06 April 2015

More Eostre nonsense from people who should know better

I was rather surprised when a friend posted a link on Facebook to an article peddling the rather worn-out legends about Eostre and the pagan origins of Easter. Easter scuppers the certainties of modern fundamentalists:
I regarded the pagan roots of Easter to be an uncontroversial matter. For a start, the word itself, “Easter”, is usually regarded as being derived from Anglo-Saxon forms such as “Estara” or “Ostara” (and cognates) associated with a dawn goddess and common spring festivals celebrated in the British Isles and Northern Europe long before Christianity. According to some, those associations extend back to the Babylonian deity Astarte. More obviously, the ubiquitous egg given as a gift (or munched as a chocolate indulgence) at Easter is a widely employed fertility symbol that signals the rebirth of vegetation and the end of animal hibernation after the northern hemisphere’s winter.
What was suprising was not that this was posted -- at this time of year one finds all sorts of fluff pieces like this in newspapers, usually written by junior journalists after half-an-hour's research using Internet search engines. No, the surprising thing was that this was written by a person who claims to have done doctoral studies, and to have taught religious studies at academic insitutions, yet has swallowed the modern urban legends of "Eostre/Ostara" so uncritically.

To start with the title, someone who teaches religious studies should know that the ones who spread these urban legends most assiduously are the very Fundamentalists whose certainties he claims to be scuppering. 

I've written about such things before, so I wont repeat here all the things I've said elsewhere, but for anyone interested, here are some other blog posts on Easter and the urban legends about it:
 On the point that Christians took over pre-existing pagan beliefs, festivals, etc., it is largely bogus about Easter and Hallowe'en (the latter is almost certainly a pagan borrowing from Christians) and debatable in the case of Christmas. The thing that Christians most demonstrably borrowed from pagans is hell -- see Go to Hell.

One point perhaps worth emphasising here is the one about Easter eggs as fertility symbols etc. The author of the article gives no evidence of this claim, but may perhaps have heard of Occams Razor. In trying to explain or predict some phenomenon, the fewer assumptions one makes the better. And the simplest explanation of the phenomenon of Easter eggs is that Christians traditionally fast during Lent, which, among other things, means abstention from  eggs for 50 days, so breaking the fast with eggs should not come as a surprise. Nowadays Christians in the West are more likely to fast from chocclate, so perhaps the custom of eating chocolate eggs is also appropriate.

Back in the 1970s some neopagans liked to propagate the urban legend that Christians "stole" Easter from pagans.[1] But nowadays knowledgeable pagans have also been debunking this, 


[1] I know that many modern pagens dislike the "neo-" prefix, and prefer to be known simply as pagans, but since I've never heard this claim made by paleopagans, I have used the term "neopagan" here. 

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