Happy Easter: A Brief Exploration into the Origins of Easter
What a wonderful time of year Easter is, as the last vestiges of winter-time give way to spring-time’s longer days and shorter nights, and the first feelings of summer-time emerge once again. It is a time of lambs, chicks, tadpoles, green shoots, the emerging bumble bee and butterfly. Nature’s fecundity abounds.
Easter has long been a time associated with eggs, chicks, bunnies, hares and so forth – what is the deeper mythos behind this?
‘Easter’ as a word finds its roots in the Old English word Ēostre which relates to the Old German word Ostara – referring to a Germanic divinity, a goddess. Pagan Anglo-Saxons used to celebrate this time of year (which used to be called Ēosturmōnaþ before the Christian Paschal calendar replaced it with the month of April) with feasts in honour of the goddess Eostre. Eostre is the goddess of the dawn and bringer of light which finds its origins in the goddess Ausos (with Baltic, Celtic, Greek, Indo-Persian, Babylonian, Sumerian and Egyptian influences). The old Norse word austr and the Latin word auster both meaning ‘new dawn’.
The time of Easter revolves around the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox (21st March). In our Christian era, Easter has come to represent the Crucifixion (Good Friday) and Resurrection of Christ (Easter Sunday), which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Full Moon after the Equinox (and so the dates of Easter can vary from 22nd March to 25th April).
Three hares within a circle can be found throughout medieval churches, as can images of eggs, spirals and the Green Man, each portraying aspects of the indwelling Spirit within Nature (World Soul).
‘Thou Nature art my goddess. To thy law my services are bound.’ – Shakespeare
It has long been understood, yet largely forgotten, that the ‘hermaphrodite hares’ (and other sacred Nature images) represent the fertility of the cyclic, spiraling, unfolding, reproducing nature of Nature. The cosmic womb of Nature from which everything spawns and decomposes into, is our ground-of-being. These images of Easter can help remind us of our lives immersed within this psychical and physical Nature.
Beyond the commodification of sacred symbols lies a deeper wisdom that resonates with the contemporary findings of biodynamics, permaculture, quantum physics, biophilia and ecological psychology. We human beings, along with every living organism and every atom or ‘wavicle’ of energy in this world, are immersed in a matrix of inter-relatedness, an ocean of metaphysical Nature.
To recognise, remember and open up to this ground-of-being is the essential purpose of Easter (whether through the fasting and prayer of Holy Week culminating in the Resurrection of Christ or the sacred rituals, dancing and earth ceremonies of paganism attuning us with goddess Eostre). Right before our very noses is the subtle scent of a deeper sentience so often ignored as we consume copious amounts of chocolate chicks, eggs and bunnies.
There is more – so much more … if we so choose to look. Within and all around us is an over-flowing vessel of wisdom.
These Easter symbols are like tips of icebergs floating upon a vast matrix of myth and legend.
The hermaphrodite hares, the cracking-open of the egg, the seed germinating into green shoots, the mischievous leafy head of the Green Man, the birthing bounty of bunnies, the full Moon after the solstice, the resurrection of Christ, all point to an underlying Truth that we are so often too busy and blinkered to see.
‘Truth is a torch, but a tremendous one. That is why we hurry past it, shielding our eyes, even terrified of getting burnt.’ – Goethe
The Robin Hood myth, for instance, is based on a far older myth, a story of the seemingly opposing tensions of the year (winter and summer, decomposition and regeneration, death and birth, receptivity and responsiveness) engaged in a tussle, a struggle, a dance, an attunement: The King of Winter giving way to the King of Summer in order to win the heart of the Maiden of Spring; The death of the Old King in ancient Alchemy giving way to a ‘new dawn’ of golden awareness; A breaking open of the ego-egg into a deeper ecological-self within the World Soul of Nature; A communion of the yang creative energies and the yin receptivity giving birth to new harmonics of life, the marriage of sacred masculine and sacred feminine aspects within us to spawn forth new ways of being and doing.
It is an ancient yet fresh mythos which all the great hero stories recount in myriad ways – the hero’s journey into the deeper, darker, wildness and instinctual forces of Nature in order to retrieve the treasure – the elixir of life – which gifts the hero with a Divine outpouring of Beauty. This elixir or ecstasy is a home-coming or re-birthing from separation into re-cognition of the ground of being – a cosmic communion of self within Nature.
We may feel glimpses of this home-coming when we touch our souls through our presencing of the moment or loving attention or sacred imagination. If only for the briefest of moments we become conscious of the divine mystery within and all around us, an unchained melody within the Dance of Life.
Three Hares Image – Paderborner Dom Dreihasenfenster by Zefram
Three hares within the mandala circle of life portraying the multiplicity within unity, the diversity of Nature within the Divine.
Below is a sacred geometric pattern that shows how the pattern the interlacing ears of the hares make embodies a deeper matrix of reality beyond the illusion of separation.
We may also notice that this pattern of inter-lacing circles is the origin of the vesica pisces of Christianity, as well as the origin of ancient symbols found throughout Alchemic, Tantric and Shamanic wisdom traditions the world over.
And so, Easter is a celebration that helps us remember the sacredness of life.
We may begin to sense the Logos, Word, Nature, Soul, Divine, Shekinah, Tao, Akasha, Aluna, Alchemy, Spirit that this Easter time celebrates – an awakening awareness flowing into the world through our own attention and intention. A soul-ful way of relating with self, other, Nature. A resurrection no less, whereupon Christ, Soul, Eostre flow through all we do.
It is in this moment of ecstatic awareness that we realise what Jesus was pointing to when he said: ‘Cleave a wood; I am there. Raise up a stone, and you will find me there.’ This is re-membering our true nature, and it is what these ancient festivals, ceremonies and symbols are here to remind us of.
It is our forgotten sense of the sacred sentience of life that underlies all our current crises. Deal with this and you deal with causes (materialism and anthropocentrism) and their downstream effects (social, environmental and economic degradation).
This is what the book The Illusion of Separation is focused on.