Help for the History Impaired: The Pagan Roots of Easter

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Wed, Apr 1 - 9:00 am EDT | 1 year ago by
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    For this first column in the series, I will address the shortest and easiest of matters: namely, the Pagan roots of the Easter holiday. The falsehoods surrounding this are so well received that I even met a priest who fell into this absurdity.

    The matter is short and easy because the truths would be matters of common knowledge, and still are, to anyone whose belly is not filled with sawdust. Most of the rituals, popular customs and usages began in the Middle Ages. Meat and animal products, like butter and eggs, where forbidden during this longest of fasts.

    Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), or Carnival (when ‘con carne’ was eaten, hence the name) was the last chance to use up any meat, so it was consumed in feasts. It was a time for cockfights. The cock was regarded as the king of the barnyard fowls, and it was a feathered tournament in miniature of what knights did. Knightly tourneys where aristocrats jousted and died may seem cruel to faint modern hearts, but, even if so, it was less cruel for the medieval to watch the nobles fighting for his entertainment than, as in the pagan days, to have the nobles watching the slaves fighting and the poor being thrown to lions for his.

    After this came forty days of fasting, which was broken on Easter Day. Children hid and sought for eggs because this treat had been denied to them for roughly a month and a half. The idea of coloring them or putting them in nests of grass dates from the Nineteenth Century. Ironically it is about this same time that the Lutherans started putting candles into pine trees for Christmas, another alleged holdover from pagan days carried on by the Catholics.

    The first mention of any Easter Bunny comes from early Nineteenth Century Germany, or, to be clear, it is an invention younger than the submarine or the railway train. There had been no druids worshipping the Spring Maiden in Germany for roughly a thousand years. The idea that they were lying in wait all that time to leap up on Beltane with his golden sickles and reintroduce customs into the Lutheran Church of American by way of the Pennsylvania Dutch is rather more than absurd than to blame it on elfish Eskimo Elvis impersonators from Planet Pluto.

    The other arguments proving Easter is pagan are too ludicrous for serious consideration. One is that Catholics sometimes have sunrise services on Easter day, to celebrate the return of the son of God from the dead. But Christian Churches since even before the invention of the pointed arch were built to face the east, and the Prince of Light and the light of the sun are poetical parallels too obvious to bear repeating. Jerusalem is also east of Europe.

    Much is made of the fact that the word Sun and Son are homophones in English, in order to support the argument that the Christians are secretly Sun-worshippers like the Aztecs. Or something. In truth, the practice of Easter goes back to the First Century AD, and, in the form of the foreshadowing of the Passover, back to Bronze Age, hence are older than that language by a considerable amount.

    Much is made of the fact that the word Easter sounds like Ishtar or Isis or the alleged German goddess Oestre, a fertility goddess. Well, sorry, the word Easter means Springtime, and the goddess of the Springtime was also named Springtime in old German, so their names match only because the times of year match, not due to some attempt to smuggle barbarian rites into Eight Century Imperial territory. If one wanted to argue that Arian Princes tried to smuggle their forms of worship into Orthodox areas, that argument at least would not betray an absurd ignorance of history. In any case, in all nations without Germanic roots in their words, the holiday is called Pascal or Pesch or some variant of the Latin word for Passover.

    Other arguments of like sobriety make ado of the fact that Easter is based on a lunar calendar, therefore pagan. The ignorance involved is astonishing. The Jews have a lunar calendar, and the Romans a solar one, so when the Roman became Christian and started celebrating the return of Christ, they adopted some of the Jewish calculations and not others, leading to arguments over calendar matters that persist, at least between Roman and Greek, to this day. No literate person can be unaware of this.

    Much ado is made of the fact that Easter is in the Spring, near the solstice. Well, again it is pure ignorance not to know that Easter is based on Passover, which commemorates the Hebrew departing from Egypt. Why did they depart in the Spring? No one knows the heavenly reason, but a perfectly earthly one might be that any peoples setting out on a long journey through the wilderness might have wanted to set out in spring.

    Finally, some ignoramuses suggest that hot cross buns, or the sign of the Cross, or making Cross over one’s heart during prayer, are pagan things smuggled into the Church by those pagan Catholics. All untrue. In reality, they were smuggled in by elfish Eskimo Elvis impersonators from planet Pluto. They flew to Earth on Fokker Eindecker monoplanes designed by the Dutch.

    John C. Wright is a retired attorney and newspaperman who was only once hunted by the police. He is a graduate of St. John College (home of Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books Program). In 2004 he foreswore his lifelong atheism and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He has published over 10 SF novels, including one nominated for a Nebula award, and was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “this fledgling century’s most important new SF talent.” He currently lives in fairytale-like happiness with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their four children.

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