Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Extraordinary Origins of Easter

Easter is the most important religious festival for more than a billion Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Even the non-religious cannot escape noticing Easter in most non-Islamic countries. However, there are many Christians (The Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Quakers) who do not celebrate Easter at all.

Easter day is celebrated as the day when Jesus Christ is said to have resurrected two days after his crucifixion on Good Friday. These events are thought to have taken place between A.D. 26 and 36.

Pagan Origins of Easter

As a festival, Easter is much older than Christianity itself. Many scholars of ancient religions claim that the name Easter originates from the name of the Saxon Goddess Eostre or Ostara. 

  • Some scholars even trace links way back in history to Astarte or Ishtar from Babylon in the Bronze Ages (3300-1200 B.C.). Eostre, Ostara, Astarte and Ishtar were goddesses of fertility, love, war and sex or symbolised dawn. 

  • There is another clue to this link in Old Church Slavonic, where Za ustra means early morning.

A strong claim to this link can be suspected in the dating system of Easter as it was based on the old lunar calendar rather than on the solar calendar. Currently, Easter is generally observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Easter's Connection to Ancient India

A fascinating twist in the origin of Easter takes the story to India. Barbara G. Walker in The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets seems to have found evidence that Saxon poets considered India’s ancient Great Goddess Kali to be the same as Eostre. She quotes from the Old English epic poem Beowulf, from the 8th century A.D. these words “Ganges’s waters, whose waves ride down into an unknown sea near Eostre’s far home.[1]

Strange Easter Customs

As in the Halloween tradition, small kids dress up as witches and collect candy from door to door in exchange of reciting words of blessing the Sunday before Easter in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. 

People in the Hungarian speaking areas in Hungary, Kárpátalja, Southern Slovakia, Serbia and Transylvania exchange Easter eggs for sprinkling perfumed water on Easter Monday or “Watering Monday  (Locsoló Hétfő).

Another Nordic tradition is the paint boiled eggs and gift them to family and friends. Few people guess that this has roots in Iran. This is an ancient tradition from Persia dating to about 3000 B.C. as a symbol of resurrection of summer at spring festivals.

In many countries people light bonfires ("Osterfeuer" in German and in Dutch: "Paasvuur") and some young people often jump over them. Polish people make a lamb like figure out of butter (Baranek wielkanocny) and eat it.

Pagan Origins of Easter Symbols

The Easter Bunny, very bountiful in laying eggs is again a pagan fertility symbol. Its origins can be traced to ancient Egypt. Hathor-Astarte lays the golden egg of the sun.

The Easter lily has even older links. Lilu is the name of the magical genitals of Lillith, the Sumerian creation goddess (5000-6000 years ago), from which the entire creation comes into being.

The most treasured Orthodox hymn/greeting for Easter "Christos Anesti" in Greek, proclaims: 
"Christos Anesti ek nekton, thanato thanaton patsies, kai tis en tis mnimasi zoin harisamenos" 
"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death, and to those in the tombs, granting life." 
Are you one of those in the tomb? 

Photo source:

Easter is a time for renewing oneself. To start with, getting out of your tomb would definitely help you.

If we do not run after distractions but drink from the river of silence, we begin to see and to connect. All religion is reflection. 
  • Reflect on the marketeer’s or the leader's promises. Do you define yourself by what you don't have?
  • How do you know that the light at the end of the tunnel is not the headlight of an approaching train?
  • Reflect on what you have already. Gratefulness opens your heart. An open heart lets you see.

A wise or holy person may not lead you to the house of his wisdom but in the interaction you can find your way to the threshold of your own heart. Your own heart is the only tool, which can really set you free and make you happy.

What will you do with the happiness?

Happy Easter!

[1] Goodrich, Norma Lorre. Medieval Myths. New York: New American Library, 1977.