The pagan roots of Easter | Heather McDougall

Heather McDougall: From Ishtar to Eostre, the causes of the resurrection tale go deep. We should embrace the pagan symbolism of Easter

Easter is a pagan festival. If Easter isn’t really about Jesus, then what is it about? Today, we ensure a secular culture celebrating the spring equinox, whilst religious culture celebrates the resurrection. However, early Christianity made a pragmatic adoption of ancient gentile practises, most of which we enjoy today at Easter. The general symbolic tale of the death of the son( sunshine) on a cross( the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the terms of reference of darkness, was a well worn tale in the ancient world. There were plenty of parallel, rival resurrected saviors too.

The Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishtar, was hung naked on a stake, and was subsequently resurrected and ascended from the underworld. One of the oldest resurrection myths is Egyptian Horus. Born on 25 December, Horus and his injury eye became symbols of living and rebirth. Mithras was born on what we now bellow Christmas day, and his adherents celebrated the spring equinox. Even as late as the 4th century AD, the sol invictus, associated with Mithras, was the last great pagan cult the church had to overcome. Dionysus was a divine infant, resurrected by his grandmother. Dionysus also brought his mum, Semele, back to life.

In an ironic twist, the Cybele cult flourished on today’s Vatican Hill. Cybele’s lover Attis, was born of a virgin, died and was reborn annually. This spring celebration began as a day of blood on Black Friday, rising to a crescendo after three days, in exulting over the resurrection. There was violent conflict on Vatican Hill in the early days of Christianity between the Jesus worshippers and pagans who quarrelled over whose God was the true, and whose the imitation. What is interesting to note here is that in the ancient world, wherever you had popular resurrected god myths, Christianity find lots of converts. So, eventually Christianity came to an accommodation with the pagan Spring festival. Although we ensure no celebration of Easter in the New Testament, early church fathers celebrated it, and today many churches are offering “sunrise services” at Easter an obvious gentile solar celebration. The date of Easter is not fixed, but instead is governed by the phases of the moon how gentile is that?

All the fun things about Easter are pagan. Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan celebration of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare. Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we ensure the Israelites cooking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan females, they gave up and blessed the cake instead.

Easter is essentially a pagan festival which is celebrated with cards, gifts and novelty Easter products, because it’s fun and the ancient symbolism still works. It’s always struck me that the power of nature and the longer days are often most felt in modern towns and cities, where we set off to work without putting on our car headlights and when our alarm clock goes off in the mornings, the streetlights outside are not still on because of the darkness.

What better route to celebrate, than to bite the head off the bunny goddess, go to a “sunrise service”, get yourself a sticky-footed fluffy chick and stick it on your Tv, whilst helping yourself to a hefty slice of pagan simnel cake? Happy Easter everyone!

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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