Easter Legend is a Hoax

It's long been thought that the word Easter and the traditions we associate with it (the Easter Bunny and hiding eggs) stem from an old Germanic Saxon belief about the goddess Ostara. The Saxons believed that Ostara was sent by the Sun King during the spring to bring an end to winter. She bore a basket of colored eggs, and with the help of a magical rabbit would hide these eggs under plants and flowers to bring them new life. The name Ostara evolved into Oestre, or Easter. Turns out this legend is a hoax, at least according to University of Tasmania researcher Elizabeth Freeman. Her research indicates that the Saxons never worshipped a goddess named Ostara. Ostara was simply invented by an 8th century scholar named the Venerable Bede, apparently because he thought it was a nice story: "He has definitely made up that goddess," Dr Freeman said. "Bede is the first one to mention it. German academics have found no evidence of the spring goddess Oestre anywhere else before Bede." She theorizes that the Easter Bunny legend actually came from ancient Celtic culture, because the Celts "revered sacred hares".

History Religion

Posted on Sun Mar 27, 2005


This revelation comes a little too close to April Fool's Day to be taken at face value.

Professor Freeman doesn't offer any alternative explanation for the name of Easter, if not from Oestre. I want to see more evidence.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Sun Mar 27, 2005  at  02:29 PM
I checked to make sure that there really was a Prof. Elizabeth Freeman at the university of Tasmania, and sure enough there is. And she teaches medieval studies.

To me it sounds like something strange but true.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Sun Mar 27, 2005  at  11:14 PM
Hmmm.. got 'sham' as my confirm word..

In any case, the fact that Easter, like Christmas, was moved to be close to Spring Equinox (or Winter Solstice for Xmas), in order to coincide with the already-present celebrations of other religions at those times does lead me to believe that they probably didn't take the name from the pagan holidays they were trying to subvert and suppress..

It may be that back then, this time of year was simply known as 'easter', for some comepletely unrelated, unreligious reason.
Posted by Bobcat  on  Mon Mar 28, 2005  at  12:31 AM
Anyone know latin or greek? There could be related words that made sense at the time. Someone couldn't just have thought...Hmm, I think "Easter" would be good here.

Besides, this is a little close to AFD to be taken seriously.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Mon Mar 28, 2005  at  07:36 AM
If this is true, then this must be the ultimate hoax since it has stood unchallenged for 13 centuries.
Posted by Chris Carlisle  on  Mon Mar 28, 2005  at  08:55 AM
"Easter" seems to actually come from Germanic "ost", East, referring to the sunrise (on what was an equinoctal spring festival).

But I'm sure Neil Gaiman is very annoyed by this, since he has the nonexistent goddess Oestre in his novel American Gods.
Posted by Carl Fink  on  Mon Mar 28, 2005  at  06:41 PM
Maybe Ostara is a non existant goddess, but Ishtar (with or without the 'h') is not. She was worshipped by the babylonians and -but I'm not shure- she also was a Germanic goddess. The whole coloured egg-thing sounds ridiculous.
Posted by Tychikus  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  12:14 AM
I'm inclined to believe it, since to me, the whole Ostara story never seemed to hold water. The only time you ever heard anything about this alleged goddess was when someone was talking about Easter--and to someone like me who spends a lot of his free time researching occult esoterica and hanging out with fruity Pagan types, that's damned suspicious.

Generally, a goddess will have a role and be connected with at least a few of the important legends of her pantheon. Hell, even Idun and her golden apples make a few guest appearances in Thor stories (the sagas, not the comic books), and she's got to be the ultimate Goddess bit player, little more than a plot point. Yet Ostara--has anyone EVER heard of her doing anything except inspiring Easter? People did not make up goddesses just to justify ONE holiday.

But you know what? The idea that the easter bunny derived from Celts' "revering sacred hares" is just as fishy and sketchy. Imagine if someone told you the idea of Santa Claus came from Scandinavians who 'revered fat men in red clothing'. Would you feel like you were getting the whole story? Or would you suspect that someone was trying to blow smoke?
Posted by Barghest  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  01:52 AM
The legend I heard surrounding the Goddess Eostre was that she preferred to take the form of a hare, and gave the eggs as a symbol of rebirth - hence why the festival is held in the (northern hemisphere's) spring. And a superstition for you to make you feel a little less guilty about stuffing down all those eggs over the weekend - it's bad luck to refuse an egg off a friend as it can break the friendship. 😉
Posted by Smerk  in  to mischief  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  01:59 AM
How hard would it be to invent a new holiday today? Maybe something at the end of April/beginning of May. Not another Hallmark holiday but something fun, like another St. Patrick's Day.
Posted by Chris Carlisle  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  12:58 PM
Captain Platypus sez:
"How hard would it be to invent a new holiday today? Maybe something at the end of April/beginning of May. ..."

Uh, ever heard of May Day, Platypus? Or Cinco de Mayo?

Probably the most successful attempt to create a holiday out of thin air in the last generation or two was Kwaanza (or however it's spelled), which a U.S. teacher in the 1970s proposed for the seven days following Christmas as a celebration of "African values." There are definitely some people holding Kwaanza celebrations, and not all of them connected with elementary schools under pressure to be culturally inclusive, but I wouldn't say it's caught on on a level with Easter or Valentine's Day, or even Mother's Day and Father's Day (the last two being other holidays arbitrarily invented during the past century or so).
Mother's Day, by the way, was originally organized as a day of social and political resistance in protest of warfare, but then the greeting card companies and florists got hold of it, and you know the rest.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  05:34 PM
May Day and Cinco de Mayo aren't widely celebrated up in these parts (Ohio),plus I totally forgot about them.

I just thought it'd be fun to make a new one.

My wife teaches kindergarten, so I am familiar w/ kwanzaa (I think that's how it's spelled, maybe)and it's necessary inclusion into the holidays.
Posted by Chris Carlisle  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  07:28 PM
>>>Maybe something at the end of April/beginning of May. ..."<<<

Walpurgisnacht is April 30th, the most evil day of the year. (If you've seen 'Dracula', that's why the villagers were so freaked out. And guess what the date was supposed to be during the Night on Bald Mountain scene from the original 'Fantasia'?)

It's May Eve, see, which was supposed in the Middle Ages to be the witches' most important holiday, when satan would come to party and all sorts of wicked supernatural things would happen.

I'm thinking maybe I should start celebrating Walpurgisnacht just to get the bad taste of Easter (with its hypocritical religious poseury) out of my mouth. Some kind of celebration of evil, only I'm not terribly interested in killing chickens and drawing magic circles with blood, so I figured I'd just rent a bunch of horror movies and get drunk. One Halloween a year isn't enough for me, buddy.
Posted by Barghest  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  07:29 PM
Big Gary C:

FWIW, only the American Mothers' Day originated as 'a day of social and political resistance in protest of warfare' (in the 19th Century). There has been a Mothers' Day (formerly Mothering Sunday) in the UK for centuries, the origin of which is a source of some controversy (natch).


Where I live, 'Witches Night' is celebrated at the end of April; it's kind of a mix of Guy Fawkes and Halloween in spirit, with people building bonfires and burning witches in effigy. And getting drunk, of course.
Posted by outeast  on  Wed Dec 07, 2005  at  06:47 AM
I hope she's got a lot more evidence than is revealed here. What researcher would simply trace a belief back to its earliest documented source and declare that it must have been made up?
Posted by Glenn  on  Tue Feb 28, 2006  at  12:52 AM
The true pagan origin of Easter comes from "Ishtar".

read more here: link
Posted by Sal  on  Mon Apr 10, 2006  at  11:40 AM
april 30th/may 1st midnight is walpurgis night(or nacht)it is believed that witches convene on a mountaintop in germany called Brocken for ritualistic fornication....hope this helps....
Posted by brett  on  Sun Oct 08, 2006  at  08:23 AM
The tradition doesn't stem from that legend alone. Many cultures around this time had the egg legend, not all the same. But eggs were used. Some cultures believed that it was a time where Death couldn't touch them and so the eggs were a symbol of their new life and resurrection. This is basically a celebration of all the female spring deities. Ishtar, Iduna and others. The Eostre is supposedly derived from the fact that it April is called or translated from.

There is the version that Eostre turned a chick or bird into her favorite animal, the hare, and she had a fondness for children, not in the bad way. So thus after turning the bird into the hare the hare was sad and started trembling. The mood changed, there was no happiness and no sun, when the goddess asked about it, the rabbit responded it was because she transformed him. She couldn't change him back due to the fact that her magic was affected by this event. So the bird remained a hare for the most part of the year until Spring at the peak of the goddess' power, where she then turned him back. Once he turned back he gave all the children his eggs as gifts.
The eggs are symbols of life and resurrection and even the shapes and designs on the eggs mean something. So even if Eostre is made up, there is Ishtar, which could've inspired this. Hell Romans took Greek gods doesn't mean that they weren't legitimate. Maybe it was a late adaption due to merging cultures.
Posted by magda  on  Sun Apr 08, 2007  at  12:39 AM
Magda, do you have any sources (that is, sources with evidence, not wishful-thinking pagan-type websites) for the coloured-egg link to Ishtar? I've been searching Google scholar for references without success.

Without evidence of continuity there is no reason to assume that our modern painted eggs are a legacy of Ishar and the World Egg: egg symbolism is common to many cultures for fairly obvious reasons, just as circles, spirals, pyramids, birthing symbolism, phallic symbolism etc etc are common to many cultures without any intercultural communication.

The word here is 'analogous': the painted eggs of medieval Britain are more than likely analogous to the eggs of Babylonian mythology because eggs are carriers of new life, symbolic of spring, renewal, etc etc (as well as being good sources of protein for those without enough meat in their diets!). But 'analogous' does not denote continuity, or anything other than a human capacity to reach for the same symbols again and again...
Posted by outeast  on  Tue Apr 10, 2007  at  01:49 AM
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