Conspiracies & Catholicism: Easter Special

Foxfier - Easter Special
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Eostre or Ostara

Bede's Bede’s Reckoning of Time

15. The English Months

In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called . . .

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months. … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time. 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. Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day…

From De ratione temporum 15. (The reckoning of time, tr. Faith Wallis, Liverpool University Press 1988, pp.53-54), full quote and citation courtesy of Roger Pearse’s delightful page.

Read the quote? Congratulations– you know know the whole source of the claims that Easter is a celebration of a pagan festival. The educated guess of the Venerable Bede, a saint and historian who died about 735, based off of the names of the month, which he mentioned as an afterthought in a book about how people talk about time. That’s it. You might find slightly different translations, because over a dozen centuries have passed, but that’s it. No details beyond there were feasts in the same month that Easter falls. (AKA, spring time. I’ll go into that a bit more later on.)

There are later stories that could have their roots in older traditions with personifications of spring fighting winter…or they could be a fairy tale story along the lines of Frozen, with winter being defeated and a wonderful new life starting. (You must admit, Disney laid it on a little thick with the fire and ice metaphor in the character designs…not that I didn’t adore the movie.) It may also be helpful to know that pretty much all the feasts and fasts have female avatars, and the names referenced mean something like “east light.” SuburbanBanshee also has a rather nice look into the background that might contribute to such a mascot, especially with the root of “East” and sun related symbols. She also has another fun post theorizing a link with the heroine Ester. To anyone scoffing at linking to a blog with a studied woman theorizing– please keep in mind that in 732, Bede would’ve been in a similar situation as far as authority to interpret mythology goes; De temporum ratione was not a study of pagan traditions!  Incidentally, the quote at the top is also the only mention of the goddess Eostre; the Ostara form is based off of it.

English and German are unusual in not calling our celebration of the victory over death some name related to ‘Paschal’, which kind of kills the whole “that nasty Latin speaking Church stole Easter and didn’t even change the name!” theory.

Ishtar

Marduk Marduk Dragon Ishtar Gate

An extremely ancient Mesopotamian goddess with a name that looks a little bit like Easter and Eostre. Unless her name became the word for “east” in ancient German, it has nothing to do with Eostre. She’s somewhat associated with Astarte, Ashtaroth, Inanna and probably a lot more– one encyclopedia even linked her to Isis of Egypt among the other “mother” goddesses. Ishtar was associated with war, sex (prostitution) and fertility of various types, the last of which means that it’s very likely she would have been honored in the spring when the symbols of fertility are all around. I could not find any scholarly association with child sacrifice, although that is a traditional “dark” side of child related goddesses, and the field has a lot of argument even when the bodies of children are found. You may recognize her name because of the famous Ishtar gate– AKA, the one with the dragons. (That creature is actually associated with Marduk, but the images from the Ishtar gate are famous.) Ishtar is said “Ish-Tar.”

Eggs, Bunnies and Flowers

bunny-eggs-flowers Spring

Spring is the time of new life– a return to life. This was, for obviously reasons, associated symbolically with the Resurrection. Given how often God seems to have to repeat Himself before we’ll start listening, Easter may have happened at that time to reinforce the message. So you have symbols of life returning to the earth (flowers, green grass), new life (baby animals such as ducks, chicks, calves and, ahem, lambs) and life in general (eggs and rabbits) associated with the Holy Day. Other symbols come into play– such as the rabbits being white to symbolize purity– and the symbols are often mixed in together– such as the eggs being painted in flower-bright colors, and non-Easter symbols being carried over such as with gold accents or an empty cross draped in flowers or bright cloth.

I hope I don’t have to explain why people like to indulge in treats such as candy and chocolate after 40 days of abstaining and fasting! I have a personal theory that some of the stricter forms of fasting– such as not eating eggs and dairy– contributed to more and healthier young animals the rest of the year, adding to the bone-deep symbolism of sacrifice resulting in good. The egg you don’t eat after Ash Wednesday is the chicken that is laying next winter, and the calf that isn’t weaned until Easter is going to grow up stronger. Easter Eggs of the dyed sort were probably a very welcome treat after a long Lent, and were also very practical!

Pagan Roots

I am not going to go in depth on theoretical contamination due to names having an origin in paganism, because I don’t think that Sunday is any less holy due to the name having root in a personification of the sun. The concept carries over to any other old name. It’s a basic assumption that can’t be either defeated or validated, because it is a starting point for how you view things; I think that Himself put a lot of thematic ‘echoes’ into what came before– the famous God Shaped Hole in our souls, as well as how many miracles echoed those which had happened before. People have a built in love of life, of babies, of life. God has been trying to tell us what is going on since the beginning; it took Him coming down here for us to listen and follow Him in the right direction.

Happy Easter!

Conspiracies and Catholicism is a series of posts about things like albino assassin monks, hidden Bible books, pagan Santas and secret councils— popular culture related to Catholicism, sometimes in unexpected ways. If you have a suggestion for a future article, please leave a message in the comments or email me.  Prior posts available in the author’s profile.

© 2014. Foxfier. All rights reserved.

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8 thoughts on “Conspiracies & Catholicism: Easter Special”

  1. About a few symbols of Easter:
    Eggs: A chicken egg (as in unfertilized ova) is not going to hatch, no matter how long the hen sits on it. Obviously, as the eggs were being laid during Lent, they could either be thrown away or collected. The former cannot even be considered, while the latter was what happened — eggs can last considerably long in a dark and cool place (farmhouses always had underground storage).
    Once you have a few hundred eggs, you really go out of your way to look for ways that they can be prepared, hence nearly all recipes for Easter include eggs in one way or another.
    Obviously, an egg is a symbol of new life (fertilization notwithstanding), which is of course a symbol for Easter, but its traditional abundance after Lent is the primary reason for associating it with Easter.

    Rabbits: Until around 5th-6th century, it was believed that rabbits slept with their eyes open, and Hesychius mentions in his writings that due to this, rabbits were the first to witness Christ’s resurrection.

    Fasting and milk: Cows don’t lactate in general, just as women don’t lactate. For a cow to give milk, it needs to give birth. Once it does, it feeds the calf until it’s weaned (which happens after around half a year). Just after birth, all milk (colostrum) is fed to the calf. As the calf is weaning, it needs less and less milk. In the wild, once the calf is fully weaned, the cow stops lactacting, but when it’s continued to be milked, it will lactate for a year or more, even when the weaner is no longer fed milk. It’s continued to be milked during gestation until it’s dried in the last 2-3 months (both to prepare it for giving birth and because any milk produced would be colostrum which is useless). When do cows give birth? In the spring, so all pregnant cows are dry around Lent anyway.
    However, some cows (those that didn’t get pregnant and are not dry) continue to be milked throughout Lent, and as with eggs, there are a lot of ways in which milk can be preserved — made into cheese and butter, or fermented as yogurt or kefir.
    However, traditionally, fresh milk supply was very low before and during Lent, anyway, so whatever supplies of butter and cheese there were, they were used up before Ash Wednesday and very slowly built up.

    1. For Bellejar’s post link– I see he accepts Grimm’s theory about being able to detect ancient gods by current stories, and that he’s a much better “casual” writer than I am! (Symbolism, y’all. Perfect.)
      I love the idea of the theory, but sadly haven’t seen it work in the scientific manner required and thus can’t believe it. 🙁 If I could write fiction, I’d love to do a series where it was possible to systematically identify the roots in any common story, instead of the rather hit-and-miss we actually see! He even notes at the bottom that the claims are from Grimm. (I don’t beat on that to try to tar it as silly kids stuff, but I can see some folks might find it so.)

      Some of the “knows” he states are not known at all, but they’re also mistakes I’ve seen paid Catholic apologists make. (Usually, it boils down to trusting a source who trusted a source that wasn’t as solid as they believed– tracing back rumors on the internet is pretty good training for this, as it teaches people to be suspicious of claims that dead-end in the same place that makes a novel claim.)

      The “fact” about saints being re-imagined demigods is… iffy. There are some stories attributed to saints that are shared with pagan gods or spirits, some that are theorized to come from them and some that we’re pretty sure were folk tales that they just plugged new names into. (That, of course, would only happen AFTER any pagan god was no longer worshiped by anybody nearby, or it could be dangerous. Religion was, as you know, Seriously Deadly Business.)
      Shared stories does not a reskinnned god make.

      Argh, kids need attention. Thank you for the great brain fodder.

  2. Pingback: Conspiracies & Catholicism: Easter Special | Head Noises

  3. Pingback: The Mystical Witness of Silence - BigPulpit.com

  4. Easter in the world of astrotheology, despite its semantic derivation is also a celebration of fertility (human, animal and plant) which is the initiation of the life cycle.
    As mentioned in the post, “Easter” was likely derived from Eostre, the name of the Anglo-Saxon lunar goddess, as was as the name for the female hormone estrogen. Eostre’s feast day was held on the first full moon following the vernal equinox — a similar calculation as is used for Easter among Western Christians. On this date the goddess Eostre is believed by her followers to mate with the solar god, conceiving a child who would be born 9 months later on Yule, the winter solstice which falls on December 21st.

    Historical connections are simply amazing and quite universal through most cultures!

    1. Phil, please read the post. I’d be flattered that you find it amazing, except that from the comment you didn’t even read it.

      The only source for the existence of Eostre is a guess by Bede, and ‘estrogen’ is rooted in a Latin word for gadflies and frenzies– it has nothing to do with the moon or females. ( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/estrus )

      Her feast wasn’t calculated similar to Passover, nor any of the rest of it– those are all modern creations which are copying off of Christianity. (ironically enough)

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