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Easter in Ancient Times

Updated on April 1, 2015
Move on from the bunnies
Move on from the bunnies

Easter in the past was very different from today

Easter began in an ancient celebration from our past, a celebration originally belonging to an almost forgotten goddess. Her name was Ostara.

You will recognise her name in our modern English word for Easter itself.

Ostara was associated with the Sacred Hare, a powerful creature who is still with us, although transformed into an innocuous bunny with a basketful of chocolate eggs


Celebrate as they did in the past

Say 'Bye to the Bunny

Tired of that fluffy bunny? Use the occasion of Easter as a reminder that our ancestors welcomed the return of Spring and the fertile growth that accompanied the Season.

Decorate your house, prepare a feast and use the theme of an ancient deity to create a celebration as our forebears enjoyed.

Bye Bye Bunny
Bye Bye Bunny
Ostara brings the Spring
Ostara brings the Spring | Source

What is Ostara?

Ostara is, simply, a holiday. A celebration of Spring.

Life is renewed, and it's a time of great fertility as, with the return of Spring, comes the birthing of the farm animals for the year. This is why we use bunnies, chicks, eggs and little lambs as symbols of this holiday. With the end of winter, various deities from the underworld return.

The Ancient Goddess Ostara was venerated throughout ancient Germany and Scandinavia and we still routinely go through her ancient rites when we celebrate Easter. Her name was used in English when the holiday was adapted for the Paschal holiday, and became Easter.

The Easter Egg is (among other things) a symbol of fertility and the Easter Bunny is a modern guise of the Sacred Hare.

Oh those eggs ...

The Glorious Egg
The glorious egg, with its deep links to Creation mythology, is one of the oldest symbols of life and rebirth known. Have you ever looked, really looked, at an egg?

Celebrate with a Feast!

Easter Bun
Easter Bun

Decorate your House for the Season

Adorn your house with fresh cut flowers. Place plastic or papier-mache eggs in bowls with ribbons, cottonwool or packing-case straw. Decorate your table in bright Spring colours, use the brightest tableware that you have or pick up some yellow plastic plates or similar.

Gather into large serving bowls green leafy vegetables, the first fruits of the season, early vegetables, nuts and grains. Provide drinks such as eggnog (naturally), clear sparkling cider and fresh fruit juices.

You must have chocolate eggs of course and, for a startling touch, a sweet dessert using flowers, such as violet leaves.

In Flower Recipes for Spring, Judith Blacklock presents over 40 ideas to create simple, yet sophisticated, floral displays throughout the home - arrangements which use flowers and foliage readily available during the spring months.

A Gaggle of Goddesses

Every year I like to find another goddess from past times. If nothing else, it's an occasion for a different type of party! Here's a handful of Ladies, traditionally associated with Spring, from our distant past. Five to choose from.

Persephone
Persephone | Source

Persephone

Why not Persephone ? If anyone is going to represent Springtime surely the beautiful daughter of Demeter fits the bill.

Poor lovely Persephone was abducted by Hades, the dark brooding god of the Underworld. Demeter searched everywhere before she discovered the whereabouts of her lost daughter.

With lots of pleading, bargaining and endless negotiations, Persephone was given her freedom if she had eaten nothing during her stay with Hades. Alas, she had been tricked into eating a handful of pomegranate seeds and so doomed to spend four months of the year underground.

She returns to her mother every Spring.

A sad story which, on a basic level, explained the darkness of Winter and the Return of Spring.

If you are a mother, or a daughter (or both) .. the story of Persephone can be read on a level deeper than merely an explanation for the Seasons and, if you have suffered loss and grief, the story of Demeter has an even deeper meaning again.

The Story of the Goddess of Spring

Memories of Spring: A Story of Persephone and Hades
Memories of Spring: A Story of Persephone and Hades

The Goddess Demeter feels that Persephone is too immature to handle the problems in the Underworld, the realm of the dead.

Carolina Santoro needs help with her bakery, the Pani Del Goddess in Oklahoma. She finds an old book of recipes dedicated to Demeter and, after a glass of wine, invokes the Goddess.

Demeter suggests that Carolina change places with Persephone. This way the Goddess of Spring can bring her magic to the bakery, and Carolina, meantime, can put affairs to rights in the Underworld.

 
Flora
Flora | Source

Flora

Flora, or Chloris in Greece, was the 'flourishing one', and she was the Goddess of flowers, gardens and Spring in an earlier time, before the Romans came to dominate Italy.

In very early central Italy she was venerated for bringing life to the fruit trees, to the cereal crops, and to the vines. Flora returned every Spring to bring the green buds and shoots from the earth. She came to be the embodiment of all Nature and now, in modern languages, her name represents all plant life

She was believed to be married to Favonius, the west wind, the gentlest of the winds and the first messenger of Spring. Flora's festival, the Floralia, was held in April and symbolised the renewal of the cycle of life, marked with dancing, drinking, and flowers.

This Easter, decorate your house with flowers and fruits in memory of Flora. Share drink with your friends and dance!

Beiwe
Beiwe

Beiwe

Beiwe brings greenery to the Arctic.

As a Spring and Sun goddess, she has a special association with the fertility of plants and animals. Reindeer are her favoured creatures and she travels with her daughter Beiwe-Neida through the sky in a cart made of their antlers.

The Saami apparently called on Beiwe for help with the insane. A handy deity to be friends with in the 21st century.

Once again, bring fresh greenery into your house and spend a special moment of time with an animal companion to welcome Beiwe and Spring.

Lovely Lilies
Lovely Lilies | Source

Olwen

Culhwch has a curse on him so that he can marry no one except the beautiful Olwen, daughter of a giant. Which is just as well for, although he has never seen Olwen, Culhwch is infatuated and sets off to find her. He is advised that he will never succeed without the aid of his famous cousin Arthur of Britain.

Olwen was of such winsome beauty that flowers grew from her footprints, springing up behind her as she lightly walked.

As she walked through Wales, the very Springtime followed her. A beautiful thought for a beautiful season.

White flowers are for Olwen, decorate your home with Easter Lilies in tribute to the snows above the green valleys of Wales, and to lovers everywhere.

Inarii as a white fox
Inarii as a white fox

Inari

Now Inari is an unusual and most mysterious deity. Both male and female, s/he descends from the mountains each Spring to watch over the sacred planting of rice in Japan.

As a Goddess, Inari is a woman with long flowing hair carrying two sheaves of rice, sometimes riding a white fox. As .a God, Inari is an old man with a long white beard.

Inari is a Kami a spirit, a natural force, a personified Essence of Nature and also an aspect of spirituality. Inari is the`riceness' of life.

Inari starts the year as a mountain kami, in Spring she becomes a rice paddy kami and stays during the growing season. After the harvest she returns to the mountain.

So you can celebrate Spring with rice cakes and rice dishes of all kinds, even a full Japanese meal. Use white flowers and ribbons to decorate your house.. Give thanks for your rice, the oriental Staff of Life.

© 2009 Susanna Duffy

Leave an Easter Greeting... - Flowers and Chocolate Eggs are also welcome

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    • profile image

      Glendame 4 years ago

      I like your list, but now I have to decide which Goddess to choose. Maybe Flora? She's all about Spring

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 4 years ago

      Fascinating look at the mythogology surrounding Easter.

    • Recovery1st LM profile image

      Recovery1st LM 5 years ago

      I think its so cool how you merged these bits of interesting and important historical reminders with some decoration tips and suggestions. Well done!

      -Deb

    • Cinnamonbite profile image

      Cinnamonbite 5 years ago

      Gods and goddesses are too much work. Frankly, by the time Easter rolls around on the calendar, it's been spring for a full 2 months and it's time to run the ac. All the chocolate is melty, it's too hot to hunt for eggs. Xmas is just as bad. Sick of the same old tree, the same old songs. I'm tired of the same old tired holidays. Cannot wait for the boy to grow up and I can go holiday free for a few years. If he gets married and has kids and makes me start all over with the grandparent thing, I'll kill him!

    • whats4dinner profile image

      whats4dinner 5 years ago

      Great information on the history of Easter. Thanks for sharing!

    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 5 years ago

      I like to learn the history of holidays and days of note. See you around the galaxy...

    • profile image

      entertainmentev 5 years ago

      How fascinating! A new side of Easter. Happy Easter. :)

    • JeremyL profile image

      JeremyL 5 years ago

      My wife is painting Easter eggs with my children today!

    • sidther lm profile image

      sidther lm 5 years ago

      Your articles are always so enlightening and fun! I love learning about how things we do to day originated in ancient times and how the meanings have varied and in some cases been forgotten.

    • elsiesflat profile image

      elsiesflat 5 years ago

      This was fun to read. Thank you.

    • fivee05 lm profile image

      fivee05 lm 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this info.

    • suzy-t profile image

      suzy-t 5 years ago

      Thank you for sharing how Easter was celebrated long ago...It's a little sad that all of it has nearly been forgotten and masked with bunnies and chocolate. I also liked the spotlight on goddesses. I knew of Persephone and Flora but not the other three...Very enlightening. Blessed...

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Fantastic Article. It's interesting how these fables have so much in common. Thank you for publishing this lens.

    • MelonyVaughan profile image

      MelonyVaughan 5 years ago

      What a beautiful story and a walk through mankind's history - fascinating! Well done!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Enjoyed reading about this, I've read up too on symbols with Easter on how we celebrate it and the symbols we use. It's good for a parent to read up on so that when their kids ask the questions they'll have an answer for them. *blessed by a squid angel*

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 5 years ago

      Interesting! Thanks for the info.

    • profile image

      miaponzo 5 years ago

      Thank you for telling the truth about this holiday.. :) Blessed!

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      This lens is a welcome change of pace and resonates with me. Blessings.

    • profile image

      aquarian_insight 5 years ago

      I really liked this lens and the alternative Easter, it really speaks to me. Great ideas and a wonderful lens. Thank you!

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 5 years ago

      I like flora

    • profile image

      Jake_2525 5 years ago

      Very cool. Great Job!!! Inari is probably my favorite.

    • Northwestphotos profile image

      Northwestphotos 5 years ago

      This is a very interesting lens! I had never heard of the goddess Ostara before. Thanks for the great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Not exactly what I expected since to me Easter is all about the resurrection of Christ, but this was extremely interesting reading. So very sad that Persephone has to spend 4 months of every year in hell, but then some of us mere mortals do, too, don't we?

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 6 years ago

      I very much enjoyed the story about Flora. I pretty decorate in her honor year-round... :) Beautiful lens, thank you Susanna!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This is beautiful! ~ Very Cool!

      Happy Easter to YOU,

      Susie

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 7 years ago from California

      I enjoy reading about superstitions and myths, or pagean beliefs if you will. I knew a few of these but by no means all of them. Very interesting, and it intrigues me that Easter is the most important holiday/celebration to Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Blessed by an Angel :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      What lovely thoughts about welcoming Spring! The time of year we are reminded of renewal and rebirth of all creations on this earth. A time of beauty and it is no wonder our ancestors celebrated its arrival by honoring it with these Goddesses.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image
      Author

      Susanna Duffy 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @rewards4life info: I was raised in a Catholic family too, and Easter was the main event of the year.

    • rewards4life info profile image

      rewards4life info 7 years ago

      I was was raised in a Catholic home, and Ester was the most important holiday. I never knew about these pagan traditions. A very interesting read. Thanks for sharing! Marta

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 8 years ago from Canada

      Yes, I am sure that our ancestors welcomed the return of Spring as much or more than we did! Nicely done lens.

      Brenda

    • profile image

      TheSilurian 8 years ago

      Wonderful article, Susanna, especially the wondering Culhwch and Olwen (Culhwch appears in book four of my Silurian series BTW: I just had to include him, as I owe this story so much for the legend of Bedwyr as well...) Great work...

      L.A.

    • MSBeltran1 profile image

      MSBeltran1 8 years ago

      Hi! I love this! I just made an Ostara lens in my Wheel of the Year series and am lensrolling this one over to it. Really great job!

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 8 years ago

      Thank you for adding this to the Pagan Path.