EASTER: Sacrifice & Resurrection or Sex & Fertility?
On Good Friday I taught my regular morning Yoga class. I thought about the fact it was Easter weekend and felt like I wanted to say something meaningful.
I grew up in an agnostic farming family where the closest we got to God in a Christian sense was Dad saying to the sky, “Send er down Hughie,” when we were waiting for rain.
All I honestly knew (prior to some research for this story) was that Easter is a time for eating lots of chocolate eggs… And I vaguely remembered my step-grandfather being very grumpy during Easter because of something called Lent which meant he couldn’t drink wine.
Instead of making up some bogus metaphor I asked the people who’d come for the class. There were snippets of knowledge… One said Good Friday was the day Jesus was crucified, and Sunday was the day he was born again.
Someone else said it was originally a pagan festival appropriated by the Christian Church as its own.
I got home and wondered more about it. It’s an important time in Western culture. Schools close, businesses close, supermarkets overflow with colourful foil-wrapped chocolate eggs and bunnies. But how many of us actually know what it’s all about?
I did some delving…
Google says it’s, “The most important and oldest festival of the Christian Church, celebrating the resurrection of Christ.”
And there were plenty of Christian sites that went into greater detail about the crucifixion, Jesus's sacrifice for the sake of humanity etc. Basically a crash course in Christian Easter 101.
But where do chocolate eggs and bunnies come into it?
After class one of the Yoga regulars sent me a picture of a voluptuous looking female figure carved out of stone with the following words:
“Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols. After Constantine decided to Christianise the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus.
But at its roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about celebrating fertility and sex.”
I searched ‘origin of Easter’ to find a source to back this up and found an article by Heather McDougall titled The Pagan Roots of Easter published by The Guardian, which elaborates on the Ishtar connection...
She starts with the statement, “Easter is a pagan festival.” And goes on to say, “Early Christianity made a pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practices.”
Apparently resurrection stories of good triumphing over darkness were widespread in the ancient world, including Egyptian god Horus who like Jesus, was born on 25 December and also was resurrected after his death (a long time before 0AD). The eye of Horus (now a popular tattoo design) came to symbolise birth and rebirth.
And then again the mention of goddess Ishtar who was apparently “hung naked on a stake, and subsequently resurrected and ascended from the underworld.”
The Christian Answers site agrees with the Ishtar origin stating:
“The name “Easter” has its roots in ancient polytheistic religions (paganism). On this, all scholars agree. This name is never used in the original Scriptures, nor is it ever associated biblically with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
According to this site Ishtar was the widow of Nimrod – Noah’s naughty great-grandson, and the mother of Tammus (apparently born illegitimately after the death of Nimrod) who she insisted was the result of immaculate conception and was actually Nimrod resurrected… Sound familiar?
It’s all very convoluted, and there are many crossovers between the Christian stories of Easter, and these much older pagan traditions.
Another site: We The One People says:
"Most historians, including Biblical scholars, agree that Easter was originally a pagan festival. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary says: “The word Easter is of Saxon origin, Eastra, the goddess of spring, in whose honour sacrifices were offered about Passover time each year.
By the eighth century Anglo–Saxons had adopted the name to designate the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.” However, even among those who maintain that Easter has pagan roots, there is some disagreement over which pagan tradition the festival emerged from."
The picture at the top of this story is of Goddess Ostara (also known as Eastra). Although the myths of Ishtar predate Eastra, it is likely that traditions such as eggs and rabbits come more from the celebrations of Eastra (Spring Eqinox) than Ishtar.
It also seems likely that the stories of Jesus were moulded to fit in with the pre-existing pagan celebrations of Ishtar's death and resurrection in order to convert the people to the new faith.
And then there are those who believe Jesus was a Yogi.
Who knows what the real story is.
Three things I know for sure:
1. Chocolate is delicious.
2. Bunnies are cute and furry.
3. Eggs are a symbol of birth and new beginnings.
So this Easter I will be searching for and eating Easter eggs with my kids, cuddling a bunny if one should cross my path, and beginning again with each new breath.
Make up your own story. It may be the only truth there is. ;)
P.s... One commonality that both the Christian and Pagan stories share is sacrifice of humans and animals. This Easter let's focus on peace and unity, and sacrifice only bigotry, selfishness and cruelty.
Leonie Orton is a writer, editor and marcomms consultant. She'll create communication mediums in the shape of words, graphics and webs for your business, connecting you with the people who need you. When she's not head down with this, she's teaching yoga, creating floral artworks, running a Harvest Swap and adoring two spirited sons... Get in touch by email, facebook or subscribe to her weekly blog.