Easter, Ostarra, Eostre.
The exact origins of this religious tradition are disputed. Some sources claim the word Easter is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Some accounts trace Easter to the Latin term hebdomada alba, or white week, an ancient reference to Easter week and the white clothing donned by people who were baptized during that time. Through a translation error, the term later appeared as esostarum in Old High German, which eventually became Easter in English.
One popular historian recorded that “Easter” is said to have originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the “Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.” Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: “eastre.” Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were:
Aphrodite from ancient Cyprus
Ashtoreth from ancient Israel
Astarte from ancient Greece
Demeter from Mycenae
Hathor from ancient Egypt
Ishtar from Assyria
Kali, from India
Ostara a Norse Goddess of fertility.
Many, perhaps most, Pagan religions in the Mediterranean area had a major seasonal day of religious celebration at or following the Spring Equinox. Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, had a consort, Attis, who was believed to have been born via a virgin birth. Attis was believed to have died and been resurrected each year during the period MAR-22 to MAR-25.
Gerald L. Berry, author of “Religions of the World,” wrote:
“About 200 B.C. mystery cults began to appear in Rome just as they had earlier in Greece. Most notable was the Cybele cult centered on Vatican hill …Associated with the Cybele cult was that of her lover, Attis (the older Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, or Orpheus under a new name). He was a god of ever-reviving vegetation. Born of a virgin, he died and was reborn annually. The festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over the resurrection.”
Does the following sound familiar? Spring is in the air! Flowers and bunnies decorate the home. Father helps the children paint beautiful designs on eggs dyed in various colors. These eggs, which will later be hidden and searched for, are placed into artistic, seasonal baskets. The wonderful aroma of the hot cross buns baking in the oven waft through the house. The whole family picks out their Sunday best to wear to the next morning’s sunrise worship service to celebrate the god’s resurrection and the renewal of life. Everyone looks forward to a succulent ham with all the trimmings. It will be a thrilling day. After all, it is one of the most important religious holidays of the year.
Christian Easter? No! This is a description of an ancient Babylonian family—2,000 years before Christ honoring the resurrection of their god, Tammuz, who was brought back from the underworld by his mother/wife, Ishtar. As Ishtar was actually pronounced closer to “Easter” in most Semitic dialects, it could be said that the event portrayed here is, in a sense, the real Easter. Of course, this description could easily have been a Phrygian family honoring Attis and Cybele, or perhaps a Phoenician family worshipping Adonis and Astarte. Also fitting the description well would be a heretic Israelite family honoring the Canaanite Baal and Ashtoreth. Or this depiction could just as easily represent any number of other pagan fertility celebrations of death and resurrection—including the modern Easter celebration as it has come to us through the Anglo-Saxon fertility rites of the goddess Eostre or Ostara. These are all the same festivals, separated only by time and culture.
From England to Egypt to China we can find examples of cultures decorating eggs during springtime festivals. Sometimes as sacrifices to a god/goddess, sometimes as a symbolic reminder of the fertility of this period of the year. The Hare is also associated with fertility and springtime in most of these cultures as well. Another aspect of the Celebration of the Fertility of Spring that many cultures share is the culmination of the celebration at Dawn. Eggs and gifts might be laid out the night before, but it is at the break of dawn on the Spring Equinox that most of the cultures raised their voices in celebration to their goddess.
Here, at the Heathen Kinship, you will find all of these practices and more. We intentionally place ourselves into the greater stream of wyrd that runs through the past and present and merges our spirits with those of our ancestors who cried out to Ostara on this day that celebrates the victory of life over death through resurrection and re-birth!
In addition to Easter’s religious significance, it also has a commercial side, as evidenced by the mounds of jelly beans and marshmallow chicks that appear in stores each spring. As with Christmas, over the centuries Christianity has usurped the traditions of the various folk customs and pagan traditions, including Easter eggs, bunnies, baskets and candy. None of these things have anything to do with the Christian religious traditions, but are ingrained in the folk.