Easter traditions and cultural appropriation of Eostre

Happy Eostre!

Spring/April/the time of the equinox is the time for the celebration of the ancient spring festival of fertility honoring the goddess Eostre (Ostara, Oestera).

This festival, of pagan origin, pays homage to the renewal of the Earth, to the rebirth of life after the death of winter. Eostre is the pagan fertility goddess of humans and cultures.

The traditional colors of the festival are green, yellow and purple. The symbols used are hares and eggs, representing fertility (because we all know rabbits breed like, well, bunnies) and new life.

Legend has it that Eostre mated with the sun god at the spring equinox and nine months later at Yule/winter solstice gave birth to a man/god child.

The subject of fertility and new life and its relationship to Eostre is found in many cultures. Colored eggs have been associated with the Spring Festival since at least 580 BCE in Persia. In Ukraine, Pysanka eggs historically honored the sun god, father of Eostre’s child, until the arrival of Christianity in Ukraine.

Eostre is the namesake of estrogen, the female fertility hormone.

Its name and festive rituals have been appropriated by Christianity for the history of the church’s postmortem revival.

I had Christians quite upset when I mentioned that many Easter symbols and rituals dear to them were co-opted from ancient pagan fertility rites. The brightly colored eggs, the egg hunts themselves, the rabbits carrying said eggs, the colors, the stories of rebirth after the death of winter – it’s all drawn from the legends and rituals of Eostre.

In fact, Christianity should be embarrassed that it needed to embellish its Paschal tradition by appropriating pagan symbols and rituals for its own use. The rabbit is not for Easter, it is for Eostre. Eggs are not part of Easter, they are symbols of Eostre. Really the only symbol of Eostre that the Christian church has not appropriated for Easter is the dragon/serpent. I guess a dragon couldn’t fit so easily into their narrative.

This cultural appropriation is similar in act but on a smaller scale than the appropriation of the pagan traditions of Yule (decorating an evergreen tree in the house, mistletoe, holly, wreaths, garlands, candle, bells and stars) and the calling Christmas.

Either way, cultural appropriation is bad, no matter what your motivation.

What are examples of cultural appropriation? Take something from one culture and use it for your own. Examples include not only religious symbols, but clothing and/or costumes, language or forms of speech, dance, songs/music, food, artifacts and intellectual property/stories/legends. Just as it’s wrong to wear Native American insignia if you’re not part of the tribe that makes that particular set and it’s wrong to co-opt cultural headdresses if they’re not from your culture, it’s wrong to ” borrow” the religious or ceremonial symbols of a particular faith or culture and incorporate them into your own.

There is no fruitful rabbit carrying a basket of dyed eggs in any variant of the Easter story.

There were no sweets at the Last Supper.

There are no rabbits in the Bible.

– Karen Cyson, member of the Times Writers Group, is a nanny in Stearns County and coordinator of Central Minnesota Mensa. His column is broadcast on the third Sunday of the month.

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