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Sunday, March 23, 2008

AN EASTER GREETING

Being a non-believing heathen since I hit puberty, Easter really holds no purpose for me other than usually being the night when ABC runs their annual airing of Cecil B. DeMille's unintentional laugh-riot THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Well, this year they unexpectedly ran it on Saturday, those scum, but two years ago I finally bit the bullet and bought the bloody thing on DVD, so I'm basically bitching for no reason.

Anyway, today celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, an event seen by millions as miraculous and faith-affirming, but then there are those of us who wonder if it could be construed as a church-endorsed appearance of a zombie. I suppose it isn't since there's no documentation of the savior consuming human flesh (although he did advocate people eating him) or being pursued by voodoo priests who want him to tend their fields of sugar cane, much less any mention of ancient Judean zombie hunters, so I'll just leave that one alone.

When I was little and there was still some semblance of hope left for my immortal soul, I was often confused by the "truths" they tried to pass on to me during the dreaded hours completely wasted in Sunday school. The endless tales of Christian miracles and such were all well and good, and us tykes were expected to buy into all of it without bothering to ask questions, but I made the mistake of voicing my concerns, such as how the same kinds of fantastic occurrences found in the Good Book were one-hundred percent to be accepted, while any similar displays of divine awesomeness in other faiths were denounced as outright bullshit or the work of "evil spirits." Then when I got into superheroes I was told that what many of them were capable of was impossible, but many of the powers attributed to Jesus seemed rather similar to me, so since I was smart enough to realize that there were no flying heroes buzzing about the globe and doing the things that the Weisinger-era Superman did I drew much the same conclusion about what I was being told since it totally contradicted the rules of basic reality. The seeds of doubt were planted in me by the very people who set out to guide in their sacred beliefs, so from roughly the age of six I didn't believe a word of it, finally saying "enough of this bullshit" when I was fourteen and no longer small enough to be overpowered and stuffed into the car for my weekly brainwashing session.

My rebellion against Western religion was also informed by my interest in world mythology and legends, leading me to conclude — forgive me, but ~I don't remember who originally coined the phrase — "one man's mythology is another man's religion," and that the faiths I had been told were full of shit were therefore equally valid; I thus learned that all points of view are potentially worth considering, and I have indeed managed to cull much of use from the many spiritual paths I've boned up on, including aspects preached by the Christian faith (and its many sects). I do believe Jesus existed and had a hell of a lot to say that was worth paying attention to, but as a radical rabbi and not the superhero he has been depicted as for the last couple of milennia. You see, during my research into world religion and mythology I discovered how some conquering forces would make themselves less offensive to those they conquered by allowing the deities of the conquered to be incorporated with their beliefs of the conquerors. That practice lead to all sorts of theological cross-pollination that blended the "new" religion and other far older nature-based practices to intriguing results, such as the Easter Bunny, a pagan fertility symbol if ever I saw one. Coupled with the confusing concept of Easter eggs, the Easter Bunny was a real head-scratcher for me, leading me to wonder if it was all about something like this:

And why was the whole thing called Easter in the first place? No answers were forthcoming, at least not until I learned about Eostre, the goddess who lends a permutation of her name to Easter itself.

Eostre, a kickass old school fertility goddess.

A good entry about her can be had in the most unlikely of places, namely About.Com's section on landscaping and pest control, penned by David Beaulieu. Here's an excerpt:

Origin of the Easter Rabbit: A Tradition of Fertility

For all the pagan traditions associated with it, "Christmas" is at least easily recognizable as a Christian holiday, from its name alone. But Easter is named after Eastre, a pagan Saxon goddess!

Eastre (earlier, Eostre, derived from the Saxons' Germanic heritage) was the Anglo-Saxon name of a Teutonic goddess of dawn, spring and fertility. Our word, "east" is related to this deity's name. Her male consort was the Sun god, and the sun does rise, after all, at dawn and in the east. Rites of spring were celebrated in her honor at the vernal equinox (first day of spring). The first Sunday after the first full moon succeeding the vernal equinox was also sacred to her, and this pagan holiday was given her name -- Eastre. The full moon represented the "pregnant" phase of Eastre -- she was passing into the fertile season and giving birth to the Sun's offspring.

Eastre's symbols were the hare and the egg. Both represent fertility and, consequently, rebirth. Since rabbits are more common in most lands than hares, over time the rabbit has been substituted -- not without merit, since rabbits are notorious for their fertility. Thus was born the "Easter Rabbit" tradition.

Dyed eggs were already being used as part of pagan rituals at the dawn of history in the Near Eastern civilizations. These were the first "Easter eggs." As the traditions of the Easter Rabbit and Easter eggs evolved, they were lumped together -- somewhat incongruously. Thus in our modern Easter lore, although the Easter Rabbit is sometimes thought of as laying the Easter eggs so eagerly sought by children, the Easter Rabbit is nonetheless often regarded as male. Since rabbits don't lay eggs anyhow, I suppose quibbling over gender wouldn't make much sense.

Later, the new Christian religion, with its emphasis on rebirth (through the Resurrection), found it expedient to continue celebrating Eastre's holiday. The focus simply switched to Christ -- and the spelling, eventually, to "Easter."

And that's what that's all about, so Happy Easter from the Vault of Buncheness to all you believers out there. And to those of you who dig this day for the surfeit of chocolate goodies and those heinous marshmallow Peeps, try not to get too jazzed-up on sugar.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

And then there's R. K. Milholland's take on the Easter Bunny's egs...

http://somethingpositive.net/

demonrock said...

Sorry--
Easter is NOT a Pagan religion! Easter is the time Christians remember the death of Christ because it happened near Passover...which happens in the spring...and Easter simply means "Spring". In the orthodox world, Easter is called "Pascha" which means "Passover". There was no Pagan goddess named Easter. St. Bede wrote a theory about a Pagan goddess named Easter...but he admitted it was just a theory. There is no evidence whatsoever a Pagan goddess named "Easter" ever existed!

Anonymous said...

Sad man of limited dogma, whether or not there is "proof" of that particular Goddess or not- it is a widely known fact that the spring holiday of rebirth (read your Joseph Campbell for insightful comparative scholarship young padawan) was co opted by Judeo-Christians. Duh-Jeez!

jessicago said...

"Easter
Its Pagan origins

Origins of the name "Easter":

The name "Easter" originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the "Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos." 1 Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: "eastre." Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were:
bullet Aphrodite from ancient Cyprus
bullet Ashtoreth from ancient Israel
bullet Astarté from ancient Greece
bullet Demeter from Mycenae
bullet Hathor from ancient Egypt
bullet Ishtar from Assyria
bullet Kali, from India
bullet Ostara a Norse Goddess of fertility.

An alternative explanation has been suggested. The name given by the Frankish church to Jesus' resurrection festival included the Latin word "alba" which means "white." (This was a reference to the white robes that were worn during the festival.) "Alba" also has a second meaning: "sunrise." When the name of the festival was translated into German, the "sunrise" meaning was selected in error. This became "ostern" in German. Ostern has been proposed as the origin of the word "Easter". 2"

http://www.religioustolerance.org/easter1.htm