Ostara marks the day when light is equal to darkness, and will continue to grow. As the bringer of light after a long dark winter, the goddess was often depicted with the hare, an animal that represents the arrival of spring as well as the fertility of the season.
Ēostre is the Germanic Goddess of Spring, she was very popular with the Anglo-Saxon pagan brigade who worshiped her. Eostre is connected with renewal and fertility. Eggs and rabbits are sacred to her, as is the full moon, since the ancients saw in its markings the image of a rabbit or hare. She is also a dawn goddess, and may be related to the Greek Goddess of the dawn Eos.
Like Ostara and Ēostre she was also called Eastre, she gave her name to the Christian festival of Easter (which is an older Pagan festival appropriated by the Church), whose timing is still dictated by the Moon. Modern pagans celebrate her festival on the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, the first day of Spring. Also known as the springtime Paschal (i.e. Passover) festival ‘Easter.’
Easter is a pagan festival
Much like Christmas, the trappings of the Easter Holiday aren’t Biblical, they are a hodgepodge of Christian, pagan, culture, and circumstance.
Christians would have you believe that Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, and to a large extent, that’s certainly a popular belief, but Easter is about more than that. Easter is a traditional pagan holiday, celebrating Spring and the renewal of life. Since Beltane and the Spring Equinox are not generally celebrated by our society as a whole, Easter fills the void of “secular Spring holiday.” I think we all know that eggs, plastic grass, and chocolate bunnies have nothing to do with Jesus, and everything to do with the ideas of renewal and fertility (along with crass commercial marketing, but I digress).
The Venerable Bede, who lived in the 7th century, was the first to record her name as the source of the new Christian festival. Bede determined the word “Easter” comes from the name of a Germanic fertility goddess named Eostre, whose name was given to an entire month “Eosturmonath,” and then eventually to one specific holiday occurring in that month, the one we now call Easter.
- Like many other pagan traditions, the festival of Eostre was adopted by the early Church in an attempt to convert followers of the old religions to their ways.
Other goddesses traditionally celebrated at this time include:
Aphrodite, in ancient Greece
Ashtoreth, from ancient Israel
Demeter from Mycenae
Hathor from ancient Egypt
Ishtar from Assyria
Kali, from India
Ostara, a Norse Goddess of fertility
The story of Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, is quite striking in its similarity to Christian mythology.
Gerald L. Berry, author of “Religions of the world,” wrote:
One thing that really points towards Eostre existence in Ancient History is that her name shares a linguistic origin with that of various Indo-European goddesses of the dawn. The questions then becomes whether the dawn was named after the deities in question, or if the deities were named after the rising sun. The word Easter then could be linked directly to a pagan goddess, or simply mean beginnings.
The most pagan element of Easter is probably Jesus himself as the dying and “resurrecting god.” At Easter, Jesus has more in common with Dionysus, Tammuz, and Adonis than he does with Moses or the various apostles. The idea of a man or god overcoming death would have been alien to Second Temple Judaism, but not to the millions of pagans living in the Roman Empire.
I think it’s important to remember that Jesus was one of many deities on the “god buffet” during antiquity. To be taken seriously as a deity he had to match up with the other gods of the era miracle for miracle. I don’t think it’s honest to suggest that Jesus turned aside the grave because he was a vegetation god in the tradition of Tammuz, but his pedigree demanded equal power over life and death. There are many unique elements in Christianity; the dead man walking is not one of them.
Jesus as a dying and resurrecting god is a two thousand year old tradition, there’s no question of its connection to ancient antiquity. The other trappings of Easter, the egg and the bunny, are far more problematic. I’ve been conditioned to always think of them as ancient pagan practices, but researching this article has brought up more questions than answers in that regard. I can say with certainty that eggs as a symbol of fertility and rebirth have a long pedigree, but they were also very common items whose symbolism and role certainly could have changed and evolved over time.
In the Greek Orphic tradition the god Phanes was said to have hatched from a “World egg ,” illustrating that the Ancient Greeks believed in the egg as a symbol of rebirth and new life. A direct link to Easter Eggs and Pagan Rome can be found in a legend surrounding the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The day when Marcus was born his mother’s red hen is said to have laid an egg spotted with red. That speckled egg was seen as a sign that young Marcus would become a great Emperor. When Marcus eventually assumed the throne colored eggs began to be passed around throughout the Empire as a symbol of congratulations. Later Christians adopted the custom. It’s hard to say with any certainty if that Marcus Aurelius legend is the origin of the Easter Egg, as it’s likely that eggs were being passed around before Marcus assumed the throne.
While colored eggs were shared in the Ancient World, there’s no continuous history linking the colored egg of pagandom to the Easter Egg. Eggs were relatively common in the Middle Ages, and an important source of nutrition in a society where meat was a rare treat. Monks and priests were often given “presents” (payment) on important Christian holidays, with Easter being one of those. Eggs were a common gift, and they were often given to priests in baskets. In Russia it was common for priests (and later, members of the nobility) to give out eggs as gift, especially around Easter. Eventually the eggs that were passed out were elaborately decorated, and the custom spread throughout the country. Eggs were also generally banned during the period of Lent, so people sometimes would decorate them as they waited on their Easter feast and the return to eating eggs.
Eggs were also begged for by children in Great Britain during the Seventeenth Century. Before important holidays it was common for the poor to “trick or treat” for food, and at Easter children begged for eggs. It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to picture poor children begging for eggs to put in a basket transforming into the modern Easter basket full of sacred goodies like waxy chocolate bunnies and stale jelly beans.
Rabbits have been associated with fertility from pagan times into the present. (I have friends who like to say “they go at it like rabbits” when discussing the sexual habits of others.) It seems likely that the Easter Bunny is an ancient pagan tradition, but the first references to the Easter Bunny only dates back to the 1500′s. That doesn’t mean the Easter Bunny didn’t exist before those first references to the Germanic Oschter Haws (or Osterhase), it just hasn’t been well documented.
There’s a part of me that believes human beings have a natural tendency to venerate “Pagan things,” and tend to be drawn to things in the natural world that correlate to what is going on in their own environments. Venerating a rabbit in April during the Earth’s annual period of rebirth makes complete sense. That doesn’t mean it’s pagan in the sense that people worshipped a rabbit in the year 100, but it’s Pagan in the sense that it taps into the natural rhythms of the Earth. It’s also possible that now forgotten myths transformed into now lost folk tales and then into the egg laying rabbit we now call the Easter Bunny.
In case you think we’re being flippant, recent research suggests that EOSTRE herself may have been invented during a mischievous moment by the Venerable St Bede. This well-known monk mentioned her in connection with the pagan festival Eosturmonath in a book written in 750 A.D. — but extensive research has failed to find a trace of her prior to that. Could he possibly have been fibbing?
Rabbits and hares are ubiquitous in mythology. Every culture seems to have a rabbit god — and they’re nearly always trickster spirits. This, we feel, explains a lot. We also have a terrific theory explaining why stage magicians love doing tricks with eggs and rabbits.
The word “paschal” is the equivalent of Greek “pascha” is derived from Aramaic “pasḥā” and Hebrew “pesaḥ”, meaning “the passing over.” Some scholars refer to Assyrian “pasah” – appease or Egyptian “pa-sh” – remembrance or “pē-sah” – the blow. The Bible links “pesaḥ” with “pāsaḥ” – two literal meanings are: to limp and to perform a ritual dance around a sacrifice (1 K 18:21.26). Figuratively it may be understood, “to jump”, “to pass”, “to spare.” It refers to the passage of God on the Passover night, when the Israelites left Egypt. God struck the houses of Egyptians and left the Israelites untouched, i.e. passed over.
The second word, mystery, is regarded in Christian 20th century theology as one of the most important key-words of Christianity and its theology. It opposes the ideas of Gnosticism, Rationalism and Semi-Rationalism, pointing out that there are Divine mysteries properly so called which cannot be grasped by mere human reasoning. They need to be revealed by God through the grace. In this meaning mystery describes not an idea that must be unlocked or solved like a mystery novel, but the Divine truth and life, to which God through the Church, sacraments, word of God and faith initiates the deidecaters (cf. Eph 1,17ff).