Greg wrote this as a comment to this article. Enjoy and we hope everyone had a wonderful day celebrating the birthing of life and all that encompasses it. 🙂
“This history of Easter has to do with much more than Jesus. In fact, “Easter” from the German “Ostara” was celebrated by pagan religions long before Christianity, some think even as far back as the Sumerian “god” Ishtar…”
When the word “Easter” is used, some images come to mind immediately — baby chicks, Easter eggs, springtime, lilies.
Most traditions and symbols associated with Easter have a long history, local religious experts say.
Father Sean Ferrell with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church said the celebration of Easter is ancient — it dates back to the to second century Christian Church.
“As soon as Christians started celebrating Easter, baptism was tied into that celebration,” he said. “We continue to have a service called the Great Vigil of Easter. It includes lighting new paschal fire, have a paschal candle in the procession. ‘Pascha’ is the Greek name for Easter, and the word is related to the Hebrew word ‘Pesach,’ or ‘Passover.’”
After the procession in the dark, Ferrell retells the story of the faith in the Old Testament, baptisms are done, he proclaims that it is Easter and the lights come on, he said.
“At the heart of Easter is that symbol of Passover more than the symbol of baby chicks,” he said.
Other symbols include the cross covered in flowers, which is significant to the resurrection, Ferrell said. In the reredos behind the altar at St. Luke’s is a painting depicting the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the wooden frame are carved three different flowers that each have a meaning — poppy flowers, calla lilies and incarnation lilies.
“Poppy flowers are the symbol of death, calla lilies are symbols of the resurrection and incarnation lilies apparently signify the incarnation of Christ,” he said. “In the painting, there is a passion vine with five open flowers, which signify the five wounds of Christ. There are many little symbols in this piece.”
Greg Thornbury, professor of philosophy and dean of the School of Theology at Union University, said many of Easter’s traditions and symbols have pagan origins. Easter was a pagan festival that dates back to the ancient Near-Eastern pagan religions.
“Long before Christianity, the name ‘Easter’ itself comes from the Sumerian goddess Ishtar, who was killed on a stake and resurrected and ascended from the underworld,” he said. “Virtually every culture of the Middle East had a story about the death and resurrection of a god. The Roman god Dionysus was killed by his enemies and was raised to life by his mother. All of these are about death and resurrection. The Sibyl cult was another resurrection story — they were situated where the Vatican is today. Her lover was born and died on the same day every year.”
Everybody always asks when Easter is, Thornbury said, and the holiday’s date is set by the phases of the moon. The spring equinox determines when Easter is, he said. The concept of sunrise services comes from the idea that Jesus rose on the third day — Sunday — which is why Christians celebrate on Sundays instead of the Jewish Sabbath. Easter celebrations before Christianity were to celebrate the rising of the sun god, he said.
“The early Christians initially fought these pagan traditions,” he said. “Church leaders rejected these practices. Hot crossed buns — they didn’t always have Christian symbolism — they were for the constellations. Eventually, church leaders said, ‘Why not just incorporate these traditions into the church? Bishops blessed the hot crossed buns, etc. and we have what we have today.”
The bunnies associated with the holiday come from the German Eioster, who was a pagan goddess of fertility. Her symbol was the bunny, Thornbury said. The exchange of and coloring of eggs was another fertility tradition — “You would decorate eggs and give them to people as in ‘May you be fertile; may your crops produce,’” he said.
The Easter lily was a symbol of the Roman queen of the gods, Juno. When the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, it came to represent Christ’s mother, Mary.
“One of things (author J.R.R.) Tolkien said was the great thing about Christianity is that it recognizes there are all these ancient mythologies that tie into this one mythology that is actually true,” Thornbury said. “Their preaching was — there are all these stories about death and resurrection, but ours actually happened. It took place. Jesus was God incarnate, was crucified, and he did rise from the grave. We’re not saying get rid of the myths but realize that the fulfillment was in the real one — the True Myth.”
Some fundamentalist Christians say church shouldn’t include the Easter egg hunts and the Easter bunny in their celebrations, Thornbury said.
“But the Church has said all that has been fulfilled in the gospel. It all finds its way to Christ anyway,” he said.
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