Fur flies over bunny theory

It’s official — the Easter bunny story is not true.

The fable about the magical rabbit who brings eggs on Easter Sunday is a fabrication.

Academics have scoured medieval history and found the story is based on a lie.

They blame a meddling medieval monk for mucking up pagan history.

The mischievous monk literally made up a Saxon goddess who many today erroneously believe is the basis of the Easter bunny story.

University of Tasmania academic Elizabeth Freeman said German academics had searched extensively for clues to Easter tradition.

“They found it’s all wrong,” Dr Freeman, an expert on medieval history, said.

The commonly believed story about the Easter bunny, as the magical companion of the Saxon goddess Ostara, is repeated in books, poems and extensively on websites.

That fallacious story says the Easter bunny’s roots are buried in the mythology of Germanic Saxon tribes.

The Saxons, in the first centuries after the death of Jesus, are said to have celebrated the arrival of the pagan goddess Ostara.

The Sun King, according to the story, would journey across the sky in his chariot bringing an end to winter.

Ostara, a beautiful spring maiden, then came to earth with a basket of coloured eggs.

The goddess, helped by a magical rabbit, brought new life to dying plants and flowers by hiding eggs under them.

When the Saxons moved into Britain in the fifth century, they took their pagan ways with them.

Ostara then evolved into the Anglo-Saxon Oestre, goddess of dawn and spring.

When Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity and started to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, they combined the religious traditions.

The pagan Oestre celebration became today’s Easter.

So when modern-day parents hid coloured eggs under plants in the garden for their children, it was widely thought they had been unwittingly re-enacting the ancient pagan myth of Ostara and her rabbit. But this is all wrong, according to modern academic thought.

Dr Freeman said research shows the Ostara and Oestre story is fundamentally flawed.

The goddess did not exist.

The earliest reference to goddess Ostara or Oestre is by a celebrated medieval intellectual — the monk known as the “venerable Bede”.

Working in north-east England in 730AD, Bede wrote a book about calculating time. Bede identified a pagan spring celebration called Eosturmonath. He said this celebration got its name from a pagan goddess called Oestre for whom they had a feast.

But when modern-day researchers scoured the history books they could find no prior reference to the goddess.

Researchers found many references to the spring celebration Eosturmonath but absolutely no mention of the goddess Bede reckoned the feast was named after. They suspect Bede fabricated the pagan goddess to suit his purposes.

“He has definitely made up that goddess,” Dr Freeman said. “Bede is the first one to mention it. German academics have found no evidence of the spring goddess Oestre anywhere else before Bede.”

Dr Freeman said Bede, who had been a monk since he was seven years old, was revered in an era where very few people were educated.

“Bede was extremely influential and his view has survived until the last 50 years when scholarship developed to the level it could show he was wrong,” she said.

Dr Freeman said Bede and his contemporaries constantly sought to find moral meaning for words and often made up definitions to suit their moral outlook.

So if the Saxon goddess Oestre did not exist, what about her magical bunny? Where did he come from?

“I really have no idea,” Dr Freeman said.

The Easter bunny, it seems, is as mysterious to historians as he is elusive to children.

Catching a glimpse of the rabbit who leaves chocolate eggs is easier than pinning down the origins of the mythical creature.

Dr Freeman suggested the tradition was a jumbled version of many ancient beliefs.

She said pagan Britons, who lived in the isles before the Saxons arrived and are commonly portrayed as the traditional dark-haired Celts, revered sacred hares.

She considers these sacred hares may be the kernel of the Easter bunny story.

Baltic pagans and other cultures used eggs in rituals of rebirth and renewel.

Eggs decorated with colours or gilt have been a symbol of life since the ancient Greeks.

The egg appears in many pagan and early history stories, including the birth of the Sun-Bird, hatched from the World Egg. In some pagan stories heaven and earth were thought to have been formed from two halves of an egg.

Easter eggs evolved through the 18th and 19th centuries with hollow cardboard Easter eggs filled with Easter gifts and sumptuously decorated.

Decadent Faberge Eggs, made for the Czar’s of Russia by Carl Faberge, were encrusted with jewels.

The first chocolate Easter eggs appeared in Germany and France in the early 1800s.

Dr Freeman said she suspected the combination of the imagery to create our modern Easter occurred some time in the 19th century.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Mercury, Australia
Mar. 27, 2005
Simon Bevilacqua
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday March 28, 2005.
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