The Easter Story

This is from "Heathen Holidays" by Denise Snodgrass



The name of this festival, itself, shows its heathen origin. "Easter" is derived from Eastre, or Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of spring and dawn. There also is some historical connection existing between the words "Easter" and "East," where the sun rises. The festival of Eostre was celebrated on the day of the Vernal Equinox (spring). Traditions associated with the festival of the Teutonic fertility Goddess survive in the Easter rabbit and colored eggs.

Spring is the season of new life and revival, when, from ancient times, the pagan peoples of Europe and Asia held their spring festivals, re-enacting ancient regeneration myths and performing magical and religious ceremonies to make the crops grow and prosper.

From "The American Book of Days," by George William Douglas we read: "As the festival of Eostre was a celebration of the renewal of life in the spring it was easy to make it a celebration of the resurrection from the dead of Jesus. There is no doubt that the Church (of Rome) in its early days adopted the old pagan customs and gave a "Christian" meaning to them.

From "Easter: its Story and Meaning," by Alan W. Watts is found: "The story of Easter is not simply a Christian story. Not only is the very name "Easter" the name of an ancient and non-Christian deity; the season itself has also, from time immemorial, been the occasion of rites and observances having to do with the mystery of death and resurrection among peoples differing widely in race and religion."

From "Easter and its customs," by Christina Hole is found: "Vernal Mysteries (spring heathen rites) like those of Tammuz, and Osiris and Adonis flourished in the Mediterranean world and farther north and east there were others. Some of their rites and symbols were carried forward into Easter customs. Many of them have survived into our own day, unchanged yet subtly altered in their new surroundings to bear a "Christian" significance."


The rites connected with the death and resurrection of the gods Tammuz, Osiris, and Adonis are the Forerunners of the "Christian" Easter; they are the first East services.

Let us look in the Word of God in Ezekiel 8:13-16

        (13) He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt
        see greater abominations that they do.  (14) Then he brought me
        to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the
        north; and behold, there sat women WEEPING FOR TAMMUZ (15) Then
        said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man?  Turn thee
        yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these
        (16) And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord's house,
        and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the
        porch and the alter, were about five and twenty men, with their
        backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the
        EAST; and they WORSHIPPED THE SUN toward the EAST.

Here the people of God, Israel, had back-slid into idolatry. Tammuz was a Babylonian god. Like Christ Mass and New Year's, Easter, too, began in Babylon.

Let us look into the Mythologies of the death and resurrection gods, such as Tammuz from "Easter: its Story and Meaning."

        "Wife and beloved of Tammuz was the goddess Inanna, or Ishtar,
        in whose person is represented she whom we now call Mother
        Nature of Mother Earth -- she who, when refreshed with the
        spring rains, with the water from heaven, brings forth the
        fruits of life.  We are told that when Tammuz died, Inanna was
        so stricken with grief that she followed him to the underworld,
        to the realm of Eresh-Kigal, Queen of the Dead, a "land from
        which there is no returning, a house of darkness, where dust
        lies on door and bolt."  In her absence the earth was deprived
        of its fertility; crops would not grow; animals would not mate;
        life was in danger of coming to an end.

"O my child!" at his vanishing aways she lifts up a lament; "My Damu!" at his vanishing away she lifts up a lament; "My enchanter and priest!" at his vanishing away she lifts up a lament, At the shining cedar, rooted in a spacious place, In Eanna, above and below, she lifts up a lament.

This ancient text is called "The Lament of the Flutes for Tammuz." He had gone away to the underworld, and this was why there was winter. "The Lament of the Flutes for Tammuz" describes the grief which moved Ea, god of water and wisdom, to send a heavenly messenger to the underworld to rescue the goddess whose absence was removing life from the earth. Assenting reluctantly to his supreme will, Eresh-Kigal allowed the messenger to sprinkle Inanna and Tammuz with water of life--a potion which gave them power to return into the light of the sun for six months of the year. But for the other six months, Tammuz must again return to the land of death, whither Inanna would again pursue him, and once more with her lamentations move Ea to give the water of life so that year after year the miracle of resurrection and spring would recur."

In the course of centuries, the story and the yearly rites connected with the death and resurrection of Tammuz moved westward to Phoenicia and Syria on the extreme east of the Mediterranean. Here the name of Tammuz was changed to Adon or Adonai, and the name of Inanna to Astarte. In Greece the two names are Adonis and Aphrodite.

The myth underwent some changes in passing from Sumeria to Syria.

A Greek myth tells of Demeter, like Inanna, the goddess of the earth, and her daughter, Kore (Persephone). The girl was abducted by Pluto, the ruler of the underworld, and her absence brought about a famine on earth through the failure of the crops. Pluto was therefore moved to restored Kore to her mother, but because she had eaten a pomegranate in the underworld she was bound to return to Pluto for as many months of each year as there were seeds of the pomegranate caught in her mouth. In joy at her annual return, the earth (Demeter) brings forth her fruits and flowers.

Adonis (Greek god) was the child of Myrrha, the myrtle tree. (It seems that almost all the gods of death and resurrection are associated with a tree.) When the infant Adonis was born, Aphrodite was so charmed with his beauty that she adopted him and concealed him in a chest, which she gave for safekeeping to Persephone--the counterpart of Eresh-Kigal, the Babylonian Queen of the Dead. In the underworld Persephone opened the chest, and was herself so enchanged with the babe that she decided to keep him. This led to a dispute between Aphrodite and Persephone, between love and death, in which Zeus (taking the place of the Babylonian Ea) had to intervene. Zeus decreed that for four months of the year Adonis should belong to Aphrodite, for four to Persephone, and for the remaining four he should do as he wished--Adonis chose to spend them with Aphrodite.

When he had grown to young manhood, Adonis roused the envy of Artemis, the forest goddess of the hunt, or according to another account, or Ares, the god of war. Thus, while he was out hunting, Artemis slew Adonis with an arrow--the arrows of Artemis being the cause to which sudden death was generally ascribed--or in the version, he was gored by Ares in the form of a wild boar. He died, and where the earth had received his blood, Aphrodite sprinkled the ground with nectar, so that the blood turned into anemones and other flowers of the field. But the grief of Aphrodite was so piteous that the gods of the underworld allowed Adonis to return to her every spring for six months of the year.

In Asia Minor the Phrygians believed that their omnipotent deity went to sleep at the time of the winter solstice and they performed ceremonies with music and dancing at the spring equinox to awaken him.

Of the same essential pattern is the great Egyptian myth of Osiris. The common elements in all these stories are so apparent that one may think of them as a single drama performed again and again by different actors.

It would be tedious to describe in detail all that has been handed down to us about the various rites of Tammuz, Adonis, Kire, and many others. Their rites had many basic elements in common. Their universal theme--the drama of death and resurrection--makes them the forerunners of the "Christian" Easter, and thus the first easter services. Many of the customs and ceremonies of the "Christian" Easter resemble these former rites, for instance, the present day "Sun Rise Services." Easter descended from pagan sun worship. Catholic Doctrine simply paralleled the pagan death and resurrection myths of the gods with the story of Christ's crucifixion and Ascension. Christ now rises from the dead with the ascending sun at the time of the Vernal Equinox when plant life and all forms of vegetation appear again on the Earth, and is celebrated with the same customs as that of the Heathen rites namely, rabbits, chickens, and colored eggs!


The Easter egg takes us back to some of the oldest known civilizations on earth where the symbol of an egg played an important part in mythical accounts of the creation of the world. According to this tale heaven and earth were formed from the two halves of a mysterious World-Egg. The Easter egg is associated with this World-Egg, the original germ from which all life proceeds, and whose shell is the firmament. So there is a heathen connection between the egg and the ideas or feelings of birth, new life, and creation.

Easter eggs do have a very long ancestry. In their modern chocolate or cardboard form they date only from the later years of the last century, but giving real eggs, colored or gilded at Easter and also at the pre-Christian spring celebrations are infinitely older.

Long before the Christian era, eggs were regarded as symbols of continuing life and resurrection. The ancient Persians and Greeks exchanged them at their spring festivals when all things in nature revived after the winter. To the early pagans converted to "Christianity" under Emperor Constantine's rule, eggs seemed the obvious symbols of the Lord's resurrection and were therefore considered "holy" and appropriate gifts at Easter time. Pope Paul V appointed a prayer in which the eggs were "blessed." The eggs could then be eaten in thankfulness to God on account of the resurrection of the Lord. The custom of coloring eggs at Easter continued from paganism with only a change of dedication. These eggs are often red. Scarlet eggs were given in the spring by pagan peoples centuries before the birth of Christ. It is probably the favorite color because, like the egg itself, it is an emblem of life.


The hare is the true Easter beast, not the rabbit. He was sacred to the Spring-Goddess, Eostre. Hares were sacrificed to her. The hare was an emblem of fertility, renewal, and return of spring to the heathen. The egg, in modern American folklore, is the production of the rabbit or the hare. The story is that this hare was once a bird whom Eostre changed into a four-footed creature.


Eating hot-cross buns is one of the Good Friday customs that has taken root in America. They are pagan in origin, for the Anglo-Saxon savages consumed cakes as part of the jollity that attended the welcoming of spring. Early missionaries from Rome despaired of breaking them of the habit, and got around the difficulty by blessing the cakes, drawing a cross upon them. but the cross was a pagan symbol long before the crucifixion. Bread and cakes were sometimes marked with it in pre-Christian times. Two small loaves each with a cross on them were discovered under the ruins of Herculaneum, a city overwhelmed by volcanic ash in A.D. 79. It is probable that the crosses here had a pagan meaning like those which appeared on cakes associated with the worship of Diana.

There are other pagan customs associated with Easter, but we have discussed the most common ones.

Information for writing this chapter was obtained from: "Easter: its Story and meaning," by Alan W. Watts; "The American Book of Days," by George William Dougolas; "Easter and its customs,": by Christina Hole; "The Book of Religious Holidays and Celebrations," by Marguerite Ickis; "Funk & Wagnall's New Encyclopedia."

Chapter III from HEATHEN HOLIDAYS by Sister Denise Snodgrass.

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