Easter: A Pagan Goddess, A Christian Holiday, and their Contested History
By Richard Sermon
As the Easter season approaches each year, commonly heard questions ask: why does the festival not fall on the same date each year, and how do its name and symbols (notably eggs and bunnies) relate to the Christian story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection? A simple search of the internet will provide a bewildering volume of information and misinformation that claims to answer these questions. The issue has become something of culture war between traditional Christian interpretations and the views of people following alternative forms of spirituality and neopaganism. An often heard argument is that Easter was originally named after a spring or dawn goddess, who was symbolised by the hare and the egg, and whose name, festival and symbols were later appropriated by the Christians. The purpose of this book is to explore the principal claims and counter-claims that now surround the goddess Eostre (recorded once by the Venerable Bede in 725 AD) and the origins of the Christian paschal festival. It critically examines the substance and history of these ideas from their earliest sources to the present day.
RICHARD SERMON is a former local government archaeologist, with over thirty years’ experience working in British field archaeology and heritage protection, based in the historic cities of London, Perth, Gloucester, and latterly Bath. He has related interests in musicology, linguistics, and folklore, having written on various subjects ranging from medieval bone flutes and the origins of the pipe and tabor, to the philology of wassailing and the use of folkloric motifs in the 1973 cult horror film The Wicker Man. His work has been published in Folklore, Decies, Northern History, and other periodicals. In this volume he returns to subject of early calendars and festivals in Britain and Ireland, pulling together much of his earlier work and introducing a wide range of new or previously under-researched material.