The sight of small children finding brightly colored eggs, the fertility bunnies hopping about the verdant fields of spring…yes, boys and girls, it’s Easter. Well, more correctly, it’s the celebration of Eostre…the Norse festival of spring, or going back few thousand years or so before Christ, it’s the celebration of “Eostre,” the pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess of birth, rebirth and light. Those of you familiar with your Old Testament might recognize her as the Sumarian goddess Asherah…the goddess whose name was forbidden.
(The female dieties…verily and mightily did they piss off the authors of the bible.)
“yes, yes,” you say…”we got it…goddesses, rebirth, spring…fine, fine…but where do the eggs and bunnies come from?” Well, I’m so glad you asked. The name of the holiday (in English and other Germanic languages) is taken from the name of the Teutonic goddess of spring, Eostre or Ostara. (In Latin languages – French, Italian, etc. – the holiday derives its name from the Hebrew celebration of Passover.) Eostre/Ostara is derived from the same root as are “egg” and “ovulation”: “oestrus”. According to Teutonic myth, the hare was once a bird whom Eostre changed into a four-footed creature. Thus, it can also lay eggs. The hare is also the sacred companion and sacrificial victim of Eostre. Astarte (a Phoenician/Syrian goddess), on the other hand, was believed to have been hatched from a huge egg which fell into the Euphrates.
The concept of a rabbit laying eggs comes from an ancient myth involving Astarte (and sometimes the Egyptian Hathor) who, in the form of a rabbit or hare, laid the Golden Egg (which was the sun) and thus ensured the return of warmth and light. Rabbits are also associated with resurrection deities such as Persephone and Attis, since they too, live both above and below ground (above ground where they eat and play, and below ground in their rabbit warrens).
The Anglo-Saxons made offerings of coloured eggs to Eostre, by placing them in graves (probably as a rebirth charm). The Egyptians also placed eggs in tombs and the Greeks placed eggs on top of graves. Eggs were not only symbols of rebirth for humans, but also symbolized rebirth within nature on a grander scale. The golden yolk of the egg is an obvious symbol of the golden sun-god, both for their similarity in appearance and for their return at the same time (the vernal equinox). (And they said I’d never use my philosophy degree…)
Fundamentalist Christians consider Easter to be a big pagan no-no…apparently, chocolate bunnies take your mind off the dead (and reborn) Jewish kid. Which seems silly to me…frankly, there’s always a reason to celebrate good chocolate.
Oh, and happy birthday Jennifer…(my sister in law). She’s 23…ah, to be young, carefree and close to New Orleans…now that’s the way to celebrate spring.