‘April is the cruellest month’ says T S Eliot in the opening line of The Wasteland presumably precisely because this month can be so beautiful. Those who remember the 1980s and one of the best bands of that decade Talk Talk might be reminded of the classic track April 5th on the album The Colour of Spring.
The Anglo-Saxon festival of Eostre, which took place in Eostremonaþ, during the modern month of April, celebrated the coming of spring personified as a shining or radiant goddess.
The word ‘Eostre’ is cognate with the word ‘dawn’ in certain other Indo-European languages for example Sanskrit. In the Germanic languages it has the meaning of ‘from the east’. As such the goddess is associated with sunrise and more specifically spring, the fertile sunrise of the year. A Christian spin later and we see her bowed at the foot of the Cross for Easter.
Regardless of historical accuracy, it seems reasonable to imagine her as a young attractive woman with flowers in her hair and if virginal then not for long as the year moves quickly on to the pregnancy of summer.
A tree in my garden April 2011
As always with the Anglo-Saxons one is never sure exactly how they viewed this goddess or what form her celebrations took but we might be put in mind of dedicated woodland bowers, dancing, weddings, and various floral festivals the form of which probably shared some characteristics with festivals that are still enjoyed today.
It is equally possible that the celebrations included more overtly sexual rituals of which D H Lawrence might have approved. There may have been a ritual similar to the sacrificial dance portrayed in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We shall never know.
Primavera by Sandro Botticelli 1482
What we can be sure of is that our pagan ancestors would not have sat idly about stuffing themselves with chocolate eggs in front of the telly, even if the eggs themselves are an inheritance of some druidic ceremony that took place on these islands prior to the Engla Tocyme.
We may also be way off in imagining Eostre as a kind of beautiful but seemingly approachable nymph. Indeed she may have been so radiant that a mortal dared not look directly at her in the way we dare not risk our retinas in the presence of the sun.