Easter Eostre Pesach Paschal – and ostarfrisking 185

Here’s a splendid piece of stupidity. A collector’s item:

Boys and girls at an Alabama elementary school will still get to hunt for eggs – but they can’t call them “Easter Eggs” because the principal banished the word for the sake of religious diversity.

We had in the past a parent to question us about some of the things we do here at school,” said Heritage Elementary School principal Lydia Davenport. So we’re just trying to make sure we respect and honor everybody’s differences.”

Television station WHNT reported that teachers were informed that no activities related to or centered around any religious holiday would be allowed – in the interest of religious diversity.

“Kids love the bunny and we just make sure we don’t say ‘the Easter Bunny’ so that we don’t infringe on the rights of others because people relate the Easter bunny to religion,” she told the television station.

After the laughter, let’s consider: what do we know about Easter – the word and its associations?

From bill casselman’s words of the world:

All Hail, Eostre!

Eostre was a Germanic goddess. In all the lovingly museumed depictions of ancient British, Celtic and European deities, we have no surviving image of Eostre and she is mentioned only once in ancient literature, in the writings of the always pious Venerable Bede. But Eostre’s name tells us she was a Teutonic goddess of dawn. Her name originated in Old Teutonic, from austrôn- dawn. Austrôn can evolve into Eostre. What we know with certainty is that the Christian Easter celebration took its name from Eostur-monath, the Anglo-Saxon word for the month of April, literally Eostre-month.

Who then was this fair goddess Eostre? A coy and modest damsel tiptoeing in divinely sequined velvet slippers through vernal dells, all the while sprinkling with dew yon awakening posies? Probably not. She was more likely The Wanton Slut of the Spring Rut, a lubricious deity who smiled upon and encouraged the potent surge of returning fertility. The Anglo-Saxons celebrated her lustful advent at the spring solstice, the vernal equinox, as part of the worship of a pagan deity who brought teeming uberousness back to the land and to the groin after a morose winter of vegetal and bodily moping. …

The name Easter may have been adopted during a time when Christians were attempting to convert new followers by highlighting the similarities between Christianity and pagan religions. The story of Christ’s resurrection, the focal point of the Easter holiday, has much in common with the rebirth stories of pagan tradition.

The most sober and linguistically compelling root word of Easter is however probably a source based on Germanic forms of East, forms like Ost, Osten, the Germanic Easter word Oster and Old High German ostarun which means literally “easterly celebration times”.  The sun rises in the East. In many languages the word for dawn, daybreak, even daylight stems from a word meaning “east”.  The sun returned in glory during the spring. What better time of year then to celebrate “eastern springy stuff”.

A Proto-Germanic root for east is cognate with many other east/dawn words in other Indo-European languages. For example, all the PIE dawn words like Latin aurora (think of aurora borealis, literal meaning “northern dawn”), Epic Greek ἠώς and Attic ἔως eos “dawn”.  Think of English scientific words like palaeozoology’s name for the earliest horse, eohippus “‘dawn-horse”,  or the Eocene era. Sanskrit for “dawn”  is usas and Avestan is usah. …

What of the word paschal? It was –

…  borrowed directly from the Hebrew word for Passover, pesach. Consider Greek pascha, Latin pascha, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua and Dutch pask. English has a technical adjective from theology, paschal [meaning] “of Easter”.

A delightful Old English term named the paschal lamb, ostarfrisking.

This questing etymologist looks at the classical Greek word oistros, not for an origin, but for a cognate, that is, a word born from the same Indo-European root as Eostre then Easter.

Oistros was a large European horsefly whose painful bite drew blood and caused cattle to run wild, even stampede. The insect’s Victorian zoological name was Tabanus bovinus, where tabanus is the Latin word for horsefly or gadfly. Today Oestrus is the genus name of the common botfly, a similarly nasty little insect whose larvae are parasites in mammal tissues and body cavities, mammals such as humans, horses, and cows.

English-speakers know the ancient Greek word in more familiar dress as oestrus or estrus, its Latin forms. In modern physiology, estrus is the female equivalent of the word rut. When a female animal is “in heat” it is in estrus. In Classical Greek oistros meant “frenzy”, “sexual rage”, “ravening, slavering female lust”. It described, for example, the scary maenads, drunken women running wild over the Greek mountains, spring-moon-mad in their ecstatic worship of Dionysus, futtering [?] the night away in unholy orgies of forbidden lust, catching a male “chase animal”, ripping his body apart, and devouring his oozing gobbets of flesh. …

The Greeks thought you could catch such sexual ardor from being bitten by a gadfly. Oistros meant “gadfly” too. More to the point, Herodotus (Histories ch.93.1) uses oistros to describe the desire of fish to spawn. So its root meaning is probably “rage” with a later semantic overlay of “raging, powerful sexual urge”.

That’s something pagan peoples celebrated every spring, the upsurge of sap in tree and plant and human. The Anglo-Saxons’ Eosturmonath was Sex Surge Month, not as dainty as April perhaps, but much more to the pagan point.