We celebrate the renewal of life as seen by the newly emerging life in many forms all around us. A resurrection from all that looks dead is seen as the Earth regenerates and renews herself. This is symbolized in resurrection myths in many cultures and traditions.
There are many myths of the “Year Gods” ( Attis, Adonis, Osiris and Dionysus) – who like Christ die and are reborn each year. These gods are always the son of a God and a mortal woman. The son is a savior who saves his people in some way, sometimes through sacrifice. He is the vegetation, dying each year (at harvest) to be reborn in the spring.
In ancient Rome, the 10-day rite in honor of Attis, son of the great goddess Cybele, began on March 15th. A pine tree, which represented Attis, was chopped down, wrapped in a linen shroud, decorated with violets and placed in a sepulchre in the temple. On the Day of Blood or Black Friday, the priests of the cult gashed themselves with knives as they danced ecstatically, sympathizing with Cybele in her grief and helping to restore Attis to life. Two days later, a priest opened the sepulchre at dawn, revealing that it was empty and announcing that the god was saved. This day was known as Hilaria or the Day of Joy, a time of feasting and merriment.
Beginning with his death on the cross on Good Friday, it is said that Jesus ‘descended into hell’ for the three days that his body lay entombed. But on the third day (that is, Easter Sunday), his body and soul rejoined, he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven. By a strange ‘coincidence’, most ancient Pagan religions speak of the Goddess descending into the Underworld, also for a period of three days. Why three days? If we remember that we are here dealing with the lunar aspect of the Goddess, the reason should be obvious. As the text of one Book of Shadows gives it, ‘…as the moon waxes and wanes, and walks three nights in darkness, so the Goddess once spent three nights in the Kingdom of Death.’ In our modern world, alienated as it is from nature, we tend to mark the time of the New Moon (when no moon is visible) as a single date on a calendar. We tend to forget that the moon is also hidden from our view on the day before and the day after our calendar date. But this did not go unnoticed by our ancestors, who always speak of the Goddess’s sojourn into the land of Death as lasting for three days. Is it any wonder then, that we celebrate the next Full Moon (the Eostara) as the return of the Goddess from chthonic regions? (from http://pagans.foolmoon.com)
Many of the myths hold that the egg is sacred to life on earth. It represents life just as a circle can represent eternal life. The golden orb of its yolk represents the Sun God, its white shell is seen as the White Goddess, and the whole is a symbol of rebirth.
Germanic lore states that the rabbit so loved and revered the Goddess that he laid eggs, decorated them beautifully, and presented the eggs to the Goddess as a gift. Eostre was so
delighted with the gift that she wished all people could experience her joy. In order to further please his beloved Lady, the rabbit roamed the world delivering the sacred eggs to humanity.
One of the Goddess Eostre’s chief symbols was the egg (representing the cosmic egg of creation).
Each year, on March 21, the ancient Persians celebrated the festival of the solar New Year by presenting each other with colored eggs.
The ancient Egyptians also celebrated the solar New Year by dyeing eggs and
offering them up to their gods.
The Jews used eggs as a symbol of rebirth at the Passover.
During the Middle Ages people not only gave up meat for Lent but also eggs. It was a very precious gift to be given an egg for Easter because of harsh winters making food scarce. Children would often go from house to house to beg for Easter Eggs.
In ancient days, eggs were gathered and used for the creation of talismans and also ritually eaten. The gathering of different colored eggs from the nests of a variety of birds is thought to have given rise to two traditions still observed today – the Easter egg hunt, and coloring eggs in imitation of the various pastel colors of wild birds
The beautifully decorated eggs from the Ukraine (pysanky) are covered with magical symbols for protection, fertility, wisdom, strength and other qualities. They are given as gifts and used as charms.
The Spring Equinox is a time of new beginnings, of action, of planting seeds for future grains, and of tending gardens. Spring is a time of the Earth’s renewal, a rousing of nature after the cold sleep of winter.Seeds are like eggs. While eggs contain the promise of new animal life, seeds hold the potential of a new plant.
In ancient Italy in the spring, women planted gardens of Adonis. They filled urns with grain seeds, kept the in the dark and watered them every two days. This custom persists in Sicily. Women plant seeds of grains–lentils, fennel, lettuce or flowers–in baskets and pots. When they sprout, the stalks are tied with red ribbons and the gardens are placed along roads on Good Friday. They symbolize the triumph of life over death.
Fires were one of the ways pagans celebrated the coming of spring. They called these fires Spring fires. Until 752 A.D these fires were forbidden by the Christian laws. It was St. Patrick who gave rebirth to these fires as Easter Fires. The people would gather outside the church on Easter Eve and light a fire. Before they returned home each person would light a stick from the fire and take it home with them. All the flames in the house would come from that fire. The meaning behind these fires is “Life and light triumph over death and darkness
Cakes or Hot cross buns
A wheaten cake marked with a cross was found in Herculaneum, preserved since 79, and may have been used in the spring rites.
It is believed that Hot Cross Buns came from the Anglo-Saxons to honor the goddess of springtime, Eostre. After the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christians the continued to make these pastries
Baskets and goodies
It is believed that humankind first got the idea of weaving baskets from watching birds weave nests. This is perhaps the origin of the association between colored Easter eggs and Easter baskets.
The Easter basket filled with its myriad of goodies originates from the ancient Catholic custom of taking the food for Easter dinner to mass to be blessed. This, too, mirrored the even more ancient ritual of bringing the first crops and seedlings to the temple to insure a good growing season.
It is customary to leave food and drink out for the fairies on the nights of festivals, and it is believed that if the fairies are not honored with gifts at these times, they will work mischief in our lives. At Ostara, it is customary to leave something sweet (honey, or mead, or candy) and this could be connected to the Easter basket tradition. Perhaps a gift of sweets corresponds to the sweet nectar gathering in new spring flowers.
The astrological sign of Aries (denoted by a lamb or sheep symbol) begins at this time. Sheep who have given birth around Imbolc have lambs that are large enough for slaughter. This was important to ancient herders since it was a time of year when the larders were basically empty.
To the Jew the Lamb was used to honor those who followed Moses out of Egypt. The bible tells a story of how a lamb was sacrificed and the blood was sprinkled over the entrances to the Jewish peoples homes. Then they ate the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. This was to protect them from the angel of God when it came to visit and take the first born of each Egyptian household.
Chicks and Ducklings
Left under natural light and allowed sunshine, the laying pattern of hens and ducks will follow the yearly day length. This means it will slack off in the fall, stopping entirely at Yule when the days are darkest. The laying will again starting in late February or early March. This means by the equinox the egg production is in full swing and many tiny new lives have hatched out.
One of the Goddess Eostre’s symbols was the bunny which symbolized for fertility and because the Ancient Ones who worshipped her often saw the image of a rabbit in the full moon.
The rabbit is an enduring symbol of fertility and desire, or “spring fever” and worldwide, rabbits or hares co-exist with the moon as sacred symbols of vitality, fertility and the life-force. A rabbit’s gestation period is approximately one month, and it tends to be the first animal to give birth in the springtime
Some of rabbit lore springs from incorrect superstition. But underneath the superstition lies a deeper core of pagan sacral belief in which symbols of sex, fertility, the moon, re-birth and renewal are intertwined.
The saying, “mad as a March (or marsh) hare” is attributed to 15th Century Erasmus, who was referring to either the animals’ vigorous mating displays, or their bouts of wild bounding over wetlands in the springtime.
During the Renaissance, rabbits were even considered to be able to conceive without the male, and so they became a symbol of the Madonna’s virgin birth. A 16th Century painting by Titian shows Mary clutching a white rabbit, illustrating purity and a control of sexuality. The rabbit had become an important symbol of docility, gentleness and submission: qualities the church particularly wished to encourage in its followers.
Less evident today is the ancient symbolism connecting rabbits to women, blood cycles and the moon, although contemporary Asian images often depict rabbits with a traditional sense of womanly grace and stillness. Nevertheless, rabbits have become an enduring symbol for the beginning of springtime at Easter, and are worth considering for their deeper symbolism when we celebrate Ostara.