Easter Reflections

Easter 2013 has recently hopped into history. The holiday in the United States is celebrated nationwide because ostensibly it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. There are sunrise services, hymns of praise and jubilation that the holy one has risen, and the thanks for the miracle of new life. Certainly, that is in large part how Christians celebrate the holy day around the country. And yet, for Christians and non-Christians alike, Easter is also the holiday of decorated eggs, rabbits, flowers, and spring.

Easter egg tree, 2013. M. Merisante.
Easter egg tree, 2013. M. Merisante.

At a local Christian preschool, I spied a bare branched tree charmingly festooned with large, cheerful pastel Easter eggs. I think it is a wonderful tribute to Easter.

At Easter, a great number of us are engaging in ritual, a ritual that has its roots in really ancient times, but that is renewed each year in your backyard, in a community park, or on the White House lawn. The White House held its annual Easter Egg Roll which opened with the Easter Bunny standing next to the Obamas while Jessica Sanchez sang our national anthem. Easter makes us all so happy.

Of course it does. Humans have been celebrating Easter for a very long time. Mythologically, Easter is tied to a widespread archaic lunar holy day that celebrates a goddess of sexuality, fertility, and renewed life who rising at dawn officially brings in the season of spring.  Easter is timed to the first full moon after the spring equinox.This practice harkens back to humanity’s long use of a lunar rather than a solar calendar to mark the seasons and the holy days of the year.

Cultures around the world have linked rabbits or hares to the moon. According to many cultures, the moon sports the image of a rabbit on the face it shows us. In ancient Egyptian mythology, Osiris, in the shape of a hare, is torn into fourteen pieces by Set, thrown into the ocean, and brought back to new life by the goddesses Isis and Nepthys. Osiris’s body as fourteen pieces symbolizes the fourteen days of the moon as it “diminishes’ from full to new. The The moon looks as if it drops into the inky black of the night’s horizon and the ocean when it is dark, but then rises with new life as the new moon.

The Northern European goddess Holda or Hel, the Greek goddess Hecate and the Scandinavian goddess Freya were each attended by rabbits bearing torches or carrying the drape of her gown. These goddesses have strong ties to death, sexuality, and new life. Rabbits, like the moon, sleep during the day, frolic at night,  and silently seem to materialize or vanish into the darkness. Finally, they exemplify the lunar powers of sexuality, conception, and birth.

Eggs abound in mythology. Many creation stories have a Cosmic Egg in them. Among its many symbolic meanings, the egg represents the union of the Sun and the Moon. or an image of wholeness.

Czechoslovakian psyanki eggs.Patrick-Emil Zörner. Creative commons.
Czechoslovakian psyanki eggs. Patrick-Emil Zörner. Creative commons.

Humans have decorated eggs with meaningful symbols for tens of thousands of years. Archaeologists found inscribed  and colored (by firing) ostrich eggs from 80,000 years ago in Southern Africa. Some of the engravings look like tally marks. Perhaps they were used as an early portable calendar.

So, how are rabbits, women, eggs, and the moon all connected? The gestation period for rabbits (30 days) approximates the moon’s synodic cycle of 29.53 days. Additionally, the moon governs women’s menstrual cycles which correspond to the same lunar cycles. Interestingly, in the late 1920’s, the “rabbit test” was initiated as an early pregnancy indicator for women. The term is still in use today, but fortunately, pregnancy tests no longer rely on rabbits. Furthermore, Easter Eggs have been dyed red for millennia and red is still the favored color in many eastern European cultures. While Christian interpretation says that red eggs represent Christ’s blood, I think it’s easy to see that they actually represent women and our reproductive cycle.