This article was posted by CrystalWind.ca.
Ancient Rites of Eostre
Category: Awakening Written by Sharon Lyn Shepard
Many years ago, I recall processing out of my small hilltop church as a young girl with the other acolytes in the junior choir in the pre-dawn, singing to the sun rising over the hilltop on Easter Morning. Although it was a religious event, the pagan in me was present even as a child.
Have you ever wondered why we call this time of year Easter? The name Easter is derived from the Anglo Saxon, Eostre, their goddess of spring and of the dawn. Eostre was a fertility goddess, eggs and rabbits were sacred to her, as was the full moon. Our words East and estrogen are both derived from her name.
Eostre’s festival was a lunar festival held around the spring equinox. Even today, the moon still exerts its influence on when Easter is celebrated. Quite early in the history of the Christian church, and after considerable controversy, the date of Easter was fixed by a formula still in use today. Easter is timed to be on the Sunday that follows the first full moon after the spring equinox. This is the reason why Easter falls between March, 22nd and April, 25th and the date is always different from year to year.
You may be wondering, okay, I understand the moon association, but what do the eggs and rabbits have to do with all of this? Well, in Eostre’s myth, the goddess once saved a bird, whose wings had frozen during the winter, by turning it into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs, and that rabbit, over time, evolved into the Easter Bunny.
Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of antiquity; since birds lay eggs and rabbits give birth to large litters in the early spring, they became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at springtime. Many ancient cultures, including the ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans, all used eggs in their spring festivals.
In Medieval Europe, eggs were often “given up” during Lent. Folks may not have eaten eggs during those forty days, but the chickens kept laying them. So eggs became a mainstay of Easter meals, and a prized Easter gift for children and servants. Hardboiled eggs were dyed red in memory of Christ’s blood, then given to children as a talisman to preserve their health over the ensuing twelve months.
The early Christian church, on orders of the Pope, assumed the festival of Eostre incorporating the customs into its ceremonies. Because the festival of Eostre celebrated life and its rebirth in spring, European Christians found it easy to swap Eostre as a symbol of rebirth for the resurrected Christ, but retained the name Eostre or Easter for the holiday.
Most of you are probably familiar with the custom of wearing new clothes or at least a new bonnet for Easter. I will bet very few of you know where this tradition came from. At one time, people wore the same clothes throughout Lent, finally discarding them on Easter morning. You can imagine that after wearing the same clothes for six weeks or so, how nice it would be to don a new outfit on Easter Sunday.
One last thing to share with you about Easter. The Celtic folk, poetic as usual, claim that the rising sun actually dances on Easter morning, and to this day, people in Ireland, Scotland and parts of England get up before dawn and head for the nearest hilltop. This tradition is also why outdoor sunrise Easter services have remained popular over the years.
There are no shortage of ancient festivals and traditions surrounding the coming of spring. It stands to reason, our ancestors, after the cold and dark of winter, eagerly looked forward to spring and celebrated it’s arrival for the basic reason that their food supplies would soon be restored.
Old festivals and traditions may have gone by the wayside, but as long as children still hunt for eggs on Easter Day, we will be re-enacting traditions that stretch back for millennia.
Ostara (Eostre) is the Goddess of the dawn, springtime, fertility, resurrection, and re-birth. Having experienced a multitude of lifetimes, even within this lifetime, it serves us well to pause and take some quiet time to recognize and honor the Wisdom accumulated within each of us as we celebrate this sacred re~birth.
No matter what hemisphere you live in, may springtime blossom in your heart as you take a Bunny Leap onto the New Earth scattering your Illustrious Golden Eggs. May you have a Happy Easter, and a Blessed Eostre!
~Sharon Lyn Shepard~
artwork by helena nelson reed
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