Easter is named after the Saxon goddess, Eostre (or Ostara), a northern form of STARTE. Her sacred month was Eastremonath (Moon of Eostre). Saxon poets equated Eostre with India's, Great Mother, Kali (_Beowulf_ mentions 'Ganges waters, whose flood waves ride down into an unknown sea near Eostre's far home.'). Kali is the fierce female aspect and consort of Lord Shiva, the destroyer (or completer) of the Hindu trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva).
Ostara (also known as Eostra),
a Teutonic goddess of spring, fertility, and the dawn, who also lends her
name to estrogen and the East.
The modern branch of witchcraft known as Wicca observes a joyous holiday on the vernal equinox, which falls generally either on this date or a day or two earlier. The witches call the feast Eostre, after the Teutonic goddess of spring, and mark it with rituals of renewal and rebirth. Eggs are the primary symbol of Eostre; dyed and decorated, they are as much a part of some Wiccan rituals as of the christian Easter.
Eggs were a symbol of fertility in many pagan cultures. Church leaders forbade the eating of them during Lent but lifted the prohibition on Easter. The practice of dyeing and decorating eggs probably originated in Middle Easter spring festivals and spread to Europe during the time of the Crusades. The tradition of the Easter Bunny is Teutonic in origin: A hare - a prolific breeder that came to be associated with the laying of Easter eggs - was the emblem of Eostre, the Teutonic goddess of spring, who gave Easter its name. Even the custom of wearing new clothes on Easter can be traced to pagan times, when people chose the time of spring festivals to shed the old and don the new.
Persians first began using colored eggs to celebrate spring in 3000 BCE., giving gifts of eggs dyed red to mark the new season's first day. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans also celebrated spring with colored eggs.
First lady Dolly Madison
held the first Easter
egg rolling contest at the White House in 1810. Mrs. Madison
was fascinated to learn that Egyptian children rolled colored eggs on the
site of the Pyramids.
She thought the children of the Washington area would enjoy this enchanting
The Feast of 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 its 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 its 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 religionsco-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."
(From The Pagan Book of Days, Nigel Pennick, Destiny Books)
The original feast of Oestre at the Vernal Equinox was a time for ritually blessing the fields and seed. If you wish to participate in the old traditions, try any of the following:
1. Wear the color green.
2. Make love in a freshly-plowed field or your newly- turned garden. This is the Great Rite; the woman's body is identified with the land, the Earth Goddess incarnate, and in old Pagan times many conceptions resulted from this night. For a fascinating and entertaining fictional work which treats this theme, see Marion-Zimmer Bradley (1982), The Mists of Avalon, New York, Ballantine Books.
3. Ritually plant seeds (choose a special herb or flower symbolic of what you desire) in a Pot, bless them with the four elements, and set them in a sunny windowsill (or whatever exposure your plant likes). As the seeds grow, so will your wishes come true.
4. Much Equinox symbolism has become associated, with Easter Sunday. Go out before sunrise on this day and draw water from a running stream. Water gathered in this way is said to be especially holy and healing.
5. Dye eggs, decorate with magic symbols and runes, and exchange with friends and loved ones. Leave some in the forest for the spirits, and plow some into your field or garden for a good crop. Place red eggs on the graves of departed loved ones as the symbol of rebirth. Recipe for natural Ester egg dyes; boil any of the following in water (use as much plant material as will fit in a minimal amount of water for the darkest color) for 10-15 minutes, strain, pour into cups, add 1-2 tsp. vinegar to each, and dye eggs. The following list includes some plants and their assorted colors; red cabbage (light blue), cochineal insects (scarlet), gorse blossoms (yellow), saffron powder (yellow), spinach (green), brown onion skins (mottled yellow), cranberries (brown), logwood (rich purple). The cabbage, spinach, or onion skins can be tied around the eggs and boiled for a very interesting effect.
6. On Easter Monday (moon-day), tie together two rowan twigs to form a cross (with red thread), put them in a little box, spit in it to symbolically put your troubles in the box, tie closed with red thread, and throw in a running stream.
7. Another Easter Monday custom is to wear one yellow garter and one black one, starting on this day, for a year and a day. You will receive a proposal of marriage (note the symbolic balancing of light and darkness here).
"Ideology kills... it is not a childish game... I was very amused... the Heaven's Gate thing was a tragedy, but there were these curious aspects to it... I mean it was a week before easter. All around me I heard people saying things like 'how could they believe such crazy stuff? And by the way, honey, did you get a dress for service so we can go and celebrate the resurrection of the redeemer?' You just wonder who's ox is getting gored here? Because something is absolutely nuts but 400 million people believe it, that makes it okay but if 20 people believe something is nuts, that's a cult? I have an absolute horror of belief systems and cults and I've never met a guru i really liked. I never met one I trusted."
- Terence McKenna - _Chicago After TX Whole Life Expo Pt. 2_ MP3 (48k)