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The Hunt for Easter and its Origins
by Naomi Otley
The Pope will officiate a special mass Saint Peterâ€™s Square, attracting thousands of faithful Catholics. Followers of many other denominations will attend their own special services honouring the resurrection of Christ. The basic message is one of joy and redemption: The savior of the world, whose death has redeemed the sins of mankind, returns to life after three days in the tomb. His resurrection brings new hope and spiritual balance to the world.
But even followers of other religions, and people who donâ€™t identify with any particular faith, will gather to celebrate Easter. There will be feasting, candy in baskets, colourfully painted eggs and playful references to a magical rabbit who visits once a year.
You might find yourself wondering: How does all of this tie together? Could it be that even the seemingly secular symbols and customs of Easter have spiritual and historical significance, pointing toward a common spiritual theme?
The first immediate clue is the name itself. â€śEasterâ€ť is closely related to Eostre or Ostara, an ancient Pagan goddess of the dawn. She was associated with the return of light and fertility to the world, and was honoured by ancient Germanic cultures around the time of the equinox. A separate Pagan group, this one based in what is now Turkey, had a special celebration in the days following the equinox. They worshiped a god of vegetation and fertility known as Attis, whose death and resurrection gave new life to the earth each year.
Another clue is found in Easterâ€™s relationship to the moon. Equinox is always followed (sooner or later) by a full moon, and the Sunday following that full moon will be Easter. Like most spiritual celebrations with deep historical roots, Easter is not on a fixed date but a moveable feast, based on the natural cycles of the earth.
Eggs, Hares and Fertility
The egg and the hare are old fertility symbols, and theyâ€™ve been associated with Vernal equinox since ancient days. Hares produce large litters, and were once believed to be capable of reproducing without the loss of virginity. In this way, a link was naturally formed between hares and the immaculate conception.
Eggs, meanwhile, are the perfect representation of new possibilities and growth. They were used in European folk magic to enhance fertility, while many cultures describe creation itself has a hatched egg. Later on, empty eggs came to be associated with the empty tomb of Christ, following his resurrection from the dead. Coloured eggs and hares were also present in ancient Eostre celebrations.
Both eggs and hares remain important to the celebration of Easterâ€”not only for the religious and spiritual ideals they represent (innocence, redemption, balance), but for their ancient symbolism of earthâ€™s abundance and fertility. As the earth enters a new phase of light and growth, so does the spiritual energy of its inhabitants.
And That Easter Ham...
This custom is likely related to old agricultural customs in Europe. Cured meats would have been eaten sparingly all winter long; but come Spring, with the renewals of light and the promise of growth, the best cured meats would be brought to the table. The winter food supply had served its purpose, but with the resurrection of light, the diet would henceforth shift toward fresh game and young plants.
What Does This Mean?
The Christian faith is a hugely important part of what Easter means today, and how it is observed around the world. At the same time, its potent spiritual themes are echoed by the magical pagan traditions of old. Looking at the various stories and symbols as a whole, we find a unique celebration in which the world abounds with magical possibilities of light and renewal. As we begin to look at Easter with new eyes, its becomes a powerful moment to honour the spiritual and psychic identity we all share.
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