So with the coming of the Spring Equinox comes the Wiccan celebration of Ostara. Ostara, according to Jacob Grimm, is a potential Old High German equivalent of the Old English term Eostra - from which comes Eostre who is, allegedly, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring.
The only mention of Eostre, the goddess, comes from the venerable Bede who states that the Anglo-Saxon month equivalent to April comes from Eostru-month which, he says, was named after the goddess who was honored at this time. There is no other mention of this goddess, her attributes, or any worship to her.
There is speculation whether this goddess ever actually existed and, if she did, what she was associated with.
Etymologically speaking, "The Old English term Eastre ultimately derives from ast - meaning the direction of east. This suggests it originally referred to a goddess associated with dawn. Corresponding traditions occur with the Roman goddess Aurora and the Greek goddess Eos"
Some critics of Bede, including Ronald Hutton, suggest that "the Anglo-Saxon Eostur-monath meant simply 'the month of opening' or 'the month of beginnings'."
From 'The Stations of the Sun':
'Our sole authority for Eostre is Bede, who says that she was the Anglo-Saxon goddess after whom the month of April is named. He did not associate her with hares, and modern scholarship finds her name cognate with many Indo-European words for dawn, which presents a high possibility that she was a dawn-goddess, and so April as the Eostre-month was the month of opening and new beginning, which makes sense in a North German climate.'
This would also connect it to the Julian calendar somewhat. As Eostre may have been a dawn goddess, like Eos... so, too, does April on the Julian calendar possibly derive from "aperire (to open)" - "since this was the month that fruits and flowers blossomed."
Also, many of the other Anglo-Saxon month names are translated as seasonal events and not after gods or goddesses. For instance:
Æftera Géola - After Yule Sol-mónaþ - Sun Month - or Fillibrook - Brook-Filling - I have seen this translated as "Mud Month" as well. Þrimilci-mónaþ - Month of Three Milkings Ærra Líða - Before Midsummer Æftera Líða - After Midsummer Weod-mónaþ - Plant month - Another translation is "weed month" Hálig-mónaþ - Holy Month or Hærfest-mónaþ - Harvest Month Winterfylleþ - Winter-filled or Rugern - Rye harvest Blót-mónaþ - Blót Month Ærra Géola - Before Yule
The notion of Eostru-monath meaning "month of openings" would certainly fit the naming convention for most of the rest of the months, so there seems to reason to presume that Bede's interpretation was correct...
The connections between Eostre and fertility come not even from Grimm or Bede but from some people allegations that Eostre is related to Ishtar - tho this seems to be an assumption based on the similarities of the names more than any actual known connection between Sumero-Babylonian and Germanic cultures. There are also some stories which claim that Astarte fell to earth in an egg; however, any and all historical accounts of the myth I was able to find said that she fell to earth as a bright star - which would make infinitely more sense, considering that Ishtar/Astarte are associated with being the Star of Heaven.
Anyway, further claims about Eostre say that she was represented by the egg and some fanciful versions of the story have it that a hare was so dedicated to Eostre that he followed her around and laid eggs. These are, allegedly, where the Easter Egg and Easter Bunny come from - since Easter clearly comes from Eostre. However, as has been previously stated, we know absolutely nothing about the assocations of Eostre, if she existed. We certainly don't have any surviving mythology about her and eggs and bunnies. All of these stories are, as far as I can tell, modern Neopagan inventions, assuming the fertility aspects and them associating her with fertility symbols of the season...
One version of the Eostre bunny story
Now I'm not trying to burst anyone's bubbles... if you want a fanciful story about the Eostre bunny dedicated to the goddess of Spring, then go for it. Just don't claim it as historical fact...
Ok - so why the egg and bunny? Well, I have little doubt that these are symbolic of spring and renewal and fertility and all those other things. Afterall, birds will be laying eggs and bunnies will be doing that which they are known for ;)
I'm unclear, though, if pagan cultures did exchange and/or decorate eggs in these season as I heard some sites claim. The only specific reference I found was to the Persian New Year festival of Nowruz which had, amongst various other things, an egg on a mirror... and the Persion festival comes from Zoroastrianism which heavily influenced Judaism, and eggs are a part of the Passover meal. Also, for Lent, Christians gave up both meat and eggs, and would hard boil the eggs so as to keep them fresh. Eggs became an Easter treat because they were denied during the whole season of Lent...
Personally, I think I've decided I like the Roman approach to festivities. They didn't have one day to honor the Spring, but rather they had several different festivals to honor different parts of it... for instance:
Fordicidia, April 15. Honored Tellus, Goddess of Earth, and was observed by slaughtering pregnant cows, taking the unborn calves from the womb, and burning theim inorder to insure fertility for the growing corn. Cerealia, April 19. Celebrates the beginning of the six vegetative months. Parilia, April 21. Honored the pastoral goddes Pales, and was observed by driving sheep through burning straw. Also called Palilia. Vinalia, April 23. A festival celebrated by sampling new wine. Robigalia, April 25. (A festival to ward off mold and blight on fields/crops) Floria, April 28 to May 3. (A festival honoring Flora, the goddess of flowers and the opening of the buds)
My only complaint is that they have Spring starting in April... and I'm more than ready for it in March! But what we do have in March is sort of a continuation of what Imbolc represents to me - the lengthening of days, the strengthening of the light, and the stirrings of Spring... the promise of things to come... and a preparation for and beginning of the time of opening...
And it's a time to pay attention, day-by-day, to the way things are changing and take note and give reverence where heeded... and reflect on the changes... and remember it's not one amorphous celebration where we try to jam every possible connotation in... but a daily reflection on "what's new today... "