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.