The Ruminator

Come on up and grab yourself a beer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Happy Eostre

Easter - not just an excuse to go on holiday and eat chocolate. In celebration of this important festival I thought I would spare some thought for its origins, before that whole thing with Jesus started up.

Many religions and traditions observe holy days and other celebrations during March and April, linked in some way to the spring or vernal equinox.

The word ‘Easter’ comes from Eostre, the Saxon goddess of spring and fertility. Her feast day was held on the full moon following the vernal equinox. According to one legend Eostre saved the life of an injured bird by transforming it into a hare. The hare retained the ability to lay eggs, which it would decorate and leave as gifts for the goddess.

The egg is also an important symbol in many other traditions. The ancient Persians would celebrate the solar new year on March 21 by exchanging gifts of coloured eggs. The ancient Egyptians offered coloured eggs to the gods. Eggs are also a symbol of rebirth and fertility, important themes in the pagan as well as Christian and Semitic traditions.

Easter symbolism can also be traced to the many fertility goddesses associated with rebirth and resurrection, such as Ishtar (Mesopotamia), Isis (Egypt), Astarte/Ashtoreth (Phoenecia), Ostara (Germany) and Demeter (Greece). Common legends involve the birth of a holy child, and a visit to and rise from the underworld.

Some of these goddesses make an appearance in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a novel about, well, I would hate to try and pin down exactly what Neil’s work is ‘about’. But it is always intelligent, intriguing, and inspirational (sorry, just felt in the mood for some assonance). And it rocks, nuff said.

Fertility goddesses were often worshipped with rites which included a great deal of sex, which was believed to encourage the gods to procreate, thus increasing the herds and crops and whatever else people wanted an abundance of.

So maybe Easter should be an excuse to go on holiday, eat chocolate and have sex.