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I have seen a lot of stuff on Christian holidays floating around on the internet as of late and I thought I’d check into them to see if there was any truth to the claims of pagan origins. Of course, practically all Christian holidays have a pagan root origin at some point, but the claims on what those pagan origins are can be spurious at best.
There are a lot of claims about Easter, so I thought I’d break them apart into some groups because this post was getting really long, and the audio “Too Long;Didn’t Read” version was going to be pretty epic. First post here is on where the word Easter actually comes from.
I’ve found most of the more common claims aren’t exactly true and seem to come entirely from a book called “The Two Babylons” by Alexander Hislop. A largely discredited book written in 1853 by a Scottish minister of the Church of Scotland. A ton of the sites I’ve seen seem to reference this book or other derivative work but make absolutely no attribution to this at all. Many of the sites I found with this information also had tons of other conspiracy theory stuff on it, along with UFO information and how Bill Clinton is a reptilian alien. So, yeah, not super credible.
I’ve done my best to get to the bottom of the meaning of the word Easter here and have tried to link to and cite my references as much as possible.
Easter and Where The Word Comes From
This is the first thing most people will point to on the pagan origins of Easter.
The Claim: The word Easter is derived from the goddess “Ishtar” or “Ashara” as she’s called in the Bible. It’s also where we get the word estrogen, estrus and other words relating to female sexuality and physiology.
The Reality: As far as I can tell this isn’t true and is a case of false cognates. The word Easter comes from the name of the Saxon goddess “Eostre“, or Ostara. I can’t find any reasonable link between “Eostre” and “Ishtar” through any credible sources. As far as I can tell, because “Easter” and “Ishtar” sound sort of the same and Eostre and Ishtar are both fertility goddesses, they must be the same. What I did find is that Ostara comes from a proto-indo-european dawn goddess possibly called “Ausos” way, way back in very ancient times (So old they use the word proto!).
Interestingly the earliest place we find any reference to Eostre was in the writings of Bede in the 8th century. As Bede seems to be the only one to attest her role as a goddess in his “De Temporum Ratione” there’s debate whether or not he made her up entirely.
So with this in mind it seems to me that what we have here is a couple of coincidences. Even though the two goddesses are named similarly and they some of the same roles, it appears they probably aren’t the same. Also seeing as how Bede might have been mistaken as to whether or not Eostre was actually a goddess there might be something else going on here. So while it’s all plausible, it appears to be highly improbable.
It struck me as odd that the name for a Catholic holiday would be named for a Babylonian goddess even if this was true. When I found out after fifteen seconds that it was named after a (possibly made up) Saxon goddess of suspect relation to Ishtar I asked myself a skeptical question, “What is Easter called by the Catholic Church?”. I couldn’t find anything but the word Easter. So I then thought, “If this is a Saxon goddess attested solely by an 8th century Englishman, important though he was, it couldn’t possibly have been called Easter in Latin, the official language of the Catholic Church.” So I hit up Google translate and translated Easter into several Latin and several Romance languages and sure enough, I found that the rest of the world does not call it ‘Easter’, just English. The Germans call it “Ostern”.
What we’ve got here is a case of “English Arrogance”. The assumption is that whatever something is called in English must be the official term for it everywhere else in the world. This is just stupid. So I present to you the words for Easter in several Romance languages, including Latin.
Italian = Pasqua
Spanish = Pascua
Portuguese = Páscoa
French = Pâques
Romanian = Paști (yeah, I didn’t realize it was a Romance language either)
Latin = Pascha
These languages are called “Romance” because they are descended from Latin in some form. The word Roman in the word Romance is what it looks like “Rome”. After looking at this in the Romance languages I ran a few of the Germanic languages through to see if my hypothesis that only Germanic languages use the term Easter. Guess what I found? Only English and German use a form of the word Easter for the holiday. Even other Germanic languages use a word that’s obviously a derivation of Pascha. The only other languages on Google Translate that use a word derived from Easter are Hindi and Japanese. The Japanese do, probably because of American influence, and the Hindi language was probably heavily influenced by British occupation of India.
So in English speaking countries, countries conquered by England, and countries heavily influenced by English countries, we call it Easter or some derivation. In German speaking countries, and countries heavily influenced by Germany they call it Ostern. In the rest of the world they call it some derivation of Pascha, which who would guess, literally means “Passover”. That’s right the rest of the world calls Easter simply “Passover” like the Jews. Hilariously the earliest mention of Eostre by Bede even makes this point and says that they call the Paschel month after their goddess Eostre. Implying that once they converted the English refer to Passover as Easter. Even Jacob Grimm in his 1835 book “Deutsche Mythologie” (German Mythology) says, “all of the nations bordering on us have retained the Biblical pascha; even Ulphilas writes paska, not áustrô, though he must have known the word”. So even in 1835 people knew this.
To make matters more confusing the people who cite the Ishtar/Eostre connection often say the words “estrogen” and a few other ‘estre’ words from the name of the goddess Ishtar, because you know, fertility. This shows they can’t even use a dictionary. It’s also another example of what is called a ‘false cognate’. Two words that sound the same but have different meanings and different origins. The word estrogen actually comes from the Greek word “oistros” which means ‘gadfly’ (we might call them horse-flies). The latin spelling is “estrus” which also means gadfly. The implied connotation is that ‘estrus’, ‘estrogen’ and other similar words mean ‘frenzy’.
The word estrus is used to mean ‘heat’ as in when an animal goes into heat. So the root word is sexist (implies that estrogen causes women to buzz around like frenzied gadflies), but has nothing to do with any goddess, but rather an insect. It’s dumb to make this claim because medical terms are always Greek or Latin, not Saxon or ancient Akkadian. Point is this:
Easter = Comes from the name of the Saxon goddess “Eostre”. Has nothing to do with Ishtar, except that they were both fertility goddesses. Might even be an entirely made up goddess by Bede. According to the evil pagan holiday crowd logic, Austrians by definition must be evil because “Ausos” sounds like “Ost” which means “East” in German, which sounds like Eostre which was the name of possibly a dawn goddess and the sun rises in the east.
Estrus = Means Gadfly in Greek and Latin, has nothing to do with the Saxon word “Eostre” or the Babylonian Ishtar. It’s a bug that annoys horses and flies around like crazy. We get the word “estrogen” from it, among other words. Has nothing to do with any goddess or Easter so far as I can tell.
Pascha = The word that it seems every language but English and German derives the name for the holiday from. Means “passover” in Latin. From the Jewish holiday of “passover”. See Exodus 11-12. Most old books will refer to the Easter holidays as the “Paschel Month” or something similar.