Here comes Peter Cottontail,
hopping down the bunny trail.
Hippy, hoppity, Eostre’s on its way!
Or is that Easter? Or Ostara? To be honest, it’s really hard to tell the difference. Nearly every Christian tradition associated with the celebration of Easter can be traced back to its Pagan roots. The connections are many and not particularly veiled.
Ostara is celebrated on the spring equinox, when day and night are equal. Ostara is Latin for the ancient German spring goddess Eostre (for whom the Christian holiday of Easter is named.) The ancient Greeks called her Eos or Aurora. Ostara celebrates the balance of all things male and female, physical and spiritual, etc.
Here’s a list of common Easter traditions and their Pagan connections:
Eggs – They are a symbol of fertility and new life which were decorated to honor the Goddess. Almost all Pagan cultures gave brightly colored eggs to each other as gifts during this time. Eggs were also used in a number of rituals as well.
Easter Lilies – Most Christian churches are decorated with white lilies on Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This tradition goes back to ancient Greece and Rome where they decorated Ostara altars and temples with lilies to honor the Goddess.
Easter Bunny – Yep, even the Easter bunny goes way back! There is an Eostre legend of a rabbit who wanted to please the Goddess, laid sacred eggs in her honor (pretty impressive for a rabbit!), decorated them, and presented them to her.
Easter Clothes – German Pagans believed it was bad luck to wear spiring clothes before the celebration of Eostre. They worked on a new spring outfit in secret all winter long and unveiled it during this holy-day.
Lamb – Lamb is sacred to almost all virgin Goddesses of ancient Europe and beyond. It was first adopted by the Jews as a part of the Passover story, and then Christians piggy backed on this tradition as well. While ham in now the popular choice for Easter dinner, lamb was the meat of choice in earlier times. (Eating ham to honor a resurrected Jew makes no sense to me, anyway!)
Hot Cross Buns – Yes, even the hot cross bun was first created by Pagans as a representation of the Sun Wheel/Wheel of the Year.
Resurrection and New Life – Hold your breath. In Edain McCoy’s excellent book Sabbats: A Witch’s Approach to Living the Old Ways, she says the following about the celebration of Ostara: “In Slavic Pagan traditions this was believed to be a day when death had no power over the living.”
The ancient Greeks told the story of Persephone who went to he underworld to guide the spirits of the dead to their eternal rest. Meanwhile, her mother, Demeter, put her life on hold and waited for her daughter to return. During this time, grain and other plants did not grow and the weather was cold. When Persephone returned, the earth came alive again. In addition to the Persephone legend, most spring equinox myths are about Deities who visit the Underworld, where they struggled to return back to earth. When they emerged triumphant, new life appeared.
I believe the reason why there are so many connections is because these ancient celebrations were so much a part of the cultures they came from that Christians had to join the party. Therefore, they set their own story of resurrection and new life at the same time as these other spring celebrations. It only makes sense and is the pattern of the early Church as they wrestled with Pagan culture and traditions. I like to think that Christians “borrowed” instead of “stole” these rituals because they were rich with meaning and easily fit the theology of the Christian church with a few little tweaks.
Here’s an article that counters much of what I’ve written here. It’s hard to know who to believe which means more academic research needs to be done on this subject. Here’s the link from the Association of Polytheist Traditions: http://www.manygods.org.uk/articles/essays/Eostre.shtml
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