Pagan Origins of Easter

A Pagan Celebration of the coming of Spring?

Ostara (Spring Equinox) is the start of longer daylight hours, returning warmth and the start of planting. Following the "dying of the year" in winter; now it is the time of organic and spiritual rebirth. Soon, the fields will be green; the leaves will return to the trees, flowers will bloom and seeds will be sown for the harvesting. Animals stir and create new generations. The world feels a sense of rebirth. This rebirth was celebrated by many in antiquity.

One of such celebrations is of an ancient Babylon honoring the resurrection of their god, Tammuz, who was brought back from the underworld by his mother/wife, Ishtar (after whom the festival was named). Ishtar was actually pronounced “Easter” in most Semitic dialects. Of course, the occasion could easily have been a Phrygian family honoring Attis and Cybele, or perhaps a Phoenician family worshipping Adonis and Astarte. Also fitting the description well would be a heretic Israelite family honoring the Canaanite Baal and Ashtoreth. Or this depiction could just as easily represent any number of other immoral, pagan fertility celebrations of death and resurrection including the modern Easter celebration as it has come to us through the Anglo-Saxon fertility rites of the goddess Eostre or Ostara. These are all the same festivals, separated only by time and culture.

Nowhere in the New Testament can you find any reference to Easter. In the King James Version of the Bible (in Acts 12:4) you do find the word Easter, but it is a blatantly erroneous mistranslation that has been corrected in virtually every other Bible translation. The original Greek word there is pascha, correctly translated Passover in virtually every modern version of the Bible everywhere it appears in the Scriptures. It refers to the biblical Passover originally instituted when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:1-14).

In one ancient mystery which celebrated the spring equinox, Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, had a lover who was believed to have been born via a virgin birth. He was Attis (the older Tammuz, Adonis, Osiris, Dionysus, or Orpheus under a new name), who was said to have died and been resurrected each year during the period of the vernal equinox. The festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over the resurrection. Attis grew up to become a sacrificial victim and Savior, slain to bring salvation to mankind. His body was eaten by his worshipers in the form of bread. He was crucified on a pine tree; whence his holy blood poured down to redeem the earth.

The similarities between the stories of Attis and Jesus are obvious. Wherever Christian worship of Jesus and Pagan worship of Attis were active in the same geographical area in ancient times, Christians "used to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on the same date; and pagans and Christians used to quarrel bitterly about which of their gods was the true prototype and which the imitation." Since the worship of Cybele was brought to Rome in 204 BCE, about 250 years before Christianity, it is obvious that if any copying occurred, it was the Christians that copied the traditions of the Pagans.

A Greek legend tells of the return of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of the earth, from the underworld to the light of day; her return symbolized to the ancient Greeks the resurrection of life in the spring after the desolation of winter. Many ancient peoples shared similar legends. The name "Easter" originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe; goddess of spring and fertility. Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: "eastre."

Her festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox; traditions associated with the festival survive in the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored Easter eggs, originally painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts.

The egg being the most literal and obvious of all fertility symbols. Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of extreme antiquity. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox. It is not surprising that rabbits and hares, being prolific breeders, should become fertility symbols, or that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore.

The Ancient Mysteries boast many legends sharing the same traditions as Easter. The Easter sunrise service is derived from the ancient pagan practice of welcoming the sun on the morning of the spring equinox, marking the beginning of spring.

To broaden the appeal of the new religion of Christianity in those early centuries, the powerful Roman religious authorities, with the backing of the Roman Empire, simply co-opted the rites and practices of pagan religions, relabeled them as "Christian" and created a new brand of Christianity with customs and teachings far removed from the teachings of Jesus.


References:
http://www.gnmagazine.org/issues/gn63/easter.htm
http://www.religioustolerance.org/easter1.htm
http://www.history.com/content/easter/pagan-origins
http://www.thercg.org/books/ttooe.html
 
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