April 8, 2001
The Pagan Origins of Easter
By Royce Carlson
Easter celebrations were held hundreds of years before Christ was born as
festivals of spring honoring Eostre, the great mother goddess of the Saxons.
This name was fashioned after the ancient word for spring, Eastre. The goddess
Ostara was the Norse equivalent whose symbols were the hare and the egg. From
this comes our modern tradition of celebrating Easter with eggs and bunnies.
In the Mediterranean region, there was a pre-Christian spring celebration
centered around the vernal equinox (March 20 or 21) that honored Cybele, the
Phrygian goddess of fertility. Cybele’s consort, Attis, was considered born
of a virgin and was believed to have died and been resurrected three days
later. Attis derived his mythology from even earlier gods, Osiris, Dionysus,
and Orpheus, who also were supposed to have been born of a virgin and suffered
death and resurrection as long as 500 years before Christ was born. The death
of Attis was commemorated on a Friday and the resurrection was celebrated three
days later on Sunday.
There are other Easter traditions that are pagan in origin. The Easter
sunrise service is derived from the ancient pagan practice of welcoming the sun
on the morning of the spring equinox, marking the beginning of spring. What we
now call Easter lilies were revered by the ancients as symbols of fertility and
representative of the male genitalia. The ancient Babylonian religions had
rituals involving dyed eggs as did the ancient Egyptians.
The Christian version of Easter is celebrated after the first full moon
after the vernal equinox. Modern day neo-pagans usually have their spring
celebrations on the day of the equinox. Either way, these celebrations have
gone on every year continuously for over 2500 years. So, next Sunday, if you go
to an Easter sunrise service, hunt for colored eggs or eat marshmallow bunnies,
remember you are indulging in pagan rituals that celebrate fertility and the
advent of springtime!
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