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

Goddess.

 

"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.

 

Bibliography

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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