Blessed Hredmonath to all! Hredmonath was the pagan Anglo-Saxon name for the month of March according to the Venerable Bede in his *De Temporum Ratione*. According to Bede, the Anglo-Saxons sacrificed to their goddess Hreda during this time. Interestingly, the Christian holiday Easter ends up falling during the month of Hredmonath, when to the ancient Anglo-Saxons, it was the month of April (Eosturmonath) that was named for their goddess Eostre.
The only recorded information we have about either goddess is from Bede, and all he tells us is that March was Hreda’s month, April was Eostre’s. Other than Eostre’s name being preserved in the name of the Christian holiday, there is virtually no other recorded information about either goddess. We don’t have any surviving information about stories or myths, attributes, associations, relationships, functions, nor anything else really.
We know Eostre’s name cognates to the English word East (Shaw, 55). Because of this, Grimm postulated that she was a goddess associated with the dawn and the rising sun, and theorized an equivalent Germanic goddess whom he named Ostara (Grimm, 1882: 290). Theories abound trying to connect Eostre to the Matronae Austriahenae (over 150 inscriptions have been found near Morken-Harff, Germany), but from a scholarly perspective it is unclear whether or not there is a connection (Shaw, 52)
As for Hreda, we know even less. Her name does not neatly cognate to anything else, though there are a number of words that may be related. Possible related words include words meaning quick (hreð), goatskin or possibly a goatskin garment/mantle (hreða), to rejoice (hrêðan), fierce (hrêðe), and glory or victory (hrêð) (Shaw, 74). There are also related words such as scildhrêoða and bordhrêoða, both referring to the ornamentation or covering of a shield (with the hrêoða element implying a covering or an ornamentation) (Shaw, 76). Most compelling however is the name Hreðgotan, a name applied to the Goths and found in two Old English poems (Shaw, 87). The interesting and compelling bit here is the possibility that Hreda was such a significant goddess of the Gothic tribes that they were referred to as Hreda’s Goths. It is worth noting as well that the name Goth comes from the same root word as Godhi (an Old Norse term for a priest and chieftan) and God (Lehmann, 164).
The Goths were most likely a whole culture that thrived from about the middle of the first millennium BC, and possibly originated in southern Sweden (Wolfram, 16-35). According to Isidore of Seville, they were of the same race as the Getae, Thracian tribes originating from the regions found on either side of the Danube River in what is today Northern Bulgaria and Southern Romania. In their heyday, the Goths controlled a vast swath of Europe from the Danube to the Ural mountains, and from the Black to the Baltic Sea.
So where does that leave us? My personal work with these goddesses is entirely based on direct contact with them. For me, I understand Hreda as a goddess of hearth and home. I understand her as governing that felt sense of being in your own home. This concept of the idealized home is very powerful – this is the home that a soldier will go to battle to defend, and will die in defense of their home. Home is where we return to refresh and renew, where we are nourished and healed. Home, for many people (and more so for folks from older times), is where we were more likely to be born and where we may die. Home is where we sleep, where we are supported and loved. For me, Hreda holds all of this. For me, she also stands at the threshold of that idealized home and can help us to transition into whatever we need to be when we are out in the world, and transition back when we return home – she can help us put on our armor to deal with the rest of the world, and help us take it back off when we don’t need it any more.
Eostre, for me, is the early rush of spring, the renewal and rebirth that rapidly expands outward as the weather warms up. She holds the ecstatic energy of seeds bursting open, of animals giving birth, of ice melting and warmth returning. If Hreda holds the potential and the quiet renewal of home, Eostre holds the spark of a new season, the curiosity and wanderlust that awakens as more mild weather arrives. Eostre sends us back out of our homes to explore our worlds, the rising sun, the returning sun and the lengthening days that shines light on all manner of things. Eostre is the enthusiasm that sends us out exploring; Hreda is the comfort that we return to once we’ve done that exploration.
So for this Hredmonath, may we remember she whose name was nearly forgotten. Hail and blessings to Hreda, mother of the Goths, she who brings glory and speed. Hail lady of transitions, who holds the hope of spring in the end of winter. Hail to the bringer of victory, who holds the memory of home even when we are far away. Every bear has its den, every bird its nest. May she bless you with the warmth and safety of your own hearth, even if that hearth lives only as a dream inside your heart. May you have food on your table, loving caresses in your bed, and a warm safe place to hang your hat. Hail Hreda!
And as we transition from Hredmonath to Eosturmonath, with the celebration of that Christian holiday who derives its name from this much older Goddess, blessings and hail to Eostre, sister of Hreda. May the return of sun and mild weather awaken curiosity and hunger for experience. Lady, awaken the seeds so they may rise up! Awaken the animals whose kits and cubs and lambs may continue the legacy of their species! Shake us loose from our stuck places, thaw the ice that has kept us stationary and still. All hail the rising sun, the coming of spring. Hail Eostre! Hail the sisters, who send us out into the world to explore and learn, and receive us back home with open arms when we return victorious!
Bede, De Temporum Ratione. Wallis, Faith (Trans.). Liverpool University Press, 2004.
Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition with Notes and Appendix Vol I & II. London: George Bell and Sons, 1882.
Isidore (Bishop of Seville). History of the Kings of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi. E.J. Brill.
Lehmann, Winifred P.; Helen-Jo J. Hewitt. A Gothic Etymological Dictionary. E.J. Brill, 1986.
Shaw, Philip. Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons. Bristol Classical Press, 2011.
Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. University of California Press, 1990.
This is obviously a very brief article; there is actually a bunch more information and theories about Eostre than I provided here, including possible connections between her and the Greek Goddess Eos (http://www.theoi.com/Titan/Eos.html). In Urglaawe mythology, they have a goddess named Oschdra, whose name is linguistically related to Ostara/Eostre. She is a goddess of the dawn, and she has two sisters, Helling (daylight) and Nacht (night). It is unclear how old these myths are, relatively speaking, as the stories told by the Pennsylvania Dutch community continued in an unbroken way to shift and evolve once they reached the US from Germany. But it is very interesting to see an insular community with stories relating to their version of this goddess! For information about the Urglaawe myth related to Oschdra, check out: http://urglaawe.blogspot.com/2015/03/oschdre-where-color-comes-from-origin.html. And thank you to Rob Schreiwer for linking me to this information!
Fantastic article River! Hail Hredha! Hail Eostre!