Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The bunny and the egg

Posted by Fredsvenn on June 2, 2015

Easter Bunny

Ēostre

The Assyrian Origins of Easter – Ann-Margret “Maggie” Yonan

Beyond Ishtar: The Tradition of Eggs at Easter

Easter : History and Traditions

The Easter Bunny (also called the Easter Rabbit or Easter Hare) is a folkloric figure and symbol of Easter, depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs. Originating among German Lutherans, the “Easter Hare” originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behaviour at the start of the season of Eastertide.

The Easter Bunny is sometimes depicted with clothes. In legend, the creature carries colored eggs in his basket, candy, and sometimes also toys to the homes of children, and as such shows similarities to Santa Claus or the Christkind, as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holidays.

The custom was first mentioned in Georg Franck von Franckenau’s De ovis paschalibus (About Easter Eggs) in 1682 referring to a German tradition of an Easter Hare bringing Easter eggs for the children.

The hare was a popular motif in medieval church art. In ancient times, it was widely believed (as by Pliny, Plutarch, Philostratus, and Aelian) that the hare was a hermaphrodite. Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of antiquity. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox.

The idea that a hare could reproduce without loss of virginity led to an association with the Virgin Mary, with hares sometimes occurring in illuminated manuscripts and Northern European paintings of the Virgin and Christ Child. It may also have been associated with the Holy Trinity, as in the three hares motif.

Rabbits and hares are both prolific breeders. Female hares can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first, a phenomenon known as superfetation.

Lagomorphs mature sexually at an early age and can give birth to several litters a year (hence the saying, “to breed like rabbits” or “to breed like bunnies”). It is therefore not surprising that rabbits and hares should become fertility symbols, or that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore.

Theories connecting Ēostre or Ostara (Old English: Ēastre) with records of Germanic Easter customs, including hares and eggs, have been proposed. Ēostre is a Germanic divinity who, by way of the Germanic month bearing her name (Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old High German: Ôstarmânoth), is the namesake of the festival of Easter.

Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Eostre’s honor, but that this tradition had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

By way of linguistic reconstruction, the matter of a goddess called *Austrō in the Proto-Germanic language has been examined in detail since the foundation of Germanic philology in the 19th century by scholar Jacob Grimm and others. These cognates lead to the reconstruction of a Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess.

Old English Ēostre continues into modern English as Easter and derives from Proto-Germanic *austrōn meaning ‘dawn’, itself a descendent of the Proto-Indo-European root *aus-, meaning ‘to shine’ (modern English east also derives from this root). The goddess name Ēostre is therefore linguistically cognate with numerous other dawn goddesses attested among Indo-European language-speaking peoples.

As the Germanic languages descend from Proto-Indo-European (PIE), historical linguists have traced the name to a Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn *H₂ewsṓs (→ *Ausṓs), from which descends the Common Germanic divinity from whom Ēostre and Ostara are held to descend.

In some forms of Germanic Neopaganism, Eostre (or Ostara) is venerated. Regarding this veneration, Carole M. Cusack comments that, among adherents, Eostre is “associated with the coming of spring and the dawn, and her festival is celebrated at the spring equinox. Because she brings renewal, rebirth from the death of winter, some associate Eostre with Idunn, keeper of the apples of youth in Scandinavian mythology”.

The Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture details that “a Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn is supported both by the evidence of cognate names and the similarity of mythic representation of the dawn goddess among various [Indo-European] groups” and that “all of this evidence permits us to posit a [Proto-Indo-European] *haéusōs ‘goddess of dawn’ who was characterized as a “reluctant” bringer of light for which she is punished.

In three of the [Indo-European] stocks, Baltic, Greek and Indo-Iranian, the existence of a [Proto-Indo-European] ‘goddess of the dawn’ is given additional linguistic support in that she is designated the ‘daughter of heaven'”.

Additionally, scholars have linked the goddess’s name to a variety of Germanic personal names, a series of location names (toponyms) in England, and, discovered in 1958, over 150 2nd century BCE inscriptions referring to the matronae Austriahenae.

Isis (original Egyptian pronunciation more likely “Aset” or “Iset”) is a goddess from the polytheistic pantheon of Egypt. She was first worshiped in Ancient Egyptian religion, and later her worship spread throughout the Roman empire and the greater Greco-Roman world.

This myth became very important during the Greco-Roman period. For example it was believed that the Nile River flooded every year because of the tears of sorrow which Isis wept for Osiris. Osiris’s death and rebirth was relived each year through rituals. The worship of Isis eventually spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, continuing until the suppression of paganism in the Christian era. The popular motif of Isis suckling her son Horus, however, lived on in a Christianized context as the popular image of Mary suckling her infant son Jesus from the fifth century onward.

Isis’ name was originally written with the signs of a throne seat (pronounced “as” or “is”), a bread loaf (pronounced “t” or “tj”) and with an unpronounced determinative of a sitting woman. A second version of the original was also written with the throne seat and the bread loaf, but ended with an egg symbol which was normally read “set”, but here it was used as a determinative to promote the correct reading. The grammar, spelling and used signs of Isis’ name never changed during time in any way, making it easy to recognize her any time.

In the typical form of her myth, Isis was the first daughter of Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, goddess of the Sky, and she was born on the fourth intercalary day. She married her brother, Osiris, and she conceived Horus with him. Isis was instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris when he was murdered by Set. Using her magical skills, she restored his body to life after having gathered the body parts that had been strewn about the earth by Set.

The egg-symbol always represented motherhood, implying a maternal role of Isis. Her name could mean “mother goddess”, pointing to her later, mythological role as the mother of Horus. But the initial mother-goddess of Horus was Hathor, not Isis.Isis is often depicted as the mother of Horus, the falcon-headed deity associated with king and kingship (although in some traditions Horus’s mother was Hathor).

The first secure references to Isis date back to the 5th dynasty, when her name appears in the sun temple of king Niuserre and on the statue of a priest named Pepi-Ankh, who worshipped at the very beginning of 6th dynasty and bore the title “high priest of Isis and Hathor”.

Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex, procreation, and war, also worshipped as the Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishara and Ishara. Her symbols (like the egg and bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols. Ishtar’s symbols were the the lion, the morning star, and eight or sixteen pointed stars, symbols of power.

Easter egg

Easter eggs, also called Paschal eggs, are decorated eggs that are often given to celebrate Easter or springtime. As such, Easter eggs are common during the season of Eastertide (Easter season).

The oldest tradition is to use dyed and painted chicken eggs, but a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as jelly beans. Eggs, in general, were a traditional symbol of fertility, and rebirth.

The practice of decorating eggshells is ancient, predating Christian traditions. Ostrich eggs with engraved decoration that are 60,000 years old have been found in Africa. Decorated ostrich eggs, and representations of ostrich eggs in gold and silver, were commonly placed in graves of the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 5,000 years ago.

The Christian custom of the Easter egg, however, can be traced as far back as the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at his crucifixion. In Christianity, for the celebration of Eastertide, Easter eggs symbolize the empty tomb of Jesus: though an egg appears to be like the stone of a tomb, a bird hatches from it with life; similarly, the Easter egg, for Christians, is a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave, and that those who believe will also experience eternal life.

The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection. The Roman Ritual, the first edition of which was published in 1610 but which contains texts of much older date, has among the Easter Blessings of Food, along with those for lamb, bread, and new produce, the following blessing for eggs:

Lord, let the grace of your blessing come upon these eggs, that they be healthful food for your faithful who eat them in thanksgiving for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever.

Although the tradition is to use dyed or painted chicken eggs, a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with candy such as jelly beans. These eggs can be hidden for children to find on Easter morning, which may be left by the Easter Bunny. They may also be put in a basket filled with real or artificial straw to resemble a bird’s nest.

A pysanka (plural: pysanky) is a Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using a wax-resist (batik) method. The word pysanka comes from the verb pysaty, “to write”, as the designs are not painted on, but written with beeswax.

Many other eastern European ethnic groups decorate eggs using wax resist for Easter. These include the Belarusians, Bulgarians, Croats, Czechs, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Sorbs.

Pysanka

Ancient Origins

Painted pottery jars produced 3,000-2,000 years ago, which belong to the Majiayao culture

No can state with any certainly when Ukrainians began making pysanky. If you surf the web, you will find references to our neolithic ancestors creating pysanky in caves and other such flights of the imagination.  But it is all just conjecture…with perhaps an element of fantasy.

The archeological record does not help us here. No eggshells have survived from Neolithic1 times in Ukraine or the rest of Europe.  Incised ostrich eggshells have been excavated in archeological digs in Egypt and Nubia, but these eggs had a much thicker and stronger type of shell, and the arid climate was much more amenable to their preservation.  The Trypillians (a late neolithic culture, 5500-2750 BC) created pottery which has survived to modern times, and one of their more common motifs was the “dissected egg2.”

No actual pysanka have been found from Ukraine’s prehistoric periods, as eggshells do not preserve well. Cultic ceramic eggs have been discovered in excavations near the village of Luka Vrublivets’ka, during excavations of a Trypillian site (5th to 3rd millennium BC). These eggs were ornamented, and in the form of (torokhkal’tsi; rattles containing a small stone with which to scare evil spirits away).

Similarly, no actual pysanky from the Kievan Rus’ period exist, but stone, clay and bone versions do, and have been excavated in many sites throughout Ukraine. Most common are ceramic eggs decorated with a horsetail plant (сосонка sosonka) pattern in yellow and bright green against a dark background. More than 70 such eggs have been excavated throughout Ukraine, many of them from graves of children and adults. They are thought to be representations of real decorated eggs.

These ceramic eggs were common in Kievan Rus’, and had a characteristic style. They were slightly smaller than life size (2.5 by 4 cm, or 1 by 1.6 inches), and were created from reddish pink clays by the spiral method. The majolica glazed eggs had a brown, green or yellow background, and showed interwoven yellow and green stripes.

The eggs made in large cities like Kiev and Chernihiv, which had workshops that produced clay tile and bricks; these tiles (and pysanky) were not only used locally, but were exported to Poland, and to several Scandinavian and Baltic countries.

The oldest “real” pysanka was excavated in L’viv in 2013, and was found in a rainwater collection system that dates to the 15th or 16th century. The pysanka was written on a goose egg, which was discovered largely intact, and the design is that of a wave pattern.

The second oldest known pysanka was excavated in Baturyn in 2008, and dates to the end of the 17th century. Baturyn was Hetman Mazepa’s capital, and it was razed in 1708 by the armies of Peter I.

A complete (but crushed) pysanka was discovered, a chicken egg shell with geometric designs against a blue-gray background. The pysanka is currently being reconstructed; when completed, it will allow us to see what sort of ornamentation was in use in pre-1708 Ukraine.

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