Fables and fairy tales have ruled the collective consciousness of the Western world for a very long time.
Perhaps from the very beginning of time. Being a story-teller myself, I like to unravel the loops and knots; the ties that bind the writer to the tale. A necessary exercise that ultimately allows me to arrive at my goal which is the discovery of the root of the reason and rhyme.
For after one has stripped away the leaf, flower and fruit, all that remains is what burrows underground, In the dark where things germinate is where the secrets hide, and there it is, one must look. Each year for a very long time now, the Easter Bunny and Passover arrive like clockwork together with the Vernal Equinox.
Collectively we know, whether we are Jewish, Christian or neither, that Jesus was Jewish and Passover is somehow related to Easter. But how? And where do bunnies come into the story? And eggs?
During the 70’s I spent much time buried in books that explored these subjects. Two favourites which I return to time and again, are The Golden Bough by James George Frazer and The White Goddess by Robert Graves.
In the foreword to The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth which he wrote in 1948, he summed up its central thesis and offered a challenge to his contemporary anti-poetic society… that this remains a very difficult book, as well as a very queer one, to be avoided by anyone with a distracted, tired, or rigidly scientific mind….My thesis is that the language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honour of the Moon-goddess, or Muse, some of them dating from the Old Stone Age [before 10,000 B.C], and that this remains the language of true poetry–“true” in the nostalgic modern sense of “the unprovable original, not a synthetic substitute.”
Graves goes on to explain that: The language was tampered with in late Minoan times [1500-1000 B.C] when invaders from Central Asia began to substitute patrilineal for matrilineal institutions and remodel or falsify the myths to justify the social changes. Then came the early Greek philosophers who were strongly opposed to magical poetry as threatening their new religion of logic, and under their influence a rational poetic language (now called the Classical) was elaborated in honour of their patron Apollo and imposed on the world as the last word in spiritual illumination: a view that has prevailed practically ever since in European schools and universities, where myths are now studied only as quaint relics of the nursery age of mankind.
In Europe there were at first no male gods contemporary with the Goddess to challenge her prestige or power, but she had a lover who was alternatively the beneficent Serpent of Wisdom, and the beneficent Star of Life, her son. The Son was incarnate in the male demons of the various totem societies ruled by her, who assisted in the erotic dances held in her honour. The Serpent, incarnate in the sacred serpents which were the ghosts of the dead, sent the winds. The Son, who was also called the Lucifer or Phosphorus (“bringer of light”) because as evening-star he led in the light of the Moon, was reborn every year, grew up as the year advanced, destroyed the Serpent, and won the Goddess’s love. Her love destroyed him, but from his ashes was born another Serpent which, at Easter, laid the glain or red egg which she ate; so that the Son was reborn to her as a child once more.
Hearkening back to Egypt, where this evening’s observance of the Passover begins, Graves reminds us that Osiris was a “Star Son” reborn to Isis.
Unquestionably, Jesus was Jewish and observed Passover. The Last Supper prior to his betrayal by Judas, was a Passover Seder celebrating the freedom of a band of motley slaves who had escaped from Egypt, before claiming the so-called Promised Land as their own under the direction of Moses and Joshua.
Jesus never looked for an Easter egg in his life! So how was this day changed? And who changed the day?
(From the Catholic Encyclopedia) The emperor himself (Constantine) writing to the churches after the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325/ the Council of Nicaea ) exhorts, ‘At this meeting the question concerning the most holy day of Easter was discussed, and it was resolved by the united judgment of all present [regardless of the example/commands of Jesus Christ and the original apostolic fathers, Matthew 26:17-30 that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day (Easter Sunday)…And first of all it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hand with enormous sin… for we have received from our Savior a different way (Where, then, is the Biblical proof ?) …and I myself (Constantine) have undertaken that this decision should meet with the approval of your sagacity in the hope that your wisdom will gladly admit that practice which is observed (Easter Sunday)
This (along with demonizing the Jews and thereby rendering their teachings, and Jesus’ religion invalid), conveniently allowed the Church to continue the work of the Apostle Paul, who single-handedly rewrote the story of Jesus and turned it into the first non-profit (religious) organization, peddling it to communities around the Eastern Mediterranean. With the Council’s decision the Church was able (as Paul did) to superimpose the Hanged God Jesus had become, over Pagan traditions that had long been extant in Europe.
In Latin and Greek, the Christian celebration was, and still is, called Pascha, a word derived from Aramaic Pasha and Hebrew Pesach. The word originally denoted the Jewish festival known in English as Passover, commemorating the Jewish Exodus from slavery in Egypt. As early as the 50s of the 1st century, Paul, writing from Ephesus to the Christians in Corinth,applied the term to Jesus, and it is unlikely that the Ephesian and Corinthian Christians were the first to hear Exodus 12 interpreted as speaking about the death of Jesus, not just about the Jewish Passover ritual. In most of the non-English speaking world, the feast is known by names derived from Greek and Latin Pascha. Pascha is also a name by which Jesus himself is remembered in the Orthodox Church, especially in connection with his resurrection and with the season of its celebration.
Thus Passover morphed into Easter with hardly a glitch.
The modern English term Easter, cognate with modern Dutch ooster and German Ostern, developed from an Old English word that usually appears in the form Ēastrun, but also as Ēastru and Ēastre or Ēostre The most widely accepted theory of the origin of the term is that it is derived from the name of a British Goddess mentioned by the 8th-Century English monk Bede, who wrote that Ēosturmōnaþ (Old English ‘Month of Ēostre’, translated in Bede’s time as “Paschal month”) was an English month, corresponding to April, which he says “was once called after a goddess of theirs named Ēostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month”.
n his 1835 Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob Grimm (half of the Brothers Grimm), cites comparative evidence to reconstruct a Germanic goddess whose name would have been preserved in the Old High German name of Easter, Ostara. Addressing skepticism towards goddesses mentioned by the monk, Bede, Grimm comments that there is nothing improbable in them, nay the first of them is justified by clear traces in the vocabularies of Germanic tribes.
Specifically regarding Ēostre, Grimm continues that: We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, The great Christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG remains the name ôstarâ … it is mostly found in the plural, because two days … were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ, like the (Anglo-Saxon) Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the Christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries.
Grimm notes that: all of the nations bordering on us have retained the Biblical pascha and he compares these terms to the identical Latin term auster. Grimm says that :the cult of the goddess may have worshiped an Old Norse form, Austra, or that her cult may have already been extinct by the time of Christianization.
Clearly Goddess Worship is at the root of this particular tree and has been covered up with layers and layers of veils, shrouds and other devices to keep the fact that women once had considerable power, well hidden from view. Which brings me to the subject of the bunnies. Rabbits and hares (along with horses, pigs, ravens, cats and wolves), were all sacred to the Goddess.
The egg became a Christian symbol early on, and in fact legend has it that it dates back to Mary Magdalene. According to Apocrypha, her travels eventually brought her (Mary Magdalene), to Rome, where because of her family’s high standing, she was able to obtain an audience with the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar. Her purpose was to protest to him that his governor in Judea, Pontius Pilate, and the two high priests, Annas and Caiaphas, had conspired and executed an innocent man, namely (and possibly her husband), Jesus.
According to tradition, everyone visiting the Emperor was supposed to bring him a gift. Mary Magdalene brought an egg to the Emperor’s palace and handed it to Tiberius Caesar with the greeting: “Christ is risen!”
Tiberius Caesar responded “How could anyone ever rise from the dead?”
“It is as impossible as that white egg turning red.”
Caesar had no sooner finished speaking these words, when the egg Mary Magdalene held, began changing color until it turned scarlet, which brings us back to Robert Graves and the magical glain.
Mary Magdalen explained to Tiberius Caesar that the egg symbolized life rising from a sealed chamber.
It is told that Caesar, after having heard the formal complaint presented by Mary Magdalene, and besides having also received reports of soldiers under Pilate molesting and killing Jewish civilians in Judea, had Pilate exiled to Vienne in Gaul where he died an unpleasant death. Interestingly, Pilate’s wife Procula Claudia whom we are told, had a dream about Jesus the night before he was brought before her husband for trial, became a very pious and devout Christian.
Thus the Pascha greeting — in universal Christendom, both East and West — has ever since remained “Christ is risen!” and it became traditional for Christians throughout the world to color eggs in red.
The egg itself has been elevated to a status all of its own; painted, decorated and turned into exquisite works of art by the House of Faberge who would present the Czar’s family with Imperial Eggs each Easter.
But what of the lowly, undecorated egg that sits on the ritual Seder Plate? What does that egg symbolise?
Life of course. The ongoing renewal of the Seasons. Birth, death and regeneration, the stuff all great stories and legends are made of!
No matter what you believe in or celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful weekend with loved ones.
Happy Easter and Happy Passover!
For more on the Poetic Theme and Western Mythology, do pick up a copy of The White Goddess by Robert Graves.
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