No, it’s not all about Ishtar. Some mythbusting Easter facts from your friendly pagan sceptic.

Post by Adrian Bott.

  1. The festival of Pascha was celebrated for centuries before the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons who named it ‘Easter’ in their own relatively small part of the world. (It’s still called Pascha, or a variant thereof, outside those areas.) So no, it wasn’t ‘originally pagan’ or about a Goddess of sex and fertility. Much to the disappointment of us English folk, the world does not revolve around what went on in England.

    Ishtar-Easter

    Greek: Pascha; French: Pâques; Romanian: Paşti; Portugese: Páscoa; Italian: Pasqua; Spanish: Pascua; Faeroese: páskir; Swedish: påsk; Icelandic: páskar; Welsh: Pasg; Norwegian: Påske; Danish: Påske; Dutch: Pasen; Russia: Paskha; English: Easter. HOLY CRAP IT LOOKS A BIT LIKE ISHTAR IN MY LANGUAGE, THEREFORE THE WHOLE FESTIVAL MUST BE ABOUT A BABYLONIAN GODDESS. Horrifyingly, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science put this image up on their Facebook; thankfully they took it down when called on it.

  2. Bede, our only source for the Goddess Eostre, states that the festival of Easter was named after the ‘old observance’ of Eostre’s feasts during the month of Eosturmonath. He does not say that anything survived of these feasts except that name. Some scholars have suggested that Bede made her up, and academia is still divided on this point, although it remains unclear what his motive for doing so might have been.
  3. No, Eostre’s symbol wasn’t a hare. That was an unsupported guess made by the folklorist Jacob Grimm in 1835. Grimm was baffled by the Easter Hare tradition, finding it ‘unintelligible’, and guessed that ‘the hare was probably the sacred animal of Ostara’. Later writers misrepresented his guess as a statement of fact.
  4. No, votive inscriptions from the Rhine don’t refer to Eostre; they’re to the Matronae Austriahenae, who may well be linguistically related, however.
  5. No, eggs were not symbols of Eostre either. There are no known symbols of Eostre. Our sole source — Bede — doesn’t mention any.
  6. No, hot cross buns weren’t eaten by the pagan Saxons. That ludicrous claim comes from the long-outdated 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
  7. No, Eostre is not the root of the word ‘oestrogen’. That comes from Latin ‘oestrus’ meaning ‘frenzy’, used in sexual context since 380 BC. Oestrogen was discovered in the 1920s, the human ovum in 1827. Unsurprisingly, Anglo-Saxon goddesses played zero part in either process.
  8. Yes, if Eostre existed, she was probably a dawn-goddess (see Indo-European mythology) though Dr Philip Shaw suggests she was possibly the goddess of a local region, probably Kent.
  9. No, Eostre isn’t a form of Ishtar or Astarte. That comes from a certain strand of Christian belief that all pagan gods are played by the same small cast of demons. Ishtar was ancient Babylonian, Eostre (if she existed) Anglo-Saxon; thousands of miles and many hundreds of years apart.
  10. By Google Maps, Ishtar’s holy city of Uruk lies a phenomenal 3,500 miles from Jarrow, where Bede wrote down the name of the alleged Goddess Eostre. (For comparison, that’s about the same as the distance from London to New York.) To make that journey today, you would have to travel through Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Germany and Belgium before crossing the English Channel and making the final trip up to Tyne and Wear in the UK. Ishtar was not only 3,500 miles away from Eostre, she was about a thousand years earlier in time, too.
  11. There is, however, linguistic evidence to suggest a Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess (Hausos) who may be the antecedent of Eostre. This is NOT the same thing as postulating a single entity who turns up across the centuries in different guises. That’s Time Lords you’re thinking of.
  12. No, Ostara is not an old name for the Spring Equinox. Only modern pagans use it in that way. The Spring Equinox was first called ‘Ostara’ in the 1970s.
  13. As rabbits were introduced to Britain by the Romans and are not an indigenous species, it is impossible for rabbits to have been sacred to any indigenous British Goddess.
  14. No, Jacob Grimm didn’t uncover a rich oral history that mentioned the Goddess Ostara. Grimm found no direct evidence for a Goddess called Ostara at all. He never claimed to have done so.
  15. Yes, Grimm hypothesised the existence of the Goddess Ostara. He did so because he didn’t have any direct evidence of her. If he had encountered direct evidence, oral or otherwise, he would have recorded it.
  16. No, people who debunk pagan myths about Easter aren’t all Christians. In fact, many fundamentalist Christians don’t like Easter; they think it’s unbiblical and unchristian to celebrate it. It therefore suits them down to the ground to claim that Easter was originally Pagan. By contrast, the number of pagans who find ill-informed claims embarrassing and worthy of careful correction is growing rather high.

Most years, Adrian goes slightly feral over myths about Easter: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013. Mentioning the “burning times” is also good for a throbbing forehead vein.

8 thoughts on “No, it’s not all about Ishtar. Some mythbusting Easter facts from your friendly pagan sceptic.

  1. Thanks very much. I do very much the same every year from the other side of the fence! Shall link to this from my blog when I’m back from our Paschal Mysteries.

  2. Ishtar is Semiraimis, from Babylon . . . not Eostre, and having not a thing to do with Britain.

    Words sounding a little similar doesn’t make them the same, does it?

  3. Pingback: Unreasonable Episode 4: Atheists in Media | The Unreasonable Podcast

  4. Pingback: When the Christians met the Pagans | Bjørn Stærk

  5. Morrigane Feu on

    Please, please, please give me permission to translate this in French and put it on my FB group/page/anywhere. People need to learn how to think before they repost.

Comment policy: Don't be a dick.