Treating Easterphobia, or, “Happy April!”

happy-easter“Anyone encountering anti-Christian polemics will quickly come up against the accusation that a major festival practiced by Christians across the globe—namely, Easter—was actually borrowed or rather usurped from a pagan celebration. I often encounter this idea among Muslims who claim that later Christians compromised with paganism to dilute the original faith of Jesus.

“The argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.

“Of course, even if Christians did engage in contextualization—expressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms. After all, Christians speak of “Good Friday,” but they are in no way honoring the worship of the Norse/Germanic queen of the gods Freya by doing so.

“But, in fact, in the case of Easter the evidence suggests otherwise: that neither the commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection nor its name are derived from paganism.” Click here to read, “Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?:The historical evidence contradicts this popular notion” by Anthony McRoy at ChristianHistory.net (at this link are other informative links related to Easter).

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7 responses

  1. Great article, John. Thanks for posting this.

  2. So, I can still color chicken eggs and make devil’s egg sandwiches for lunch after the children dress up in funny costumes and go looking for the colored eggs and chocolate candies in the morning? 🙂

    And another thing, any sufferings I suffer does not compare to this about Good Friday service:

    Isa 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

    Isa 53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
    Isa 53:11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

  3. Bob,

    You’re welcome. To me, nothing makes a holiday more joyous than an opportunity to set the record straight.

  4. Michael,

    To answer your question, be my guest:

    Romans 14:5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For t none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both w of the dead and of the living. (ESV)

    In response to your Scripture on Christ’s suffering, what else is there to say, but, Amen?

  5. John,
    Eostre is where we get colored eggs and bunnies. Read the connection below.

    Bede’s account

    Eástre (1909) by Jacques Reich. Directly derived from Gehrts’ image (above), with the Germanic worshipers replaced by a picturesque landscape.In chapter 15 of his work De temporum ratione, Bede describes the indigenous month names of the English people. After describing the worship of the goddess Hretha during the Anglo-Saxon month of Hrethmonath, Bede writes about Eosturmonath, the month of the goddess Eostra:

    Original Latin:

    Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes.[4] Modern English translation:
    Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”[5]

    Writing in the late 20th century, Rudolf Simek comments that, despite doubts, Bede’s account of Eostra should not be completely disregarded, and that a “Spring-like fertility goddess” must be assumed rather than a “goddess of sunrise” regardless of the name, reasoning that “otherwise the Germanic goddesses (and matrons) are mostly connected with prosperity and growth.” Simek points to a comparison with the goddess Hretha, also attested by Bede.[6]

    Writing in the late 19th century, Charles J. Billson notes that scholars prior to his writing were divided about the existence of Bede’s account of Ēostre, stating that “among authorities who have no doubt as to her existence are W. Grimm, Wackernagel, Sinrock [sic], and Wolf. On the other hand, Weinhold rejects the idea on philological grounds, and so do Heinrich Leo and Hermann Oesre. Kuhn says, ‘The Anglo-Saxon Eostre looks like an invention of Bede;’ and Mannhardt also dismisses her as an etymological dea ex machina.” Billson says that “the whole question turns […], upon Bede’s credibility”, and that “one is inclined to agree with Grimm, that it would be uncritical to saddle this eminent Father of the Church, who keeps Heathendom at arms’ length and tells us less of than he knows, with the invention of this goddess.” Billson points out that the Christianization of England started at the end of the sixth century CE, and, by the seventh, was completed. Billson argues that, as Bede was born in 672, Bede must have had opportunities to learn the names of the native goddesses of the Anglo-Saxons, “who were hardly extinct in his lifetime.”[7]

    Jacob Grimm and Ostara
    In his 1882 Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob Grimm cites comparative evidence to reconstruct a potential continental Germanic goddess whose name would have been preserved in the Old High German name of Easter, Ôstarâ. Grimm is willing to take Bede’s account at face value with the reasoning that “it would be uncritical to saddle this father of the church, who everywhere keeps heathenism at a distance, and tells us less of it than he knows, with the invention of these goddesses. There is nothing improbable in them, nay the first of them is justified by clear traces in the vocabularies of Germanic tribes.”[8]

    Specifically regarding Eostra, Grimm continues that:

    We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is found as early as Eginhart (temp. Car. Mag.). The great christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG. remains the name ôstarâ […], it is mostly found in the plural, because two days […] were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ, like the [Anglo-Saxon] Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries.[9]
    Grimm notes that “all of the nations bordering on us have retained the Biblical ‘pascha’; even Ulphilas writes paska, not áustrô, though he must have known the word […].” Grimm details that the Old High German adverb ôstar “expresses movement towards the rising sun”, as did the Old Norse term austr, and potentially also Anglo-Saxon eástor and Gothic áustr. Grimm compares these terms to the identical Latin term auster. Grimm says that the cult of the goddess may have worshiped an Old Norse form, Austra, or that her cult may have already been extinct by the time of Christianization.[10]

    Grimm notes that in the Old Norse Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, a male being by the name of Austri is attested, who Grimm describes as a “spirit of light.” Grimm comments that a female version would have been Austra, yet that the High German and Saxon tribes seem to have only formed Ostarâ and Eástre, feminine, and not Ostaro and Eástra, masculine. Grimm additionally speculates on the nature of the goddess and surviving folk customs that may have been associated with her in Germany:

    Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy […]. Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing […]; here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess […].[11]

    Hares and Freyja
    Citing folk Easter customs in Leicestershire, England where “the profits of the land called Harecrop Leys were applied to providing a meal which was thrown on the ground at the “Hare-pie Bank,” late 19th century scholar Charles Isaac Elton says that these customs were likely connected with the worship of Ēostre.[12] In his late 19th century study of the Hare in folk custom and mythology, Charles J. Billson cites numerous incidents of folk custom involving the hare around the period of Easter in Northern Europe. Billson says that “whether there was a goddess named Eostre, or not, and whatever connection the hare may have had with the ritual of Saxon or British worship, there are good grounds for believing that the sacredness of this animal reaches back into an age still more remote, where it is probably a very important part of the great Spring Festival of the prehistoric inhabitants of this island.”[7]

    Writing in 1972, John Andrew Boyle cites commentary contained within an etymology dictionary by A. Ernout and A. Meillet, where the authors write that “Little else […] is known about [Ēostre], but it has been suggested that her lights, as goddess of the dawn, were carried by hares. And she certainly represented spring fecundity, and love and carnal pleasure that leads to fecundity.” Boyle responds that nothing is known about Ēostre outside of Bede’s single passage, and that the authors had seemingly accepted the identification of Ēostre with the Norse goddess Freyja, yet that the hare is not associated with Freyja either. Boyle writes that “her carriage, we are told by Snorri, was drawn by a pair of cats — animals, it is true, which like hares were the familiars of witches, with whom Freyja seems to have much in common.” However, Boyle adds that “on the other hand, when the authors speak of the hare as the ‘companion of Aphrodite and of satyrs and cupids’ and point out that ‘in the Middle Ages it appears beside the figure of Luxuria’, they are on much surer ground and can adduce the evidence of their illustrations.”[13]

    Modern influence
    Jacob Grimm’s reconstructed *Ostara has had some influence in popular culture since. The name has been adapted as an asteroid (343 Ostara, 1892 by Max Wolf)[14], a Mödling, Austria-based German nationalist book series and publishing house (1905, Ostara),[15] a date on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year (Ostara, March 21),[16] a musical group (Ostara, 2000),[17] and an album by the The Wishing Tree (Ostara, 2009).
    Blessings’
    The Watcher (sorry for the lateness, I am running behind) TW

    1. Thanks for the substantive comment. I’m going to do some homework for a while before I respond.

  6. […] that it actually springs from a Christian source of origin rather than pagan (see my post “Treating Easterphobia“). Help me, dear readers, and may you have an edifying and happy Easter. On the PopPressed […]

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