New page about Ostara

Ostara (aka Eostre) has become one of the best known goddesses within paganism, since a whole spring festival has been named after her. What I like about the way that pagans celebrate Ostara and honor the goddess is that this is actually quite a modern celebration, based on possible older traditions that we actually don’t know anything about. What I’m trying to say here is that we could probably call Ostara a ‘new’ goddess.

Read more about this goddess and her history…

Ostara_by_Johannes_Gehrts 1884

Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts

Lecture on witchcraft this weekend! (Dutch)

This message is in Dutch, since it’s about a lecture in the Netherlands that I’ll give this weekend:

Komende zaterdag geef ik een lezing over de geschiedenis van hekserij naar aanleiding van een expositie over hetzelfde onderwerp die momenteel in Helmond is te zien! Ik zal vertellen over de heksenvervolging in De Peel, maar zal daarnaast ook veel vertellen over de geschiedenis van hekserij en de beeldvorming rondom heksen. De lezing vindt plaats in De Pracht in Waalre, op zaterdag 9 maart van 11 tot 13 uur. Er zijn nog 3 plaatsen! Aanmelden kan via deze link:

https://depracht.nl/…/lezingen-over-kunst-exposities-en-mus…

of door mij een bericht te sturen via het contactformulier. Hopelijk zie ik je zaterdag!

Heksfest

Tomorrow, March 3rd 2019, is Heksfest! This festival by and for witches will take place in Oss, the Netherlands. There will be a market and throughout the day a number of workshops and lectures will take place. More info can be found on the site of Lunadea, one of the organisers (Dutch site):

https://www.lunadea.nl/heksfest-1

NB pre-sale tickets are sold out, but there are still some tickets available at the entrance.

I won’t be able to make it myself, but I sent some Ostara cards to the organisation. They are added to goodiebags that will be gifted to the first 100 visitors! The cards will make a lovely addition to your spring altar, or you can send them to a friend to wish them merry Ostara.

I wish everyone going there a great time, and hope to be there myself next time.

Ostara_Dutch_Pagan_Thimsternisse.JPG

Awakening

Imbolc has come and gone and I celebrated it in a small, private way. Symbolically I went into the labyrinth, my serpent spiral, right into the core and meditated long and hard about what I need to lose and what I want to do in the coming year. I cleansed myself and started selecting seeds to grow. I fed myself with the light of Brigid, my birthday goddess. Then I went outward again, into awakening. Time to prepare!

This website has been dormant for quite a while. My private life has been in turmoil this last year, especially during the last dark months.  I’ve said farewell to spirits good and bad, I have moved and am making new plans for the future. Now is a good time to breathe some life into this digital corner of the world and to start making some dreams into reality.

My plan for this website has been to broaden its scopt. It has long been my slow but evergrowing encylopdia about paganisme and witchcraft in and around the area where I live. But I also want a place to not show general knowledge, but also my personal ideas and works. Since I don’t like the idea of having to juggle several sites at once, I decided to put it all in one place: Thimsternisse.

So during the next weeks and months you will find some small changes in this website. I still like the layout so nothing will change about that, but I will slowly add extra pages and sections in which I can show more of my personal work. The (to me) most important part has already be added: please check out my artwork here!

spiral meditation serpent goddess brigid brigit imbolc

Today is the day of Bride
The serpent shall come from the hole
I shall not harm the serpent
Nor shall the serpent harm me

Death culture: barrows in Noord-Brabant

I updated the death culture page with some ancestral worship and ghostly folklore at the Noord-Brabant barrows:

Barrows in Noord-Brabant

For an example, and a more in depth view of death culture in North-West Europe, let’s go to the area where I live, Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands. Best known from Brabant, and best preserved for studying death culture, are the burial hills known as barrows. From the Late Neolithic period on, people would raise barrows for their dead, though the early barrows were only meant for specific persons – all of them apparently male. The later barrows were also not meant as universal means of burying. In this period only about 15% of people who died found their resting place in a burial barrow. Of the other 85% not much has been found. Remember that when you keep on reading.

Throughout the bronze age, a difference can be seen between how the north and the south of the Netherlands treated their dead.  In the north, burial without cremation was habitual as of old. In the south however, cremation became common while burial without cremation became the exception. From finds it appears that only some of the burned bones were kept – what happened with the rest of the burned body varied greatly between different short periods and different communities. A common means was to put the remains in a put that was then buried, but the remains could also be placed in a pit, a hollow tree stem, a piece of fabric or simply on or in the ground. Very rarely a token was taken into the grave, and sometimes traces of jewellery of amulets have been found.

It is remarkable that people who were placed in the burial barrows (the ‘primary’ graves, which could be either man, woman or child) were relatively often unburned; this is true for about half of the dead found in burial barrows. The related dead who were placed in secondary graves (mainly women and children) were cremated in 90% of all cases, and a third of them were placed in urns. Because of the way that the seconday graves were situated (they never touch each other) it is thought that they were marked, and probably even planned beforehand. From this we can conclude that for the ancient people in Noord-Brabant burial was an important event that took a lot of preparation.

Most barrows from the Middle Bronze Age so far have been found south of Tilburg and especially in the area called De Kempen, near the Belgian border. Unfortuntaly, many barrows have been lost through time or they have simply been removed. The ones that are left to us are situated in areas that never were considered important or of any use: heaths on high sandplains. Some of these barrows are still in the heaths, others were spared when the heaths were  cultivated during the twentieth century.

The bronze age barrows were built on the heather fields that stem from the late Neolithic. Often special locations, especially higher places, were chosen. In an open field the barrows could be seen from afar. It is not known how far from the settlement the barrows were situated, but it is almost certain that the world of the dead was strictly seperated from the world of the living. The barrows were a place in the ancestral landscape that the settlements could focus on, since these settlement weren’t always fixed in the landscape.

In any way, the place of a new barrow was carefully sought out. Sometimes it was built on an older barrow. Plants and weeds were removed, sometimes (but not always) a pit was dug, and archeologists think that rituals took place. Near some of the barrows, mysterious pits have been found that were probably used for making fire. Before or after placing the human remains on or in the barrow, a ditch was dug around the grave. Other details can vary from barrow to barrow – and there doesn’t really seem to be a chronological order in those details. Some barrows were surrounded by an earthen ring, other by one or more rings of wooden poles, sometimes in combination with a ditch. The types that can be described as small barrows surrounded by a ring wall have apparently also been found in England. The ditches and wooden poles can also be found on later iron ages graves. Another question that archeologists have is what the wooden poles looked like. They probably didn’t last longer than a few decades before the rotted away in the ground and would fall over. Were they simple poles, or were they decorated, carved and/ore painted? Your guess is as good as mine.

The associations of the barrows with death has always lingered, even in times when people didn’t consciously know anymore what these hills were.  Into modern times, tales about ghosts and witches were told about these places. Well known in De Kempen is the barrow at the Eerselsedijk in Bergeijk. Many stories about witches and dancing cats surround this place. Other barrows in De Kempen were said to be inhabited by friendly gnomes. We must be careful about our association of these folk tales with ancient beliefs about death and burial barrows – it is simply not known where the connection comes from and how old the tales are – all we know is the tales and their connection with death and the barrows is there. The barrows certainly have interesting names, such as the Blackmountain near Hoogeloon and a lost barrow near Eersel that was called the Glowing Englishman!

That the barrows were seen as heathen and unhallowed is made clear by a find at barrow near Alphen. Human remains were found there, most likely from a hanged person. Execution of criminals and exposing their corpses on burial barrows was not uncommon in Noord-Brabant. It was most likely an extra punishment, since these criminals would never be buried in the hallowed ground of a christian churchyard.

…Read more here.

Ostara – a modern goddess

So I’m writing this one week after Easter and all usual annual discussions about the goddess Ostara have died to be revived in about a year. I don’t want to wait that long however, so here you are with a long(ish) read:

Ostara_by_Johannes_Gehrts 1884

Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts

It’s that time of year again where we talk about Easter, what it stands for and where it’s traditions come from. Inevitably, the name of Easter and it’s connection to Ostara or Eostre will pop up. Ostara, or Eostre is a goddess connected to dawn and spring. When modern pagans celebrate spring equinox, or Ostara, they often also celebrate this goddess. It also has become a bit of a meme amongst atheists, some pagans and other people who are critical (or downright antagonistic) towards christianity and the celebration of Easter-  they post how Easter was only stolen from the ancient heathens who worshipped this old pagan goddess called Eostre (or from the goddess Ishtar, but that’s should be a post all of its own), and do you also know that it’s really all about sex and fertility?

Except that it isn’t. Or well, as far is we actually know, it wasn’t. As in, there are no traces.

What I like about the way that pagans celebrate Ostara and honor the goddess is that this is actually quite a modern celebration, based on possible older traditions that we actually don’t know anything about. What I’m trying to say here is that we could probably call Ostara a ‘new’ goddess.

It al starts with the only sort of authentic historical source that we have of Eostre. This source is a text called De Temproum Ratione (‘On the reckoning of time’) by the Venerable Bede, an Anglosaxon  monk and historian who lived from 672/3 to 735. In chapter 15, Bede discusses the names of the months, and here we find the following passage (translation taken from Shaw, Pagan Goddesses, p. 49, see sources below):

Eosturmonath

“A dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit”

“Called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month”

And this is all we have.

As you can see, I’m talking about Eostre, not Ostara. Ostara , the goddess as we now know her, comes in much later. In the 18th and 19th century, inspired by Romanticism and nationalism, folklorists started to write down al sorts of old pre-christian local myths and legends. This is how we ended up with the wonderful fairy tales of the brothers Grimm, for example. They are famous for their fairytales, but Jacob Grimm also wrote a large tome filled Germanic lore and his interpretation of it: Deutsche Mythologie. And look who he also describes: it’s Ostara. He conflates Ostara with Bede’s Eostre based on how much the names sound alike. Etymologically, Eostre and Ostara mean as much as ‘dawn’. Ostara according Grimm must be a goddess of dawn and spring, based on the time of year her feast is being celebrated and also based on a comparison between the names Ostara and Eostre.

There are still other traces of comparable names. There’s the circa 150 altars that were found in Germany in the fifties of the last century, that were all dedicated to the Matronae Austriahenae. Are they the predecessors of our Ostara, a Germanic version of Eostre? There is definitely a connection between these names, but that doesn’t mean that Eostre and Ostara are one and the same. Consider that there’s a whole area between Eostre and Austriahenae where the name, or a comparable name hasn’t been found (yet). There is an etymological link, but that still doesn’t mean that these goddesses are the same (though there may be a link). Another possible source is a mention of another month name in the Vita Karoli Magni by Einhard, “Aprilem Ostarmanoth”, but it’s not clear at all that this refers to a goddess.

As you can see, the original souces of Eostre/Ostara are quite scarce and unclear. What’s more, the connection between  Ostara/Eostre and symbols such as eggs and hares simply don’t seem to exist before Romantic times – or at least I haven’t found them (yet). The Matronae are generally considered goddesses connected to certain tribes or places, and we don’t know anything about Eostre but that a month is named after her. Here, we go back to Grimm again. In his Deutsche Mythologie, Grimm was convinced that Ostara was a goddess of dawn and spring, and he therefore connected several German folkloric traditions to her – such as Easter eggs. So if someone tells you some ‘ancient’ story about Easter, a goddess, eggs and hares…it’s probably  not that ancient at all.

Ostara, or at least the way we now know this goddess and celebrate the feast, may not be that old … but so what? Well, nothing really.

I’m all for ‘standing on the shouldersof giants’ and bringing forth new traditions. I think it’s needed actually. We don’t live in the 19th century, and we certainly don’t live in ancient times. We live in the 21st century and I think a way of life that sees nature as sacred and values myths and legends as more than quirky tales is sorely needed in an age where humanism and rationalism reign supreme. If we can summon ancient goddesses (or goddess names) and give her a role in modern life then that’s awesome. Remember, many gods are not that static either – they fulfill different roles in different times and cultures. Many gods die in myth, and naturally they can be born too and grow into gods for a new generation.

Sources

Grimm, Jacob. (Transl. James Steven Stallybrass), Teutonic Mythology. London: George Bell and sons. 1892.

Shaw, Philip A. Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World. Eostre, Hreda and the cult of the Matrons. Bristol Classical Press. 2011.

Odin and Sinterklaas

(I wanted to keep this short, but failed. So please bear with me, especially if you’re interested in folklore, history and the mighty figure of Odin. Also, Sinterklaas and Black Pete.)

Whether you’re in an English or Dutch speaking area, around this time of year you may see articles popping up about how Santa Claus or Sinterklaas really is Odin/Wodan. Basically, Sinterklaas (I’ll go with the Dutch name, since that’s where I’m from – there’s a lot to find about the similar origins of these two figures) is a christianized version of Odin. But is this true?

Here is a very short history of Sinterklaas: he is a populair Saint who originally was called Saint Nicholas of Myra (Turkey) and lived from 270 to 6 December 342 CE. Nicholas was a Saint for many groups of people, children among them, and he was known as a miracle worker and a giver of gifts (he often gave these gifts secretly). Sounds familiar, right? The cult of Saint Nicholas spread throughout Europe. In the Netherlands, he transformed into Sinterklaas.

So how did Odin come into this? I can’t help thinking that this has to do with folklorists who were eager to turn anything that has even a hint of indigenous, or at least non-christian, tradition into ‘this is what our pagan ancestors did’. Despite Sinterklaas being a christian saint, he does have some strange habits. He rides his horse on rooftops, for example. And he has helpers who are named ‘Black Pete’. Let’s look at some characteristics and traditions:

  • Odin and Sinterklaas are both depicted as old, white bearded men. This is true, at least in popular culture. The way Odin looks is actually his disguise when he wanders the World. Saint Nicholas of Myra seems to have been depicted both as a man with a white beard and clean shaven. I think that what happened here is that the bearded Nicholas became Sinterklaas. May this have been under the influence of Odin? Who knows. Then again, old men with white beards aren’t exactly rare, so the fact that they look alike may mean nothing at all.
  • Sinterklaas secretly brings gifts to children who have been good and punishes children who have been bad. Odin…doesn’t? To be more preciset: the children give little gifts to Sinterklaas in the weeks before the actual feast on 6 December, such as poems or drawings, or a carrot for Sinterklaas’s horse. They would often place these gifts in one of there shoes (your guess as to why they did and still this is as good as mine). They receive a gift in return if they’ve been good. Finally, on the eve of 6 December, children get their ‘actual’ gifts. I’ve seen this interpreted as an ancient habit of bringing offerings to receive gifts. Thing is, there is as far as I know not one tradition involving Odin that comes even close to what;s happening during the feast of Sinterklaas. Even if it is an ancient heathen tradition (which it may well be), the tradition of giving and receiving offerings to and from the gods is so common that I don’t see how this is specific to Odin.
  • So what about Sinterklaas’s horse? It is well known that Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Sinterkaas rides his horse (who in the Netherlands is called Amerigo), which has the usual four legs. Are they comparable? Two men (granted one a saint and one a god) riding a horse is really too generic. People ride horses all the time, especially in older times when there weren’t many other means of transport. Then again, Sinerklaas rides on rooftops, Odin even rides through the sky…I really don’t know what to make of this. Also, both Sinterklaas and Odin ride a grey. So there may be something going on here, but then again we have to keep in mind that horses, and from what I’ve understood especially greys, were considered ‘elite animals’. So this may also simply be a sign of these men being regarded as elite figures. Still, the flying and walking on rooftops is interesting…
  • Black Pete is a controversial figure. Apart from the blackface (which is a discussion I’m not willing to go into in this post, but if you’re interested in discussing it please send me a PM) his origin and meaning is a point of discussion. It is known that the first time we meet Black Pete in the Netherlands is in a 19th century chlldren’s book. Before Pete came into the story, Sinterklaas (mostly?) acted alone, at least in the Netherlands. Looking throughout Europe, we find Sint Nicholas accompanied by other, almost demon-like creatures, who seem to have largely the same functions as Black Pete: assisting the Saint, rewarding good children and punishing naughty children (or people in general). But who’s missing from all of this? Oh yeah, Odin. I’ve read texts trying to turn Pete into dark riders of the Wild Hunt (see below) and even into Odin’s ravens (because black, apparently), but non of these convince me. Black Pete may be many things, but he is not a sign of Sinterklaas really being Odin.
  • When Sinterklaas moved to America, he sort of became Santa Claus, and his feast day was not on 6 December, but during Christmas. Christmas = Yule, so therefore Santa Claus (or his ancestor Sinterklaas) must be Odin, right? No, not really. It’s true that around the same time Odin/Wodan rides around with his Wild Army. Throughout Europe, including in the Netherlands on the Wadden islands, there are traditions that seem to re-enact these wild hunts in one way or another. But it’s not certain how old this tradition is (it may not be pre-christian at all). Yes, there are old acounts (the oldest being by Tacitus) of a Germanic army who disguise themselves so they appear as the dead but that’s not the same as a Wild Hunt and Odin isn’t named in this account. What’s more, it seems that the idea of the Wild Hunt was already established when Odin became associated with it. There is a lot of conflation going on, but still no evidence that one is the origin of the other.

So, is Sinterklaas Odin? I think not. It’s obvious that there is a lot of local folklore that has been latched onto the figure of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) and his feast. But it’s way to simplistic to say that therefore this is another pagan tradition stolen by christians. It’s not a clear cut discussion – hence this article being longer than I initially expected. Which is exactly why I think we should be really critical with just throwing around all sorts of assumptions. That said, I wish everyone who celebrates it a happy Sinterklaas feast, and don’t eat too many peppernuts!

 

Dutch goddesses on International Goddess Day

Today is the first Sunday of September, which since a few years has been dubbed ‘International Goddess Day’ by some pagans. I like this idea – the pagan religion is one of a few world wide religions in which female deities get as much if not more attention as their male counterparts (if there are female deities at all). So yeah, everyday is goddess day if you ask goddess worshippers, but let’s just spread the word that there are many goddesses, large and small, some worshipped by millions, others long forgotten (but slowly waking up again).

For me it’s a nice opportunity to shine some light on the goddesses that were once worshipped in the Netherlands  by the peoples who lived here thousands of years ago. In fact, some of them are being enthousiastically rediscovered – Nehalennia even has her own modern temple. For this website, I’m trying to stick to the facts. It’s quite astounding how many deities – male and female – were once worshipped in and around this little area that is now known as the Netherlands. Here are seven goddesses; but seek and you shall find many more!

Arcuana

Baduhenna

Hludana

Hurstrga

Nehalennia

Sandraudiga

Tanfana

Comfrey – a dark, healing lady

comfre92-l

As I walked through the countryside of my childhood, I saw more and more plants that I never noticed before. One of them was comfrey, a beautiful and elegant plant that is so abundant that it becomes almost unremarkable. When I got to know the land better, I learned more about one of its spirits: a dark lady living in the waters, chthonic but also healing. The waters near my parents’ house are small, dark and still – full of rot and therefore loved by life. The low grounds among these waters are often soaking wet, and comfrey comfortably lives here. This watery plant with black roots growing low, yet lovely flowers above the ground, perfectly captures the spirit of the dark lady in this land. This innocent plant is very much a healer, as I write here [read on]