Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Are Easter and Ishtar Related?

Contrary to what you may read in the local papers a few weeks from now, there's no historical connection between Easter and Ishtar.

Easter is the modern English name of the pan-Indo-European Dawn Goddess, also known as Ostara, Aušrine, Austra, Aurora, Eos, Ushas, and by many other names. All these names clearly derive from the Proto-Indo-European root for 'east.'

Ishtar is the Akkadian ('Babylonian') name of the pan-Semitic goddess known to the Greeks as Astarte, the Phoenicians as 'Ashtárt, and the Hebrews as 'Ashtóreth (originally 'Ashtéret). The name's original meaning remains unclear.

There's no known historical connection between these goddesses (or, better perhaps, families of goddesses). One is Indo-European, the other Semitic.

The fact that the Indo-European name is clearly derivable from an Indo-European root precludes the possibility that Indo-European speakers could have borrowed her from Semitic cultures. Although the origin of the Semitic name remains unclear, the fact that the goddess was already known among Semitic-speakers before their initial contacts with Indo-European-speaking peoples precludes the possibility of borrowing in the other direction as well.

Although both the Semitic and Indo-European goddesses have strong erotic connotations, the Semitic goddesses have no known association with Dawn.

Funny though, that similarity of names.

If we know anything about the gods, we know that they have a sense of humor.


For more on the Dawn-Goddesses of Indo-Europeandom and the Semitic Love/War Goddesses, see:

Paul Friedrich, The Meaning of Aphrodite (1978). University of Chicago.

Incidentally, Friedrich's theory is that the Greek Aphrodite is, in effect, the daughter of the IE Dawn Goddess and the Semitic Love Goddess. (Being goddesses, of course, they can easily manage such things.)


Above: Ashtoreth (artist unknown)






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Monday, 13 March 2017

    In "Crete to Egypt: Missing Links of the Rigveda" Dr. Liny Srinivasan links the Canaanite Asherah to the Minoan As-sa-sa-ra, the Bengali Asharhu, and the Sanskrit Asharha all meaning sea according to the author.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 14 March 2017

    Seems dubious to me. My Sanskrit dictionary turns up Asharha as a month-name (June-July). Asherah's links to the sea are unclear; she's called "Lady Asherah-of-the-sea," but the surviving literature doesn't have anything else to do with the sea. And if Linear A A-sa-sa-ra really is the name of a goddess of the Minoan pantheon, we don't know anything else about her. A connection with the Levantine Asherah is a tantalizing possibility, but no more.

    I should add that in the surviving Canaanite material, Asherah and 'Ashteret (Astarte) are clearly separate goddesses with their own individual identities. Their names in the original are less similar than they look in English, since the NW Semitic languages all have two A sounds; Asherah is written with one (alef), 'Ashteret with the other (ayin).

    But (for the reasons enumerated above) there's no reason to link Asherah with Easter, either.

    Ah, the dangers of armchair philology!

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