Easter foundations root back to Teutonic pagan rituals connected with the vernal equinox and ancient goddess of fertility and spring – Ostara. Despite the bulk of historic pieces of evidence, this famous holiday that also goes by the name of Resurrection Sunday is, to most of the people, known as a celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. According to Christian beliefs, after painful death for the redemption of the human sins, the messiah revived and went to heaven promising eternal welfare after death to all who follow his way of living.
You can check: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter
Teutons – Inventors of Easter
Teutons were people that lived on Jutland Peninsula(Denmark) in the 4th-century b.c. History classifies them as Germanic tribes although some claim they should be specifically held for Celts. Be as it may, Teutons are the ancestors of Anglo-Saxons who, at the beginning of 5th century A.D, had sailed over the North Sea on wooden canoes and inhabited Great Britain. Military strength was the main feature of these nomadic tribes that, through war and conquering, set the foundations of modern Europe. Besides the habit of engaging in wars, Teutonic culture had a very interesting and unique way of observing time as well as a highly developed polytheistic religion that remained as Anglo-Saxons heathen heritage. One of the central places in the hierarchy of deities they worshiped was reserved for Ostara. The way in which they paid tribute to the goddess and the symbolism that surrounded her implies the high possibility of heathen rites being the cradle of Easter.
Check out this Easter Parody
Story of Ostara – Goddess Who Gave Birth to Easter
Ostara known by the names of Eostre and Eastre is an ancient Teutonic goddess of spring, rebirth, and fertility, and most probably the muse that inspired the creation of Easter we know today. She was also the queen of dawn. By some sources, during the time while the sun was rising above the horizon, Ostara was able to command the animals. However, this attribute is not so likely to be the truth. The certain fact is that she was able to turn into the rabbit. Opinions are split when it comes to the question of Ostara’s shapeshifting attribute consistency as some claim that she was able to change form at will while others say she could do it only during the dawn. The third party believes that transformation occurred only once during the year, at the dawn of vernal equinox. In addition to these, there are small groups believing that her basic form included a female body and a rabbit’s head. Rabbits were sacred to Ostara and therefore to all of her followers. White hares enjoyed the highest position in the hierarchy. Eggs were her symbol. Especially the colored ones. Ostara’s tale is a well-preserved myth that explains why rabbits and eggs became so important. In modern times you might have heard of her through tv series American Gods as this ancient deity inspired the creation of a character in book series.Anansi Boys (American Gods Book 2)
Creation of Easter Bunny – Ostara’s Mercy
Ostara, the Goddess of Dawn, was the deity that pushed winter into exile. She would let spring take winter’s place and the life of plenty and ease would ensue. Gentle and kindhearted towards her worshipers, Ostara was feeling guilty about arriving so late. What brought the change and created the tradition was the event of the goddess stumbling upon a dying little bird. The wings of the helpless creature were frozen while the tiny beak seemed blunt and full of cracks. The powerful goddess cradled the shivering creature and saved his life.
The Name of the First Easter Bunny – Lepus
As the wings of the bird, myth branched onto two sides. One story says that Ostara took the creature for a pet while the other one claims she got herself a lover. She gave him a name – Lepus. What both versions of stories agree on is that, due to her compassion invoked by permanently frost-damaged wings forever stripped of the ability to fly, the goddess turned the bird into a snow hare. Fur was there to forever keep away the cold. Running speed and white color were gifts that would help him in avoiding hunters and predators. In addition to these gifts, to glorify a memory of his previous existence, Ostara decided to give Lepus his final gift – the ability to lay eggs. He was only able to do it once a year but his eggs had the color of rainbows. At some point in time, the harmony of the bond between Ostara and Lepus was broken. It seems that Lepus was mischievous. Whether it was a rabbit running around all the time, or a handsome man switching women, Ostara couldn’t take it anymore and decided to punish him. She flung him into the skies where he would remain for eternity as the constellation Lepus (The Hare), forever positioned under the feet of the constellation Orion (the Hunter).
Forgiveness – Resurrection of Hare Into Easter Rabbit
With time, Ostara’s heart softened. She didn’t give Lepus full forgiveness, but, as a token of appreciation to all good moments they once had, she gave him permission to return once a year. He was assigned an obligation. Lepus had to attend Ostara’s festival that took place every spring and share his rainbow eggs to the children that would gather to worship the goddess. And that was how Easter Rabbit came to be. With this, the basis of many modern traditions came into life. One of them is Easter Egg Hunt. During ancient times, hunters that worshiped Ostara would organize the hare chase event. Of course, the killing of a sacred animal was forbidden. They were allowed only to catch hares without causing any harm, and bring them back to the village where rabbits would remain during the celebration. After the end of the festival, they would be released back to the forest.
How Ancient Easter Was Celebrated? Spring Equinox and Old Customs
At the spring equinox, pagans gave offerings of colored eggs to Ostara. They would put eggs on graves to glorify rebirth. This tradition was present in the customs of the old Egyptians and Greeks. The egg has strong symbolism as besides rebirth, it represents the potential of new life, creation, and balance. In some cultures, eggs even refer to an entire universe. But it was the feature of representing the balance that made people put them at the top of the graves as death required birth for harmony to be preserved. Ostara was celebrated on the fool moon following the vernal equinox which is, when it comes to timing, very close to the Christian easter.Ostara: Customs, Spells & Rituals for the Rites of Spring: Customs, Spells and Rituals for the Rites of Spring (Holiday Series Book 6)
As for the acts regarding the worshiping of the old goddess and the arrival of the spring, there are multiple ways ancient people did it:
- Erecting Ostara Altars – In the old time’s pagans would build stone monuments to worship the goddess. They did this annually to follow the concept of rebirth. Most of the time statues would be in the shape of a fertile female, but rarely she would be given the rabbits head. After construction would be completed people would gather around their newly created altar, bow down and leave the symbols of their hopes and wishes below Ostara’s feet. The ceremony was performed at down.
- Solitary Ritual – Not all rituals required a group. The solitary ritual was based on the idea in which the individual would follow his intuition on finding his place below the sun and sky. This kind of worship was performed at dawn. The worshiper would take something of great importance to him and go outside. On the place where he felt peace, he would leave his token for the goddess to pick it up. In return for paying respect, Ostara would provide help.
- Meditations – this ritual was performed outside. People would find a quiet and sunny place below the sky, sit on the earth and try to clear their minds. Becoming one with nature would allow them to get closer to Ostara and the rest of the natural circle with rebirth as its crown.
Old Customs And Beliefs – Ostara’s Legacy
All spells and foods that include eggs were considered to be blessed by the goddess. The best remedy for any kind of sickness or disease was the famous egg spell.
Easter Egg Spells
As sacred food, eggs were involved in almost every possible ritual of the ancient Anglo-Saxon tribes. Magic could not be even imagined if symbols of Ostara were omitted.
Back in the old days, Anglo-Saxon tribes believed that Lepus colored eggs could cure anything. That is the reason why on the day of the festival one egg was chosen to be the guardian of the home. It was the Lepus gift with the power of Ostara in it. In a case of some strong disease, a person was instructed to carry an egg for 24 hours. That was the time needed for a sickness to be drained out of the human organism. Then the sick person would bury the egg deep below the ground making it the grave of the sickness.
Rising Fertility Spell
To increase any type of fertility breakfast had to include eggs. Dawn’s first light was the best time to invoke Ostara. During the meal special words had to be spoken out loud:
‘Ostara, bring to me fertility
With this egg now bless my fruitfulness!’
When times get too hard Anglo-Saxons used the luck spell to improve their lives. They would go outside just before the sun rises carrying the symbol of what burdened them. Then they would drop their token of hardships or bury it. Without looking at it, the one doing the spell was supposed to turn back and leave. During the rising of the sun, the spell-maker had to look at the horizon and slowly walk towards it. On its way, to make the spell complete, the person had to pick up the first flower he stumbles upon. Dry it, then carry it with him/her as often as possible in order for a charm to preserve hope inside the heart.
In the swirl of human history where entire civilizations emerge and fall as the golden autumn leaves, it is no wonder to have an embroilment of religions and their characters. Since this is an indisputable fact, a question remains: “Who was Ostara derived from?“
Ostara’s Deity – Mighty Freya
Many believe that the inspiration for the Teutonic invention of the goddess of spring was found in Freyja. In Norse mythology, Freyja is the goddess connected to war, death, love, sex, beauty, fertility, gold, and magic. She rides a chariot pulled by two cats, and on her journeys is accompanied by the boar called Hildisvini. Freyja carries the cloak of falcon feathers on her back. Stemming from Old Norse Freyja, modern forms of the name include Freya, Freyia, and Freja. This goddess is also known by other names like Gefn, Horn, Mardoll, Syr, Valfreyja, and Vanadis.
Sources about Ostara also known by the names of Eostre and Eastre are obscure and low in numbers. Writings of Bede, the monk that lived during the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th century, are the crucial basis for reconstructing the truth about this deity. The monk, known for his heathen-phobic attitudes, left to this world two famous books: Ecclesiastical History of the English People and The Reckoning of Time. In his writings, besides many other things ensued from observing Anglo-Saxons, Bede describes a certain pagan festival that takes place in the Eostremonth. Due to very little information about this deity, some of the scholars have decided to discard her from the order of gods claiming that she was only the invention of a monk named Bede. However, that is almost impossible. Someone with such a negative attitude towards polytheistic religions would rather die than let himself invent and add another heathen god to this world.
Eostremonth – Pagans Had Month For Ressurection
In the book, “The Reckoning of Time”, in the chapter called “The English Months“, Bebe went into a deep description of heathen observation of time before adopting the Roman calendar. Old Anglo-Saxons had a specific and unique way of splitting the year into months. Every month was a representation of a lunar cycle. The lunar cycle or Lunar phase is the shape of the directly sunlit moon as viewed from the earth. In simple words, this is why sometimes we see a full moon while other times we are able to see only part of it. It takes 29.5 days for a single lunar cycle to be completed. April was the month that corresponded with Eostremont or the month of Ostara.
Masking Ostara In Easter
The precise point in which the ancient customs turned into modern ones occurred during the christianisation of Anglo-Saxons that spanned the 7th century. Saxons were hard in their beliefs. In addition to that, the rulers that would accept Christianity would do it only formally and still remain loyal to their pagan gods. It took almost a hundred years before many deities were switched with one. However, that result had its prices. Old gods were not annihilated. They remained alive and powerful redressed in church’s toggery. It is how Ostara turned into Easter, Lepus into Easter bunny and it is the reason why people color eggs as well as why, in some places, children play search games in an attempt to find hidden eggs.