Happy Easter to everyone!
Our Easter is derived directly from a Germanic pagan fertility Goddess called Eostre
, if you speak Old English, or Ostara
, if you speak Old High German. In either case, if you ever wondered what bunnies and eggs had to do with Jesus, now you know: nothing at all. They are both very obvious fertility symbols associated with the Goddess. Interestingly, Eostre is mentioned in writing in only one place, the work of the Venerable Bede
, a mediaeval monk and early self-publisher.
The Greek celebration of the same time was the Great Dionysia
, a hugely important festival in honor of Dionysos God of Wine and the Harvest, held over 5 days in the middle of the month of Elaphebolion
. (That was the city version. An older rural version was held in the month of Poseidon.)
Everyone was welcome to celebrate, citizens, metics (resident aliens) and visitors from other cities. A statue of Dionysos was carried to the Theatre of Dionysos, which rests against the southern side of the Acropolis. People walked around carrying phalloi
carved from wood, and one very large phallus was pulled along on a cart.
Maidens walked about carrying woven baskets. Some carried long loaves of bread. Others carried water jugs or wine jugs, and would pour drinks for anyone.
A huge number of oxen were sacrificed in the theatre. There was more to this than merely the religious aspect; this was a chance for even the poorest people to get some free red meat. It was a massive feast. There were several processions and a komos
, a parade-cum-drunken-revel.
The orphans of men who had been killed in battle were paraded to honor their fathers (the state paid for these orphans until they reached majority). People who had done good deeds during the year were held up for priase.
The Great Dionysia affected civilization to this very day, because it was the festival in which the tragedies and comedies were shown on stage. Beginning some time in the 500s BC, the Great Dionysia turned from a purely religious celebration to include an arts festival. All the great ancient Greek plays you may have read, everything from Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus and Aristophanes, those plays first appeared on stage at a Great Dionysia. People travelled from all over Greece to come and see what was on that year.
The Spring Equinox was also the time when the Goddess Persephone rose from the underworld to renew the earth. The story goes that she was kidnapped from the surface by Hades, God of the Underworld and Lord of the Dead, who wanted to marry her. He had the permission of Zeus to do this, but unfortunately neither of the guys thought to mention this plan to either the bride or her mother.
The kidnap of Persephone occurred in Eleusis, just down the road from Athens. Legend has it that this is the cave from which Hades emerged to grab her:
If you're wondering how Hades managed to emerge from the underworld via a cave with no visible depth, so am I. But I guess when you're a God you can do these things. This is definitely the spot legend attributes. There used to be a small temple to the event, the ruins of which you can spot in the foreground.
Mom was the Goddess Demeter, in charge of making things grow, and she was more than a little annoyed to discover her daughter had involuntarily eloped. She stopped the growth of all things until she got her daughter back. They eventually hammered out a deal whereby Persephone spent half the year with her husband (autumn & winter), and the other half with her Mom (spring & summer), which goes to show even the Lord of the Dead may tremble when his Mother-In-Law throws a hissy fit.
I hope the Easter Bunny brings you something nice!