Austramonath

I adore linguistics and truly wallow in the beauty of historical linguistics and etymology. But no other word gave me more issues than Astramonath.

Angela, why didn’t you just call it “Easter?”

This is where I pour you a cup of hot chocolate, tea, or coffee and we sit back on the leather couch together.

Because, dear reader. Nothing pulls me out of a story more than historical inaccuracy. I know that the Norsemen didn’t celebrate Easter until well after the 10th century. I also know that what little is known about Easter came from the Slavs with their beautiful egg painting and their tie in to the goddess Eostre, which literally means “East.” In fact, we say “East” to this day because of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre prior to the Christianization of the British Isles.

Here, I shall quote the scribes of Wikipedia

Ēostre or Ostara (Old English: Ēastre, Northumbrian dialect Ēostre; Old High German: *Ôstara) is a Germanic divinity who, by way of the Germanic month bearing her name (Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old High German: Ôstarmânoth), is the namesake of the festival of Easter.

I’m going to stop you here and draw your attention to the etymology

Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old High German: Ôstarmânoth

Mōnaþ or Monath is Anglo-Saxon would later evolve to our English word for “Month.” But Kallan and Rune are Norse, So I defaulted to the Old Norse for Month which is “mánaðr” or “manathr.”

Again…Wikipedia says…

The lunisolar calendar is reflected in the Germanic term *monaþ “month” (Old English mōnaþ, Old Saxon mānuth, Old Norse mánaðr, and Old High German mānod,[1]Gothicmēnōþs,[1][2] ) being a derivation of the word for “moon”, mēnō, itself from an Indo-European root*mē- “to measure”.[3]

Old Norse mánaðr, which I anglicize “manadr.” So… “East Month,”  which is April by the way. The Norse wouldn’t call it “April” because Julius Ceasar and the Holy Roman Empire didn’t exactly influence the Norsemen or their culture. So! East manadr… Now East…was a problem. Back to what wiki says on Easter and Eostre!

Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Eostre’s honor, but that this tradition had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

For me, this was all old news I learned from my theological studies. But this next part…this was linguistic gold! (I am such a word nerd!)

By way of linguistic reconstruction, the matter of a goddess called *Austrō in the Proto-Germanic language has been examined in detail since the foundation of Germanic philology in the 19th century by scholar Jacob Grimm and others.

Wait! Did they say “Jacob Grimm?”

This next section is not relevant to my point, so feel free to skip down…

As the Germanic languages descend from Proto-Indo-European (PIE), historical linguists have traced the name to a Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn *H₂ewsṓs (→ *Ausṓs), from which descends the Common Germanic divinity from whom Ēostre and Ostara are held to descend. Additionally, scholars have linked the goddess’s name to a variety of Germanic personal names, a series of location names (toponyms) in England, and, discovered in 1958, over 150 2nd century BCE inscriptions referring to the matronae Austriahenae.

Theories connecting Ēostre with records of Germanic Easter customs, including hares and eggs, have been proposed. Particularly prior to the discovery of the matronae Austriahenea and further developments in Indo-European studies, debate has occurred among some scholars about whether or not the goddess was an invention of Bede. Ēostre and Ostara are sometimes referenced in modern popular culture and are venerated in some forms of Germanic neopaganism.

…to here! Okay. Moving on.

So I didn’t get my answer, but I scrolled down in the article and located this by Jacob Grimm. By the way, this is THE Jacob Grimm as in, the Grimm Brothers! I was stoked when I learned Jacob Grimm was also a linguist and, FYI…I owe all of this discovery to Jacob Grimm. Wikipedia quotes Mr. Grimm on this topic.

Grimm details that the Old High German adverb ôstar “expresses movement towards the rising sun”, as did the Old Norse term austr, and potentially also Anglo-Saxon ēastor and Gothic áustr. Grimm compares these terms to the identical Latin term auster. Grimm says that the cult of the goddess may have worshiped an Old Norse form, Austra, or that her cult may have already been extinct by the time of Christianization.[7]

Grimm notes that the Old Norse Prose Edda book Gylfaginning attests to a male being called Austri, who Grimm describes as a “spirit of light.”

Pausing to say that “Austri” by the way is one of the four dwarves in Norse myth who holds up the corner of the world. Austri holds up the East corner. Go figure! (I say dwarves and not “dwarfs,” by the way)

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.

And to quote a certain dwarf “But there are no dwarf women.”

Grimm additionally speculates on the nature of the goddess and surviving folk customs that may have been associated with her in Germany:

So! I walked away from this with Jacob’s thought “Austra” for East and “manadr” for month makes “Austramandr.”

Austramanadr. I hated it! The silent “r” was already pushing things and manad was just…well…ugly. And technically it is pronounced “manath,” but that forces the mouth in an uncomfortable position. So I went with the Anglo-Saxon “monath.” Really, my word is both a hypthesized, though non-existence feminine Old Norse word for “East” and the Anglo-Saxon word for “month.”

Sweet!

About the Author: Angela