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From Rabbits to Resurrections: The Pagan Origins of Easter

As those of us who honor the old ways know, many of our traditions have been usurped by other religions who go on to claim them as their own.  Easter is a colorful example of this.

Although many people assume Easter began as a Christian holiday, it did not.  This spring holiday began as, and still is, a very pagan one. While Christians celebrate their god's resurrection, so do other faiths and traditions that existed for millennia before Christianity was established. From the Egyptian god Osiris to the Greek god Dionysus -- among others -- a god's resurrection has always been a fairly common theme.  The phoenix - who dies and then rises from its own ashes three days later - may also have influenced the Christian belief that their god died and rose three days later.

Easter itself is named after a pagan goddess who was similarly worshipped for centuries before Christ. Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility (from whom we get the word estrogen) who was believed to usher in spring every year, thereby resurrecting the earth from the dead of winter into the new life of spring.

But what about all the Easter bunnies and eggs, you ask? Well, the story - at least as it was told to me many years ago - goes like this. One year, Eastre was late in coming and the snow didn't melt. This made it hard for the birds to find food, and one little bird broke its leg while digging through the deep snows.

Showing mercy for the bird, Eastre turned it into a rabbit so that it could hop on top of the snow; however, she knew the rabbit still had the heart of a bird so she allowed it to continue laying eggs -- although its eggs would now boast all the colors of spring. It therefore became a tradition for families to paint Easter eggs in honor of their goddess and in gratitude for the spring. Aww. How sweet is that?

It was only centuries later that the tradition of "hiding" eggs grew. Many scholars believe this practice was a way for pagan families and children to worship Eastre without suffering persecution by the Catholic church which had criminalized paganism.

In a further effort to aggressively Christianize the pagan population, the Catholic church then said the resurrection of their god happened on Easter so that they could claim the holiday as a Christian one.

As more and more modern people embrace contemporary paganism, polytheism and other spiritual systems, from Wicca to Vesta and everything in between, we should also remember to embrace the many colors of spring -- that includes respecting the many belief and non-belief systems, old and new, that celebrate in ways that are meaningful to them and their families.

We should especially remember the beautiful story of Eastre, the kind-hearted Anglo-Saxon goddess who brings the sunshine and warmth of spring.  So Happy Easter!  And by the way, if you've been told the story of Easter in a different way, please share.  There is more than one way to tell a beautiful story.

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Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B. is a couples and family mediator, a top-selling marriage author-expert and a popular resource for major media in North America. She is the leading proponent of the New Vesta tradition and order. Her New Vesta book series and Add a Spark women's seminars "spread the flame" into modern lives and homes.


  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Thursday, 13 April 2017

    Countdown to people insisting "The word Easter has no connection to Eastre (or Eostre, or Ostara, or Astarte, or Aset, or Ishtar, or Eos)" in 3...2...1... :(

  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis Thursday, 13 April 2017

    It is related to Ostara/Eastre (and Aurora for that matter) but not Ishtar, which is an unrelated Semitic goddess with a very different portfolio, not an Indo-European one (which is the language family where the name Easter derives from).

    In a lot of non-Germanic languages such as Spanish or Russian, the name for Easter is derived instead from the word for Passover in Greek, Pascha, and is generally regarded as the Christian equivalent of the Judaic holiday.

  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Friday, 14 April 2017

    I know. It's just amusing to see how quickly people will leap in to say it, like they're trying to get some kind of "pagan cred" or something. :)

  • Andrew Keller
    Andrew Keller Saturday, 15 April 2017

    You just proved the first commenter's point, you know.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Thursday, 13 April 2017

    For a religious studies perspective on this complex tale of Ostara, Easter, bunnies and more, cf

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Thursday, 13 April 2017

    And yet another take, this one from Pagan News site The Wild Hunt:

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