Sunday, March 17

Falsities in Modern Paganism: Saint Patrick & Ostara's Rabbit

I've written about the importance of creating traditions for your family, and firmly believe that mythology is an integral part of that process.  However, what I do not like to see is the passing along of false information.  There are a handful of "ancient" stories and "true" histories that have become popular in Pagan communities which then spread like wildfire, either because they spark a sense of indignation in the hearts of those who would defend the legitimacy of Paganism to the death, or because they are a clever/cute way of tying our new practices to some honorable and traditional practice from days of yore.

The internet and the ease with which just about anyone can get a book e-published these days has enhanced the speed with which these falsities can spread.

Pagans As Snakes

Today, the Catholic celebration of Saint Patrick, is an excellent example of falsities spreading throughout the Pagan community.  If you're on Facebook, Pinterest, or any other form of social media today, you'll likely see images like these on your feed.

There are many sources for the origin of this very recent idea.  Many can be found in this Wild Hunt article.  Mama Stacey has found the following source to be outstanding to the point of being almost entertaining.

In 2006, Betty Rhodes used a vanity press to publish a small run of a fictional work entitled "Keeper of the Celtic Secrets".  In this work, she covers topics such as: the missing link, the origin of races and Rh-negative blood, as well as the wandering planet of Hibiru.  Within this Daniken-style work of fiction, Rhodes reveals an ancient secret... that the snakes driven out of Ireland were not actual snakes, but the Druidic priesthood, whose symbol was that of the snake.   

Rhodes makes this claim after having "spent many hours studying ancient history, astrology, the origins of religion, New and Old Age writings, and philosophy".  Personally, I feel the need to put more stock in the word of persons who have dedicated their lives and careers to the study of a subject... and not just a few hours, BUT to each their own.  This theory has been repeated on blogs, in workshops, in teaching materials, during rituals, and pages, even getting a passing mention on Wikipedia for a bit.

Zazzle offers these pins for about $3.00

Since the publication of Rhodes' book, Pagans throughout the United States have adopted the wearing of a snake image on this day to honor the Druids whom Saint Patrick allegedly burned, murdered, and converted right out of Ireland. 

Mama Stacey is not one of them.

Ostara and the Myth of Egg-laying Bunnies

[img source: Thalia Took]
Have you heard this one?

There is an ancient Anglo-Saxon legend about the Goddess Ostara.  She was late arriving one spring and felt horrible about it when she came across a bird freezing to death.  She gathered the animal in her arms and transformed its outer appearance into a rabbit, granting it thick fur to keep warm with.  The animal was still a bird inside however, and continued to lay eggs.  Of course, after having been touched by the magic of Ostara, the eggs came in every color that symbolizes spring instead of the usual white.

... and that's where the legend of colored egg laying rabbits at the equinox comes from.  

Sometimes this story shifts.  At times the bird is Ostara's pet or companion.  Sometimes the bird isn't cold, but instead injured by some men and the transformation heals the animal.  In some versions, the story is far lustier and the rabbit is Ostara's lover.  When she catches the animal consorting with other women, she angrily throws him into the sky and he became the constellation Lepus.

When one looks to academia, history, and other forms of scholarly research to find the source of this tale... none exists.  Pagans suffer a significant level of cognitive dissonance regarding this.  To make sense of things, some Pagans respond that "the history of some mythologies are long lost to time" or that "oral stories don't have a written record".   However, anthropologists and historians alike agree that even oral stories can be traced through etymology or cultural transference.  Unfortunately, the tale of Ostara and the egg-laying rabbit is absent of any traceable history.

This convenient tale which so easily explains the presence of rabbits and colored eggs in the spring (and securely ties them to a Goddess named Ostara) seems to be a much more modern invention.  It doesn't seem to date back any further than the 90s (yes, the 1990s).  Mama Stacey doesn't have an exact date to cite as the only sources for this tale are web-based, however I first read the myth a few years before my son was born in 2002.  It shows up as "ancient myth" or "well known mythology" on hundreds of websites (Pagan and non-pagan alike). 

Once one peers down the rabbit-hole (ha!) the entire conglomerate of Eostre and Ostara becomes questionable.  I'll not challenge every point here today, however those interested in the scholarly side of Paganism may wish to take a look at Carole Cusack's article "The Goddess Eostre: Bede's Text and Contemporary Pagan Traditions".

Mama Stacey will have a more in depth blog post on Eostre and Ostara traditions later this week (providing I don't go into labor!  LOL).  

For now though, I'd like to leave you with a note about families who may still choose to work the idea of an egg-laying rabbit into their spring celebrations or the wearing of snakes on Saint Patrick's Day...

But... What if You LIKE Those Stories???

What if you WANT to show solidarity with Paganism by wearing a snake on St. Patrick's day?

[img source]

That is perfectly fine.

Some Pagans wear a snake on March 17th to show their protest for religious intolerance or their anti-support of missionary work.  And that's okay.  But do it for those reasons, not because of a flawed "historical" theory from an allegedly ancient journal from the 1650s (a good 1200 years after Patrick's death).

And what if you LIKE the simple story of Eostra transforming a bird into a rabbit?

[img source]
That's wonderful.  I'll admit, that it's uncomplicated and easy for children to grasp.  

Many Pagans recognize that we are practicing a living faith and the creation of new stories and mythos are a part of that.  I know parents that have created things like the "Samhain Faerie" who takes trick-or-treat candy and replaces it with toys or fruit on the night of October 31st.  I have heard tales of gnomes who visit children on Midsummer's Eve and leave them magical gifts... and I LOVE it.  The creation of tradition is vital to including children in faith.

BUT, if you're going to use the Ostara myth... please don't quote it as some ancient Anglo-Saxon legend.  It is not. 

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