Easter and the Fertility Goddess

A lot of people wonder what the word ‘Easter’ means, and if you don’t already know the answer then you’re in for a surprise. Easter is actually Eostre, an ancient German fertility goddess associated with the springtime. Eostre is almost certainly a version of the ancient Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, and therefore the same as the Phoenician goddess Astarte, who was also known (in different time periods and places) as Ashtarot. According to one very reliable ancient source (preserved by the early Christian bishop, Eusebius of Caesaria):

“… Astarte set the head of a bull upon her own head as the mark of royalty, and in travelling about the world she found a star that had fallen from the sky, which she took up and consecrated in the holy island Tyre [modern day Lebanon]. And the Phoenicians say that Astarte is Aphrodite.”

My reconstruction of the so-called Burney Relief, an item of pottery, dating from 19th or 18th century BC, which is believed to show the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar. She also seems to have been associated with birds, and here is depicted as a bird-woman. Film fans will probably recognise the inspiration for the mechanical owl in Ray Harryhausen’s blockbuster 1980s movie Clash of the Titans.

This is very interesting because Aphrodite was known to the Romans as Venus and identified with the planet of the same name, which is Earth’s nearest neighbour, and which is also the brightest star in the night sky.

So, I hope you all had a happy Ishtar!

Anyhow, it is the perfect time to acknowledge both fertility and birds, and here is a little video about birds which you will see pairing off and building nests right now all around Wicklow, and further afield.

Moths and Butterflies Return

Winter has been very long and drawn out, but at last the weather seems to be improving and very gradually warming up. Late last night I was delighted to find two spring moths on a wall by a window. The first is the old reliable still lacking a common name, Diurnea fagella:

Slightly more impressive than this drab but variable moth was the stockier, and more handsomely marked Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi):

   This medium-sized (small medium) moth had a small chunk taken out of its left forewing, which was very possibly due to a nip from a bird’s beak.  The recent more consistent temperatures have caused spring flowers to bloom in a big way, and the annual mass flowering of dandelions is now beginning. Dandelions are extremely important for pollinators, and many other insects, as are the Lesser Celandine flowers. You can see one here being attended to by a Honey Bee (Apis mellifera).

   However, today I saw something which really lifted my spirits, my first butterfly of the year, a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae):

And I even made a video about it, and it’s not as bad as it first seems:

 

The Equinox and a Crazy St. Patrick’s Weekend… and a Mermaid’s Purse

Last weekend was St. Patrick’s weekend, with St. Patrick’s Day occurring on Saturday. Every year I attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade, usually in Greystones by the sea, and after the parade I will normally make my first proper nature walk of the year. This year was very different…

If you watched the little video above I can tell you the adventure reached a climax when I attempted to return the ray’s egg to the sea at Kilcoole Station. As many of you will probably know, after the ray hatches out of the egg it might be used by a mermaid as a purse, which is why these leathery eggs are known as ‘mermaid’s purses’.

I walked to the bottom of the steps and decided that to give the mermaid’s purse the best chance of being taken back out to sea I must wait for a particularly large wave to break, and then run out after it as it withdrew, and toss the mermaid’s purse into the surf. To do this I waited on the bottom step and watched. After a minute a particularly huge wave approached and I stood ready to run after it as it went out again. However, when it broke it came in very fast, and only at the last moment did I realise I needed to get to higher ground, and just managed to reach the third step when the water came in up to my knees! I tossed the mermaid’s purse  over the wave. I was very lucky not to have been knocked over and washed away. So, let that be a lesson to you all – never take chances with the sea, and never, ever trust a storm sea.

Now, back to the Equinox – despite the awful weather in which winter has attempted to take over the spring, the Equinox was on Tuesday. The precise point (halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice) was on Tuesday afternoon at 4.15 pm. And Tuesday was a gloriously sunny, but very cold day. The Equinox marks the beginning of the true spring, and from now on days are longer than nights. So let’s hope they’re sunny!

I dedicate this bulletin to my nephew, Mitchell Connolly, who began a very big adventure last week. Wrap up warm, Mitchell!

An Adventure in the Garden of Ireland