Sunday, April 12, 2009

Day 89/365 Happy Birthday Eostre!

Now that everyone is done biting the ears off their chocolate bunnies, you should probably know you've just participated in a very ancient holiday.

Easter originated thousands of years ago among more than a few diverse cultures, including Germanic and Celtic tribes, and ancient Babylon. A few of the fertility goddess honored with their own holiday include:
  • Aphrodite (Cyprus)
  • Ashtoreth (Israel)
  • Astarté (Greece)
  • Demeter (Mycenae)
  • Hathor (Egypt)
  • Ishtar (Assyria)
  • Kali (India)
  • Ostara (Norse Goddess of fertility)

But my favorite front runner was mentioned by The Venerable Bede, a Christian scholar (672-735 CE) when he recorded that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: "eastre."

But what about the bunny? How did the Easter Bunny come about? It seems Eastre's consort was the Hare, simply because hares were extremely common, and famous for "breeding like bunnies", so they became the very symbol of fertility. And of course, fertility was associated with eggs, so Eostre was famous for appearing with the most fertile animal known, and bringing eggs for a triple assurance of a successful planting season.

How did Eostre become associated with Christian holidays? A little bit of church salesmanship, designed to bridge the gap between the newfangled Christian religion and those pesky pagans who refused to drop their holidays did the trick.

It didn't hurt any that there was already a pagan celebration predating Christianity by 200 years, about Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, and her fictional consort Attis, who was believed to have died and been resurrected each year during the month of March.

Attis (who was the re-constituted Osiris, Dionysus, or Orpheus with a new name) was a god of plants, particularily perennials. Born of a virgin, he died and was reborn annually. The festival began on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over the resurrection.

This is my favorite depiction of Eostre, very pre-Raphaelite in style, showing the goddess deliriously happy in her garden, ready to ensure a successful growing season. The only thing missing is the bunny.

1 comment:

  1. Holding up her small lamp, she looked around. A huge arched chamber, leading off to other cells like it. Solid, immutable stone, ages old. She’d been in wine cellars in France and Italy that were similar, only here rested relics of aged holy men instead of wine. The thought made her laugh, and she realized she wasn’t afraid. This had been a cherished place, and that was what she sensed.
    Venturing in to look at some of the raised crypts, she saw the symbol the doctor had shown her, the dove and the rose. The brave knight who wore them was sleeping stone, his arms and legs crossed, his shield still protecting him behind its emblem of splendor. He was the essence of the medieval, a ferment of supernatural mysticism and illustrious myth. Here slept the Troubadour Knight, Brave Arnaut who gathered the wind,
    hunting the Hare with the Ox
    while swimming against the incoming tide.
    There were more sleeping knights, the kith of sweet Galahad, Lancelot, Gawain. Row upon row, all at peace. She smiled, taking a long look. There was much here that was magical, but none of it black.