Friday, 25 March 2016

How Pagan is Easter?

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is a group consisting mainly of Richard Dawkins himself and a couple of acolytes. It gets huge funding from somewhere to carry out persistent attacks on religion in general and Christianity in particular. Luckily a lot of scientists don't feel it is necessary to carry on this tiresome feud between science and religion.
At my local church there are two or three top scientists in the congregation and one of them has won a Nobel Prize.
And that is by no means unusual for any church.

This is superficial and like most of what Dawkins circulates can at best be regarded as a tendentious half-truth. 
Easter does roughly coincide with a great pagan fertility festival. And yes, the name Ishtar - Astarte - Esther in the Bible - is the name of a goddess worshipped widely. Very likely the Nordic Eostre and Old English Ostara are related to the same name. There is no proof at all that the name Ishtar was pronounced "Easter" and in fact it is a transcription from ancient scripts and texts, some chipped out of stone or baked in mud, where the pronunciation is a matter for speculation. You can't assume that the word Easter was pronounced in our modern way even a few hundred years ago, let alone thousands.
The name sometimes spelled as Ishtar is related to Astarte, Queen of Heaven, a goddess widely worshipped in ancient times in Mesopotamia, Syria and all over Asia Minor. There are similar images of the Egyptian mother-goddess Isis.

Semiramis and Tammuz

The Greek ἀστήρ  meaning a star is also derived from the same root. Hence "astrology". Astarte was the Queen of Heaven, and a star is a heavenly body.
Rabbits were not a symbol of the Babylonian Ishtar, but were associated with the later Nordic cult of Ostara, a goddess of Spring and the dawn worshipped by the Saxons and sometimes known as Oestre or Eastre. Her name is also the root of the word "East" which means of course the part of the sky where the dawn appears.
Astarte/Ishtar was worshipped at a Spring festival which was held at the time of the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. This date then became the date of the Jewish Pesach (the Passover) and it was at the time of the Passover that Jesus was crucified. So that is the reason why Christians chose to celebrate Easter at the time of the traditional Spring Festival. Across most of Europe, and of Christendom, Easter is not called Easter, it is called after the Pesach e.g. Paques in French, Pasqua in Italian, Пасха in Russian,  Pashkët in Albanian  etc.  In Polish it is Wielkanoc.
By Roman times, there were many cults flourishing in different parts of the Empire. The cult of Tammuz (known to the Greeks as Adonis) and the cult of Isis and Osiris, both centre on a miraculous return from death to life, and the power of a god to regenerate.

I wonder what aspect of this pagan festival Richard Dawkins wants to restore. Does he want to revive the Babylonian worship of sex by means of temple prostitution? Or simply the focus on crop-planting and veneration for life?
The Babylonians knew that crop-planting had a lot to do with the phases of the moon, as well as the solar cycle. The New Moon is a good time to plant seeds, and most above-ground crops do better if planted under a waxing moon. If you are like me and sensitive to moon phases you will have felt a strong urge in the past two weeks as the moon reached its fullest to go and plant tomatoes, beans, artichokes, herbs and spinach. It is not too late for root-crops now, as they do well planted when the moon begins to wane. Potatoes and beetroot will be quite happy if stuck in the ground now.  
What the Babylonians did was to plant their crops in Spring as the moon approached its fullest point, then go to the temple to offer sacrifices to ensure a good harvest.
Let's not be too nostalgic for the good old days of the Anglo-Saxons. They did actually practice human sacrifice. So did the ancient Norse peoples who worshipped Ostara. Christianity caught on for many reasons but one could be because people with young children didn't want to see them having their throats ritually slit. The same could be said for sending your twelve-year-old daughter to the temple of Ishtar in Babylon to be ritually "sacrificed" by prostitution to a stranger. Thank God Christianity came along.

So if Richard Dawkins wants to make himself sick eating chocolate eggs and bunnies, that is entirely up to him. I will be celebrating Easter in my own way, because without a reverence for life and veneration for the miraculous, something is just lacking from our existence.


  1. easters date is set by the the church is closer to paganism than Dawkins. Dawkins is happy to forget all these out of date rituals so your argument here is of straw. Dawkins et al has reverence for life and venerates the universe, which is far more mysterious and full of wonderwithout any myth, christian or otherwise.

  2. Setting a date by the moon does not mean that it must be "pagan". If you actually read what I have written above, about Passover and Easter, you will find out why. Dawkins is plainly not "happy to forget all these out of date rituals" as he has dug up the antique statues and circulated their photographs.