As the Easter weekend draws close, children and adults alike anticipating a chocolate egg binge, the internet is alive with articles on the “true” origins of Easter.
Over the last seven or so years the author, journalist and self described “pagan sceptic” Adrian Bott has written a series of detailed pieces discussing the myths and misconceptions surrounding the links between the pagan Eostre/Eostur and Christian Easter (this year’s is actually entitled The case for Eostre, part 1: The Eostur Sacrifice). There’s an interview with Adrian on the subject recently posted on patheos.com that’s well worth a read and includes links to many of his previous Easter/Eostre pieces.
While I am by no means any kind of an expert in the writings of Bede or the religious festivals and beliefs of pre-Christian Britain, I feel there may be some tiny thing I can contribute here. There is one aspect of this whole debate that, so far as I can see, seems to have been largely overlooked (perhaps wilfully so on account of there being a fair bit of conjecture involved). That is that rabbits, or rather hares (which probably don’t have any provable connection to Eostre) do lay eggs. Or at least, according to some, they were once believed to do so.
Hares do not raise their leverets below ground as rabbits do their kittens, rather they build little shallow nests for them among the grass. These nests are called forms and look remarkably like the nest of lapwings and other ground level nesting birds. In the spring (around the time of Easter) in certain parts of Britain, it is possible to find forms filled with tiny baby hares pretty much directly alongside nests containing beautifully speckled and patterned bird’s eggs.
So, there’s a theory that someone long ago – some say it was European invaders who had never seen hares before – saw a hare tending its young in a form having previously seen eggs in a very similar looking nest in more or less the same location and came to the conclusion that hares (or rabbits as they might have thought them to be) do, in fact, lay eggs.
That kind of makes sense. Where’s the proof though? Well, beyond the fact that it does sort of make sense, there doesn’t seem to be very much. There are a couple of blogs on BBC Wales from seven years or so ago that mention the idea, there’s a post on docudharma.com from around the same time talking about Eostre/Easter and dropping in the hare’s egg idea. And that, so far as my somewhat hasty searching has found, seems to be about it.
So, am I merely muddying the waters of the already seemingly overly complex issue of the “true” origins of Easter and its associated myths? Quite possibly, yeah. It’s all good fun though, eh? Pass the Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, please.