Etymology of “Easter”

I’ve heard claims that the word Easter has the same Bronze Age root as east, Ishtar, Astarte, and ultimately star.

Is this the correct etymology of the word Easter?


There is actually strong evidence for pagan festivals marking the coming of the Spring and taking place at the time of year of present day Easter. This is the root of the etymology of Easter.

For Christians Easter marks the commemoration of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. However, one should note that the Gospels tell us that Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Passover. In other words Easter was already one of the most important Jewish festivals long before Jesus was crucified.

In theory the Jewish Passover itself celebrates the return of the Jews from Egypt, but it always takes place in Spring (in the Northern Hemisphere) in the Month of Nisan which is the first month of the Jewish religious calendar. Similarly you may know that March used to be the first month of the Latin calendar (which BTW explains why September is the 9th Month of the year, not the 7th).

The truth is that many pagan cultures have considered for centuries the Spring equinox as the start of the year and marked the event with important celebrations.

The word Easter itself is a good indication of this: whereas many other Christian cultures use a name cognate of the Hebrew Pasḥa (Pâques in French, Pasqua in Italian, Pascua in Spanish), German uses Ostern, and English uses Easter. This indicates that the Anglo Saxon already had such a feast at this time of the year.

Also note that the Welsh use Pasg and Irish use Cáisc. Why not Easter ? Simply because Wales and Ireland were Christianised during the Roman domination, a few centuries before the Anglo Saxons pagan migrations.

Now about the link with the East then ?

All indications point at the fact that the arrival of Spring was celebrated at the equinox and that the precise date of this event was determined by the position of the sun on the horizon at dawn. What I mean is that during Winter the course of the sun in the sky is a smaller arc and conversely a larger one in Summer. So let’s consider the position of the sun on the horizon at sun rise. In Summer it will be further on the left and in Winter further on the right for an observer in the Northern Hemisphere. The medium position will determine the Equinox.

Since the sun rises in the East, to know the date for Easter you would have to look East. That might seem like a far fetched explanation but the German for Easter is Ostern and the German for East is Osten.

Also look at the etymology of the Ostrogoths: “Ostrogothi” means “Goths of (or glorified by) the rising sun”. This has been interpreted as “gleaming Goths” or “east Goths”.

Links with Ishtar and Astarte. Well these are the Godesses of fertility that were celebrated at these feasts in Assyria/Babylon and in Archaic Greece respectively. But there are many other variations: Rhea, Demeter, Hathor and in Ancient Germanic mythology: Ostara.

As for the star, I can’t help noticing that Ishtar and Astarte/Aphrodite are also the goddesses of the planet Venus. Hence the name of the planet even today. Remarkably the astronomers have recognised the fact by naming some of its continents after the Goddesses.

Trying to determine whether there was a link between the position of Venus and the Spring Equinox, I came across this article. The whole article is relevant to the question but there are two excerpts I’d like to quote:

1/ About Venus

The English word “Friday” is derived
from the Anglo-Saxon Frigedaeg,
meaning “Venus day” (Friga = Venus +
dae = day), and many other languages
also trace their names for Friday from
root words meaning “Venus day”
[…] So it is shown by many histories that Venus is strongly associated with the Spring Equinox

2/ About the computation of the date of Easter the Germanic/Pagan way vs the Roman Catholic way.

The German fertility Goddess was
Ostara, who was associated with
fertility of both humans and crops.
Ostara mated with the solar god on the
Spring Equinox and nine months later
she gave birth to a child around the
Winter Solstice at 21st/22nd of
December. The Saxon name for the
Germanic lunar goddess Ostara was
Eostre. Her festival was held at the
full moon after the Spring Equinox and
the Catholics adopted this
determination for their Easter.

That was before the Synod of Whitby in which the computation of the date of Easter passed from the German/pagan way to the Roman Christian way (see Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Book III/Ch. iii):

Bishop Aidan, […] was wont to keep
Easter Sunday according to the custom
of his country, [Scotland…] from the
fourteenth to the twentieth of the
moon; the northern province of the
Scots, and all the nation of the
Picts, at that time still celebrating
Easter after that manner,

Source : Link , Question Author : Sklivvz , Answer Author : Alain Pannetier Φ

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