In the history of Easter celebration, there is much interweaving of Christian and pagan traditions. Among others, it includes such common pagan symbols as eggs and bunny. In the meantime, as we all know, it is the day on which the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. It is also associated with rebirth, vernal equinox, arrival of spring, and awakening of nature. Let’s take a closer look at the influence of pagans on this Christian celebration.
- Goddess Ostara (aka Oestre / Eastre)
In the Saxon culture, there was a goddess named Oestre or Eastre, also known by the name Ostara. She was the goddess of spring and dawn as well as of fertility. An interesting fact is that today we have a word ‘estrogen’ (a female hormone) that is derived from Ostara’s name. People believed that when the winter was ending and the spring was beginning, Ostara’s presence was felt everywhere in nature – in the flowering of the plants and trees and awakening of life. The festivals in the honor of Ostara were held in spring and feature colored eggs and bunnies. Both of these attributes were also used as symbols of fertility and as the appreciation of abundance given by Ostara to people.
- Easter Eggs
Eggs have been the symbol of fertility in many cultures. Creation stories that were told in many areas from Ireland to Asian countries say that even the Earth was hatched from an egg. In Northern Europe, eggs were frequently used in rituals to increase woman’s capability to bear children and predict the child’s gender. On spring festivals, people would give colored eggs to each other to wish for abundance and prosperity in the following year. Interestingly, the tradition of hiding eggs on Easter originated from the times when pagans were persecuted in Europe and since they couldn’t openly give eggs to each other, had to hide them and have others find them.
- Easter Bunny
The tradition of an Easter bunny originates from a myth. Goddess Ostara saved the life of a freezing bird and turned it into a hare since it couldn’t fly anymore. This hare was capable of laying colored eggs once a year. But once the hare angered Ostara, she made him go to the sky and turned him into a constellation known today as Lepus. Nevertheless, she still allowed him to go back to earth once a year and present his eggs to children.
Apart from this myth, there are different traditions that considered rabbits the symbols of fertility. Since these animals are able to reproduce extremely rapidly giving birth to up to 42 offspring every spring, this association is understandable. In Christian traditions, a white rabbit is frequently depicted at Virgin Mary’s feet as a symbol of the swift passage of life and flee from temptation and sin, due to rabbits’ ability to run very quickly and remain vigilant.
A very nice interweaving of paganism and Christianity, isn’t it?