It falls upon me, the resident Heathen here at PoliticusUSA, to say a few words about Easter. Why a Heathen? Because at its heart, Easter is as much a Heathen as a Christian holiday, with intertwining themes few seldom bother to try to disentangle. It’s just accepted, I guess, that a dead Jew and brightly colored eggs and bunny rabbits go together. If you’re satisfied with that, fine, go read something else. Otherwise, stick with me for a few minutes.
First, my objections: I’ve never seen so many pictures – often quite gruesome – of dead guys as at this time of the year. For a non-Christian it’s a hard-sell, Easter. We hear people around us, online, on the television, all talking about the “holiday weekend” but it isn’t really a holiday, is it? And isn’t celebrating a holiday about rebirth with images of death kinda sick? It’s almost as if some of these Christians, like a bunch of Mel Gibson wannabes, compete to see who can post the bloodiest Jesus. Yay! They nailed him to a cross! Look at all the blood! Whoopee! People pass these pictures around via social networking as though they were photos of their newborns and with the same sort of ecstatic glee. Note: this is the time of year, if you’re so inclined, to “un-friend” people because of religion, even if they are family.
And then there are the eggs. Eggs everywhere, mixed with the blood and gore, and I’m trying to figure out as a little boy what eggs and cute bunny rabbits have to do with dead saviors nailed to crosses. The cacophony of sounds and images is too much for my Heathen brain even now. It’s all as discordant as Madonna sensuously writhing while she sings about being a virgin. Not to insult anybody’s beliefs but isn’t enough, enough? I hear complaints about a war on Christian belief but how about a war on my sanity? You can’t have all my Heathenism and claim you’re celebrating a Christian holiday. I’m sorry, but you just can’t. Not without me having my say.
Look, stripped to its core you have a story about Jesus that has little or nothing to do with the historical Jewish Jesus, and a later layer of Gentile Christian belief about a Jesus who is a God and not a dead Galilean Jew, and a bunch of Heathen themes cut and pasted onto it. Easter itself, as a name, is taken from a Heathen goddess, Eostre/Ostara, whom modern Heathens still remember this time of year for reasons of spring and fertility. Jesus, manifestly has nothing to do with fertility. Neither, arguably, does his mother, since Catholics insist the woman was pure her entire life. I mean, fertility doesn’t even enter into the whole Jesus spiel. As we Scandinavian Americans say, Uff da!
So here you’ve got Jesus rising from the dead and he’s surrounded by all this Pagan imagery – the bunnies, the eggs. The bunnies stem from Ostara, for obvious reasons: they are highly fertile. Eggs are an ancient Pagan symbol of fertility and of course, life and rebirth have been tied to spring since long before Judaism or Christianity. To illustrate just how long Paganism lingered in the so-called Christian world after being repeatedly beat bloody over many centuries, the Easter Bunny did not make his appearance until the 1500s thanks to this merging of Christian and Heathen symbols and belief.
Here is what our earliest witness, the Venerable Bede, tells us about Easter in the days when Eostre was still remembered:
Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”
Early Christians had to pull such bunnies out of a hat to get Pagans to go to church. Of course, once you lured them with the bunny you had to whack them over the heat with the stick, but that’s another story.
What about Eostre/Ostara herself? Rudolf Simek calls Ostara a “spring-like fertility goddess” and Grimm has this to say:
Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy […]. Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing […]; here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess […].
Easter ain’t just for Jesus, kids. So this Easter Sunday, as you look at your little Heathen eggs and bunnies, remember your Gods and do them proper sacrifice. If you really want to do due justice to Easter/Eostre, be, as the song says, “all in, balls out” because that’s how a Heathen approaches life, and Easter in its Heathen manifestation is about just that: life. Don’t let ’em fool ya: remember the fertility gospel this spring.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.