Almost every modern Christian holiday has it’s root in ancient pagan practices. Christmas was a byproduct of the ancient celebration called Yule. Halloween is derived from Samhain. Valentine’s Day comes from the ancient Roman holiday called Lupercalia. The pagan origins of Easter comes from Ostara, which is the topic of this piece. This article is not intended to denigrate modern religion, only to show the history behind the holiday.
The first part of this piece is one of many tales that were are told to explain the symbols as evidence that there are pagan origins of Easter, It tells a story of a hare, colored eggs, and how they connect to the Goddess Eostre. It’s a short read and would be great to share with children as it really speaks to them on their level. Afterwards, we will briefly look at the known information, some other theories, and some views the Christian church has on modern-day Easter.
A Story of Eostre, the Hare, and Colored Eggs
Long ago, when the world was less populated and the Gods and Goddesses walked free through the lands, humans would interact with different deities. On the first day of spring each year, the baby animals and little children gather in the great meadow to celebrate the season with the Goddess Eostre. Each would bring her a small gift or offering in exchange for her blessing in the coming year. On one of those years, a young rabbit was preparing to make the great journey from his hole, deep in the woods, to the great meadow. But, being a creature of the earth, the rabbit knew that a rabbit had no possessions worthy enough to present to a Goddess. So, the hare went into the forest to search the nooks and crannies of the landscape, hoping that something worthy to present to a Goddess would emerge.
While on his quest, that same young rabbit came upon a fresh egg. Moments before the hare was about to enjoy it as a meal, he was hit with the realization that this egg would make a fine offering to the Goddess, especially since it was a true representation of springtime. And yet after a few minutes of thought, he realized the egg was no different than any other egg and unimpressive. So, being the creative rabbit that he was, the young rabbit decided to take it home to decorate it first. He wanted it to be special and worthy of offering to the Goddess.
The rabbit gathered skins from onions, juice from beets, red cabbage, grape and blueberry juice along with cold spring water to create a pallet of amazing colors. He took fibers from dried plants to apply the colors and flowers and greenery to weave around the base of the egg. After several days of work, he beamed at the finished egg and started on the journey.
On the first day of Spring, all the little children and forest creatures were gathered, each taking a turn to approach the Goddess. When it was his turn, the hare humbly approached with reverence and awe. He kept his head down and presented the now brightly colored egg to the Goddess. She beamed at the beautiful egg; smiling down upon the rabbit, who looked up lovingly while overwhelmed with relief. The Goddess was so moved that she wanted everyone gathered to feel the same elated feeling and proclaimed colored eggs for all the little ones.
She also saw the unselfish and gentle soul of the rabbit by presenting her with the egg rather than eating it, so she rewarded him and his entire species with a new life, of sorts. From that day forward, rabbits would have the job of creating and delivering decorated eggs to children and animals across the land on the morning of the great festival of the spring.
What Do We Know About Eostre and the Pagan Origins of Easter?
Eostre was a Germanic/Angl0-Saxon Goddess. Her special animal was the hare, which has been interpreted as a sign of fertility. Rabbits are known to produce copious offspring, which is where the connection occurred. Stories also have her as being associated with flowers and springtime. Her name gave us the word for Easter.
There are no references to Eostre in any ancient documents. However that should not surprise anyone since very little documentation was ever produced by many ancient cultures. In the 13th Century in the Venerable Bede’s Temporum Ratione, we learned that April was known as Eostremonath, and was named for an Anglo-Saxon Goddess that was honored each spring. Other than that reference, there’s not much more. In the 1800’s a gentleman named Jacob Grimm made the claim that Eostre was identified in ancient Germanic oral histories, but there is no concrete evidence of those stories being told. Nothing has been found in Germanic mythology or any other cultural mythology. It is reasonable to assume that she was either celebrated in a small region or locality.
Another theory is that Eostre is the same person as Ishtar, an ancient Goddess of fertility and war. This theory is not very popular for many reasons. One key reason is because Ishtar has the element of war as one of her prime focus points. Despite the lack of written information, the celebration of Ostara exists and has withstood the test of time. As noted, she could have been a local Goddess with a strong enough following, that her legacy survived and flourished. It is very possible that early Christians saw the purity of the celebration and a strong connection to spring, rebirth, and other symbols. It is also probable that they adopted and reconfigured the practice to create what we call Easter today. It should be noted that there is only a single mention of Easter in the Christian Bible. Acts 12:4 has been debated for many years. Some call it a mistranslation, while others state it directly refers to a pagan practice of King Herod.
With the commercialism of Easter, the holiday has become more secular rather than religious. The church has tried to focus strictly on the resurrection of Jesus Christ as their focal point, while the general population focuses on chocolate and hunting for colored eggs left by an oversized bunny. Many Christians feel Easter should not be celebrated as a religious holiday at all because of the commercialism.