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Oestre: Why the Easter Bunny Lays Eggs

April 20, 2011


Oestre
or

Why the Easter Bunny Lays Eggs

Do you remember, as a child, peering under bushes hunting for brightly colored Easter eggs? Did you ever wonder why the eggs were delivered by a bunny? The association of the rabbit and the eggs with the coming of spring goes back to folk traditions from around the world but especially northern Europe.

The name “Easter” comes from the name of a Tutonic or Saxon goddess named Oestre (also Eastre or Ostara). She is a fertility goddess, the goddess of dawn and spring, heralding the birth of animals and the budding and blooming of plants. After the long sleep of winter, the earth has been reborn and life restored and all of nature celebrates.

Why eggs and bunnies?

Eggs are a potent symbol of fertility, the “seed” that will grow though the coming warm months to feed the people. The egg represents the rebirth of nature, of the cycle of life; that which has incubated through the winter now bursts forth with exuberance in spring. Many cultures have traditions of coloring eggs and giving them as gifts in celebration of this rebirth. Anyone who lives in northern climates knows the joy that fills our hearts when the trees sprout buds and the first robins appear. Definitely cause for celebration!

Rabbits are, of course, also fertility symbols. They are known for wild antics during mating season and for reproducing rapidly and often! For many earth-based traditions, the Hare was sacred and associated with different goddesses, especially the ones connected to the moon and the hunt. The rabbit was definitely sacred to the Goddess Oestre and she was often accompanied by a white hare.

The origin of an egg laying bunny lies in a story about Oestre that has a few variations which, according to the Fairies at Woodland Springs (home of Fairy Woodland) have omitted a few details. Since I’ve made it a point to trust their telling of a tale, I’ve incorporated their edits into the story that follows.

Oestre and Her Bunny

Legend has it that many years ago, a young girl was gathering wood for her family’s fireplace. Spring was very late in arriving and snow was still on the ground. As she ventured further into the forest, she heard a slight rustling under some dead leaves. Being a very curious child, she investigated more thoroughly and found a little, half frozen bird.

The girl loved all nature, especially birds for the lovely songs they sang in the warmer months, and this was the most beautiful bird she had ever seen. Its feathers were all the colors of the rainbow and shimmered so brightly it took her breath away. She wanted to do everything she could to help this magnificent little bird that was freezing to death. She took off her shawl and wrapped the little bird up inside to get warm and she melted snow in her hand to give the little bird a drink.  Even with all the love and care the little girl gave the bird, things didn’t look good. The snow, freezing temperatures, and lack of food had taken the little bird’s strength and it remained barely alive.

The girl cried with deep sobs from her heart. She wanted the bird to live but didn’t know what to do. The Goddess Oestre, who was known for her love of children, heard the little girl’s grief and came to her. When the girl saw Oestre approaching, she quickly ran over to the Goddess with the bird in her hands. Oestre took the bird gently from the child and was touched by its beauty. She knew that this bird should still be in its winter home in the south but for some reason had returned early, before winter had fully left the land. She was also feeling a little guilty for the bird’s condition – she had had a difficult time finding her way from the underworld this year and knew that her late arrival had jeopardized this little creature’s life. She was here now but it would take the plants a while to wake up and the weather some time to warm. If she saved the bird today, it would surely freeze to death the next day, or starve before there was enough food to sustain it.

The only way to save the bird was to change it into something that could survive the cold and find food. So, Oestre changed the bird into her favorite animal, a rabbit. At first, the little bird, now a rabbit, was confused because it couldn’t fly or sing. But it slowly discovered that the new soft fur kept it feeling very warm in the snow. It was grateful to have its life, even if it was in a new form.

A short time later, when the snow was melting and the world was beginning to wake from its winter slumber, the rabbit once again crossed paths with the girl and wanted to give a gift to the child for saving its life. It called the goddess and asked her, humbly, for another boon. Since it no longer had brightly colored feathers to enchant the girls eyes and since it could no longer delight the girl with its songs, it wanted to find another way to bring beauty to the little girl. The goddess had let the rabbit remain a bird on the inside, so it could still lay eggs; now it asked for the ability to make those eggs the colors of the feathers it used to have.

Since the rabbit was asking for a gift not for itself but for someone else, Oestre granted the rabbit’s wish. It produced brightly colored eggs that delighted the little girl and the goddess and the rest of the village as well. Oestre was so pleased with the rabbit’s gift that she bestowed the ability to lay colored eggs on all of this special rabbit’s offspring. Such a magical creature, of course, can’t live in the mortal world so she negotiated to allow the rabbit and its children to live in the Faerie Realm. Each year, when Oestre returns from the underworld, the Fairies open the gateway to the mortal world so that Oestre’s bunny can come and delight her with the gift of magically colored eggs and its offspring can do the same for the rest of us.

When we color eggs and give them to each other as gifts, we’re honoring the magic of Oestre, the goddess of Spring, and the promise of new life that she brings.

–©Bridget Wolfe, Fairy Woodland

For more myths around the Easter Bunny and the Goddess, see http://www.goddessgift.com/Pandora%27s_Box/Easter-history.htm

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. doris ducado permalink
    September 9, 2011 3:39 am

    the story of the easter bunny is wonderful. in my 60 years on earth i really did not know how it originated. i had read books and encyclopedia but did not find it.

  2. March 30, 2012 1:43 pm

    What a delightful tale! Thanks for sharing.

    • April 8, 2012 12:36 am

      And thank YOU for commenting! I believe that delightful tales should be shared whenever possible, especially the ones that don’t get much attention in the mainstream mythology.

  3. Diana permalink
    April 7, 2012 4:15 pm

    My favorite Ostara tale and my favorite Goddess! So sweet.

    • April 8, 2012 12:34 am

      I’ve always loved this one, too. I especially love the unintended consequences! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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