you see fit.

I  mentioned coloring eggs and rabbits as part of the Eostre celebrations.  Even if there wasn’t an Eostre, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take our  older Heathen traditions that survived and changed, and make them in  honor of the spring goddesses and gods you do wish to venerate.  I think they will be pleased.

If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a patron of The Rational Heathen.  For about the cost of a Starbucks’ coffee a month, you can get information not on the blog as well as early releases of the post such as this one.  There are other levels of support as well, so feel free to check it out.  What’s more, you only pay for the posts you get.  So, if I don’t produce anything, you don’t owe anything.  It’s a great way to encourage me to write, and to produce really cool things.  Join up at Patreon and become The Rational Heathen’s patron!

Eostre — Was Easter Appropriated?

Eostre — Was Easter Appropriated?

As the Rational Heathen, I’ve been called out occasionally on agreeing with the beliefs that Christianity appropriated the trappings and dates of pagan festivals and gave them a shiny new coat of paint and something for the masses to celebrate instead of their old customs.  While I agree that in some cases, particularly Eostre/Ostara, we don’t have the proof, my gut tells me that the trappings surrounding Easter has more to do with pagan origins than Christian ones.  Let me explain.

Easter Bunnies Do Not Make Sense from a Christian Standpoint

While growing up, I had a tough time swallowing the whole rabbit/egg/chicks thing when it came to the resurrection of Christ.  Don’t get me wrong–I love chocolate and eggs and the whole idea of renewal, BUT…nowhere in the Christian bible is there a rabbit handing out eggs and candy.  Nor is a rabbit or an egg linked as a symbol of resurrection in the bible.  I suppose we could look at these as symbols of resurrection, but that sounds remarkably like a rite of spring and not Christ rising from the dead. Yes, yes, we could point to spring as the earth resurrecting from winter, but given that Christ’s crucifixion was only during spring because of Passover (Jesus went to Jerusalem during the feast of Passover), there’s no real bunny-earth-chocolate connection there. The bible doesn’t make that connection, so why do we?  More likely we’ve had something that pointed to rabbits and birds as symbols of springtime as a time of renewal.  I suspect it is the way we celebrated the return of fertility and birth of animals and plants. Being the clever Christians, they quickly pointed to the rabbits and baby birds and said they’re symbols of the Christian Easter.  Easter, which existed for Christians, needed a shiny paint job to get everyone on board with it. Why not go with the fluffy and cute, which probably was already there in the pagan world?

The Easter Bunny

Even History.com admits the ubiquitous Easter bunny most likely has pagan roots because rabbits are prolific little buggers.  What better way to show fertility and new life than something that breeds…er, like rabbits?  The Germans who showed up in the United States in the early 1700s are said to have brought their stories of “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws,” an egg-laying rabbit. (Incidentally, this isn’t the only occasion Germanic peoples have brought holiday customs to the United States–Christmas is a biggie too.)  It’s interesting to note that Osterhase has a similar root to Ostara.  A coincidence?  Unlikely.

Other candidates for passing out eggs included foxes, storks, and other birds. Let’s continue.

Eggs

I’m pretty sure Christ wasn’t hatched, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that the colored egg thing isn’t really a Christian thing. A nice stretch the History Channel made–and to be honest, I’ve heard this too–is that the egg symbolizes Christ’s resurrection from the tomb.  Okay, then.  The custom of painting eggs goes back to the 1200s.  Why?  Well, they think that maybe eggs weren’t allowed to be eaten during Lent and painting the eggs for Easter made them extra special.  I can see that…maybe.  In which case, it was a way to make nasty old eggs look yummy.  (The fasting in Lent generally lasts 40 days–you’d have a lot of eggs by then.)  I grew up Roman Catholic, but not eating eggs wasn’t part of Lent when I was growing up. In fact, the Catholic Bishops say eggs are okay, even if you go with the traditional fast.  Maybe this is something pre-Vatican II?

But then we still have the Osterhase who lays colored eggs.  Who knows?  Maybe both contributed to it. One German site I found says that the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Persians looked at eggs as the symbol for rebirth and fertility.  I’m not relying on this site, but it does make sense that a Middle East death cult would take on the trappings of pagan symbols.

Candy

I’d love to claim candy as a pagan/heathen tradition, but really the Easter candy started with chocolate eggs in the early 1800s.  Probably a nice little marketing idea.  I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t give out chocolate eggs at the crucifixion or at the resurrection.

But What About Eostre/Ostara?

Eostre/Ostara isn’t a goddess we know much about.  But I suspect we’ve lost much since the rise of Christianity.  It’s interesting that St. Bede is the reason we even know about Eostre.  He wrote in the 8th century about Eostre who had the month of April bearing her name. There are some folk who even dispute whether or not Eostre was a goddess, but I think it is likely she was. Given the general fertility rites of spring, we can guess that Eostre was a dawn and fertility goddess, akin in some ways to Freyja. Wikipedia states:

“As the Germanic languages descend from Proto-Indo-European (PIE), historical linguists have traced the name to a Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn *H₂ewsṓs (→ *Ausṓs), from which descends the Common Germanic divinity from whom Ēostre and Ostara are held to descend…”

I suspect that Eostre and Ostara are names for the Greek goddess of the dawn, Aurora, but this is conjecture on my part. Still the names have basically the same roots, which means that the goddess was worshiped well before our ancestors separated. It also gives me credence when I say that Eostre/Ostara was a goddess and not just a name for opening or new things.

When we talk about Eostre existing or not, this is all more or less by guess and by golly.  Yes, there has been at least one person who has put forth some very convincing arguments that she didn’t exist. No, I’m not convinced, but with good reason.  We just don’t know. The problem with his arguments is no one has a time machine (yet) that allows us to go back and see what really happened.  Where is the Doctor when you need him? (Did you REALLY think I was going to write a post without a Doctor Who reference?  Oh, ye of little faith!)

Trying to Reconstruct from the Ashes

Doctor Who aside, we Heathens are basically left with the smoldering remnants of what used to be a rich and detailed belief system.  We can only gain glimpses of what our ancestors believed and try our best to reconstruct and fill in the blanks. Some of us hear the gods and goddesses and can write about our UPGs, but there’s really no way we can find out scientifically what actually existed without some new artifacts, or someone somehow going back in time and bringing us the information.

Our neolithic ancestors were very sophisticated people who were unlucky enough to not have invented a written language. Even the Norse and Germanic tribes, while they did have the runes, they were used for ceremonies and inscriptions. Looking at the stone age construction we’ve discovered in recent times, shows that our ancestors were quite capable of building impressive temples, stone homes such as those in Skara Brae, and stone monuments.  But much of what they created did not survive. Statues made of wood rotted or were burned. Metal statues of gods were most likely melted down and reused. Without identifiable written language and without much art of gods or goddesses available (and knowing that’s what the art depicted), it’s  questionable that we can ever truly reconstruct what happened in our past.

Whether you believe Eostre is a construct of Bede or not, the point is that Christians took on pagan trappings to ease the masses into their religion. After all, if your god accepts bunnies, chicks, and colored eggs–which is something you did to celebrate your former god–it probably doesn’t matter much to you that the names changed.  It’s the same thing, just a slightly different flavor if you keep the basics intact.