Christianity claims that Easter has no pagan origins and that this rumor was started by none other than Jacob Grimm. It’s their theory that his speculation based on his folktale findings is false. Apparently, wandering the German countryside speaking with thousands of rural peasants doesn’t constitute evidence.
This is what Grimm said in his Deutsche Mythologies, “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.” His collection of folktales showed a remarkable connection to Christianity’s Easter.
You’ll notice that Grimm used the term Ostara and Eástre. That’s the name of the Saxon goddess of spring. Ostara is her name in High German and Eástre is her English name. Sounds very similar to Easter, doesn’t it? That’s not a coincidence.
We can go back even further and trace Eastre to the name Eostre, related to that of Eos, the Greek goddess of dawn. Both can be traced back to a Proto-Indo-European goddess of dawn. The goddess of spring is much, much older than Christianity.
The similarities between Ostara and Easter
Let’s start with the Easter bunny. You’re probably wondering how that how that relates to Jesus Christ’s resurrection. I’m curious, too. Ancient Greeks believed rabbits could reproduce as virgins. This belief persisted until early medieval times and Christianity claims that’s when the rabbit became associated with the Virgin Mary. Hence Easter?
German myth says that Ostara once found a wounded bird. To heal it, she turned it into a hare. It wasn’t completely a hare though, and in its gratitude to the goddess, it laid her eggs as a gift. That makes pretty good sense to me as to why we celebrate Eástre … I mean Easter.
Origins much older than Grimm
And to debunk the claim that Grimm started the pagan rumor, we need only look to Venerable Bede, an English Benedictine monk of the 7th century. He states in Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum that Ēosturmōnaþ (Old English for Month of Ēostre) corresponded to April and "was once called after a goddess of theirs named Ēostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.” Hmm… seems like this tradition was still around hundreds of years after Christianity.
What does the Bible say of Easter? Surprisingly, nothing. There is a mention in Levitcus 23:4, “And when he [Herod] had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions [sixteen] of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.”
But this is meant to say Passover. The translation from the Greek to the English was done wrong. The original Greek Bible says pascha derived from the Jewish word pesach. Ten years after Christ’s death, Christians were still practicing Jewish Passover. Curious.
Why would Christianity deny Easter’s pagan origins?
Because it’s a sin to worship false idols and make sacrifices. Or believe in multiple gods. It’s my opinion that folk who had been celebrating harvest time, Yule-tide, and the spring equinox would be hard pressed to give up their ancestor’s rituals. Instead, Christianity has assimilated many of their traditions into more “appropriate” and less sinful holidays. This makes sense.
Aside from the fact it’s a bit duplicitous to steal pagan holidays to gain followers, I don’t think any less of Christianity for incorporating these ancient traditions. In fact, these are some of my favorite celebrations. Without them, our culture wouldn’t be the same. Imagine a religion that didn’t honor the joyous, and almost magical, turning of the seasons.