Origins of Easter

Disa Woodland, Copy Desk Chief~

Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on the third day after his death, which was supposed to atone for the sins of all mankind. It is generally agreed upon that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified around Passover c. 33 A.D.

For the past few Easters, there have been several images of the Akkadian goddess Ishtar circulating the internet. The sources of this image cite her name as the origin of the word Easter, which has spurred many to investigate the true origins of the word.

Ishtar was the patron goddess of war and eros (sexual love) and can be found in Mesopotamian religion. She has recently been pointed to as the goddess of origin for Easter. There are several variations of this goddess, including the Semitic West’s Astarte, goddess of war and love and the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who was originally associated with fertility and food abundance but evolved to be associated with love as well. Therefore, Inanna provides an equivalent goddess to Ishtar in the Sumerian pantheon of gods.

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Photo courtesy of Logan Handcock. Photo taken on Apr. 1, 2018

The more likely origins of the word Easter can be traced back to Ostara, or Eostre/Eastre, the Germanic goddess of spring and dawn. Celebrations of the spring equinox in April are directly tied to this goddess. This goddess’ festivals also celebrate fertility, renewal and rebirth.

The sacred totem of Ostara is the hare, which is an animal closely associated with the moon. The phases of the moon dictate the Christian celebration of Easter which supports the idea that Ostara is the origin of Easter. The hare has been the totem of several cross-cultural religious deities associated with the moon, including the Greek goddess Hecate, the Norse goddess Freyja and the Germanic goddess Holda.

The egg symbol appears in many cultures as the symbol of fertility and rebirth, therefore its association with springtime and the re-manifestation of plants and the birth of animal offspring makes it an obvious choice for association with the resurrection of Christ and the commercialized holiday of Easter.