Easter Memories

All right, I get it.  Rants about popular holidays are not popular.  How do I know this?  Of the 4,348 views in the 14 months since I started this blog, the two articles featuring holidays garnered the fewest hits:  22 for “Thanksgiving Memories” and 2 for “Christmas Memories.”  So, why am I writing another “exposé” about another overwhelmingly popular holiday?  Same reason:  To point up how tradition obscures original meanings.  Besides, what have I got to lose with these statistics?

The word “Easter” probably derives from “Ishtar” and “Εostre,” all pronounced the same, the latter two being two names for the same goddess worshiped in ancient times by the Babylonians and the Anglo-Saxons, respectively.  The only mention of Easter in the Bible is actually the same Greek word specifying the Jewish Passover.

Further, nowhere does Jesus or anyone give a directive to celebrate his resurrection.  Instead, he and others made a direct link between the killing of the Passover lamb of the ancient Hebrews and his death.  Jesus’ death and resurrection are not the same event.  Easter as we know it grew out of the Jewish celebration of the Passover.  Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples just before he was killed on the day of Passover.  He is referred to as “our passover.” [1]  During the meal, he passed the bread and wine to everyone and instructed them to remember him whenever they do likewise, that is, share a meal.  This is not the Catholic custom of saying “grace” or giving thanks before a meal (which Jesus did do.)  This is Jesus’ specific direction to remember him and his death every time one eats, which, like breathing, is a necessary and frequently repeated human event. [2]  One gets into the habit of thinking about right living and personal sacrifice as espoused by Jesus pretty quickly if you think about it at least three times a day.

Easter became conflated with Jesus’ resurrection as time passed and the “Christian” religion moved farther away from Judaism, from which it originated, and closer to the mainstream beliefs of the Romans and Greeks.  The 4th century ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the “perpetuation of its custom, ‘just as many other customs have been established’, stating that neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival.” [3]    By the 4th century, the only concern was how to standardize the date for the festivities.  This was the focus of the Roman Church’s First Council of Nicaea in 325.  Emperor Constantine decreed the event to occur annually on the first day of the sun after the first full moon following the spring equinox, the time it is celebrated to this day.  Interestingly, a chronicle of the council proceedings written in the 4th century referred to Passover, not “Easter.”

So where did all the accretions to the Easter celebration originate?

As mentioned, most can be traced to ancient religious beliefs and practices long antedating Jesus and Christianity, specifically the Babylonian “mystery religion”‘ and Anglo-Saxon paganism.

The goddess-queen of Babylon, Semiramis, had a colorful life:  She married her son, Nimrod, after her husband, Cush, son of Ham, Noah’s son, died.  Nimrod was the founder and king of Babel.  After he was killed in battle, Semiramis kept his memory alive by claiming he had ascended to the sun and was now a god named “Baal,” the sun-god.

Still with me?

Semiramis held that Baal would be present on earth as a flame (as a candle, lamp or bonfire) when used in worship.

She claimed to be a goddess, immaculately conceived, descended from the moon in a giant egg at the time of the first full moon following the spring equinox.  She took the name Ishtar; as you can guess, her egg became known as “Ishtar’s egg.”

Her illegitimate son Tammuz (by sun-god Baal…) was fond of rabbits.  When he was killed in a hunting accident (by a wild pig), Ishtar/Semiramis deified him, decreed an annual forty day fast from meat and required meditation on the sacred mysteries while making a “T” sign over the heart.  In addition, sacred cakes were eaten marked with the “T,” or cross, on top.  Every year on the first day of the sun following the first full moon after the spring equinox, the fast culminated in a celebration including rabbits, eggs and feasting on pig.

Sound familiar?

Remember Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn/rebirth?  Her symbol was a rabbit that laid eggs.  “Easter fires” are also of ancient Saxon origin intended to chase away the darkness of winter and as a symbol of fertility.  “Sunrise services” pretty much speak for themselves as an ancient practice of sun-worshipers.

Obviously there are a lot more traditions of men associated with ancient spring festivals like Easter:  egg rolling, coloring eggs, baby chicks, egg hunts, fish on Friday…  The point is, none of this is prescribed as legitimate respect for or adherence to correct religious practice – unless you’re a pagan.  The Word of God is unambiguous:  “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. “ [4]

Happy Ishtar.

1.  1 Corinthians 5:7
2.  1 Corinthians 11:24, 25
3.  Socrates, Church History, 5.22, in Schaff, Philip (13 July 2005).
4.  Mark 7:7, KJV