Friday, 6 April 2007

Easter;Its Roots and Symbols

f late I have been noticing, in addition to the usual attacks on Halloween and Christmas, some attacks by some Christians on the Easter holiday. (It is a welcome relief to see these attacks on Easter not (mostly) being converted to attacks on the Roman Catholic Church, as they tend to be in the tracts against Christmas and Halloween).

Easter falls in the Spring, right around the Vernal Equinox, and is a most amazing season indeed. Plants come alive again from the winter season, when they seemed to be dead.

Primitive cultures found this to be a very sacred and holy thing, and have honored it in many ways down thru recorded history. And, as one might expect, it has been invariably symbolized by the rebirth of a dead deity. From linguistic evidence, I feel we can safely assume that this concept is at least 30, 000 to 50, 000 years old, and perhaps older.

Spring has been, and is, the season for much merrymaking and fun, much of the time with an emphasis on sexual fertility. New Orleans' famous Mardi Gras, or Rio de Janeiro's Carnival are two good examples of modern spring festivals with a blatant sexual aspect, when "all rules are off" and almost anything can happen. These festivals in the Christian world end at Lent, when forty days of penitential fasting ensue before Easter itself.

This fertility aspect of the season may be sublimated by the "Easter Dance" or "Spring Prom" found in many educational institutions of the English-speaking world.

The Jewish tradition of the Middle East was a bit more puritanical. Passover (Hebrew: Pesach, when all the first-born of Egypt were slain) is a celebration of the Flight from Egypt (and has become a re-affirmation of the values of personal freedoms) and not fertility oriented at all.

Lambs were sacrificed in the Temple at Jerusalem, and from this sacrifice comes the symbol of Jesus as the "Lamb of God," the final and perfect sacrifice.

Jesus, "on the night that he was betrayed," apparently celebrated Passover with his disciples (and thus established the Christian Communion rite). This is why Easter is so close in timing to Passover.

But many Christian Churches, in the early days of Christianity, could not agree on the date of Easter. This was the primary disagreement between the Celtic (Culdee) Church and Rome for many years, with the Celtic Church keeping the holiday on the fourteenth day after the paschal moon (according to the rule of the Council of Arles in 314 CE, and in spite of St. Augustine and the "Synod of the Oak") and the Roman observing it between the fifteenth and twenty-first. This was pretty much settled at the famous Council of Whitby in 664 CE, with Aldhelm, the Bishop of Sherborne, persuading the Celtic Christians in Cornwall to conform to the Roman usage in the early part of the eighth century CE.

Easter is apparently named after the pagan goddess Eostre (Latin: Oestre), an Anglo-Saxon maiden-goddess of fertility. Some might link her to Ishtar / Astarte, the Middle Eastern goddess, but such a link is only apparent. The identification of Ishtar with Astarte was instituted by Sargon the Great when he engaged in his wars of conquest, to make his goddess the goddess of the conquered areas.

The similarities in names are probably because of the very early lingual connections mentioned above. Their languages have a common Indo-European ancestry, and god-names change slowly indeed.

This goddess-name may be older than we suspect. The "Oestre" name in Latin apparently derives from the Greek, and has it's roots in a word that means "frenzy." We see this word again in English in "estrus," meaning a female mammal 'in heat' and able to conceive, and there we see the meaning behind the "frenzy" definition.

Since we also see a similar word in Anglo-Saxon, and cognates of "Ost" or "East" only appear in the Germanic languages (that includes English) we might look at the origins of the root-word as being before Greek and the Germanic languages separated. This is advanced only as speculation, but I feel it is worthy of the attention of better scholars than I.

but I digress ......

I have read that since Easter is named after a pagan goddess, then we should not celebrate the holiday. Well, then it follows that we should not participate in any of the days of the week, either, because they are named after pagan deities, too.

The seven day week was developed in Babylon (O horrors!) ca. 2300 BCE, and consisted of days to honor the five visible planets and the sun and moon. Their week consisted of: Shamash (Sun's day), Sin (Moon's day), Nebo (Mercury), Istar (Venus,) Nergal (Mars), Marduk (Jupiter) and Ninurta (Saturn.)

The names we use come borrowed from the Norse deities associated with the same planets: Sun's Day, Moon's Day, Tiu's Day, Wodin's Day, Thor's Day, Freya's Day and Saturn's Day.

And the months of January, March and June are right out, being named for the Roman deities Janus, Mars and Juno.

Oh ... yeah .... and the concept of the 360 degree circle and our 24 hour day are Babylonian-based, too.

As with most seasonal festivals, it is a festival of light ..... we see candles and solar images right and left: candles are ceremoniously lit in many churches, and many popular myths record that one can see the sun dancing, or the image of the Lamb in the solar orb, at sunrise on Easter Day. Bonfires are common, too.

We also see many customs that seem to be related to crop growth rituals. In Macedonia the young girls would swing from swings on the village green, and people were "lifted" (ceremoniously raised up while sitting in chairs) in England as late as James I and VI. These seem to be an encouragement for the crops to grow high.

Water also figures in these celebrations, from a popular medieval English peasant belief that running water became holy (and thus was endowed with magical properties on Easter morning) to sprinkling and squirting the girls of the village, accompanied by much fun and horseplay.

Flowers such as the lily play a major part in Easter decorations, as well they should for a Spring festival.

The Easter Rabbit is very interesting, and one of the oldest symbols of the Spring. In Indo-European mythology, the hare is sacred to the Goddess, being supposedly seen in the markings on the moon (another goddess symbol, though not universal by any means).

In Germany, children were told that the Easter Hare would bring them eggs on Easter if they were good. This is the origin of our Easter Bunny. It is first mentioned in Germany in the 1500's.

Eggs are an obvious symbol of rebirth. In the eyes and mind of men they seem to be a miraculous springing forth of life from a cold and dead object. Mithras, Tammuz, Re (Egypt), Brama (India) and P'an Ku (China) all were said to have been born from eggs. The link to Easter is an obvious one.

We don't know when the custom of eggs at Easter originated. There is a grave excavated at Worms, Germany that contains two goose eggs painted with stripes and dots, but it is unknown if the grave is Christian. We do have evidence of Easter eggs from 11th Century CE Poland and from Britain ca. Edward I.

Pope Gregory the Great (590-604 CE) forbade eggs during Lent, and they therefore became a great delicacy after Lent at Easter.

The Easter Parade is dying out, more is the pity. This was a custom of promenading along the main streets in your best spring finery, saying hello to all your friends and showing off a bit. It was quite the social occasion for many years, reaching it's real peak in the Gay '90s.

Now we have commercialized parades chock full of advertising and secular motifs, or giant Easter sales in the department stores, and "The Easter Parade" is just a quaint old song.

Of course, if you want to get sticky about pagan symbols, the fish symbol was used for Dagon (whence comes many of the attacks on the Pope, who wears a "fish-hat"), while the Dove (the popular symbol of the Holy Spirit) was sacred to Astarte, Ishtar and Aphrodite.

The image of the Dove reborn out of the mouth of the Dolphin was quite a common Mediterranean pagan image .... and the word "jonah" means "dove."

Ring any bells?

Even the Latin for "catacomb," the tombs under Rome, was "columbaria," which means "dovecote."

All things are made new in Spring ..... even old mythos! The absorption into Christianity of the old pagan myths and legends is only natural; we see it again and again, even in the pagan mythos .... a new religion takes from the old such things as it can use to it's own profit. We can certainly see this in the Wiccan adoption of the (originally Christian and symbolizing the Five Wounds of Christ) pentagram!

The pentagram has become so ingrained in the minds of many people as being a pagan symbol that even I was jarred when I walked into a church (now no longer in use) several years ago and saw the repeated motif of the interlaced five-pointed star in the stained glass windows!

Those who rail against this holiday spend a lot of time attacking the outward symbols as being pagan .... and they are right. These symbols are pagan in origin. But are they still thought of as pagan by most Christians?

I find I must repeat what I wrote in my article on Christmas:

"You see, symbols mean what your culture has taught you they mean. If when you look at the Cross you think of Jesus of Nazareth and see a symbol of redemption you are interpeting it as a Christian symbol. If you see it as a gallows; as a means of executing criminals against the State, then you are seeing it as an ancient Roman would. There are many other pagan associations with the cross, including the Norse sun-cross and it's usage as a generalized solar symbol. Should we then interpet the Cross as a pagan symbol? Of course not!

Equally, no one sees the symbols of Christmas (or Easter!) detailed above as anything other than either symbols of a commercialized, secular holiday or the birth of the Child. The past pagan associations these symbols had are pretty much dead, and the notion of an Eternal Conspiracy to demonize these symbols is prima facie silly. These are symbols and traditions, deeply engraved in the folk conciousness, that have simply taken on a much deeper meaning."

"And if the devil has been trying to 'pervert it's symbols thru the ages, giving them pagan meanings,' then to view them as such is to fall into Old Scratch's trap, isn't it?"

If this "rebirth of a dead deity" pagan story is only a myth spread by Satan, then it follows that it blew up in the Old Liar's face when it was made fact.

There is no evil in this holiday, nor in it's trappings. Only a Great Truth!

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jenny said...

hmmm...very intriguing! i saw that fish symbol b4 and I remember I asked hubby abt it coz i don't have a clue what it means...thanks for sharing! very informative...Happy Easter din sayo Haze!!!

pathbb said...

Happy Easter diay kanimo dinha!Labay lang ko..

Racs.... said...

hmmmmm... interesting info... thanks for sharing dae Haze... Ako ng Racs, dae short nalang sa Racquel...hehe

Daffodale said...

Happy easter nnyo tanan dra haze!!! thank's for sharing",) very informative the meaning of that i learn too. cge adto sko.slmat sa pgvzta sa ako blay.Ayo ayo gwafs. keep posting here your blogs sexy coz i love to read and i learn alots.",)

vk said...

interesting issue?.....tag? post?...
pastilan no?....pero informative kaayo....thanks for sharing.

happy Easter nyo diha, hazel.......


Agring said...

Easter! halloween yah! a pagan that is....But we all know the true meaning of Easter. It's about Jesus Christ... He died for you and me!
Happy Easter!