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

Comments

Probably one of the most clear and uncluttered explanations I have ever read on the origins of Easter.

I would have been even better (for me) if there was a reference to the Astrological significance from ancient Pagan point of view.

This article has nothing to do with a real origins of Easter. Only Anglo-saxon countries use this designation. These pagan myths are nothing more then a parallel to jewish tradition that is born from nomadic spring feasts of of totaly different content.

Care to divulge with evidence? because as it stands your statement is just a racist blurb.

I am aware of the conspiracy to wash away the history and remove Anglo Saxon culture from the world... So be careful what you say.

peace...

Are you serious? The truth is, who cares the origination of Easter or any other man-made or celebrated holiday. The reality is, if you serve God and want to abide by his instruction and his instruction only, read and study his Word and therefore ONLY partake in his holy days and jubilees. It really is that simple. And nope, this holiday known as Easter is not one of them.

Anyone with true respect and value of history would not write what you did. Despite my belief that the world was not made in 6 days and Adam and Eve I am still a Christian. They were just the reason civilization had as "the big bang theory' had not been dreamed of, religious history is to be respected. Are you to denounce the pyramids due to the Egyptian worship of Ra or Stonehenge? There are MILLIONS of people who 'seriously' as you put it realise 'Easter" has history. Learn from it or remain as ignorant as you sound.

By not believing in the literal 6 ay creation described in Genesis you are undermining the Gospel of Christ. I urge you to do thorough research into the arguments for both the Biblical and evolutionary worldviews. If you do so with an open mind and don't just believe what some evolutionary biologist tells you as fact you will discover that the evidence for the literal creation story described in Genesis is much greater than any evidence for evolution (which there really is none whatsoever). Believing that God "used evolution" in the creation/designing of the universe is contradictory to what the Bible teaches. All God had to do was speak and whatever effect He desired was created instantly. It certainly didn't take millions or billions of years. LOL.

Tsurugi's picture

@Eric R.:

"By not believing in the literal 6 [d]ay creation described in Genesis you are undermining the Gospel of Christ."

Yeah. Because metaphors weren't invented until like, the late 1600s.

So, all it takes to "undermine the Gospel of Christ" is one person interpreting it differently than you...?
I think it's probably your worldview that's undermined, not the Gospel, which is unmoved by what anyone "believes" about it, you included.

All due respect, the "Gospel of Christ" is the New Testament, is it not? Isn't the Book of Genesis where the creation of the earth is discussed, in the Old Testament? What evidence are you referring to of the fact that the world was, in fact, created as it states in Genesis. I am not arguing, I am actually interested.

Since you said you're interested, I'll further this….the six creative “days” in Genesis, do not have to be understood as literal. In fact, the Bible gives evidence to the contrary! For instance, for days 1-6, each creative "day” is mentioned as ending, right? But the 7th day – God’s “rest day” – the account never says it ended! And, if you read the Apostles Paul’s words in Hebrews chap.4, he refers to that “rest day” in Genesis, and indicates it was still continuing! He wrote this some 4,000 years later! So, the Bible itself doesn't support the creative days being literally 24 hours each.

The Hockeycowboy

All due respect, the "Gospel of Christ" is the New Testament, is it not? Isn't the Book of Genesis where the creation of the earth is discussed, in the Old Testament? What evidence are you referring to of the fact that the world was, in fact, created as it states in Genesis. I am not arguing, I am actually interested.

How many days are in God's time?

Meant how long is a day in his time. We seem to explain it with the sun and moon. Is that his description to us? Along with "calenders " Honestly, are any of us able to understand God?

What do you mean by "denounce" the pyramids exactly? They are there, people built them, we know they exist... Also, some scientists were, as I recall, arguing about how old the great sphynx was... so if we say something you don't think is fact, well it seems other scientists/ experts can't agree on the facts either. Just when someone claims the science settled, someone comes up with more information to challenge it later so really it's hard to determine exact facts when it comes to science. Ignorance being lack of knowledge, scientific knowledge and theory seems in constant flux so sometimes the "knowledgeable" turn out just as ignorant as those they looked down their nose at. We're at the mercy of people who quibble amongst themselves trying to figure out the nature of reality while looking down at everyone else, only to find out later they themselves didn't have the whole concept or sometimes were completely wrong, it's VERY frustrating. History is not complete and even the experts fight over facts, yet we are expected to just take whatever they say as concrete fact? People make mistakes and others should have full freedom to question it or come up with other ideas of what the facts mean. It's not like we can ask the people that lived then so we have to make guesses as to how things were back then and what things meant to those people. There are many examples where, throughout history, experts have come to wrong conclusions yet at that time any who questioned them would have been considered ignorant fools. As for religious history, what is considered respectful? Did the article writer say anything about censoring religious history? No, people are free to look up whatever they wish, and people are free to have viewpoints on the history of religions (or spirituality) as they wish. Censorship would be the true disrespect, just having a different viewpoint is not. Even religious experts quibble, nothing is set in stone at this point.

"His" instructions are a man-made set of fables designed by power hungry politicians in church garb to control the dim-witted, the insane and the lazy. Those four categories cover pretty much every Christian I've ever met, heard of or read about. Which are you?

LOWELL - Completely agree we with what you say. I have some Christian fiends who are very pro war, mostly because they are dim witted (ignorant) even though they are quite intelligent.

LOWELL - You say ""His" instructions are a man-made set of fables designed by power hungry politicians in church garb to control the dim-witted, the insane and the lazy. Those four categories cover pretty much every Christian I've ever met, heard of or read about"

I read these sort of throw away comments all the time yet you have no real answers and because you think that is the way it is with Christians world-wide you broad brush all Christians.

The thing is you produce nothing to prove your argument which in turn proves nothing only what you say about Christians you are really saying about yourself.

Amen, the devil always has a counterfeit!! And it easter!!

Why would anyone want to SERVE God? It implies God is a slave man and the other one a slave.

A link of a type we seldom see on such copycat pages:

2nd Try: since No Web page addresses are allowed then search Tammuz vs Jesus - Tekton Apologetics Ministries - the author would even allow that and save me typing. And while you are at it, search Were Bible stories and characters stolen from pagan myths? Tekton Apologetics Ministries.

Yes, Christians did in fact steal many of their teachings from other religions and cultures. When Rome first started the spread of Christianity they came across the Druids, or "Savages" as they were so fond of calling us. Druids were spiritually and scientifically advanced beyond Rome's understanding. In the ancient world there were 3 great schools of Druidry. One in current day England, One in Scotland, and one in Ireland. These schools contained vast knowledge of the ancient world, I believe it could have contained the secret to the construction of the pyramids. So the Romans stole whatever they wanted for their own, destroyed the rest, killed any who wouldn't convert (which was a great deal of them) and then proclaimed that these, "Savages" were consorting with Satan. Then we come to the dark ages. Druids would often gather under cover of night in the groves to practice their spirituality and other Druidic practices, and thus they created the religion, Wicca. These practitioners formed what are now known as "Covens" Now, these practitioners were branded as witches and were to be executed by the church for "witchcraft" and "consorting with the devil" and other high-horse nonsense. Sometimes members of covens would turn rogue and rat out the other members to the church in exchange for amnesty. Often times these traitors were executed along with the rest. The members of the covens called these traitors "Warlock" which means "Oath breaker." The story of the Druids is but one of many telling of people and entire cultures crushed under the boot heel of the Romans. Oh, and to the guy saying evolution is bs, we Druids, who have been around thousands of years longer than Christianity, call that nature. It kinda has this habit of changing. The feeble minded Romans just couldn't seem to grasp that and obviously neither can you. And one more thing, yes, we know what Stonehenge is, we built it.

Justbod's picture

Great to read about the origins of many of the 'traditional' aspects of our modern Easter and where they originated. Many thanks!

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature: www.justbod.co.uk

 

 

 

Very interesting reading

Great article, very informative and well articulated, and enjoyable to read. It is great to know where some of this comes from.

(Exodus 32:1-8, 25-28) . . .Meanwhile, the people saw that Moses was taking a long time coming down from the mountain. So the people gathered around Aaron and said to him: “Get up, make for us a god who will go ahead of us, because we do not know what has happened to this Moses, the man who led us up out of the land of Egypt.” 2 At this Aaron said to them: “Take the gold earrings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people began taking off the gold earrings that were in their ears and bringing them to Aaron. 4 Then he took the gold from them, and he formed it with an engraving tool and made it into a statue of a calf. They began to say: “This is your God, O Israel, who led you up out of the land of Egypt.” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. Then Aaron called out: “There is a festival to Jehovah tomorrow.” 6 So they got up early on the next day and began offering up burnt offerings and presenting communion sacrifices. After that the people sat down to eat and drink. Then they got up to have a good time. 7 Jehovah now said to Moses: “Go, descend, because your people, whom you led up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have quickly deviated from the way I commanded them to go. They have made for themselves a statue of a calf, and they keep bowing down to it and sacrificing to it and saying, ‘This is your God, O Israel, who led you up out of the land of Egypt.....25 Moses saw that the people were unrestrained, for Aaron had let them go unrestrained, so that they were a disgrace before their opposers. 26 Then Moses took his position in the gate of the camp and said: “Who is on Jehovah’s side? Come to me!” And all the Levites gathered around him. 27 He now said to them: “This is what Jehovah the God of Israel has said, ‘Each of you must fasten on his sword and pass through all the camp from gate to gate, ... 28 The Levites did what Moses said. So about 3,000 men were killed on that day." So God condemned the combining of pagan rites with true religion. (Malachi 3:6) In reference to His standards and principles he states:  “For I am Jehovah; I have not changed. . . ." Does Jesus support this? (John 14:7, 9,10) 7 If you men had known me, you would have known my Father also; from this moment on you know him and have seen him.” ... 9 Jesus said to him: “Have I been with you men so long a time, and yet, Philip, you have not come to know me? He that has seen me has seen the Father [also]....10 Do you not believe that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me? . . .Jesus here indicates that he and His Father stand for the same thing. So all this addition of pagan symbols, rites, stories, beliefs, etc. that originated in pagandom (as did the calf worship from Egypt) disgusts God and Jesus and will lead to the destruction of the practicers thereof.

’”

In the passage from Exodus, note that Aaron produced a golden calf (a common and powerful symbol in worship in pagan Egypt), but when he called the people to the festival before it, he said it was a festival to 'Jehovah' (the God who not only led them out of persecution and bondage in Egypt, put the Egyptian gods to shame during the Ten Plagues, and defeated Pharaoh and his armies). Aaron used an image familiar to the people to represent God. Jehovah obvioiusly did not approve.

calf...golden calf...represents Taurus...the age of Taurus was ending (age of krishna)
and the age of Aries was beginning
....new age...therefore new leader...Moses
then age of Pisces...JC
now pisces is ending...age of aquarius is beginning
Greg

calf...golden calf...represents Taurus...the age of Taurus was ending (age of krishna)
and the age of Aries was beginning
....new age...therefore new leader...Moses
then age of Pisces...JC
now pisces is ending...age of aquarius is beginning
Greg

Both stories are identical. Go figure. Of course one Religion would denounce the other. It's competition. Considering paganism was around a couple thousand years prior to your Yewah...I think the winner is clear.

Period.

No hate in this state, or in any of theses states. Spread hate somewhere else please.

It's not Pagans who are disseminating hate. The tradition of killing the Natives in Europe and Americas for religious madness is solely xtian. Pagans are happy that after centuries in living under xtian terror the truth is coming back.

I tired of religious people quoting there book thinking that it just instantly ends any argument. Welp, guess what it doesn't. There are 3000+ religions out there and you one dessert dweller book doesn't change that. They all clam to be true, but there probably all wrong. The odds might have been stacked against us but it was mathematicly impossible for an earth-like plant not to have formed. Open your mind and thin outside the religious box.

excellent post! Very clear and straight to the point! You know Jehovah loves it!

 

The Hockeycowboy

Well written and interesting article!

Michele, that's not actually true in either account. Paganism was not around thousands of years before Yahweh or Jehovah. I've heard people say that "the Mesopotamians had it first" but if you look at the geneology, the "sons of Eber" who became known as the Hebrews, were cousins of the sons of Cush, those who settled the Mesopotamian basin (Abraham packed up and left the city of Ur which is in that area). They shared grandparents and experiences so it's only natural that there are similarities and stories with the same roots but taken in different directions (in one the serpent causes the fall of man, in the other it is the protector and enlighten-er of man). It's not a competition to state that in the Bible it is very clear the followers of Jehovah or Jesus are not to adopt or mix the worship of foreign gods with the worship of Jehovah. Stating that Easter is rooted in paganism, but now is embraced and incorporated into Christianity may appear to be true on the surface, but for those who have really dug in and studied the Bible to find out what it has to say, will know that is not true in actuality. If Christians are doing so, it is in direct conflict with what is written in the Bible. Pagans can do what they want because it's their tradition, but I think the point that Kathy was making is that there are specific accounts in the Bible of when mixing of worship was done and what God's view was of it. If you are a Christian and celebrating Easter, then you are unwittingly violating God's law regarding worship of other gods. Christians are supposed to imitate Christ which means doing what he would have done. He would not participate in the traditions/worship of other gods.

Your position/argument fails as soon as you referenced 'sons of Eber' as though that is a factual statement/accounting of (whatever) people are being discussed. To quote the Torah and/or Bible, especially related to something as fanciful as the tale of Noah, as though it is a known fact or possible or even plausible is a failed platform. The Torah and Bible are books. Books of stories. Some which *might* have an ounce of fact at their core.

Cassie and Kathy, what you are doing according to the Word of God is "Casting your pearl before swine". They will never understand because they are in darkness. Remember John chapter one.And in Him (Christ, the Word made flesh) was light. And the light shineth in the darkness (the world) and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

Isn't that convenient? You can dismiss any and all conversation because others must be "in darkness." It's got to be pretty dark with your head buried.

a lot of people don't realize that Christmas and Easter are both mentioned in the Bible....read Jerimiah 10:3 ( Christmas tree) It speaks about the heathen, that they cut a tree out of the forest and nail it so it stands upright and moves not and they deck it with silver and gold....it says that we should not be as the heathen and do these things...but we do. Easter was mentioned in the new testament Acts 12:1-4 (KJV) on this day (Easter) King Herrod beheaded James the brother of john with a sword and when he saw the Jews liked it he went after peter too. Galatians 4:8-10 talks about when we knew not God we did as others but now that we know God or are known by God how can we turn to the weak and beggarly elements of observing days, months, times, and years. I (and this is what I believe) believe that we follow suit we are worldly and do as others do even when we know God and are known by Him. All so-called Holidays have pagan roots, they are traditions and people follow, adding bunnies and eggs and trees, santa and presents and candy are all commercial things to get kids hooked. just remember switch a few words around in santa and what do you have? santa= satan only God knows when you been sleeping or awake....wake up.

You really screwed up the Descent myth here. Although there are many variations later, all the way up to the Rape of Persephone, in the original, Inanna goes to visit her sister Ereshkigal in the underworld under a thin pretext, and with the evident intent of taking over. She had told her handmaiden Ninshubur to recruit some God to send help if she wasn't back in three days. Ea (Enki) was the only one with the stones to actually help.

When she was revived, she was allowed to leave, but only if she sent a substitute. Dumuzi was the only one who wasn't mourning the loss of Inanna. When she got back to her palace, he was lounging around eating grapes and diddling the household girls. Inanna had refused to send the first several people she met to death in her place, but seeing her husband acting this way made her angry, and she told the Galla demons to take the ungrateful sod out of her sight.

She was sad later, and there was a deal made where Dumuzi's sister Geshtinanna would take half of his punishment so he could be in the live world for six months.

Easter was derived from the Egyptian goddess Ast or Est (ISIS), whose name was spelt with the egg-glyph (the Easter-egg glyph). See 'Eden in Egypt'.

Robin Whitlock's picture

Ronald Hutton in ‘Stations of the Sun’ says this: “The other is that the Anglo-Saxon eastre, signifying both the festival and the season of spring, is associated with a set of words in various Indo-European languages,signifying dawn and also goddesses who personified that event, such as the Greek Eos, the Roman Aurora, and the Indian Ushas. It is therefore quite possible to argue that Bede’s Eostre was a German dawn-deity who was venerated at this season of opening and new beginnings. It is equally valid, however, to suggest that the Anglo-Saxon “Estor-monath”simply meant “the month of opening”, or the “month of beginning”, and that Bede mistakenly connected it with a goddess who either never existed at all, or was never associated with a particular season, but merely, like Eos and Aurora, with the Dawn itself.” Stations of the Sun, p.180”

So I think we need to be a little careful when we talk about Easter as a pagan festival. It might not actually be so...
 

     

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.  

           

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.

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