This is a reposting of a pair of articles published last year on the origins of Easter and some Easter traditions. The sources are given so that the reader can better be able to debunk the popular “historical” nonsense about the origins of Easter.
The whole series is available at Diatheke Christianity and Paganism.
Second Part: Attacks On The Name and Traditions
There are three main things people attack about this Holy Day:
- They claim that it is pagan because the name Easter is from a pagan goddess.
- They claim that Easter eggs are a symbol of pagan worship, particularly of that false goddess in number 1.
- They claim that the Easter bunny is a pagan symbol, the consort of the pagan goddess in number 1.
All of these claims are false.
That’s not to say that the materialism of modern culture hasn’t obscured the meaning of Easter through focusing on treats and bunnies. But even though factual information about the tradition of eggs at Easter is plentiful, and even though the use of the hare/rabbit has long history in Christian iconography the propaganda efforts of the anti-Easter crowd and the Neopagans through all kinds of media has overcome the truth. And the lies have found a firm footing in the social awareness of contemporary society. Through venues like the History Channel, college courses, and popular news media the lies have become accepted as historical fact.
The Name of the Holy Day: Easter
As we have demonstrated in the previous article, the choosing of the date for Easter had nothing to do with pagan practices. The original dates chosen and the reasons for adjusting the methods of determining those dates always had to do with determining when the Biblical Passover should be observed so that the festival of the Resurrection could be observed without discord.
While most languages adapt the word פסח Pesach “Passover” as the term for Easter/Passover, German and English adopted the local month name. The local month name was adopted very early, by the records it was adopted while Rome was still active.
Alexander Hislop claimed:
What means the term Easter itself? It is not a Christian name. It bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of heaven, whose name, as pronounced by the people Nineveh, was evidently identical with that now in common use in this country. That name, as found by Layard on the Assyrian monuments, is Ishtar. The worship of Bel and Astarte was very early introduced into Britain, along with the Druids, “the priests of the groves.” (The Two Babylons, Ch. 3, sec. 2)
Notice how clever the argument is? Sir Austen Henry Layard just published his first works on Nineveh in 1848, 1849, and 1853. And in 1853, Hislop, who knew nothing about cuneiform or ancient Babylonian languages concludes that since the Babylonian name “Ishtar” sounds like the English word “Easter” they must be the same!
Just so that the argument can not be disproved, Hislop claims that the Druids brought Ishtar to England. This is handy, because the Druids didn’t write anything down. And those records about Druids by others don’t record any such migrations or Ishtar worship.
- Note for later: Ishtar’s symbolic animals were the lion, and the horse. The symbols of Astarte (a goddess of war) were the lion, the horse, the dove, and the sphynx. And though the are considered “fertility” gods today (instead of just pornography) there were no bunnies or eggs among the symbols for these false gods.
But there is a possibility: Perhaps the word Easter does come from some pagan goddess.
Was There Actually a Pagan Goddess Easter, Eostre, Ostara?
A search of all the ancient literature left by the Germanic, Celtic, English peoples and their ancestors combined with a search of all ancient literature about those peoples by their contemporaries up to the 8th century A.D. turns up nothing.
There is nothing in any Edda, nothing in any history, nothing. And it is not for lack of written records about the religious practices and beliefs of those peoples through those years.
Note this date, the 8th century A.D. This is when the first mention of a possible “goddess” is made. The date of the Easter festival had already been long established. The use of the term Easter or Ostern (German) had already been long established.
The first mention of such a goddess comes from the Venerable Bede in his 725 A.D. De Temporum Ratione. Bede wrote:
Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes.
The Complete Works of Venerable Bede, Bd. VI, London 1843 [http://oll.libertyfund.org/files/1917/0990.06_Bk_SM.pdf Seite 139 ff.} pp. 178-179 Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina CXXIII B, Bedae Venerabilis Opera, Bd. VI,2, Turnhout 1977
Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.
[ Bede: The Reckoning of Time (Liverpool University Press – Translated Texts for Historians) by Faith Wallis (Apr 1, 1999) p. 54]
It would seem that Bede, who is listing out the English names of the months in this chapter, confirms that there was a goddess named Eostre. But neither Eostre nor a goddess he mentions in the previous sentence, “Hrethra,” are found in any other literature from either earlier nor later.
It is not unlikely that Bede was conjecturing about the origin of the names given that month names have been named after false gods in other cultures; e.g., July, and August, named after Julius and Augustus upon deification.
We will see a little later that there is another possibility, especially considering that all of the other English month names were seasonal descriptions or events during those times.
January=Giuli; Sun gets stronger
February=Sol-monath, Cake baking
March=Rhed-monath, Otherwise unknown goddess Hretha
April=Eostur-monath, Otherwise unknown goddess Eostra
May=Thrimylchi, Milk the cows three times a day Month
July also=Lida, Gentle
August=Vueod-monath, Month the tares/grasses
September=Haleg-monath, Holy Month
October=Vuinter-fylleth; Winter starting with the full moon Month.
November=Blod-monath, Cattle slaughter month.
December=Giul; Sun gets stronger
Examples of fake quotations:
“Easter – *Ôstara) was a goddess in Germanic
paganism whose Germanic month has given its
name to the festival of Easter. Ôstarmânoth
is attested as the month-name equivalent to
‘April’ that was decreed by Charlemagne,
but as a goddess Eostre is attested only
by Bede in his 8th century work De temporum
ratione. Bede states that Ēosturmōnaþ
was the equivalent to the month of April,
and that feasts held in Eostre’s honor…
replaced the “Paschal” observance of
— Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, §29.
“Some scholars have debated whether or not
Eostre is an invention of Bede’s, and
theories Einhard, connecting Eostre with records of
Germanic Easter customs (including hares
rabbits and eggs).”
— Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, §29.
Both of these fake quotes are from the website easter-origins and are found repeated in dozens of websites.
Here is Einhard’s actual full section 29 on Charlemagne:
It was after he had received the imperial name that, finding the laws of his people very defective (the Franks have two sets of laws, very different in many particulars), he determined to add what was wanting, to reconcile the discrepancies, and to correct what was vicious and wrongly cited in them. However, he went no further in this matter than to supplement the laws by a few capitularies, and those imperfect ones; but he caused the unwritten laws of all the tribes that came under his rule to be compiled and reduced to writing . He also had the old rude songs that celeate the deeds and wars of the ancient kings written out for transmission to posterity. He began a grammar of his native language. He gave the months names in his own tongue, in place of the Latin and barbarous names by which they were formerly known among the Franks. He likewise designated the winds by twelve appropriate names; there were hardly more than four distinctive ones in use before. He called January, Wintarmanoth; February, Hornung; March, Lentzinmanoth; April, Ostarmanoth; May, Winnemanoth; June, Brachmanoth; July, Heuvimanoth; August, Aranmanoth; September, Witumanoth; October, Windumemanoth; Novemher, Herbistmanoth; December, Heilagmanoth. He styled the winds as follows; Subsolanus, Ostroniwint; Eurus, Ostsundroni-, Euroauster, Sundostroni; Auster, Sundroni; Austro-Africus, Sundwestroni; Africus, Westsundroni; Zephyrus, Westroni; Caurus, Westnordroni; Circius, Nordwestroni; Septentrio, Nordroni; Aquilo, Nordostroni; Vulturnus, Ostnordroni.
[Life of Charlemagne — Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne, 19th century English translation by Samuel Epes Turner]
All Einhard says is that Charles the Great chose to keep the Germanic month names. There is nothing here that speaks about a pagan goddess named Ostara or Eostra.
There is one more name with the term Eostra in it from this general period. Eosterwine. (650 – 7 March 686) was the second Anglo-Saxon Abbot of Wearmouth in Northumbria (England).
Note that in none of these documents is there anything about who Eostra might have been, what purpose she might have served, who her consorts might have been. All the evidence shows us is that the old English had a month with the name Eostra. It shows us that a well respected writer of the church thought that the month name had pagan roots. But that name, even if used for the feast of the Resurrection, was not chosen because the Passover meal was pagan or polluted by paganism. It would be just like non Pagans today using the word Thursday for the name of a weekday.
No one heard any more about Eostra/Ostara for a thousand years.
That should be repeated: NO ONE heard any more about Eostra/Ostara for a THOUSAND YEARS!
It wasn’t until 1835 when Jacob Grimm began publishing his work on Teutonic Mythology that the name Eostra as a goddess was noticed again.
Everything that we think we know about Eostra comes from Grimm. But notice how what Grimm says is conjecture:
We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ostarmanoth is found as early as Eginhart (temp. Car. Mag.). The great Christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG. remains the name ostara gen. -un ;1 it is mostly found in the plural, because two days (ostartagil, aostortaga, Diut. 1, 266a) were kept at Easter. This Ostara, like the AS. Eastre, must in the heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries.(Volume 1, p. 290 bold added)
After making what now would be rightly considered an illegitimate venture into etymology of the name Eostre, Grimm continues:
Ostara, Eostre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted to the resurrection-day of the Christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter, and according to a popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy (Superst. 813). Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing (Superst. 775. 804) ; here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great Christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess (see Suppl.). (ibid. 291 bold added)
Remember what Grimm is working with. He has only Bede and Einhard. Just like you and I have.
According to the second volume of his Teutonic Mythology, Grimm even associates the Easter egg with Eostra. Though, we shall see, that particularly Christian tradition predates any mention of Eostra by 500 years. Grimm wrote:
But if we admit, goddesses, then, in addition to Nerthus, Ostara has the strongest claim to consideration. To what we said on p. 290 I can add some significant facts. The heathen Easter had much in common with May-feast and the reception of spring, particularly in matter of bonfires. Then, through long ages there seem to have lingered among the people Easter-games so-called, which the church itself had to tolerate : I allude especially to the custom of Easter eggs, and to the Easter tale which preachers told from the pulpit for the people’s amusement, connecting it with Christian reminiscences.(Volume 2, p. 780 bold added)
Again, notice the conjectural language, but also the confidence he seems to have about his notions.
Everything else about this so called “ancient” goddess Eostra/Ostara has been made up since the late 1800s. And it has been made up out of nothing.
Recently an historian has offered another suggestion. In his article Ostern. Geschichte eines Wortes [D. H. Green The Modern Language Review Vol. 96, No. 1 (Jan., 2001), pp. 247-249] Jürgen Udolph suggested that by exampled usages and historical linguistics believes that the goddess names Ostara and Eostre are false conclusions. Rather Udolph traces “Ostern / Easter” from a Nordic root ausa “to pour water,” which was proposed by Siegfried Gutenbrunner in 1966. In this way both the linguistic form of the word in Bede and Einhard along with the name Eostrewine can be maintained, the listing of seasons and seasonal tasks is maintained in Bede, there is no need to create a potential mythology. The implication is that the word Easter would actually etymologically derived from the main baptism service during Easter night.
Before all Sacramental Christians get excited about this article, we need to remember that it too is an historical conjecture. But this conjecture seems to address the evidence as evidence and requires not fanciful and imaginative mythology to be created in support of it.
On the use of Ostern as “Baptize” see also “Ostern”, in: Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, Volume 22, 2000.
The Neopagans and Wiccans have made up all kinds of claims that the Easter holiday had to do with fertility and reproduction. They claim that Ashtorah was a reproductive goddess. There is no evidence in the Bible that the asherah poles and other references to Ashera or Ashtorah had anything to do with fertility. And there is nothing that links the Ashtorah of the Bible with the old Babylonian goddess Ishtar.
Some modern archaeologists who try to show the evolution of religions in the middle-east have conjectured that ancient Ugaritic goddess named Athirat might be linked to the Bible’s Ashtorah even though many Ugaritic documents say otherwise. A few of these scholars also conjectured that this Ugaritic goddess might be the equivalent of Babylon’s Ishtar, but this is only conjecture.
So where are we with real history for “Easter”?
The word Easter comes either from the old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “to shine”-possibly to describe the months of the year when the sun began to get brighter and higher during the day. Or it may come from the word “to baptize” indicating the Baptisms which took place on Easter. In 1525 William Tyndale used the Middle-English word “ester” = “Easter” as a translation for Passover and the day of Christ’s Resurrection. The word had already been long used and understood as referring to the day of Christ’s Resurrection when Tyndale made his translation.
Despite what some modern Pagans and Wiccans wish the past might have been, there were no known pagan or wiccan celebrations of a pagan-easter in England or northern Europe in the period from the Middle Ages through the Reformation and up to the late 1800s.
So there are two modern myths that we have debunked: first, it is not true that the name of Easter came from the worship of a pagan spring goddess; second, it is not true that the Easter celebration was a celebration of fertility and reproduction.
Where did the Easter Egg come from?
There are several traditions which converge to bring us the Easter egg. And there is some modern nonsense that really has nothing to do with the use of eggs at Easter.
First, there is a sculpture on the Persepolis of ancient Iran of a line of people bearing gifts on the New Year day celebration on the Spring equinox. One of the many different gifts carried by the people in this sculpture appears to be an egg. This was carved by the old pagan Zoroastrians from ancient Persia (modern Iran).
From this sculpture modern Pagans have conjectured that Christians stole the idea of using eggs at Easter from the ancient Zoroastrians. The problem is that none of the writers in the ancient Christian church mention this tradition where they came into contact with Zoroastrians.
Still, the modern Neopagans and Wiccans assert that the egg is an ancient sign of fertility. That seems as bright a claim as saying that water is wet.
Of the traditions that actually do contribute to Christianity using eggs in the Easter celebration there are three to consider.
First: In the celebration of the Passover meal, which Christ celebrated the night before He was crucified, a roasted whole egg is placed as one of six food items on the Passover plate. The egg, called Beitzah symbolizes the Passover sacrifice that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. The egg was introduced to the Passover meal after the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. The egg was the first dish served at Jewish funerals in the time of Christ’s ministry on earth. The egg was also used as a symbol of mourning the loss of the Temple where the Passover Lamb was sacrificed. It is usually eaten dipped in salt water which symbolizes the bitter tears of the people.
Early Christians in the first and second century continued to celebrate the Passover along with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Primarily the Passover was celebrated because of Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Second: the season preceding Easter is called Lent. The season of Lent is a fast. In the article on Lent we saw how ancient this practice was and where it started. In both the eastern and western Church this meant fasting from meat and bird flesh–including eggs. Eggs were used to break the Lenten fast on Easter Morning. In preparation for this breaking of the fast the eggs were decorated to commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Paschal Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. The breaking of the shell became a symbol of Christ’s rending of the tomb.
Indeed, the use of decorated eggs to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning is so widespread across the world and so closely tied with the spread of Christianity that one cannot call it anything but a Christian tradition. But that doesn’t keep the Neopagans and modern commentators from trying to claim that Christian’s “stole” this so-called “pagan” tradition.
So we turn to the third tradition:
The Easter Hare
The typical image used to demonstrate that that the Easter Bunny was the consort of Ostara/Eostra is this:
As we have seen above, Ostara/Eostra didn’t really exist. And since she didn’t exist she couldn’t have had a bunny as a consort. But where do they get this ancient looking, archaeological type statue of Ostara and the Rabbit?
All those websites, videos, and well meaning people who try to argue that Easter is pagan and use this picture to do so have a basic problem with honesty.
There is an interesting doubling up of the Easter bunny with the fictional goddess Ostara. The modern ‘histories” of Easter tend to claim 1) that Easter was originally a pagan fertility holiday 2) of devotion to the goddess Ostara (Eastre, however spelled), 3) she used eggs as a symbol of fertility, and 4) she always carried a pet bunny because it was so fertile. Now, all of these 4 claims are fiction.
So where did the bunny really come from?
According to Karl Joseph Simrok’s 1855 book called Handbuch Der Deutschen Mythologie Mit Einschluss Der Nordischen, “The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility.” (page 551) The old 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia cites this as proof that Christians cannot use the rabbit in celebration of Easter. But I cannot find this sentence in my copy of Simrok’s book. Perhaps mine is a different edition.
What is interesting about the rabbit or hare is that it has been used by all kinds of religions around the world as a symbol. Each religion fitting its own teaching on the symbol of the rabbit. But in most cases the symbol refers to new life. In the ancient eastern Church the rabbit was used on tombstones and as a symbol of Christ. One author points out that some early Christians viewed the rabbit’s hole as a symbol of the tomb of Christ.
Probably the most complete and systematic study to date is actually Birgit Gehrisch’s Lepusculus Domini, Erotic Hare, Meister Lampe” Zur Rolle des Hasen in der Kulturgeschichte, Inaugural-Dissertaion zur Erlangun, VVB Laufersweiler Verlag, Wettenberg, Germany, 2005.
Christian art has several examples from the early times through the renaissance of rabbits as a symbol of Christ.
To name just a few The three hare window in Paderborn, Germany and also in the monastery Muottatal in Switzerland, where three rabbits are together in a triangle with only one ear each showing, symbolizing the Trinity,
There are actually dozens of examples like this one above scattered all across Europe and Asia.
Martin Schongauer’s 1470 engraving The Temptation of Jesus has three by three rabbits at the feet of Jesus Christ.
His student Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of 1497 The Holy Family with the Three Hares showing two hares next to each other and the other going down toward a hole with a stone rolled next to it;
Hans Baldung Grien 1512-1516 painted the altar for the Freiburg Cathedral with the second panel representing Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth where he painted the rabbits about the feet of Mary and Elizabeth;
Titan’s Madonna and Child with St. Catherine and a Rabbit which was painted in 1530.
I picked these works of art because they are all pretty much pre-Reformation. They demonstrate that the rabbit or hare was used a symbol of Christ and the Resurrection before the time of the Reformation.
America owes the use of the Easter Bunny to the Pennsylvania Deutch settlers who came from Alsace, a German and French area on the border between the two countries. Back in 1678 Georg Franck von Frankenau in 1682 wrote against the excessive eating of Easter eggs which parents would leave in the name of the Easter Hare–the Resurrected Christ. The people from this region settled in Pennsylvania and brought with them their symbolism and traditions surrounding the hare representing Christ, the egg representing the tomb, and Christ’s resurrection with the giving and breaking of eggs when the fast of Lent was ended on Easter Sunday.
Yes, Easter, the eggs, the bunny, all of them are still being perverted into something else by our own society. The devil, the world, and our own flesh don’t want to hear about Christ’s resurrection and will attack any symbols used to teach the resurrection.
But now you know enough of the real history of Easter and the symbols used by the Christian Church to celebrate this holiday.