Origins of Easter Customs. A Natural Blend of Pagan and Christian Beliefs

10 04 2020

Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Easter at this time of year? Or better yet, why we give one another Easter eggs? Or, where the Easter bunny comes from? Where does the word ‘Easter’ come from?! The traditions and symbols of Easter that we engage in today are in fact a grand amalgamation of various traditions from all over the world – these tangled strings, pagan and Christian, have combined to give us our modern-day celebration.  Here, I will answer the most common questions relating to origins of our Easter customs, tracing the often-overlapping story across Europe and beyond.Although

Easter has become known as a Christian holiday around the world, celebrating the sacred death and rebirth of Jesus, the true pagan Easter and its symbols is a clear testament to the historical melting pot of cultures and traditions that make Easter what is is today.

Stonehenge origins

Easter Bunny at Stonehenge. The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility.

Eostra
Starting in the UK, the word ‘Easter’ has Saxon origins – stemming from ‘Eostra’, the saxon goddess of spring. We have this connection on good authority, the writings of the Venerable Bede (672-735 AD), an influential chronicler and monk. He elucidated later Anglo-Saxon Christians on the etymology and his influence was thus that the name stuck and developed into ‘Easter’ as we have it today.

The connection with goddess ‘Eostra’ from Saxon tradition is deeper than mere nomenclature. A pagan celebration of the goddess took place at the vernal equinox, around the 20th of March. Not only is this day extremely close to when we celebrate Easter today, but it also has symbolic significance. The celebration of Eostra was a celebration of Spring, of fertility, new life. Crucially it was a time when light conquered dark and the world was reborn. These celebrations had a deep thematic connection with the story of Jesus Christ’s rebirth. The celebration of Eostra was the obvious celebration to be replaced by that of Christ.

Rebirth
Pagan celebrations of rebirth and fertility in the spring time were commonplace all across Europe. Many ancient cultures had stories relating to rebirth. In ancient Greek culture, Persephone, daughter of the goddess of fertility Ceres, was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld. A distraught Ceres was too miserable to tend to the world and all crops and plants withered.

Unbeknownst to Persephone, imbibing the food of the underworld was a life sentence in that realm, and Hades laid on a feast.  When she is found in the underworld, it is discovered that she has eaten six pomegranate seeds and Zeus decrees she must henceforth stay in the underworld for six out of the twelve months of the year.  Therefore, when her daughter is free Ceres tends to the world like a garden, bringing bounty and prosperity. But, when her daughter is taken she lets the crops wither and die.

This story of fertility is common across the pagan beliefs in Europe, a cyclical story of descent into darkness and lights eventual triumph.  It is one of a number of accounts of dying and rising gods that represent the cycle of the seasons and the stars. For example, the resurrection of ‘Horus’, in Egypt or the Sumerian goddess ‘Inanna’ and the Mesopotamian ‘Ishtar’. This gave the Christian story of resurrection a natural home in the springtime.

The Rabbit and the Egg
The symbols of Easter have similarly tangled origins. The egg is an extremely common symbol of spring all across the world, representing fertility, renewal and rebirth. Similar to us, ancient Persians painted eggs at this time of the year and the Egyptians believed the eggs symbolised the sun and its rebirth in the spring time.

The rabbit was a common symbol of the goddess Eostra, who was also an important deity for the Saxons of mainland Europe. Thus, we find the first mention of the ‘Easter bunny’ in German writing dating from around 1572. Although the bunny was perhaps born in Europe, it is believed that the modern tradition of an Easter bunny, was largely formulated and developed by German immigrants in the united states – as opposed to puritan settlers who didn’t believe in Easter celebrations.

All of these symbols of Easter are a result of a natural blend of pagan and Christian beliefs and demonstrate the power the natural world has over our celebratory calendar.

RELEVANT LINKS:

The pagan roots of Easter – THE GUARDIAN
The Ancient Pagan Origins of Easter – ANCIENT ORIGINS
Pagan Easter: Where Did the Modern Tradition Really Originate? HISTORIC MYSTERIES
Origin of Easter: From pagan festivals and Christianity to bunnies and chocolate eggs – ABC NEWS

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Hundreds of pagans and druids descend on Stonehenge to celebrate the 2019 Spring (Vernal) Equinox.

21 03 2019

Visitors headed to the famous 5,000-year-old stone circle in Wiltshire in the dark to ensure they got to see the sun rise. And they made the most of one of only four public annual events that allows people to get so close to the stones.


Big event: The equinox happens twice a year around March 20th and September 22nd, between the summer and winter solstices. On the equinox, day and night are nearly equal because the sun appears to rise before its centre is at the horizon

WHY CAN PAGANS AND DRUIDS GET SO CLOSE TO THE STONES FOR THE EQUINOX?

The famous Stonehenge circle is normally roped off to the public, but special access is granted four times a year.

This is only on the mornings of the summer solstice, winter solstice, spring equinox and autumn equinox.

English Heritage has ‘managed open access’, meaning the public can stand among the stones on these days.

Anyone can turn up on the day to get close to the stones, but people are asked not to touch or climb on them.

Organisers also have a ban on bringing glass bottles or pets onto the site and on playing amplified music.

Today Stonehenge was opened at 5.45am when it was deemed light enough to safely allow people into the field.

Visitors began to leave at 8.30am and then the area was opened to the paying public as normal at 9.30am

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Stonehenge Spring (Vernal) Equinox Open Access Arrangements 2015

13 02 2015

English Heritage will welcome people to Stonehenge to celebrate the Spring (Vernal) Equinox on Saturday 21st March.
Expect a short period of access, from  first light (approximately 05:45am) until 08:30am.

• Access to Stonehenge will cease at 0830h and the cooperation of all of visitors in ensuring the monument is vacated at this Stonehenge Equinoxtime would be most appreciated. Please note that, in previous years, access for the Equinox ceased earlier at 0800h, however English Heritage has permitted an additional half an hour within the monument for our visitors.

• Temporary toilets (Porta-Loos) will be available at the monument once the site is open for public access. This includes a provision for those with disabilities.

•The Cafe and Shop at the new Visitor Centre at Airmans Cross should be opening for visitors from approximately 0800h on the morning of Saturday 21st March. Please note that the toilets at this location will also become available for use at this time. Although the Cafe will be opening only hot and cold drinks will be available for the first hour. Pasties etc will become available after 0900h.
There will be no access to Stonehenge via the A344.

Accessible parking is extremely limited and is booked on a first-come-first-served basis. Please apply to lucy.barker@english-heritage.org.uk. Accessible parking opens at 5am.

English Heritage Website

Solstice Events UK are offering their usual small group tour visiing Stonehenge at sunrise on the Spring Equinox: Book here

Merlin at Stonehenge
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