Norse Pagan Spring Traditions
The ancient Norse and Northern Germanic people celebrated events differently than we do today. There is little written history, with large missing gaps that we have available to look for our information.
There is some information written about celebrations in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, as well as in the Icelandic Sagas. Other information can be found in writings from other people and cultures, like in Tacitus’s “Germania” dated to about 98 CE. Additionally, after the Christianization period, there were some writings by monks that describe the Northern people and their practices.
There is also archaeological evidence with items that depict the Norse gods and goddesses and some are linked to different seasons, traditions, or celebrations.
Most pagans celebrate Spring in some manner, and there are different traditions that anyone can follow. Spring traditions are celebrated among Germanic pagans, neopagans, Norse pagans, Wiccans, Heathens, and Asatru among others.
One of the Spring traditions that is celebrated today among Norse Pagans is Ostara. I have included a brief history of where the practice came from, and some rituals or ideas you can do to celebrate. This is not an extensive list, but I wanted to touch on some of the traditions that you can do at home.
Ostara / Ēostre
Celebrated at the Spring Vernal Equinox, around March 21 – 23 every year.
Ostara / Ēostre is a West Germanic goddess of Spring. Ostara is associated with the coming of spring and the dawn, and her festival is celebrated at the spring equinox.
Because she brings renewal and rebirth from the death of winter, many Norse pagans also associate Ostara with the goddess Idunna and honor the Norse gods and goddesses associated with rebirth, renewal, planting, and fertility.
Deities that can be honored include:
- Ostara / Ēostre: the Germanic goddess of Spring
- Idunna: the Norse goddess of rebirth and everlasting youth
- Freyja: Norse goddess of love and fertility
- Freyr: Norse god of the land and fertility
- Frigga: Norse goddess of marriage, hearth, and home
Some traditional practices include:
- Decorating eggs (symbolizes new life)
- Planting seeds
- Lighting bonfires
- Lighting candles in the home
- Perform cleansing rituals around the home
- Make a meal with traditional Spring foods
- Gather flowers and greenery to decorate your home and altar
- Use the ash from burning your Yule goat (or other burnt offering) at Yule or New Year and till it into the soil for fertility blessings
A Brief History of Ostara / Ēostre
The Old English deity Ēostre is mentioned an 8th-century work “The Reckoning of Time” by Bede, where he states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (Eostre month, or the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Ēostre's honour. There are Germanic records connecting this celebration with hares (rabbits) and eggs as part of the spring celebrations.
Jacob Grimm (of the Grimm Fairy Tales) notes that the Old Norse Prose Edda book Gylfaginning attests to a male being called Austri, whom he describes as a "spirit of light." Grimm comments that a female version would have been *Austra, yet that the High German and Saxon peoples seem to have only formed Ostarâ and Eástre, feminine, and not Ostaro and Eástra, masculine. Grimm additionally speculates on the nature of the goddess and surviving folk customs that may have been associated with her in Germany.
“Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian's God.”
This is obviously where the Christians adopted appropriated the Spring holiday we now know as Easter.
Påske (Easter) in Denmark
Many things have changed over time, and here in Denmark we celebrate the Spring tradition of Påske (pronounced pose-ke) which is effectively a current day non-religious Easter. It is a time to really enjoy the nicer weather and decorate with eggs, feathers, candles, and LOTS of spring flowers!
Påske in Denmark is not a religious (read Christian) holiday for the majority of Danes, and to mark the start of the holiday the Danish flag is flown at half-mast starting on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Påske is a 5-day National holiday lasting Thursday – Monday. Schools will be closed, work is closed, most grocery stores will be closed, and shops will close.
A fun tradition that started in the 18th century is called “gækkebreve” (gay-ke-bray-ewe) which roughly translates to “crazy letters”. Young people and children participate in this tradition. You fold and cut patterns into paper, much like cutout snowflakes, then a short poem is written inside and signed by the person with only dots for their name. For example, if their name is Lars, they sign with 4 dots. These are then handed out. If you guess correctly who wrote the poem, the sender owes you a chocolate egg but if you don’t guess right, you owe the sender a chocolate egg. It gets very serious when chocolate is at stake!
Lunch is the traditional meal, called Påskefrokost (Påske lunch). This is gathering with family and friends that lasts all afternoon. The meal consists of Danish foods like smørbrød, which is rugbrød (rye bread) piled high with items like fish, shrimp, eggs, and many tasty options. Lamb and leverpostej (liver pâté) are traditional meats this time of year, and eggs are a common food theme.
Served with the lunch is plenty of aquavit (snaps), an alcohol similar to flavored gin or vodka served in shot glasses. Tradition is to hold your drink up and look each person in the eye accompanied with a hearty “Skål!” (cheers) and drink!
This time of year also brings specialty beers brewed just for the season, “påskebryg”. It will be stronger and tastier than the standard beer available year-round.
And lastly, lots of sweets, chocolates, and pastries!
Regardless of how you decide to celebrate bringing in Spring, I wish you good health and may the gods be with you!
- Wikipedia: Ēostre
- Wikipedia: Old Norse Religion
- Wikipedia: Christianization of Scandinavia
- The Outdoor Apothecary: Ostara
- Visit Denmark: Easter in Denmark
Note: There are other Spring celebrations and traditions that will be covered in their own articles: Imbolc, the Gaelic festival that marks the beginning of spring; the Green Man, the ancient Celtic symbol of rebirth; Disting, the Swedish gathering festival; Fastelavn, a Danish Spring carnival; Walpurgisnacht, the Northern Germanic tradition half-way between Spring and Summer; and others.
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