Saturday, March 26, 2005

Celebrating Eostre

What weird mixtures are formed in the cultural celebrations of our time! Fat, bearded old men combine with an image of a holy birth to give us Christmas; and with the passing of winter comes another and even stranger rite of bunnies, eggs, a crucifixion, and a rebirth, known as Easter.

The name is derived from that of an ancient Celtic goddess known as Eostre (who is still remembered in the name "Esther"). She was a symbol of fertility, of sexuality, union, potency, and growth. She was often pictured as a protectress of rabbits, as in this image, which is meant to represent Saint Melangell, a Christian development of the Eostre myth. Bunnies, as everyone knows, have long been a reminder of Nature's love of sex and fertility. The egg, symbol of conception and birth, enlarges on this celebration of sex and the continuance of Life through sex.

In Dan Brown's amazing novel, The DaVinci Code, Sophie, the brainy and beautiful codebreaker, goes back in memory to relive a scene of an Eostre rite, in which she sees her grandfather making love with a woman amid a circle of celebrants. This is a primordial Easter ritual: the honoring of Nature, fertility, and sexuality in a scene of loving community. It is an observance that has been repeated in one form or another in almost all cultures and traditions. In Chapter 2 of his Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, remarks on this communion of sexuality, love, and Cosmic Union in Nature:

The formed and the formless
Create and support each other.
In the Cosmic Unity,
The light and the dark dance and mingle
Like the breath of lovers.

So how did we get to the point where we now grimly remember a bloody, painful execution (itself glamorized in a well-known Mel Gibson film), followed by a story of resurrection? And where did Nature, her fertility and openness to the spirit of sexuality, the spirit of Eostre, go amid this new scene of sin, suffering, death, and escape to Heaven? It is one of the strangest developments in the ideological history of humankind, and we have yet a long way to go in unraveling its destructive and oppressive legacy.

How you celebrate Easter, then, will be largely a matter of the extent to which you have, or are willing to, cleanse yourself of that legacy of sin, guilt, misery, death, and separation from Nature. The veneration of Eostre was originally, it appears, about welcoming the first full moon of Spring and in the process, turning both within as individuals and toward one another as community, in a celebration of the regenerative capacity of Life to renew itself in the most natural, fulfilling, and delightful of physical acts. Therefore, why not disperse with the self-abasing darkness of a story about a naked man nailed to a tree and instead honor the spirit of Eostre by making Love--to your spouse, your lover, or even yourself?

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