A Brief History of Eostere

You know, I’m willing to meet the Evangelicals halfway —the Christian holiday, Easter, did not begin as a pagan celebration of “the Goddess Eostere”. In fact, there’s no evidence of such a goddess as part of any pantheon prior the 8th Century CE, and the first time She was attested to in any writing was from a Christian text, to boot. The etymology of her name is likely from either the proto-Germanic “Austro” or the Hellenic “Eos”.

That said, as loathe as I am to quote Parker & Stone, I think the character of Stan Marsh put it best when, in the especially surreal “Fantastic Easter Special” eppie of South Park, he asked, several times and never to any logical answer: “What is the connection between Jesus and rabbits and colored eggs?”

The origin of Easter, in specific, even “Eostere”, may be Christian, but the traditional activities associated with the holiday are, to put it bluntly, pagan in origin.

300px-Belarusian_Easter_EggsEggs are fertility symbols. Modern Orthodox Christian Hellenes may say the deep reds of theirs represent Christ’s blood, but honestly? Most of them look pretty damned menstrual. Am I really supposed to believe that the origin of this has nothing to do with the Orphic World Egg?

Furthermore, the reputation of rabbits have for fucking is, indeed, an ancient one, and is likely why rabbits were a common courtship / engagement gift from ancient through to Renaissance years. Again, what does this have to do with a crucified prophet ascending bodily from his grave? Pretty much nothing, the rabbits are a fertility symbol for a fertility festival.

Even if “the Goddess Eostere” was unattested to prior the 8th Century CE, clearly She has a following now. She may not be an historical origin for pre-Christian celebrations that were later absorbed into Easter, but not only is She a part of the current pagan celebrations, there is, in fact, reason to believe that “Easter traditions” far pre-date Christianity.

Now, I do find the etymological liklihood between Eostere and Eos interesting — as Goddess of Dawn, has been given associations with things that “the dawn” can symbolise, such as New Beginnings, as per the 2000s Battlestar Galactica reboot. The traditional New Year in the Anglosphere was springtime, and the “head of the year” in Mesopotamia was springtime, ad well. Mythology of spring consistently centres around new beginnings, or beginning anew. It also makes for a curious coincidence that Eos’ personal mythology is loaded with many young lovers — many who die, some of whom metamorphosise — which brings us back to aspects of fertility in the springtime festivals.

Now, this is all coincidence with Eos — indeed, if her cult ever existed, the only surviving “evidence” of it comes from Ovid, who is incredibly vague:

Ovid, Metamorphoses 13. 576 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“[Eos addresses Zeus :] Least I may be of all the goddesses the golden heavens hold–in all the world my shrines are rarest.”

…but considering that The Feast of Eros is a springtime festival (with symbolism that is certainly in line with a majority of that associated with Easter), it might seem fair to include Eos, if one might be so inclined.

Reading up a little more on Eostere, it seems some do associate her with dawn, which may or may not reflect Grimm’s first suggestion that the etymology of Eostere may be linked more closely with Eos. It’s also intriguing, to me, that in spite of many people trying to connect the association of Eostere and rabbits to Freya, it seems that Freya has no clear associations with rabbits — but Eros and Aphrodite do have traditional symbolisms with rabbits and hares.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

5 thoughts on “A Brief History of Eostere

  1. Pingback: Res ipsa loquitur | The House of Vines

  2. Yeah, I think it’s kind of obvious that a bunch of common Easter traditions have pagan origins (eggs, and rabbits), but I think pagans have a tendency to seriously oversell the whole Easter-is-YET-ANOTHER-COOPTED-PAGAN-HOLIDAY bit, that I think stems from just not knowing a whole lot about where Easter fits in to Christianity, apart from the obvious (it’s the day Jesus supposedly rose from the dead) and the commercial.
    What a lot of pagans miss is that the primary activity associated with Easter is just going to church. Moreso even than Christmas, Easter is the deeply embedded axis of the Church liturgical year for the vast majority of Christians throughout the world (and throughout history). The fact that the average pagan may be more familiar with non-liturgical Evangelical Protestants for whom this is not necessarily the case are doesn’t change this.

    • What a lot of pagans miss is that the primary activity associated with Easter is just going to church.

      Having grown up in a reasonably devout Catholic household, I’m inclined to agree, but I’m also inclined to give the benefit of the doubt, as I’ve since met people who state that their parents only took them to church on Christmas –the tradition of pastel Easter dress was, to them, “just something else you do on Easter”, even though the only place they wore this finery was Grandma’s house.

      The “paganisation” of Easter happened gradually —I imagine the eggs were adopted first, as they were part of local feasts for various festivals, and the first noted inclusion of rabbits or hares in “Easter symbolism” dates to mediaeval England, where, again, it’s likely that the animal were a holdover from pre-Christian Romano-Celtic feasts. It’s interesting how Catholicism became so widespread, and the takeover was simple: Remove the paganism from practises while keeping them relatively recognisable to pagans –local customs were OK, as long as it became part of church tradition and stopped being about pagan deities, even veneration of local deities was still OK as long as the church was willing to repurpose those deities as saints.

      The fact that the average pagan may be more familiar with non-liturgical Evangelical Protestants for whom this is not necessarily the case are doesn’t change this.

      And I know very little about that culture. Like, do they not go to church on Easter? Is it just less common for them to? That seems so odd to me that I just take for granted the fact that Easter is one of the most church-going days of the year, most of the time.

  3. Yeah, I think it’s kind of obvious that a bunch of common Easter traditions have pagan origins (eggs, and rabbits), but I think pagans have a tendency to seriously oversell the whole Easter-is-YET-ANOTHER-COOPTED-PAGAN-HOLIDAY bit, that I think stems from just not knowing a whole lot about where Easter fits in to Christianity, apart from the obvious (it’s the day Jesus supposedly rose from the dead) and the commercial.
    What a lot of pagans miss is that the primary activity associated with Easter is just going to church. Moreso even than Christmas, Easter is the deeply embedded axis of the Church liturgical year for the vast majority of Christians throughout the world (and throughout history). The fact that the average pagan may be more familiar with non-liturgical Evangelical Protestants for whom this is not necessarily the case are doesn’t change this.

    • What a lot of pagans miss is that the primary activity associated with Easter is just going to church.

      Having grown up in a reasonably devout Catholic household, I’m inclined to agree, but I’m also inclined to give the benefit of the doubt, as I’ve since met people who state that their parents only took them to church on Christmas –the tradition of pastel Easter dress was, to them, “just something else you do on Easter”, even though the only place they wore this finery was Grandma’s house.

      The “paganisation” of Easter happened gradually —I imagine the eggs were adopted first, as they were part of local feasts for various festivals, and the first noted inclusion of rabbits or hares in “Easter symbolism” dates to mediaeval England, where, again, it’s likely that the animal were a holdover from pre-Christian Romano-Celtic feasts. It’s interesting how Catholicism became so widespread, and the takeover was simple: Remove the paganism from practises while keeping them relatively recognisable to pagans –local customs were OK, as long as it became part of church tradition and stopped being about pagan deities, even veneration of local deities was still OK as long as the church was willing to repurpose those deities as saints.

      The fact that the average pagan may be more familiar with non-liturgical Evangelical Protestants for whom this is not necessarily the case are doesn’t change this.

      And I know very little about that culture. Like, do they not go to church on Easter? Is it just less common for them to? That seems so odd to me that I just take for granted the fact that Easter is one of the most church-going days of the year, most of the time.

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