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Posts Tagged ‘Eostre’

English Catholic missionary known as Saint Patrick

In spite of my Irish ancestry, I’ve never paid much attention to Saint Patrick’s Day (March 17), except as a day to stay off the roads if possible. But today, I ran across some interesting comments about the true origins of Saint Patrick’s Day, thanks to Claire Mulkieran, who describes herself as a systems security designer and a pagan descended from a long line of witches.

Given that cultural perspective, Mulkieran has an interesting contrarian take on “Saint” Patrick, a fifth-century English Catholic missionary to Ireland, regarded as the patron saint of Ireland. Mulkieran makes some fascinating claims about Patrick. It would be interesting to look into them further, although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they are historically accurate. In her 17 March 2009 blog post, “Pagans and Saint Patrick’s Day: The Real Meaning of the Holiday,” Mulkieran writes:

If most people know anything about Saint Patrick, it’s that his one claim to fame is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. What most people don’t realize is that the snake is a Pagan symbol, and that the snakes referred to in the Saint Patrick mythos are not meant in the literal sense, but refer to Pagans; i.e., Saint Patrick drove the Pagans (specifically, the Celts) out of Ireland (although it could be said, and has been argued, that much has been done in Saint Patrick’s name, but that the man himself was relatively unimportant). So what is celebrated on Saint Patrick’s Day with drinking and much cavorting is, ironically, the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland and the subjugation and conversion of the Celts.

She also makes a connection between Saint Patrick’s Day and Easter, writing:

It wasn’t arbitrary that the day honoring Saint Patrick was placed on the 17th of March. The festival was designed to coincide, and, it was hoped, to replace the Pagan holiday known as Ostara; the second spring festival which occurs each year, which celebrates the rebirth of nature, the balance of the universe when the day and night are equal in length, and which takes place at the Spring Equinox (March 22nd this year [2009]). In other words, Saint Patrick’s Day is yet another Christian replacement for a much older, ancient Pagan holiday; although generally speaking Ostara was most prominently replaced by the Christian celebration of Easter (the eggs and the bunny come from Ostara traditions, and the name “Easter” comes from the Pagan goddess Eostre).

I’ve already written about the connection between Easter and older pagan practices in my entry “Is Easter named after the pagan goddess Eostre?” Mulkieran also credits Patrick with using the shamrock to teach people about the triune god worshipped in christendom’s religions.

ARK — 9 March 2013

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Is the holiday Easter, so named in English and observed by many members of the churches of Christendom, in fact named after a pagan goddess?

Up until recently, the primary reference I was aware of that made this assertion was The Two Babylons, by Alexander Hislop, a 19th-century Scottish protestant theologian. However, Hislop’s work has received criticism, so I decided to find out whether there is a more readily accepted source for the origin of the name Easter.

According to the Wikipedia article about the goddess Eostre, the English name for the churches’ celebration of the resurrection of Christ does in fact come from the name of this goddess.

What Bede Says About Eostre and Easter

The original source cited by the Wikipedia article is chapter 15 of De temporum ratione (The Reckoning of Time) by Bede (aka Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede), an English monk of the 7th and 8th centuries CE. See an online text of that chapter, “De mensibus Anglorum,” at this link — if you can read Latin.

In case you can’t read Latin, here is a translation of the relevant passage, quoted in the Wikipedia article, evidently taken from the English translation of De temporum ratione by Faith Wallis:

Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.

As with many other celebrations in Christendom, tradition western observances of Easter include pagan features such as rabbits and eggs, traditional symbols of fertility.

Alexander Hislop’s Comments About Easter in The Two Babylons

I mentioned that Hislop has received criticism. The Wikipedia article on The Two Babylons appears to be written by someone who agrees with that criticism, some of which has as its source an “evangelical” organization called the Christian Research Institute. This stresses that when using Wikipedia as a reference, you have to recognize what kind of reference it is — an open-source online encyclopedia written and maintained by many authors and editors, some of whom have their own agendas.

The entire text of The Two Babylons can be found online in more than one place, including Google Bookshere is a link to the chapter on Easter.

One interesting thing about Hislop is that he points to the name Easter/Eostre and its striking cognates found in the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, the Greek goddess Astarte, and the Phoenician goddess Ashtoreth — really all the same deity and all associated with sex and fertility.

Here’s a representative excerpt from Hislop:

What means the term Easter itself? It is not a Christian name. It bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of heaven, whose name,… as found by Layard on the Assyrian monuments, is Ishtar….

Such is the history of Easter. The popular observances that still attend the period of its celebration amply confirm the testimony of history as to its Babylonian character. The hot cross buns of Good Friday, and the dyed eggs of Pasch or Easter Sunday, figured in the Chaldean rites just as they do now.

ARK — 30 March 2010

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