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Eostre and Spring: Is Easter a Christian Holiday?

Eostre and Spring: Is Easter a Christian Holiday?

Every year about this time, Heathens, pagans, and those who don’t celebrate the Christian holiday of Easter are quick to point out that Easter isn’t a Christian holiday; yours truly included. But I do wish to address Easter as a Christian holiday, even if it has taken its name and customs from pagan celebrations.

Easter as a Christian Holiday

I’m talking about Easter first as a Christian holiday so we can distinguish between the Christian holiday and a pagan celebration. Despite the name, Easter, the holiday has its roots in the Jewish celebration of Passover.

If you’ve ever watched The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston, you know that Passover celebrates the flight of the Israelites from the Pharaoh’s oppression as described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible. Never mind that archaeologists are pretty sure that the pyramids were built by paid labor and not slaves. Furthermore there are no records by the Egyptians of Israelites in Egypt, let alone slaves.

Jesus purportedly entered Jerusalem for the week of Passover, which, for his troubles, ended up getting him nailed to a cross.

Why Easter is Primarily Christian

Now, before we go into all the pagan traditions surrounding Easter, I’m going to point out that despite my dislike of Christianity and its destruction of paganism, pagans can only superficially claim Easter because it is around the Vernal Equinox. The whole fairy tale of the “purportedly magic Jew” rising from the dead after being crucified is more or less their shtick. It happens around the time of Passover, which is based on the Book of Exodus in the Bible.

I can hear you saying “But Tyra, what about the other resurrection myths? What about the celebrations of Dionysus and Osiris? What about Beltane? And what about Odin hanging from Yggdrasil for nine days?” Yeah, yeah. All that is true and chances are the Christians stole the ideas from pagans, but the whole bullshit celebration of Easter is undoubtedly theirs. They wove the pagan stories together to fit their religion and there you have it, a Christian story.

Nothing is particularly new with the Jesus story. There have been many instances in religion of gods becoming men or appearing to be men. There are many instances of gods being crucified or hanged from trees. And there are plenty of instances of men or gods rising from the dead and becoming more powerful. The Jesus story is just a narrative that puts those elements together in a one god, Christian fashion.

But Easter is Pagan! Right?

Easter isn’t as pagan as Christmas. Sure, it takes elements from various beliefs and spins them into a story that has both familiar and new elements present. The story uses archetypes that are ingrained in our psyches. But it is a Christian story. Why? Because it doesn’t quite mimic any other pagan myth out there.

Before Easter, pagans may have celebrated the equinoxes, although the solstices seem to be more popular for obvious reasons. Imbolc was the Celtic version of Entschtanning (celebrated by those in Urglaawe) also known as Grundsaudaag, which happened around the first or second of February, which we now celebrate as Groundhog’s Day. Beltane was the Celtic version of Mayday, which celebrated the beginning of summer. As Heathens, we really didn’t have an Equinox celebration, as far as I know.

Although St. Bede mentions the Anglo Saxon month of Eostre, which is named after Eostre/Ostara, we know very little about Eostre. She had a feast day around the same time as Easter, which probably made the whole Christ thing more palatable. The fact that Eostre gave Easter its name is probably one more way the Christian church co-opted Pagans.

What About the Pagan Trappings Around Easter?

Sure, Easter took on the pagan trappings of Eostre/Ostara. No bunnies were visiting Christ on the cross, as far as we know. And while eggs are purported to be the symbol of rebirth among the Jewish peoples, I haven’t done enough research into that to back that up. But you can read about my opinions, Was Easter Appropriated? HERE.

Ignoring Easter

This year I nearly forgot about Easter except my husband had the day off. And to be point-blank honest, I was more concerned about avoid talking to my Christian family that day instead of anything special. So, our dinner was stir-fry venison. Because that’s a proper Eostre dish. I’m just saying…

This doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate Eostre bunnies and stuff yourself full of Cadbury eggs. The whole candy thing was a 19th century invention anyway to give candy makers a boost, so it’s not religious at all. Personally, I’m good with any holiday that promotes candy.

 

How Heathens can Celebrate Easter with Christians

How Heathens can Celebrate Easter with Christians

If you’re like me, chances are you have Christian relatives who celebrate some form of the Christian holiday of Easter. If you’re the only Heathen in your family, you may get an earful about what is considered the most holy time that Christians celebrate.  Still, unless you’re looking to cut ties with your family–and I don’t recommend that–you may be looking for ways to enjoy the Easter celebrations.  If you’re a Heathen who loves to get into fights with family members over Christian holidays, or at least not willing to put aside your differences for one or two days, this post isn’t for you.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can get involved with minimal headaches.

Put Your Pride on the Back Burner (or Don’t be an Asshole)

Unless you have an extremely open-minded family/extended family, most of them are going to take a dim view of you not being Christian.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. They’ve been indoctrinated into the Christian belief system, and it’s unlikely you’re going to change their minds. You’re going to the Christian hell, and that’s all there is to it, (unless they can persuade you into the fold/back into the fold), and they really don’t get why you would worship pagan gods.  At this point, all you can do is grit your teeth and hope to get through the Christian talk without losing your cool.

That being said, understand that this is a Christian holiday, even if they took on the pagan trappings surrounding it.  Easter is considered to be more important to the Christian religions than Christmas, so realize that you are the outside here. It is you who is extended the olive branch, not them.  So, don’t expect for them to understand/accept you being Heathen in their most holy time.

Because this is their most holy time, mentioning the appropriation of Eostre’s holiday at the Easter dinner is probably not going to do you any favors. Yes, they eat ham, which honors Freyr, but let it slide. Yes, they decorate eggs.  Yes, they associate chicks and bunnies with Christ’s death and resurrection, but pointing out the incongruity of it all won’t cut it. If we want to maintain the peace in our celebrations, it is better to sit and listen rather than fight a foolish battle. This is their Easter–not ours, so let’s respect their religion, just like we’d want them to respect ours.

So, What Can You Enjoy?

At this point, you’re wondering what you can enjoy out of Easter.  There are a lot of cool things you can do and still be part of the Easter celebration.  Here are some of the things I recommend.

Egg Coloring

We color eggs for springtime, so there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy coloring eggs with your Christian family. Talking about spring and its renewal, as well as the cycle of life, is fairly safe.

Easter Egg Hunt

Why not hold an Easter egg hunt? Put together some of those plastic eggs and fill them with goodies. Hide them and watch as your family searches for them. You’ll all enjoy it.

Chicks and Bunnies

Whether live, toy, or simply drawings, the images of chicks and bunnies are pretty much safe territory.  You may want to talk about the Oschter Haws which was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers. Avoiding the Urglaawe references, your Christian family may be delighted to learn that that’s where the Easter bunny who laid colorful eggs came from.

Easter Candy

Easter candy originates from clever marketing by candy makers in the 19th century to capitalize on an untapped market. There’s no reason for you to mention this, nor is there any reason why you can’t have some yummy candy in pagan symbols such as rabbits, chicks, and eggs.

Easter Brunch or Dinner

Never turn down a good feast, even if it’s in honor of a god you don’t follow.  All the trappings are Heathen, or at least, pagan, so enjoy spending time with family and friends. You may want to even bring some mead so your family may enjoy something a little different than the traditional grape wines. Toast to your family and to those family members who are no longer with you. You’ll be honoring the ancestors and still not offend your family.

Talk about Family, both Present and Past

Speaking of family, strike up a conversation about your family and your ancestors. Talk positively about them, or if someone in the family knows a particularly good story about an ancestor or a relative who is alive, encourage them to relay that story.  As the good Doctor says, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.”

Listen to Your Family, Even if You Disagree with Them

If your family starts talking about Christianity, listen to them. You don’t have to agree with them, but when they tell you about their faith, they tell you about themselves. Ask questions. Ask why they believe what they believe, and don’t argue with them over their beliefs. You may discover that your mom believes in the Christian god because she finds comfort in a god who promises to care for her. Or your dad might actually not believe in the god but goes to church because the family does it. Or maybe your cousin is an atheist at heart.  You can learn a lot about your family just by listening.

Go to Church with them

This suggestion is somewhat dangerous when it comes to family, not because you’re likely to change your faith, but more likely because you may offend or get into an argument with a family member. Some Christians, most notably Catholics, have rules against participating in sacraments such as the Eucharist (the bread and wine) because they believe you must be of their denomination to participate. (It has to do with transmogrification, but that’s another long post.)

Why go to church with your family?  Well, first it puts you on the same page as your family members so if they discuss the sermon, you know what was said. Secondly, you can see Christianity with all its pagan influences.  Third, churches often have amazing artwork that is worth seeing.

Just sit and watch as they go through sitting, kneeling, and standing routines. Listen.  It may seem worthless, but in a way you are gathering intelligence about this religion. That way, you understand your family’s behavior a bit better.

Take Time Out for Our Gods, Wights, and Ancestors

I’ve given you ideas for keeping the peace with your Christian relatives.  But this isn’t about Heathenry, it’s about keeping the peace in your extended family. Before you join in the Easter festivities, make an offering to the gods, especially Frigga and Frau Holle, the wights, and your ancestors for a peaceful gathering. And thank them after the day for their help, especially if things went successfully.

Hopefully, I’ve given you ideas for staying sane around Christians during their holiday.  If, in the end, you do decide to try out some of these ideas, I’d be interested to learn how they worked out.

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Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

I got in a conversation with another pagan on Huginn’s Heathen Hof, and he had a different outlook on the whole Christianity versus Paganism argument.  It hit me as having some merit, so I’d thought I’d explore it more in depth.

The Argument

The person who put forth this argument to me was a Heathen and a Gnostic. (Let that sink in a bit before dismissing it outright.)  His basic argument was that Christianity at its beginning had nothing — no holidays, no formal sacraments, etc, — so it took from other religions.  In fact, it took so much from pagan religions that the pagan religions actually triumphed.  I’ve been mulling it over for some days and while I don’t think it’s entirely correct, I think it has some merit to at least think about.

Christianity at its Core

Christianity is, at its core, a death cult. It focuses not on rewards in the here and now, but after one dies. It even focuses on the gruesome torture and death of their god. While I think that knowing where you’re going when you die is important, I think that this life is just as important on how we live.  Yes, Christians do focus on how well behaved they should be because they will receive a reward in “heaven,” but honestly, it takes a fear of eternal punishment to behave correctly?  Think about that for a bit.

The major holiday that Christians have recognized since its inception would be Easter, that is the day when Christ allegedly rose from the dead.  We know that Easter arose from the Passover festival, around which Christ was allegedly crucified.  Easter follows Passover.   But we know that it took the name Eostre, and it may have borrowed the pagan trappings of festivals during that time, presumably to make it more palatable to the audience.

Yule and Christmas

We do know that Christmas was pretty much taken from pagan midwinter festivals, celebrating the celebrating the god of agriculture for a full month starting a week before the solstice.  We know that Christmas wasn’t instituted until the fourth century CE when the Church thought to take those midwinter festivals and sanction them.

return of the sun.  While us Heathens can lay claim to Yule, we aren’t the only ones that had midwinter celebrations.  The Romans had Saturnalia, which was spent

The Puritans actually banned Christmas (and the saints) because they recognized the pagan origins. For about 25 years England under Oliver Cromwell made Christmas illegal.  That joy was brought over with the Puritans who made Christmas illegal.  Such was the control of the Puritans that anyone found in Boston exhibiting the Christmas spirit during the years 1659 to 1681 could be fined. What a great bunch.

Incidentally, the Christmas tree came into vogue with Queen Victoria, taking the customs of her husband’s homeland.  The Christmas tree popped up around the 17th century in Germany have its, …ahem, roots in paganism.

Plenty of pagans have pointed to Odin’s ride, Slepnir’s eight legs changing into eight reindeer, and other similarities, that suggest Odin is Santa Claus, so I don’t need to go through that argument.

Harvest and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, itself, is more of an American holiday that was celebrated in New England for some time before Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863.  George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, thus putting it on the table, so to speak, when it came to having a national day of thanks.  A quote from History.com:

Autumn Comments & Graphics
Image by Magickal Graphics

“As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on their shores.”

We have our own celebration of Harvest Home, so saying that Americans “invented” a harvest festival like Thanksgiving isn’t truthful.  Now, we did put our own spin on it, but in the end, it is the celebration of family and home, as well as harvest.

The Days of the Week

The months are named after Roman months (gods, Caesars, and numbers), but the days of the week were Roman names changed to our gods, with the exception of Saturday because people probably thought Ymirday might not catch on.  (Yeah, I know the story is that there’s no German equivalent to Saturn who was an agricultural god slain by Jupiter, but that’s another story for another time.) So, when we say we’re meeting someone on Thursday, we’re meeting them on Thor’s-day.

Saints versus Polytheism

Becoming Polytheistic was easy after being Catholic for me. Any religion that allows veneration of saints actually lost to the polytheism.  Even the Episcopalians have the saints and the time I went to an Episcopalian mass proved to me that they’re Catholics without a pope who allow divorces. We know that some saints were actually gods that got incorporated into the ranks of saints to make the religion more popular (such as Saint Bridget).  So, yeah, in some Christian religions, we got some of the gods and goddesses in.

Catholics will tell you that they do not worship saints. That is true at the highest level, but the line gets mighty blurred with the veneration of Mary and other saints.

So Did Heathenism Win?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I would argue yes and no.  In the long run, we still have the Christian god, complete with all the stupidity that has subjugated women, condoned slavery, and given us plenty of hangups due to the “do this or you go to hell” mentality.  I’m not saying that heathens were morally superior as we had slavery and human sacrifice, but most of us are willing to make the change in the right direction.

By the same token, we got our holidays and other pieces infiltrated into Christianity. People who celebrate the holidays are often celebrating the secular holidays rather than what their church would like them to celebrate.  Sure, they keep Jesus in Christmas, but seeing as the whole nativity scene is pretty much made up, and seeing we really don’t know much about the historical Jesus, or even if there was one, we can call it a myth and be done with it.

What it does say to me is that Heathens can celebrate those so-called Christian holidays and feel good about putting their own spin on things. At least, that’s how I look at it.

Added for Clarity:

The point the person made was that arguing whether or not to worship Christ was irrelevant because basically Christianity took all the trappings from pagans anyway. We can argue semantics, but that was his point. I was willing to consider his belief and came up with a yes and no observation. I rushed the conclusion, which perhaps I shouldn’t have done, but I wanted to get the piece out, late as it was.

That being said, I think he does have a point. Is it Heathenism under another flavor? No. Our gods are not revered, although one might be able to point out some obscure saints the Church may have created to appease Heathens. Is Christianity the same as it was when it was conceived? No. It is mostly pagan with the foundation of the Abrahamic faith. Depending on your beliefs in Asatru and Heathenism, you can argue that what parts of paganism was added is superficial. Maybe so, maybe not. I just found it an interesting opinion, and one I couldn’t completely dismiss.