Purim is a pre-spring (before Passover) full-moon festival. Purim shares a history and holiday themes with many cultures and religions from ancient Babylonia to modern times.
One of the ancient explanations for crops dying in winter and then miraculously coming to life in the spring is that after Persephone was abducted to the Underworld, her mother Demeter (the goddess of all that grows) would not stop crying. Halfway between the winter's beginning and spring's beginning- a time in February- Demeter's nursemaid, Baubo, decided to help her by making Demeter laugh. Demeter's laugh transformed the Earth and brought on spring.
There are several "laughing" pre-spring holidays that remain today, including Carnival/Mardi Gras and of course, Purim.
Susan Schnur writes that Groundhogs day on February 2- the six-week "hinge" between winter and spring is "an ancient weather divination day" from the Pennsylvania Dutch. Punxsutawney Phil either sees his shadow or doesn't, predicting whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter. This season "Imbolc/Candlemas" is "an age-old time of taking omens for the coming season" which included reading dice, tea leaves, and casting lots. The word "Purim" means "lots" referring to Haman's casting lots to know which day and month to murder the Jews of Shushan.
Groundhogs, as seen in pre-historic cave art, are ancient symbols of the deities of regeneration.
Speaking of regeneration: There is an ancient concept of the parthenogenetic goddess which means one who creates life out of herself. This later surfaces as the Christian idea of Immaculate Conception. Ancient petroglyphs and amulets often symbolize this concept as a triangle with dots, or seeds, inside.
We'll get back to that symbol in a moment.
"Hadassah" is the feminine form of the Hebrew word "Hadas," meaning "myrtle." "Hadas" is found several times in the Tanach.
But the origin of "Esther" is unclear. Most likely it is a foreign (non-Hebrew) word. The following are two of the possibilities accepted by scholars:
1. Esther, according to the Talmud, is the gentile name of Hadassah. Hadassah referred to the "star-Venus."
2. The name Esther comes from the Babylonian goddess named Ishtar. In fact, there is an argument that Esther and Mordecai, names that are atypical of biblical language, are associated with the Babylonian gods, "Ishtar" and "Marduk" who are also cousins in the Babylonian tradition.
Ancient Israelite women worshipped Ishtar baking small cakes in her image. There is archeological evidence found in Mari, a site in northwest Mesopotamia, where several clay molds in the image of a nude female figure were found.
Is there evidence of this practice in our holy texts?
We see a reference to this in Jeremiah as cakes and offerings to the Queen of Heaven:
As well as this glimpse into the Abraham and Sarah fertility journey:
Bread is the "fruit of Demeter" (the first goddess mentioned above connected to the rebirth of spring) and all the great fertility goddesses. On the subject of ancient women and bread making Lesley Hazelton writes:
"For bread has an awesome relationship to Gaia, earth, in whose 'womb' the seed is planted to multiply, grow, and become a life-giving element. In the sacred mystery of bread, every woman could view herself as possessing a portion of the creative power of the gods, for in every act of intercourse, conception, and birth, the sowing of the seeds, the miracle of life and death, is repeated." (203)
Baking "bread goddesses" was another ancient fertility rite that is still observed by Jews worldwide. In Morocco some traditions include baking small breads filled with hard-boiled eggs. In Egypt there is a tradition of filling deep-fried pastries with nuts and oozing honey. There is also a tradition of eating figs and pomegranates.
Hamantaschen are a modern version of Isthar fertility cakes which arose in 18th century Europe invented by German bakers.
Hamantaschen are a pre-spring fertility celebration, a "womb triangle" with seeds (originally black poppy seeds) inside. The color black is also an old European symbol of fertility and Mother Earth.
Poppy seeds, "mun," were used in the traditional "haMUNtashen." The origin of the word hamantaschen comes from "mun" and "tashcen" meaning "poppy pockets."
"Mahn" of course sounds like "Haman" which lends itself easily to the rabbis retroactively explaining the treat as related to the villian of our story.
From Prehistoric Cave Art to Your Cookie Pan: Tracing the Hamantasch Herstory, Susan Schnur, Lilith Magazine
The Book of Esther and the "Enuma Elish," Adam Silverstein, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
This Vagina Goddess Is The Best Ancient Symbol You've Never Heard Of, Lynn Peril
Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother, Lesley Hazleton, Bloomsbury Publishing
The Meaning of the Name Esther, A.S. Yahuda, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland
Women in the Hebrew Bible: A Reader, ed. Alice Bach, "And the Women Knead Dough" The Worship of the Queen of Heaven in Sixth-Century Judah," Susan Ackerman, Routledge
Yes, There's a Reason Hamantaschen Look Like Vaginas, Arielle Kaplan, alma.