The goddess of the rising light, and he is risen indeed

Aine dances through the piercing blue and the forsythia, abloom, pitch in the wind. It’s been a dry April so far, full of flowers, as if the calendar skipped a month and went directly to May.

Today happens to be Christendom’s Holy Day — and one of those times of year that some Pagans gripe over “stolen” traditions. Easter comes from the name of the Anglo-Saxon dawn goddess, Eostre; her name is related to the Greek Eos, Roman Aurora and Indian Ushas, all goddess of the rising light. She gave her name to the entire month in which her festival arose — the dawn of the day and the dawn of the growing season, dancing together in a waltz of gold.

References to Eostre, however, stem from a single eighth-century passage by the Venerable Bede, long after the Pagan holiday was replaced by the Christian one. What is undeniable: cavorting rabbits, eggs and flowers — the hallmark of the holiday — are all linked to spring, which is really what Easter celebrates, Christian veneer aside.

And what’s wrong with that? Whatever our faith path, we can share the joy of flowers, fine weather and our feathered friends singing, the rabbit running through the newly green grass, the sweetness of a Cadbury egg.

I’ve spoken with Baptists who eschewed the use of “Happy Easter” as a greeting, pointing to the goddess and its Pagan roots. Instead, they use: “He is risen,” with the reply, “He is risen indeed.” To which I — as a lifelong Pagan — start choking on my tongue. “He is risen” reminds one of another spring Pagan festival, which goes by the name of Beltane or May Day — a fertility festival. While Maypoles don’t stem from ancient times, in today’s rites they are viewed as phallic symbols, but in sacred sense. The spring is when life comes alive and mates, whether pollen-showering trees and plants, nest-building birds or critters with all four paws on the ground.

He is risen, indeed.

Like most modern Druids, I celebrate Mean Erraigh, or the Vernal Equinox as my “Eostre.” The ancient Celts didn’t seem to venerate the solstices or equinoxes; their four great festivals were on the cross-quarter days of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. And like other ancient cultures, they divided the seasons differently than we do; Beltane was the start of summer and Samhain the start of winter. Spring and fall weren’t part of the seasonal reckoning. This may seem odd to modern folks, but they were a largely pastoral people; the two seasons reflected their experiences.To wit, “Beltane: Cows go out to pasture. Samhain: Cows come home.”

That being said, I don’t live in ancient Eire and thus I honor the four seasons. Frankly, I love the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year because it spaces out holidays so evenly across the seasons. It’s an opportunity to pause and take note of the natural world around you, to see what it’s doing at different times of the year.

So, whatever your faith path, get out there and notice. And eat an egg while you’re at it.


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