The pagan origins of easter: Spring Equinox, Hares, Eggs, Death, Rebirth.
Easter falls around the spring equinox when the length of the nights in the Northern Hemisphere becomes identical to the length of the days. Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth as short winer days make way to longer summer days.
For millennia the cultures of the world have marked and celebrated the equinoxes and solstices (longest and shortest days of the year).
One of the oldest myths about the celebration of Spring, comes from the Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia (modern southern Iraq). A clay tablet from this ancient civilization was found with the story of the goddess Inanna (worshipped between 4000 BCE – c. 3100.)
This myth seems to be a precursor to the myth of Persephone:
Inanna/Ishtar’s most famous myth is the story of her descent into and return from Kur, the Ancient Mesopotamian underworld, a myth in which she attempts to conquer the domain of her older sister Ereshkigal, the queen of the underworld, but is instead deemed guilty by the seven judges of the underworld and struck dead. Three days later, Ninshubur pleads with all the gods to bring Inanna back, but all of them refuse her except Enki, who sends two sexless beings to rescue Inanna. They escort Inanna out of the underworld, but the galla, the guardians of the underworld, drag her husband Dumuzid down to the Underworld as her replacement. Dumuzid is eventually permitted to return to heaven for half the year while his sister Geshtinanna remains in the underworld for the other half, resulting in the cycle of the seasons.
There are numerous myths among ancient civilizations that follow the themes of rebirth and resurrection. The Egyptians have the myth of Horus, the falcon-headed ancient Egyptian deity and the death and rebirth of the Greek god Dionysus, and the myth of Persephone. All of these myths share the concept of renewal and the idea of light winning over darkness.
The term “Easter” itself comes from the Hebrew word ‘Pesach’, otherwise known as Passover – the Jewish springtime holiday.
Now, back to the rabbits. Is there a Pagan origin to the use of Rabbits in Easter?
Rabbits, and more specifically Hares, have been an ancient symbol of fertility because of their prolific ability to reproduce and procreate. But rabbits and hares were not associated with Easter until the german tradition to Osterhase (delivering eggs to children) became widespread. As German immigrants came to the US in the 1700s the easter Bunny replaced the more intense looking hare.
Do easter eggs have a pagan origin?
The Romans offered eggs to their goddess of agriculture, Ceres. Along with a good part of the ancient world, they considered eggs symbols of rebirth, fertility and good luck. The smooth oval shape of the egg, free of corners, was associated with well‐being and tranquility. (Source NYT) As Christianity absorbed and replaced Roman/pagan spring traditions, the egg was also adapted to become a representation of Jesus’ resurrection; the eggshell symbolizing the tomb, whilst the cracking of it representing Jesus’ emergence; life-conquering death.