Well, it's official.  Hell has frozen over.  To my surprise, my local newspaper printed my "letter to the editor" about the pagan origins of Easter. I'm pleasantly surprised because they have a decidedly conservative bent.  Apparently there are some freethinkers on staff, lol!  Here's my letter:

I noticed an article on Easter weekend speculated as to the origins of the word Easter.  The name Easter originated with the pagan goddess of spring known as Ostara or Eostre, who was represented with fertile rabbits at her feet.  He name was derived from the ancient word for spring:  eastre.

Most pagan religions in the Mediterranean area had a major seasonal day of religious celebration around the spring equinox.  Cybele, the Phyrgian fertility goddess, had a fictional consort named Attis, the god of ever-reviving vegetation.  He was believed to have been born via a virgin birth and to have died and been resurrected annually between March 22 and March 25.

Wherever Christian worship of Jesus and pagan worship of Attis were active in the same geographical area in ancient times, Christians celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus on the same date, resulting in quarrels over whose god was the true prototype and whose was the imitation.

Many religious historians believe that the death and resurrection legends were first associated with Attis, many centuries before the birth of Jesus.  They were simply grafted onto stories of Jesus' life in order to make Christian theology more acceptable to pagans.

 

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Comments:

Noahs...
Apr. 3, 2008 at 11:11 AM great!! 'bout time! ( she name , the Goddesses was Ishtar and the rabbits are a symbol of fertility, which to me has never been a bad thing!! )

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indig...
Apr. 3, 2008 at 11:12 AM

YAY!  VERY COOL!

Sorry, I couldn't choose just one. 

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Jovaiel
Apr. 3, 2008 at 11:38 AM

I find this really interesting. The pagan origins of various Christmas traditions is also fascinating. Of course, this doesn't in the least affect the essential truth of Christianity or the fact that Jesus did rise from his tomb, bodily, after three days dead - as witnessed by many people at the time. His disciples were willing to die for their testament of this truth - even those who had formerly been afraid to stand for Jesus during his life. People don't do that for nothing. Still, it is cool that centuries later Christians could find ways for people who wanted to convert to Christianity from pagan faiths to keep some of their favorite customs, only reinterpreted to fit the celebration of Christianity.

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veggi...
Apr. 3, 2008 at 11:54 AM I think it's fascinating as well. It will come as no surprise to you, Jovaiel, that I view the retention of pagan practices with a bit of skepticism, lol! I see it less as a benevolent gesture and more as a way to throw a few crumbs to the pagans while co-opting the reins of power. It's nothing new: most major religions incorporated pagan rituals with new interpretations because it was easier to convert people to a new religion by allowing them the traditions of the past. For those who wanted to make the transition, however, I'm sure the familiar traditions make it much easier.

Some other interesting "pagan" facts:

The Christmas tree was meant to honor Odin, the Norse God. It would have been hung with the sacrifice of nine animals. The tradition of the tree was co-opted by Martin Luther, and later brought to the New World.

Kissing under the mistletoe was one of the pagan rituals observed around the winter solstice. Mistletoe is associated with peace and love.

Santa Claus may have once been Odin or Thor, who was thought to visit once a year and leave presents for good children, in their shoes.

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sherriet
Apr. 3, 2008 at 5:19 PM Yeah!  Congrats!

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Jovaiel
Apr. 4, 2008 at 11:15 AM

Santa Clause (a more recent custom added to Christmas) is also related to St. Nicholas who was renown for his kindness and love of children. In some countries it is rather the wise men, travelling through, who are said to leave gifts in shoes set out at night - particularly if the children leave food for their camels and mounts in exchange.

As for the Christmas tree, I had heard that there were pagan sects who worshipped trees, recognizing different spirits and powers for the different kinds of trees. They would leave gifts for these spirits sometimes tucked into the branches. I can easily imagine during the winter when so many trees seem dead honoring those who have the "strength" to stay green. Later on converts to Christianity kept the custom because it was beautiful. I have heard some equate the evergreen with God's constancy. Queen Victoria's husband brought the custom to England from his native Germany.

Holly is believed by the superstitious to keep away evil spirits. New converts to Christianity who haven't yet enough faith to trust that task to God were reticent to give up decking their houses with holly in winter. The song "The Holly and the Ivy" allows a reinterpretation of these symbols to fit with Christianity.

Jesus was probably born in the spring. We already celebrate Easter in the spring, however (when it is the actual, documented time) and, since the exact date of Jesus' birth is unknown, Christians decided to set it near the winter solstice. That is the darkest part of the year and the celebration of Jesus coming to earth, bringing the light of God, seems most fit right then. While the Christian reasons to celebrate God's light right then are obvious, it also had the side benefit of co-opting pagan solstice celebrations. Keep in mind, however, that as far as I know there really isn't a Christian celebration around the summer solstice - another pagan celebration. Should we come up with one?

Bottom line is that none of these customs detracts in any way from the truth of Christianity. It gives no reason to believe, if you don't choose to, or NOT to believe. It is simply interesting to see how different customs for celebrating arose in different parts of the world.

 

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Imamo...
Nov. 24, 2008 at 4:24 AM I also think it's so cool that Easter time kept a very similar name to the spring goddess instead of totally getting changed.

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