Eostre, or Ostara is the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring who has given her
name to the Spring festival, Easter. A Teutonic variant of Ishtar and
Astarte, and ultimately Isis, the original feast of Eostre was celebrated in
the Pagan calendar at the Vernal Equinox. Her sacred month was the third
lunar month, the Moon of Eostre, which corresponds to the period from
mid-February to mid-March solar; it is also called the Month of the Greening
of the Earth. In addition to "Easter", this Goddess name is also the source
of the word "estrus"- the restricted, recurring period of sexual receptivity
in the female mammals. Sexton poets apparently identified with India's Great
Mother Kali-Ma. Beowolf speaks of "Ganges" waters, whose flood waves ride
down into an unknown sea near Eostre's far home.
The Easter Bunny is much older than Christianity. It is the lunar hare,
sacred to the Moon Goddess in both the Orient and in western countries. In
China, people gazing at the full moon see in it's shadows the image of the
lovely young Goddess Chang-O, holding her pet hare in her arms. In Japan,
the people say that the lunar hare constantly crops the grass on the moon's
surface, cleaning it so that the moon shines white and not green. In the
West, the hare, like the cat, was a common Witch's familiar; and Witches
were said to have the power to turn themselves into hares. Irish peasants,
to this day, observe the matriarchal taboo on hare meat, saying that to eat
a hare is to eat one's grandmother. The Celtic warrior-queen Boadicea of
early Britain had on her banners the device of the lunar hare. In Germany,
the people recalled the myths of the Moon Goddess Hathor-Astarte who laid
the Golden Egg of the Sun, and children were told that, if they were good,
the hare would lay eggs for them on Easter Eve.
Like all the church's "movable feasts", Easter shows it's Pagan roots in a
dating system based on the old lunar calendar. It is fixed as the first
Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, formerly the
"pregnant" phase of Eostre as the earth passed into the fertile season. It
was the time when the Goddess first slew then reconceived the Savior- the
Vegetation God- for a new season. The Christian festival wasn't called
Easter until the goddess' name was given to it in the late middle Ages. The
Irish kept Easter on a different date from that of the Roman church,
probably the original date of the feast of Eostre, until the Roman calendar
was imposed on them in 632 AD. Nevertheless, the Columbian foundation and
their colonies in Britain kept the old date for another fifty years.
The Persians began their solar New Year at the Spring Equinox, and up to the
middle of the 18th century they still followed the old custom of presenting
each other with colored eggs on the occasion. Eggs were always a symbol of
rebirth, which is why Easter eggs were usually colored red - the life's
blood color - especially in Eastern Europe. Russians used to lay red Easter
eggs on graves to serve as resurrection charms. In countries where Christian
and Pagan religions co-existed, Easter Sunday (sun-day_ was devoted to
honoring Christ and the Christian mysteries, while Easter Monday (moon-day)
was dedicated to the Pagan deities. In Bohemia, village girls, like ancient
priestesses, symbolically sacrificed the Lord of Death and threw him into
the water singing, "death swims in the water, Spring comes to visit us, with
eggs that are red, with yellow pancakes; we carried death out of the
village, we are carrying Summer into the village."
Another remnant of the Pagan sacred drama was the image of the vegetation
God buried in his tomb, then withdrawn and said to live again as the earth
begins to turn green. The church instituted a similar custom early in the
Middle Ages, apparently in hopes of a reportable miracle. A small sepulchral
building having been erected and the consecrated host placed within, a
priest was set to watch it from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Then the host
was taken out and displayed, and the congregation was told Christ was risen.
A curious 16th century Easter custom was known as "creeping to the cross
with eggs and apples," a significant use of the ancient females symbols of
birth and death, beginning and fruitation, the opening and closing of
circles. The Ceremonial of the Kings of England ordered carpets to be laid
in the church, for the honor and comfort of the king, queen, and courtiers
as they crept down the aisles on their hands and knees. The penitential
implication of the creeping ceremony is clear enough, but the
female-symbolic foodstuffs is a bit mysterious. It may represent a
sacrificing to the Goddess' ancient sacred symbols to the church- the
symbolic triumph of Christianity over the Old Religion.
Germany applied to Easter the same title formerly given to the sacred king's
love-death Hoch-Zeit, "the High Time". In English too, Easter used to be
called "the Hye-Tide." From these titles came the colloquial description of
any holiday festival as "a high old time."
The Easter lily is also deeply rooted in Pagan symbolism. The lily is a
sacred emblem of Lilith, the Sumero-Babylonian creation Goddess; the lilu
(the lotus or lily) symbolizes her magic genitals. The lily often represents
the virginal aspect of the Triple Goddess (the original"Lily Maid"), while
the rose represents her maternal aspect. Similarly, the lily was sacred to
Eostre-Astarte, Goddess of the "Easter" lilies. The lily as the Goddess'
triple yonic emblem can be seen in the French fleur-de-lis, which is
stylized lily; and the Celtic shamrock, which is identified with the lily.
The shamrock did not originate in Ireland but was a sacred symbol among the
people of the Indus Valley some 6000 years before Christianity.
Other Goddesses who claim the lily as their sacred symbol include Juno, Uni,
Venus, the Virgin Mary, and Hera. When Hera's milk spurted from her breasts
to form the Milky Way, the drops that fell to Earth became lilies. The
Easter lily was the medieval pas-flower, from Latin passus, to step or pass
over, cognate of pasha. the Passover. The lily was also called Pash-flower,
Pasque flower, and Passion flower. Christians understood this last to refer
to the passion of Christ; Pagans understood it to represent the Spring
passion of the Vegetation God for union in love-death with the Earth
"Who on this world of ours their eyes
In March first o'en shall be wise,
In days of peril, firm and brave,
and wear a bloodstone to their grave.
So many mists in March you see
So many frosts in May will be."
This article was written by Nilah Foxglove from Scituate, Massachusetts. It
appeared in the Winter 91/92 issue of Circle Network News.
The Pagan Book of Days, Nigel Pennick, Destiny Books
Marah (1987 and 1988), The Goddess Calendar, Waco, Texas
Monaghan, Patricia (1981), The Book of goddesses and Heroines, New York, E.P.Dutton
Walker, Barbar G.(1983), The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets,
SanFransisco, Harper and Row
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