Jesus or the Easter Egg: ‘Witch’ Came First?
Ever wonder how bunny eggs, death and resurrection fit together? A pagan history of the goddess, and how the church stole Easter
BY DANNY KENNY — Ever since I was an angelic little boy, there are many reasons why I’ve always loved Easter. But I would no longer be angelic in good Irish Catholic fashion if I didn’t admit that gorging myself with sumptuous chocolate eggs after a cruel, six-week enforced abstinence (during Lent) from my first love wasn’t a huge part of that.
Even as a child I had trouble equating chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies, but when you’re in a self-induced chocolate coma, such heady thoughts soon pass.
On a deeper level — even though I grew away from my childhood addiction and religion — I still retained a different kind of deeper love for the annual celebration of renewal, faith and hope.
And now, as a Pagan, I value hope more than ever during this transitional cycle that we all find ourselves in. Whatever your credo or beliefs, when you think about the alternative — hopelessness — it just doesn’t bear thinking about.
On a more calibrated, Cosmic Spirit level, what I want to explore is why we celebrate Easter Sunday, and when we celebrate it. Most people are aware that Easter moves each year, but few people recognize the reason for this, or the method and origins of its calculation.
The heavenly clock
In June, 325 A.D., papal astronomers approximated astronomical full moon dates for the Christian church, calling them “Ecclesiastical Full Moon” dates (making the Vatican the first Super Power to lay claim to the Moon), to ensure that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first Vernal Equinox full moon. Of course this was all calculated under the Julian calendar,whereas now we are dated by the Gregorian calendar.
The Vernal Equinox signifies the astronomical, non-denominational arrival of spring and was considered by pagans as the time to celebrate rebirth and renewal as nature resurrects itself from the symbolic “death” it suffered at Winter Solstice.
Of course, the rebirth/resurrection celebration is as old and pagan as Father Time or the Egyptian god Osiris, who has the rare distinction as one of the oldest gods on record to do the whole virgin-birth-death-resurrection trifecta, long before the birth or death of Christ.
But, God/dess forbid, especially for you God trivia folks who like your factual info on your supernatural deities etched in stone – that would be the Palermo Stone, dated approximately 2500 B.C. And, as a bonus, here’s the:
Womb to the Tomb: Top Three Requirements for a Bona Fide Deity —
- Osiris is one of the earliest examples in human culture of the dying and resurrected god, linked to the apparent “rebirth of nature” in the Spring. At some time in our cultural development the dying/reborn god (or goddess) was transformed into a psychological interpretation of the need for an eternal spiritual life. The alternative being that without some kind of moral compass; life and death were pointless and therefore living a “good life” and following some kind of moral code was irrelevant.
- Osiris was no normal mortal and being born of a virgin was considered “magickal,” which helped make him the first true king of the people. He fulfilled his destiny when he died and then rose from the grave and went to the Egyptian form of heaven.
- Osiris’s son, Horus, was known as the “light of the world,” “The good shepherd,” and “the lamb.” He was also referred to as “The way, the truth, and the life.” Coincidentally, his symbol was a cross.
Heresy, the psyche, and the bunny
There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
And speaking of philosophy, Carl Jung recognized this old Egyptian prototype, when he noted “. . .the Christian era itself owes its name and significance to the antique mystery of the god-man, which has its roots in the archetypal Osiris-Horus myth.”
Of course where there’s a god there’s usually a goddess and Easter was traditionally the time to celebrate feminine fertility in all its forms.
Even the word “Easter” derives from the Latin Eostre (oh-star-ah, also the root of the word “estrogen”), the Spring goddess for whom Easter is named, which in Celtic times was known as “Lady Day.”
Ostara → Eostur → Easter
Again for Christian non-believers, The Venerable Bede (672-735 A.D.), a Christian scholar, first venerably validated in his best seller, De Ratione Temporum, . . .that Easter was named after Eostre or Eastre, who was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe” and similar “Teutonic dawn goddesses of fertility [were] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, etc.”
“So what’s up (Doc) with making like bunnies?” I hear you tut-tut. Well, a rabbit’s gestation period is approximately one month, so it tends to be first animal to give birth in the springtime, which explains why it’s an enduring symbol of fertility and desire. You know: “spring fever.” In fact, all over the world bunnies or hares, along with the Moon, are venerated as sacred symbols of vitality, fertility and the eternal life-force.
‘Witch’ came first?
Well, from the first tales of humans watching life emerging miraculously from eggs – long before Faberge eggs (or Cadbury’s cream ones) – they were held as sacred objects and carried as fertility amulets, often ornately decorated to honor their deities, or given as treasured gifts.
Still you might just think that sounds like a well-hatched plot, so what about the biggest Easter mystery of all — the mythical Easter bunny?
As I’m sure you suspect, as I did for all these years, the Easter bunny is neither modern nor Christian. The truth is that rabbits delivering decorated eggs figured largely in both Greek and Teutonic pantheons. In fact, a central clue in the hunt for the roots of the modern Easter bunny myth can be traced back to the legend of its namesake, the goddess Eostre:
So much did a lowly rabbit wish to please the goddess that he laid sacred eggs in her honor, decorated them to make them fit for a goddess and then presented them to her. So pleased was she that she wanted all humankind to share in her joy and so her devoted rabbit went through the world and distributed these little decorated symbols of the gift of life.
Hang on to your buns, there’s more to come. A surviving European Easter custom is the eating of hot cross buns. In days of old the bunmen were a familiar sight on Good Friday, flogging their buns with cries of “Hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns!” But these days your buns are sold from bakeries, well before the Easter holiday.
As a Christian symbol, the buns derive from the ecclesiastical consecrated loaves, given in churches to those who could not take communion and were given by the priest to the people after the mass, before the congregation left. Although the cross was later said to symbolize the Crucifixion, it had a more ancient origin. It was also a pagan symbol used by the Anglo-Saxons to indicate the four seasons or the wheel of the year. On loaves baked for the Spring equinox, still we all have our crosses to bear.
So why raise all this pagan resurrection stuff at Easter?
Denial and renewal
The simple answer is denial, a Catholic trait that has been around since Peter famously denied being Jesus’ homey three times just before Easter, but which the Roman Catholic church has become expert in, in all its forms, ever since.
I have never met a deity, but then again I’ve never met anyone else who has, either. I honestly don’t care what others believe in, as long as they don’t try to invalidate my beliefs, convert me to theirs, or persecute me in any way that makes me or others feel uncomfortable about not sharing theirs.
Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the foundation was built on man famous for denial. Because ever since then the church has been in denial about the wrongs it has committed with its own congregation in the past and present, not to mention the persecution and denial of the validity of others to practice their own spiritual faith. My point is that it’s impossible to celebrate renewal if you live in denial.
Be that as it may, this is could sound like a conspiracy thing and we don’t need that at a time of renewal! We all belong to a “conspiracy of hope” and any day we get to see the sun rise (or son of God rise) in the name of peace, it has to be good day for all of us!
So Happy Ostara/Easter or whatever way you look at it, it’s all good, because as the other Elvis (the imposter) said, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?!”
Danny Kenny is a San Francisco-based writer and a Pagan witch.