Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter Fakelore

(This little screed has gotten hundreds of shares on FB. I thought I'd post it here, being timely for the weekend.)

Attention Pagans - repeating this makes us look stupid. This stuff comes from half-wit anti-Catholic literature of the 19th century - it is worthless in light of modern scholarship.
Let's do this in a little detail:

1: Ishtar is not pronounced 'eester' - silly. If one pronounces a long 'I' one can arrive at "eeshtar', but that's only so close. In any case see below for the origin of 'Easter'
2: Ishtar was a goddess of fertility and sex, also war and sovereignty. While the Spring equinox season was important, it was not her particular feast. In any case the Feast of the Resurrection has only a coincidental association with spring equinox.
3: There are no depictions of Ishtar with eggs or rabbits. These symbols might be associated with the Germanic goddess below, but not with Ishtar, who has no relationship with the Christian feast.
4: Constantine did not Christianize the Roman empire. He made Christianity legal and was, to some extent, a patron of the early church. My impression is that there was no active worship of the ancient goddess Ishtar in Constantine's day.
Most specifically, the name of the goddess "Ishtar" has nothing to do with the Germanic name of the Christian feast, 'Easter'.

Easter was said by the early medieval scholar, Bede (and only by him) to be derived from the English goddess-name Eoster. That name is hard to trace, though a bit of progress has been made. It occurs elsewhere hinted at in place-names, and in literature only as a name of the month of April - 'Ostaramonath' or 'Eastermonath', which may just mean 'Easter Month'. A germanic goddess-name of that sort would be connected with goddesses of dawn - Eos in Greece, etc. The most likely meaning for the name 'Easter' for the Christian feast is "the feast we keep at dawn".

Most of the Christian world does not call the Feast of the Resurrection 'Easter'. In most languages it is called some variant of 'Pascha', derived from the Hebrew 'Pesach' - the Passover feast. Only English speakers call it "Easter" (and German Ostern) - nobody in Rome ever called it that. Constantine surely never heard the word "Easter", which would not have been invented for several hundred years after his time.

Summary: There may be pre-Christian remnants in the folk customs surrounding the Christian Resurrection Feast, but they have nothing to do with the ancient goddess Ishtar.


IanC said...

Incidentally, I'm fighting with blogger formatting - if you see highlighted white sections, it's a glitch, not emphasis...

faoladh said...

Go into the editor, highlight the affected section, and click "remove formatting".

Blake White said...

The Germanic roots of at least the name of the festival are rather strongly supported.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the formatting. I myself use to format my posts. It helps you see ugly html style formatting.

Pyro J Guy said...

Unfortunately, far too many pagans fall prey to the same stories that people of other religions do. Most of modern "Wicca" and "Paganism" were instituted by Buckland, Crowley and Gardner who simply accepted stories they'd heard, twisted mythology to suit their needs or made-up stories to make their "religion" sound mysterious (and help them get girls). If we investigate with a little anthropology and archeology, we might be taken a little more seriously. But then again, I know many pagans that would say, "Christian's don't, why should we?"

Lenise said...

I second that, Pyro. And as for that response, I say if Pagans don't approve of Christian attitudes, don't replicate it in your own practice. Educate yourself. Everyone.

IanC said...

I must say I can't agree with Pyro's description of what the founders of Wicca did. Rather I'd suggest that they were doing exactly what we are doing now - recreating the Old Ways wth the best scholarship they had.

Now, this doesn't apply to Crowley. He legitimately inherted the lineage of western ceremonial magic from the GD. His Thelema religion is sort-of Neopagan, but only sort-of.

Gardner drew on Murray and Frazier for a lot. Both of those scholars have fallen into disrepute in our times, and aren't quoted by this year's reconstructionists, but they were perfectly legit in 1958. Choosing to mingle grimoire-magic with British folklore made perfect sense for an attempt to construct 'Pagan witchcraft' as it might have existed in 1600 or so. Gardner's synthesis is one of the most successful occult movements of the 20th century, even if we ignore pop-Wicca entirely.

Robert Graves was another important element, only discarded in the last 15 years or so by non-Wiccan Celtic-style Pagans.

So I think it is unfair to suggest that Gardner wasn't a sound scholar, and "simply accepted stories he'd heard". He suffered from a problem some of us will meet again - he built a religion on scholarship that expired.

Greg G said...

"The Germanic roots of at least the name of the festival are rather strongly supported."

No - Jacob Grimm had strong connections to Pan-Germanism, and was keen to create connections between various "Germanic" folk traditions wherever he could, a low-level version of Richard Wagner cutting and pasting Norse Sagas for the Ring Cycle to the same effect. Both wished to "de-Christianise" myths, language and culture in favour of an artificial pan-German identity as much as possible.

To pick at one example listed at Wikipedia, Austri from the Gylfaginning" is not a "being of light" as Grimm purports, but one of four dwarves - Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri - which support the four "points" of the world. Austri supports the east, Vestri the west, and so on.

The connection with eggs is even more suspect. People associated eggs with Easter because in the middle ages most folks didn't eat eggs during Lent. Easter Sunday was eggs-back-on-the-menu day.

Anonymous said...

why are you centered on Roman and Germanic influences? Try the Norman or Etruscan models which flowed from northern Africa upward thru the Scandinavians. The Old Religion had little to nothing to do with either Roman or Germanic mythology and everything to do with mid to western europe from south to north.
Of course Ishtar is a ridiculous reference to easter. More christianized history (as is depending on roman and germanic mythos). Tho the name of the goddess has been twisted through association and, again, christianized history, to be muddled, the goddess pronounced "Estros" or several other pronunciations, was the goddess of fertility, fecundity, associated with Persophone (if one must). So much so that the latin word survives as pertaining to the menstruation of women--as it would in a Luna-oriented society.
The "story"--for that is all any myth can be, is the goddess had a dear friend in the bird-of-paradise. The beautiful, brightly colored bird was herself in no peril from hunters, but she continuously lost her brilliantly colored eggs to them. The goddess changed the aspect of the bird (just the way it was perceived by mortals) to that of a dull brown hare, so that the bird could travel from nest to nest without giving away the nest's locations.
This folklore is acted out by the hiding of brightly colored eggs to decoy hunters from the real nests of the bird of paradise, and acted out by children to be in search of the brightly colored eggs of the bird.
Folklore and myth, folks. NOT REALITY! It is simply a way to act out a celebration for the renewal of Spring. See? This is the problem with practicioners, adherents and followers of the Old Religion--we have been christianized too--into thinking that folklore or myth has to have a basis in historical fact, AS IF IT IS REAL! The STORY is the important part here and of course it isn't REAL! It's a means of celebration of the nature and realities of the season--the force and power realized during such events. Only christians believe that their stories and folklore are REAL! That is their psychosis.