by Samantha Helgeson

It’s almost Easter, and you know what that means! Coloured eggs, chocolate, rabbit imagery, the visit from the ever-elusive Easter Bunny, and the resurrection of Christ.

But exactly how do rabbits and eggs tie in with the rebirth of Christ anyways?

To put it simply, they don’t. 

Before monotheistic Christianity spread worldwide, most cultures had their own form of religion, religious stories, holidays, and deities that were worshipped. Many pagan traditions and customs were absorbed and attributed to Christian theology to make it more acceptable to pagans who were being colonized by Christian armies.

The themes of Easter are rooted in-part in pagan origin.

According to Dr. Tony Nugent, a scholar of world religions and mythology, the Sumerian legend “The Descent of Inanna” has many parallels between its tale and the Christian Easter story of Christ’s rebirth.

Sumerian Inanna / Babylonian Ishtar – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Queen of Heaven, goddess Inanna (later known as the Babylonian goddess Ishtar) visits the Underworld to observe rites for a funeral. On her way there, she must pass through the various gates of the Underworld. As the goddess passes through each gate, she is instructed to take off one article of clothing. She arrives naked at her destination, where she is arrested, and put on trial by the Underworld judges. She is then convicted of an undisclosed crime, sentenced to death, tortured, and hung on a wooden stake. Due to her death, the earth loses its fertility. Plants and crops wither and will no longer grow, and animals will not reproduce. Inanna hangs on the stake for three days before the other gods intervene, bringing her back to life and to the world of the living.

After reading this tale, it’s clear to see where Dr. Nugent drew parallels to the Christian story of Jesus. Inanna’s story is eerily similar to the story of Christ. Nugent points out that “Inanna and Jesus both travel to a big city where they are arrested by soldiers, put on trial, convicted, sentenced to death, stripped of their clothes, tortured, hung up on a stake, and die. And then, after 3 days, they are resurrected from the dead.”

Another theory of Easter’s origin revolves around how some pagans observe Ostara on March 21.

Some pagans simply observe Ostara because March 21 is the Spring Equinox, which marks the date when the days will become longer than the nights. Ostara, the vernal equinox, is considered a time of renewal and rebirth. This is a time for planting and for the new crop season.

The spring equinox is a time that has been widely observed and celebrated in various parts of the world. Similar stories and tales of death, rebirth, and renewal have been recorded from ancient Rome, Persia, and from the Mayans in Central America. These tales also have parallels to the Christian Easter story. 

Quetzalcoatl, a Mayan God who was sacrificed for mankind, died on a tree,and was resurrected shortly after – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Other pagans observe Ostara in order to honour the Saxon or Germanic goddess of Spring, Ostara, also known as Eostre, Austra, Eastre, and Eastra. The symbols of eggs and rabbits are both associated with the goddess Ostara. Rabbits are a symbol that represents fertility and reproduction. In Germanic mythology, Ostara apparently healed a wounded bird by changing it into a hare. The hare then laid eggs for the goddess as a show of gratitude.

But eggs have also long been considered a symbol of fertility and renewed life in various ancient cultures like the ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. The round, endless egg offers hope and the promise for life. The Encyclopedia of Foods and Culture explains how eventually, eggs became a widely used symbol in various parts of Europe and America. They were used as gifts, tithes, tokens of love, and as decorations, celebrating life and fertility.

Many Ancient Egyptians believed the universe began in a cosmic egg – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While many pagan customs associated with Spring and the equinox were once practised alongside Christian Easter traditions, they eventually became absorbed by Christianity. Many Christians now view Easter eggs as symbolic of the resurrection of Christ

Regardless of the origins of Easter, this time of year is celebrated across the globe as the coming of Spring and focuses on rebirth and renewal. It’s the perfect time of year to decide what you want out of the year, and for you to plant the seeds of change.