Pagan roots of Easter

For those who have been following my blog know I am historian with a specialist interest and knowledge in ancient history. So, the content of this article may not come to you as a surprise. As today is Good Friday, I thought it would be an opportunity to write about the origins of this Holy event beginning with resurrection.

The Return of Persephone, c.1891 (oil on canvas) by Leighton, Frederic (1830-96); 203×152 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) U.K.; English, out of copyright

Most people know about Easter, the Christian story of Jesus who was killed on what is now Good Friday and was resurrected on Easter Sunday. The concept of resurrection goes back to the Egyptian god and goddess Osiris and Isis, and to the Sumerian goddess, Inanna or better known as Ishtah.

For those not familiar with the Egyptian myth, Osiris, god of the dead and ruler of the underworld was tricked and killed by his envious brother, Set. Set was jealous of his brother’s success, and to make matters worse, his wife Nephthys disguised herself as Isis, seduced Osiris and later became pregnant with the god Anubis. Well Set wasn’t going to let that slide, so he built a beautiful box, then had a party daring people to lay in it, and who ever it fitted could have it as a gift. No guessing who it was made for. Osiris lay in the box, and Set nailed him in and threw it into the Nile. The river carried the box with the trapped Osiris into Byblos and that was later entombed into a tamarisk tree. The King of Byblos and his wife Astarte, admired the tree, had it cut down and turned into a pillar to be placed in the court of his palace. Osiris imprisoned, died.

The gods Osiris, Anubis, and Horus, wall painting in the tomb of Horemheb Vallée_des_Rois_Thèbes_ouest
CC BY 2.0,

Meanwhile, Isis searches all of Egypt for Osiris, then heads into Byblos was taken in by Astarte, who takes her on as a nursemaid for her sons. Astarte then comes across Isis burning her youngest son with the intention of making him immortal (this parallels with the story of Demeter and the Eleusinian mysteries). In turn, the king and queen offer her anything she wanted to stop her from harming their son and she asks for the pillar. Isis revived Osiris and they later had a son, Horus.

According to the Sumerian myth, Inanna’s husband dies and, in her grief, she followed him to the underworld. Inanna goes through seven gates where she was challenged each time to remove her royal garments until she is “naked and bowed low”.  She was then killed and hung on a stake. She later resurrected by two androgynous demons, who followed the orders of her father. There is more to the myth of Inanna, taken from the Sumerian poem The Descent f Inanna, circa 1900-1600 BCE.  For your interest, the myth of Demeter and Persephone was based on this legend, and the Ancient Greeks amended to suit their culture and purpose.

Ancient Akkadian cylinder seal depicting Inanna resting her foot on the back of a lion while Ninshubur stands in front of her paying obeisance, c. 2334-2154 BC By ancient Akkadian seal engraver – Public Domain,

These legends are worth reading, and what I have given is a snapshot of the two great epic myths and where the resurrection of Jesus has stemmed from.

For those who follow the Christian tradition, I wish you and your families a Happy Easter, and those who do not, enjoy the time with your family.

Thank you for your continued support and as always, I look forward to your comments and will respond.

Historical fiction novelist and a secondary teacher, Luciana Cavallaro, burnt out but not done… yet.


Add Yours
  1. Linnea Tanner

    Hi Luciana,

    Thank you for sharing this article. It is fascinating how mythology and religions intertwine with one another. I like how the Greeks adapted the Sumerian myth to explain the two seasons with the tale of Demeter and Persephone. I love myths because there is often a deeper, philosophical truth to them. Have a lovely Easter!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Linnea Tanner

    Reblogged this on Apollo's Raven and commented:
    The following is the reblog of the article entitled, “Pagan roots of Easter” written by historian and author, Luciana Cavallaro today (March 30, 2018). The post highlights the universal theme of resurrection which has been described in mythology of Ancient Civilizations. It always intrigues me how different myths and religions often intertwine with similar story lines or concepts.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ExploraStory Cafe

    The question that needs to be asked is: “What do these great Sacred Stories teach us about life, death, and continuing cycles of death and rebirth that we see all around us?” Sacred Stories continue to lift-up the great mysteries of life, death, human mortality and significance. These are far more than stories. And, when we lose sight of their purpose, we lose touch with the ways that humanity has struggled throughout history to address life’s deepest questions and longings and to make sense of truths that surpass our ability to contain them with logic and reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cav12

      That is certainly true. The myths and stories were designed to help explain as you mentioned, ‘the cycle of life’, and continue to do so. That is their gift to us.
      Thank you for visiting and sharing your insightful thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

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