Was the Easter Bunny an Ancient God?

· 727 words · 4 minutes read

TL;DR: Probably Easter has a very little to do with bunnies. That is just a consequence of capitalism. Or traditions of just a few centuries ago. Even for non-religious people, this part of the year is often welcome because of the coming of Spring. But… Where does Easter come from? Is its origin linked with Christianity?

Short answer: definitely not. The name, as Wikipedia explains, comes from the Old Germanic pagan goddess Ostara, who was widely known through all Europe with slightly different names. To put it simple, she was a goddess of Spring. About her origins, though, we probably could go back 10,000 years ago: as frequently happens in European traditions, we can find the roots in Slavic pantheon(s).1 As we already told, these gods had several “forms” and names according to the cycle of the seasons.

Austeja, also called “The Weaver” or “The Bee Goddess”, was a Spring deity. Bees were told to be her messengers because her voice could be heard in their hum. Also, bees weaved the honeycomb in the hive as she weaved humans’ fate.2 Because of the deep connection with these insects, in Ireland, she probably became St. Gobnait, who was told to have the power to control swarms of bees. Her day is the 11th of February, which extremely close as St. Harlampy’s one in Bulgaria, when… beeswax candles and honey are blessed. ❤️🐝

Norns? Bees? Who can tell the difference?

Norns? Bees? Who can tell the difference?

Austeja’s name itself has some interesting connections. Indo-european word aus means both “east” and “dawn”. The deity’s proto-indo-european name is thought to be Auesos, which comes from the Germanic Austron, goddess of dawn and spring. One of her other names, as stated before, is Ostara, that in Old English… became Easter.

But Where Are The Bunnies? #

So, before Christianity, what was so special about this day?

Quite simply, we can see Easter as a passage from Winter to Spring; as we already saw, the celebrated god often was sacrificed in order to come to life again — does it sound familiar?

I may sound blasphemous, but chronologically… Jesus wasn’t the first one to resurrect. In Ancient Egypt, Osiris came millennia before, and there are plenty of creatures with this peculiar capability, as the phoenix.3 More specifically, the Greek Adonis and Attis were the closer one to Romans, and probably someone could have been inspired by these stories for the life of Brian Christ.4

As already told in past articles, fire was very common during the festivities: large bonfires were lit to cleanse, purify, and cure animals and people from the just-finished season. A new life. What object is perfect to symbolize it if not an egg? 🥚

In Germany, it was tradition to light up a bonfire per village, almost in a competition. In Münsterland and other places, the hills used for this custom were called “Easter” or “Paschal” Mountains. Also, remember that effigies were burned in order to kill/sacrifice the god or old season? Here is a passage from Frazer’s Golden Bough:

Near Forchheim, in Upper Franken, a straw-man called the Judas used to be burned in the churchyards on Easter Saturday. The whole village contributed wood to the pyre on which he perished, and the charred sticks were afterwards kept and planted in the fields on Walpurgis Day (the first of May) to preserve the wheat from blight and mildew.

In all these centuries and beliefs, though… Despite all the names and traditions we came across… We couldn’t find any bunnies related to Easter before XVII Century.

From we have seen, bees perhaps should be the symbol of this season: they were linked with Austeja and, in Spring, they are crucial for nature. Maybe this is the real mystery. 🕵️🐰

Alas, bees' importance isn't recognized as it should.

Alas, bees' importance isn't recognized as it should.

  1. The Slavic pantheon can probably be defined as the cradle of European religions, and some of its features can be found even in India! ↩︎

  2. In Slavic customs, bees tell important news as births or deaths in the household. Also, the soul could take the form of a bee. In Russia, it is a sacrilege to kill these insects. ↩︎

  3. To be hones, the list of these gods is quite long↩︎

  4. Another example, not related to Easter: in Mithraism, the Sun god Sol was born from a virgin… around the 25th of December, very next to the Winter Solstice. Come on! ↩︎