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Sunday, 12 April 2009

The origins of Easter

Since its conception as a holy celebration in the second century, Easter has had its nonreligious side. In fact, Easter was originally a pagan festival. The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious festival commemorating Eastre, their goddess of the Spring and the Dawn.

The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with the festival of Eastre through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.

As it happened, the festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of year as the Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ. It made sense, therefore, to alter the festival itself, to make it a Christian celebration as converts were slowly won over. The early name, Eastre, was eventually changed to its modern spelling, Easter.

In pagan times, solar-gods and vegetation-gods were worshipped, with special mysteries to symbolise their death, the search for, and the finding of, their bodies, and their resurrection.

The Spring, or Vernal, Equinox was the period of the triumph and sacrifice of the Roman god Mithras. He was a vegetation-god as well as a sun-god, the two often being associated. A stone image was mourned, sepulchred in a rock tomb and, after an interval, restored as re-living. The same form was followed with the gods Osiris, Attis, Adonis and Dionysus.

As with the Easter Bunny and the holiday itself, the Easter Egg predates the Christian festival. Eggs have always symbolized life and regeneration and so have been used in fertility rites. After the long, hard winter was over, the earth burst forth and was reborn just as the egg miraculously burst forth with life. The egg, therefore, was believed to have special powers.

Of course, as with Christmas, committed Christians celebrate Easter as their unique festival but, given its pagan origins, there is no reason why others should not celebrate it as well.

Happy Spring Equinox!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Mithra thing is interesting. You had to wonder where the early Christians got their alleged miracles. Now we know, they got it from the Romans, who probably got it from Babylonians and so on, and so on.