Saturday, April 07, 2007

Pagan Origins of Easter

Gee I could not have said it better myself. And again we note the relationship between the Spring as a time of resurrection from winter, life bursting from death, and its relationship to carnival and the divine fool. And you thought I was just making this all up.

Another popular religion which influenced the thought of early Christians was the worship of Adonis. As is commonly known Antioch was one of the earliest seats of Christianity. It was in this city that there was celebrated each year the death and resurrection of the god Adonis. This faith had always exerted its influence on Jewish thought, so much so that the prophet Ezekiel[Footnote: Ezekiel 8:14.] found it necessary to scold the women of Jerusalem for weeping for the dead Tammuz (Adonis) at the very gate of the temple. When we come to Christian thought the influence seems even greater, for even the place at Bethleham selected by the early Christians as the scene of the birth of Jesus was none other than an early shrine of this pagan god–a fact that led many to confuse Adonis with Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Pagan origins of Easter:

Many, perhaps most, Pagan religions in the Mediterranean area had a major seasonal day of religious celebration at or following the Spring Equinox. Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, had a fictional consort who was believed to have been born via a virgin birth. He was Attis, who was believed to have died and been resurrected each year during the period MAR-22 to MAR-25. "About 200 B.C. mystery cults began to appear in Rome just as they had earlier in Greece. Most notable was the Cybele cult centered on Vatican hill ...Associated with the Cybele cult was that of her lover, Attis (the older Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, or Orpheus under a new name). He was a god of ever-reviving vegetation. Born of a virgin, he died and was reborn annually. The festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over the resurrection." 3

Wherever Christian worship of Jesus and Pagan worship of Attis were active in the same geographical area in ancient times, Christians "used to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on the same date; and pagans and Christians used to quarrel bitterly about which of their gods was the true prototype and which the imitation."

Many religious historians believe that the death and resurrection legends were first associated with Attis, many centuries before the birth of Jesus. They were simply grafted onto stories of Jesus' life in order to make Christian theology more acceptable to Pagans. Others suggest that many of the events in Jesus' life that were recorded in the gospels were lifted from the life of Krishna, the second person of the Hindu Trinity. Ancient Christians had an alternative explanation; they claimed that Satan had created counterfeit deities in advance of the coming of Christ in order to confuse humanity. 4 Modern-day Christians generally regard the Attis legend as being a Pagan myth of little value. They regard Jesus' death and resurrection account as being true, and unrelated to the earlier tradition.


by Micha F. Lindemans
A god of growth and fertility in Asia Minor, also venerated in Greece. His service remained more Asian than Greek, however, and was connected to that of Cybele. Because of his manifestations of intense sadness and ecstatic joy, his service resembles that of Adonis. Attis was thought to be beloved by Cybele and when he refused her love, in her rage she unmanned him. His followers sometimes did the same. Attis is portrayed on coins from the Roman era and on tombstones. He is represented as a young man in tight-fitting clothes and a Phrygian headdress and shepherds staff.

Chapter 34. The Myth and Ritual of Attis.
Sir James George Frazer

Indeed the story that Attis unmanned himself under a pine-tree was clearly devised to explain why his priests did the same beside the sacred violet-wreathed tree at his festival. At all events, we can hardly doubt that the Day of Blood witnessed the mourning for Attis over an effigy of him which was afterwards buried. The image thus laid in the sepulchre was probably the same which had hung upon the tree. Throughout the period of mourning the worshippers fasted from bread, nominally because Cybele had done so in her grief for the death of Attis, but really perhaps for the same reason which induced the women of Harran to abstain from eating anything ground in a mill while they wept for Tammuz. To partake of bread or flour at such a season might have been deemed a wanton profanation of the bruised and broken body of the god. Or the fast may possibly have been a preparation for a sacramental meal.

But when night had fallen, the sorrow of the worshippers was turned to joy. For suddenly a light shone in the darkness: the tomb was opened: the god had risen from the dead; and as the priest touched the lips of the weeping mourners with balm, he softly whispered in their ears the glad tidings of salvation. The resurrection of the god was hailed by his disciples as a promise that they too would issue triumphant from the corruption of the grave. On the morrow, the twenty-fifth day of March, which was reckoned the vernal equinox, the divine resurrection was celebrated with a wild outburst of glee. At Rome, and probably elsewhere, the celebration took the form of a carnival. It was the Festival of Joy (Hilaria). A universal licence prevailed. Every man might say and do what he pleased. People went about the streets in disguise. No dignity was too high or too sacred for the humblest citizen to assume with impunity. In the reign of Commodus a band of conspirators thought to take advantage of the masquerade by dressing in the uniform of the Imperial Guard, and so, mingling with the crowd of merrymakers, to get within stabbing distance of the emperor. But the plot miscarried. Even the stern Alexander Severus used to relax so far on the joyous day as to admit a pheasant to his frugal board. The next day, the twenty-sixth of March, was given to repose, which must have been much needed after the varied excitements and fatigues of the preceding days. Finally, the Roman festival closed on the twenty-seventh of March with a procession to the brook Almo. The silver image of the goddess, with its face of jagged black stone, sat in a waggon drawn by oxen. Preceded by the nobles walking barefoot, it moved slowly, to the loud music of pipes and tambourines, out by the Porta Capena, and so down to the banks of the Almo, which flows into the Tiber just below the walls of Rome. There the high-priest, robed in purple, washed the waggon, the image, and the other sacred objects in the water of the stream. On returning from their bath, the wain and the oxen were strewn with fresh spring flowers. All was mirth and gaiety. No one thought of the blood that had flowed so lately. Even the eunuch priests forgot their wounds.

The Pagan origins of the Easter Bunny

Have you ever wondered where the celebration of the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ acquired its unusual name and odd symbols of colored eggs and rabbits?

The answer lies in the ingenious way that the Christian church absorbed Pagan practices. After discovering that people were more reluctant to give up their holidays and festivals than their gods, they simply incorporated Pagan practices into Christian festivals. As recounted by the Venerable Bede, an early Christian writer, clever clerics copied Pagan practices and by doing so, made Christianity more palatable to pagan folk reluctant to give up their festivals for somber Christian practices.

In second century Europe, the predominate spring festival was a raucous Saxon fertility celebration in honor of the Saxon Goddess Eastre (Ostara), whose sacred animal was a hare.

The colored eggs associated with the bunny are of another, even more ancient origin. The eggs associated with this and other Vernal festivals have been symbols of rebirth and fertility for so long the precise roots of the tradition are unknown, and may date to the beginning of human civilization. Ancient Romans and Greeks used eggs as symbols of fertility, rebirth, and abundance- eggs were solar symbols, and figured in the festivals of numerous resurrected gods.

Pagan fertility festivals at the time of the Spring equinox were common- it was believed that at this time, when day and night were of equal length, male and female energies were also in balance. The hare is often associated with moon goddesses; the egg and the hare together represent the god and the goddess, respectively.

Christian denominations and cults that do not observe Easter

Easter traditions deemed "pagan" by some Reformation leaders, along with Christmas celebrations, were among the first casualties of some areas of the Protestant Reformation. Other Reformation Churches, such as the Lutheran and Anglican, retained a very full observance of the Church Year. In Lutheran Churches, not only were the days of Holy Week observed, but also Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost were observed with three day festivals, including the day itself and the two following. Among the other Reformation traditions, things were a bit different. These holidays were eventually restored (though Christmas only became a legal holiday in Scotland in 1967, after the Church of Scotland finally relaxed its objections). Some Christians (usually, but not always fundamentalists), however, continue to reject the celebration of Easter (and, often, of Christmas), because they believe them to be irrevocably tainted with paganism and idolatry.

Their rejection of these traditions is based partly on the words of 2 Corinthians 6:14-16. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (King James Version)

That is also the view of Jehovah's Witnesses, who instead observe a yearly commemorative service of the Last Supper and subsequent death of Christ on the evening of 14 Nisan, as they calculate it derived from the lunar Hebrew Calendar. It is commonly referred to, in short, by many Witnesses as simply "The Memorial." Jehovah's Witnesses believe that such verses as Luke 22:19-20 constitute a commandment to remember the death of Christ, and they do so on a yearly basis just as Passover is celebrated yearly by the Jews.

Some groups feel that Easter (or, as they prefer to call it, "Resurrection Sunday" or "Resurrection Day") is properly regarded with great joy: not marking the day itself, but remembering and rejoicing in the event it commemorates—the miracle of Christ's resurrection. In this spirit, these Christians teach that each day and all Sabbaths should be kept holy, in Christ's teachings.

Other groups, such as the Sabbatarian Church of God, believe in keeping the feasts and commandments of God as given in the Bible, including a Christian Passover that lacks most of the practices or symbols associated with Western Easter and retains more features of the Passover observed by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.

Etymology and the origins of Easter traditions

In his De temporum ratione the Venerable Bede wrote that the month Eostremonat (Eosturmonath) (April) was so named because of a goddess, Eostre, who had formerly been worshipped in that month. In recent years some scholars have suggested that a lack of supporting documentation for this goddess might indicate that Bede assumed her existence based on the name of the month.[15] Others note that Bede's status as "the Father of English History," having been the author of the first substantial history of England ever written, might make the lack of additional mention for a goddess whose worship had already died out by Bede's time unsurprising. The debate receives considerable attention because the name 'Easter' is derived from Eostremonat (Eosturmonath), and thus, according to Bede, from the pagan goddess Eostre, though this etymology is disputed.[16]

Jakob Grimm took up the question of Eostre in his Deutsche Mythologie of 1835, noting that Ostaramanoth was etymologically related to Eostremonat (Eosturmonath) and writing of various landmarks and customs related to the goddess Ostara in Germany. Again, because of a lack of written documentation, critics suggest that Grimm took Bede's mention of a goddess Eostre at face value and constructed the goddess Ostara around existing Germanic customs which may have arisen independently. Others point to Grimm's stated intent to gather and record oral traditions which might otherwise be lost as explanation for the lack of further documentation. Amongst other traditions, Grimm connected the 'Osterhase' (Easter Bunny) and Easter Eggs to the goddess Ostara/Eostre. He also cites various place names in Germany as being evidence of Ostara, but critics contend that the close etymological relationship between Ostara and the words for 'east' and 'dawn' could mean that these place names referred to either of those two things rather than a goddess.

Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ("Ecclesiastic History of the English People") contains a letter from Pope Gregory I to Saint Mellitus, who was then on his way to England to conduct missionary work among the heathen Anglo-Saxons. The Pope suggests that converting heathens is easier if they are allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditional pagan practices and traditions, while recasting those traditions spiritually towards Christianity instead of to their indigenous gods (whom the Pope refers to as "devils"), "to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God." The Pope sanctioned such conversion tactics as biblically acceptable, pointing out that God did much the same thing with the ancient Israelites and their pagan sacrifices. If his statement on the origin of the name "Easter" is accurate, this practice might explain the incorporation of Eostre traditions into the Christian holiday.

However, the giving of eggs at spring festivals was not restricted to Germanic peoples and could be found among the Persians, Romans, Jews and the Armenians. They were a widespread symbol of rebirth and resurrection and thus might have been adopted from any number of sources.

Musei Vaticani, State of the Vatican City

Artist/Maker Unknown

Attis performing a dance of the Cybele cult. Marble, Roman Imperial Era.

Dimensions Unspecified

Credit line Formerly at Palazzo Altieri

Accession number Inv. 1656

Museo Chiaramonti

Photographer/Source Jastrow (2006)


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1 comment:

audacious said...

alot of people are not commonly aware of how many ancient pagan traditions, tho have changed, yet the symbols do play a part in our world / traditions today.