Memebusters: Easter


I see this meme every year, and it just gets stupider.

Once again, I’m not trying to convert anyone to any religious viewpoint; I merely want to discourage the spread of memes with bad historical information. And despite the watermark of authenticity in the lower right corner (IllumintiTV!), every part of this meme is demonstrably wrong.

To start with, Easter is only called “Easter” in England; in Germany it’s “Ostern”; everywhere else it’s called something very different, generally something that is cognate with paschal. Ishtar, you will perceive, was worshipped very far away from England or Germany. For this meme to be true, the worship of Ishtar would have to leapfrog over the Middle East and southern Europe and land in England.

Constantine never heard the word “Easter” in his life; he would have called Easter Pascha, derived from the Hebrew word for “Passover.” (He also scarcely “decided” to Christianize the Empire, although I guess that’s an adequate oversimplification.)

Christian Easter celebrations are recorded long before the time of Constantine anyway.

Ishtar’s symbols are the lion and the star. I guess I can’t guarantee that she was never associated with rabbits or eggs, but they’re not exactly symbols that scream “Ishtar.”

The egg is an ancient symbol or resurrection (because something is, you know, born from it). It’s been associated with Easter for as far back as anyone knows. The “official position” (of the Catholic Church, for example) is that the egg represents’s Christ’s resurrection, and that painting eggs represents washing them in Christ’s blood. People painted eggs long before Jesus’ time, so it’s possible early Christians borrowed and repurposed the practice from somewhere else.

Rabbits are only associated with Easter in northern Europe, and the association wasn’t made until the seventeenth century. For this practice to come from Ishtar would require it to linger underground for over a millennium and appear someplace distant from her worship in both space and time.

For the record, the name “Easter” may have come (our source on this is Bede) from the British pagan goddess Eostre; however, Eostre only appears in that one mention by Bede, and medieval etymologists are notoriously unreliable. Since  the vast majority of Easter customs are shared across many countries that definitely lack a goddess Eostre, her influence, if she did exist, probably ends with her name.

All of this is so clear-cut that it’s rather dull, but there’s one remaining problem with the meme (in addition to the sentence fragment at the end). Even if it weren’t wrong in every particular, even if Ishtar gave her name and her rabbit and her egg to Easter, what would this prove? We are assured that “at its roots” Easter would be about “fertility and sex.” If we take “at its roots” to refer to the actual distant origins, it would (again, if it weren’t all false) be true. But the meme’s smugness requires us to believe that something essential about Easter would be changed because of its origins. The customs and beliefs of literally billions of people, over two thousand years do not, by this scheme, count; what counts is the secret message revealed by IlluminatiTV.

This is a weird way to view existence. The Ku Klux Klan was originally a Shriners-style pranking organization; this fact changes nothing about the hate cult that is the Klan today. Fraternities were originally academic study clubs; this fact changes nothing about the vast drunken orgiastic criminality that are fraternities today. If a Klansman and a fratboy are kicking you to the curb, your knowledge of historical trivia would change nothing. It’s hard to smile smugly over your theory of essences when a racist terrorist and an alcoholic date rapist  are knocking your teeth out.

One may as well say that Easter is, at its roots, just Passover. That statement has the benefit of being true, while still useless, in the sense that it misrepresents the holiday of Easter (and also Passover)

What Easter means, what Easter is is determined by the ca. two billion people who celebrate Easter. Even if Ishtar had started the party, the current celebrants don’t need to keep inviting her unless they want to.


  1. Yeah, you did a lot of speculation, but no meme busting. This still holds up, and Easter definitely is a stolen pagan holiday. Cheers!


    1. I think there are two questions here: 1. What does it mean for a holiday to “be” pagan? and 2. are the specific claims in this meme accurate.

      The answer to 2 is I think demonstrably no. Or rather, what the meme says is either clearly actively false (the etymological connection between Ishtar and Easter) or supported by no evidence (eggs being a Middle Eastern Ishtarite symbol). If you have evidence to contradict these claims, please pipe up! It’s welcome!

      The first question is more interesting. I thought I’d laid out a clear case, but if I didn’t think of it this way: It is uncontroversial and unquestionable that the Christian holidays Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday have the name of pagan gods in them (Wednesday from Woden’s day, etc.); to what extent does this mean these holidays are pagan?

      No one doubts that many aspects of Christmas, say, are pagan in origin. Aspects of Easter may be as well (though not from Ishtar! sheesh! from Eostre, maybe, though). It’s unclear to me how it’s possible to “steal” a holiday or how recontextualizing aspects of an old tradition somehow lets the old tradition “take over” the new tradition.


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