Pagan Origins of Easter

The Ancient Pagan Origins of Easter

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Easter Sunday is a festival and holiday celebrated by millions of people around the world who honour the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred three days after his crucifixion at Calvary. It is also the day that children excitedly wait for the Easter bunny to arrive and deliver their treats of chocolate eggs. Easter is a ‘movable feast’ which is chosen to correspond with the first Sunday following the full moon after the March equinox, and occurs on different dates around the world since western churches use the Gregorian calendar, while eastern churches use the Julian calendar. So where did this ‘movable feast’ begin, and what are the origins of the traditions and customs celebrated on this important day around the world?

Easter - Christianity

Christian’s today celebrate Easter Sunday as the resurrection of Jesus. Image source .

Most historians, including Biblical scholars, agree that Easter was originally a pagan festival. According to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary says: “The word Easter is of Saxon origin, Eastra, the goddess of spring, in whose honour sacrifices were offered about Passover time each year. By the eighth century Anglo–Saxons had adopted the name to designate the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.” However, even among those who maintain that Easter has pagan roots, there is some disagreement over which pagan tradition the festival emerged from. Here we will explore some of those perspectives.

Resurrection as a symbol of rebirth

One theory that has been put forward is that the Easter story of crucifixion and resurrection is symbolic of rebirth and renewal and retells the cycle of the seasons, the death and return of the sun. 

According to some scholars, such as Dr. Tony Nugent, teacher of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University, and Presbyterian minister, the Easter story comes from the Sumerian legend of Damuzi (Tammuz) and his wife Inanna (Ishtar), an epic myth called “The Descent of Inanna” found inscribed on cuneiform clay tablets dating back to 2100 BC. When Tammuz dies, Ishtar is grief–stricken and follows him to the underworld. In the underworld, she enters through seven gates, and her worldly attire is removed. "Naked and bowed low" she is judged, killed, and then hung on display. In her absence, the earth loses its fertility, crops cease to grow and animals stop reproducing. Unless something is done, all life on earth will end.

After Inanna has been missing for three days her assistant goes to other gods for help. Finally one of them Enki, creates two creatures who carry the plant of life and water of life down to the Underworld, sprinkling them on Inanna and Damuzi, resurrecting them, and giving them the power to return to the earth as the light of the sun for six months. After the six months are up, Tammuz returns to the underworld of the dead, remaining there for another six months, and Ishtar pursues him, prompting the water god to rescue them both. Thus were the cycles of winter death and spring life.

The Descent of Inanna

The Descent of Inanna. Image source .

Dr Nugent is quick to point out that drawing parallels between the story of Jesus and the epic of Inanna “doesn't necessarily mean that there wasn't a real person, Jesus, who was crucified, but rather that, if there was, the story about it is structured and embellished in accordance with a pattern that was very ancient and widespread.”

The Sumerian goddess Inanna is known outside of Mesopotamia by her Babylonian name, "Ishtar". In ancient Canaan Ishtar is known as Astarte, and her counterparts in the Greek and Roman pantheons are known as Aphrodite and Venus. In the 4th Century, when Christians identified the exact site in Jerusalem where the empty tomb of Jesus had been located, they selected the spot where a temple of Aphrodite (Astarte/Ishtar/Inanna) stood. The temple was torn down and the So Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built, the holiest church in the Christian world.

Dr Nugent points out that the story of Inanna and Damuzi is just one of a number of accounts of dying and rising gods that represent the cycle of the seasons and the stars. For example, the resurrection of Egyptian Horus; the story of Mithras, who was worshipped at Springtime; and the tale of Dionysus, resurrected by his grandmother. Among these stories are prevailing themes of fertility, conception, renewal, descent into darkness, and the triumph of light over darkness or good over evil.

Easter as a celebration of the Goddess of Spring


The above story regarding the orgin of easter must have been adapted by the Greeks and later on by the Romans but with some alterations although their adaption of the said story had nothing to do with easter. In the Greek version, Persephone or, Proserpina in the Roman’s version, was abducted by the king of the underworld, Hades or Pluto. Persephone’s mother, Ceres or Demeter, the goddess of Agriculture, was grief stricken by the lost of her daughter. In her grief, she turned the land barren. The gods intervened and ordered the king of the underworld to release Persephone. But as Persephone had eaten the fruit of the dead (Pomegranate) it would mean she could not return to the world of the living permanently. She can only spend six months of the year with her mother and, for this six months while Persephone was living with her mother, Ceres would allow everything to grow. Persephone would have to return to Hades and stay there for six months and, for those six months, Ceres would turn the land barren.  


The "God" and the "Jesus" that Christians worship today are actually amalgams formed out of ancient pagan gods. The idea of a "virgin birth", "burial in a rock tomb", "resurrection after 3 days" and "eating of body and drinking of blood" had nothing to do with Jesus. All of the rituals in Christianity are completely man-made. Christianity is a snow ball that rolled over a dozen pagan religions. As the snowball grew, it freely attached pagan rituals and beliefs in order to be more palatable to converts. You can find accounts like these in popular literature:

"The vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbology are undeniable. Egyptian sun disks became the halos of Catholic saints. Pictograms of Isis nursing her miraculously conceived son Horus became the blueprint for our modern images of the Virgin Mary nursing Baby Jesus. And virtually all the elements of the Catholic ritual - the miter, the altar, the doxology, and communion, the act of "God-eating" - were taken directly from earlier pagan mystery religions."
"Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras - called the Son of God and the Light of the World - was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. By the way, December 25 is also the birthday or Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus. The newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Even Christianity's weekly holy day was stolen from the pagans."
This article points out that, "It has been noted since antiquity, and in modern scholarship since the 19th century, that Jesus Christ has striking parallels to other deities worshiped in Hellenistic religion, specifically to the cult of Dionysus in the Greek mystery religions and with the Buddha." The article goes on to demonstrate striking similarities between Christianity and the religions that came before it.
It is extremely hard for a Christian believer to process this data, but nonetheless it is true. All of the "sacred rituals" of Christianity, and all of Christianity's core beliefs (virgin birth, resurrection, etc.) come straight from other religions that were popular around the time of Jesus. Articles like this and this can help you learn more. Once you understand the fundamental truth of Christianity's origins, the silliness of the whole thing becomes apparent.

Obviously the pagan believers, from whom Christianity derived its myths, worshiped gods that were imaginary - If gods such as Horus, Ra, Mithras, etc. were real, we would have proof of their existence and everyone would be following those gods. Our "God" and "Jesus" today are simply extensions of these imaginary forerunners. Therefore God is imaginary.

Well put, 'Ha Ha'!

Clear proof Christianity is again superimposed on top of established Pagan beliefs. This is definitely a Christian practice but absolutely NOT a scriptural one.

You mean to tell me it didn't originate in Bulgaria?

It is interesting that the author included that the Holy Schepter was built on top of the ruins of the torn down temple of Aphrodite. It was really commonplace for early christian bassilicas and churches to do this. Sometimes they also took collumbs from these pagan temples to put into the new structure.This was the case with the Hagia Sophia.. If I remember Emperor Constatine was working to unify his kingdom.

Troy Mobley

Quite true TMobley, the statue of St Peter in the Basilica in Rome is another remake. It was a statue of Jupiter but when christianity succeeded the roman pantheon, it was given a new head and new hands in which keys were sculpted replacing the thunderbolt of Jupiter.

christianity is only the latest in the game.  It’s curious that there are no spring (March/April) equinox festivals celebrated in the southern hemisphere, indicating that they are not history festivals, but rather they are entirely astronomical/solar festivals. The ancients knew the planetary cycles and set up their religions accordingly.

That is interesting! Didn't know that.


The Hockeycowboy

Happy Easter to You! To all Christians - Please dont' be afraid - The rabbits won't hurt you - and the goddess of spring has no power over us - Easter will always be our Lord's passover - so enjoy the day and ressured that Jesus is Lord!

In a thousand years, there'll be another name invoked when mother earth springs from winter. Be of good cheer.

There are astrologic festivals 4 times per year for Equinoxes and Solstices. It is clear that xtianity just stole the ancient festivals and made it theirs. As pope Leo X stated: "The myth of Jesus has served us very well." Only sheep and voluntary slaves can believe those charlatans.

Easter origins are Jewish - the Passover - and nothing to do with your astrological woo-woo.

You should have talked a bit about Egg hunting and Bunny's being associated with Germany-not Mesopotamia- and how it was a group of German Lutherans making them popular in the 1800's. You can look that up if you want. The Origins of what we celebrate today are an Anglo-Saxon Christian mix, Though many other cultures do have similar tales about the same time of year, we just dont take much, if anything at all, from the other religions. However, It doesn't make them less important. Well, at present we dont, who knows about the future.

--Still learning--

Your article on this topic is a complete disaster based on little or no genuine historical evidence.

The historical record makes it abundantly clear that Easter's oriigns are to be found in the Jewish feast of Passover - Pesach in Hebrew, Pascha in Greek. It's name in almost every other language also makes this clear - Paques, Pascha, Pascua. Even in English we talk about the Paschal season and the Paschal candle.

References to Pascha, the feast of the Resurrection, can be found from the 2nd century AD, centuries before Christianity encountered any Germanic people and their supposed goddess.

yes, spring is upon us again so let us put away our arguments and extra bedding...

Fascinating article, and it certainly sparked some comments! some of them were also interesting, many were laughable, and one was highly informative (the other version of the Descent of Inanna). Thanks for the excellent read!

- "The problem with quotations that you see on the Internet is that it is
difficult to discern if they are genuine." -Abraham Lincoln

-- Me transmitte sursum, Caledoni!

just out of curiosity, where in this judeo-xtian torah/bible (excluding the muslims, which i'm sure they're fine with) is this magical particolor egg laying rabbit prophesied/mentioned?

I am told by those that claim to know that this easter bunny both predates judaism, and does not reference jesus.

You have been informed correctly. The bunny and the eggs and the bright colors and the sweets come from the same sources as the name "Easter". Nothing to do with anything xtian or jewish, but purely from celebrations of the return of Spring and the rebirth of the crops from the symbolic death of Winter. These things were a huge deal to primitive subsistence farmers who would starve to death if the seasons ever took a break...


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