08 April 2009

Eostre: The Making of a Myth

cavalorn: Eostre: The Making of a Myth:
Last Easter and the Easter before that, and for several more Easters, a story circulated both among neopagans and those they wished to educate. It concerned the origin of the Easter Bunny. The story goes something like this:

Once, when the Goddess was late in coming, a little girl found a bird close to death from the cold and turned to Eostre for help. A rainbow bridge appreared and Eostre came, clothed in her red robe of warm, vibrant sunlight which melted the snows. Spring arrived. Because the little bird was wonded beyond repair, Eostre changed it into a snow hare who then brought rainbow eggs. As a sign of spring, Eostre instructed the little girl to watch for the snow hare to come to the woods.

The story is increasingly popular among neopagans, because it provides a solid confirmation of several important points of dogma. Christian traditions are shown to have sprung from Pagan ones; a seemingly innocuous tradition is shown to have a little-known (thus implying that it was repressed) history; and a male God took a festival over from a female Goddess, replacing a celebration of joyous renewal with one of sacrifice and death.

Urban legends about Christian celebrations like Christmas and Easter abound, though I must admit that I had not heard that one before. The rest of the article is worth reading too, though it still does not explain, to my satisfaction at any rate, the origin on the Easter bunny.

I had a pagan upbringing (not a NEOpagan one -- my parents were atheists/agnostics). In my childhood we had chocolate Easter eggs and Easter bunnies, so I knew about the Easter bunny before I knew about the resurrection of Christ. Easter bunnies were rabbit shaped chocolates that you ate. That was in the 1940s, before neopaganism was popular, so I very much doubt that it was based on the newer neopagan legend recounted above.

I first investigated the Eostre legend of the origin of the Christian celebration of Pascha when it was told to me, in all seriousness, by a Christian fundamentalist who had got it from a Victorian book called The two Babylons by Alexander Hislop. I latetr encountered (through BBS networks and the internet) several other Fundamentalist or conservative evangelical Christians who cited The two Babylons as the source of their beliefs about "Easter". Many years later I managed to get hold of a copy of the book, and found that though it was full of quite fanciful stuff, much of it had been quoted out of context or twisted by the Fundamentalists who wanted to show that the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ was of pagan origin. I tried to find out more about Eostre, but, like Cavalorn, I got back to the Venerable Bede and got stuck. Christian fundamentalists and neopagans alike seem to see a connection with Ishtar, but there is no historical evidence for it that I can discover.

The fact is that Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Christ, which they called Pascha, long before they encountered the English, who gave the name "Easter" to the festival because of their name for the month in which it was usually celebrated.

But when and where did people begin associating bunnies with it?

Really and historically, I mean, not according to Christian Fundamentalist or Neopagan urban legends.


Aquila ka Hecate said...

hmm...the hare/rabbit I take for granted as symbols of fertility.
Vernal Equinox being the first signs of the earth's fertility. Along with eggs, spring flowers, etc - which is why I find it so difficult to see Easter symbols in our Atumn.
The hare has long association with lunar goddess forms, also.
I should give a reference for that but I'm pushed for time at work. Maybe someone else can oblige - I've alsways sort of taken it for granted - hare/bunny=goddess symbol=fertility symbol=vernal equinox.
Eostre or not.
terri in Joburg

Steve Hayes said...


Perhaps I'm backward, but eating chocolate rabbits as a four-year-old didn't automatically make me think of fertility or lunar goddess forms.

Yewtree said...

The hare and the rabbit are certainly associated with the Moon in pretty much all cultures that have hares - but I have always struggled to see the connection with the Spring Equinox.

There are, however, plenty of dying and resurrecting gods in classical polytheist mythology which predates Christianity (as far as I know): Tammuz, Osiris, Adonis, Attis, etc. None of which negates the Christ myth, but it does call into question its historicity.

Anyway, Happy Easter!

Aquila ka Hecate said...

Oh I dunno - the fecundity of rabbits is well established, no?
That would make a good enough link to the Vernal Equinox and the springing forth anew of Life?

Terri in Joburg

bigbluemeanie said...

At this time of the year the fields and roadsides around here are full of hundreds of little brown bunnies. The birds have returned from the winter and there are nests of eggs hidden in the hedgerows. Simultaneously certain trees and bushes have sprouted green leaves and shoots and some are in flower. It's a joyous celebratory time of rebirth.

I would tend to agree with you that it must be simplistic to say "Christians stole/borrowed pagan symbols". Perhaps we could just acknowledge that there's some kind of synchronicity of nature going on and we are part of it: spiritually, emotionally, physically.

Anonymous said...

Are Your Children Playing With Lucifer's Testicles? (The Truth About Easter Eggs)

Happy Easter!

Steve Hayes said...

I found this explanation on another blog: "German Protestants wanted to retain the Catholic custom of eating colored eggs for Easter, but did not want to introduce their children to the Catholic rite of fasting. Eggs were forbidden to Catholics during the fast of Lent, which was the reason for the abundance of eggs at Easter time."

It sounds plausible, but it's a pity that the source it gives is an otherwise unreliable Wikipedia article.

Does anyone know the truth of this?


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