What could be more important to humans the world over than our own birth?
Reproduction and fertility have been symbolized since the dawn of homo sapiens sapiens by the egg, long before our ancestors had any knowledge of sperm and ova.
Spring is in and of itself a time of new life, or rebirth of all that grows with which we sustain ourselves.
The March or spring equinox is used as a determinant for what modern Christians celebrate as the holy day of Easter.
The Easter date depends on the ecclesiastical approximation of the March equinox. In 325CE the Council of Nicaea decided that the Easter date would be the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the March equinox. Easter is therefore delayed one week if the full moon is on Sunday, which lessens the likelihood of it falling on the same day as the Jewish Passover. Eastern Orthodox churches in many countries such as Greece still figure their Easter date based on the Julian calendar.
Though I was sent to church by my mom, and confirmed a Lutheran, my socialist dad and his friends were staunch atheists. My Baptist grandmother had already become a Bahá'í
by the time I was born in 1947 and our neighbors in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn were Orthodox Jews, and around springtime they were at seders
, which we attended.
Surrounded by multiple faiths, and non-beliefs, and absorbed by an early interest in anthropology and archaeology, my childhood was filled with books like The White Goddess, The Golden Bough, and Bulfinch's Mythology. As a young adult I discovered Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God.
As a budding young feminist I was fascinated with the idea of female symbols of power, and lapped up tales of Eostre (Ostara) along with Aphrodite, Ashtoreth, Demeter, Ishtar, Kali, and Yemaya.
The name "Easter" originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the "Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos." Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: "eastre." Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime.
It mattered not to me if this was myth. I embraced the symbolic meaning behind it all.
As a young girl, come Easter, my mom would deck me out in my Easter Sunday best, and send me off to church, and later we would watch the Easter parade on Fifth Avenue.
Some years we visited my black relatives in Philadelphia, and nothing was more fascinating to me than watching black church ladies in their hats, each one more glorious than the next, and on Easter Sunday the hats on display were breathtaking.
I always received shiny new shoes of patent leather, which made me want to skip down the street, abandoning decorum. I secretly wished they had taps.
Growing up, I sought to find a way to embrace multiple traditions and beliefs, and to develop an understanding of why humans in every culture seek not only to understand the mysteries of life, but find so many diverse ways to celebrate and honor those things that are a given to us all.
As I spend the weekend cooking and preparing an Easter meal southern style—which in my black family tradition includes a Virgina ham—I smile.
My husband and I are Pagans-since that is the omnibus term one uses to describe those people who practice indigenous spiritual traditions.
We find that our practice allows us to not only honor the lives and struggles of our ancestors, but that is also has given us the ability to incorporate the symbols of multiple belief systems, while maintaining a basic respect for the earth and all that lives upon it. At the same time, we can continue to pursue our political beliefs in equality—environmental, economic and social.
We are comfortable honoring our ancestors, and the spiritual and religious paths walked by others, as long as their beliefs do not limit or impinge upon ours.
We are equally at peace with those who have simply chosen a secular embrace of humanism; a desire for peace, equality, and justice worldwide.
So as I nibble on a chocolate bunny, I smile and hope those real life fertile critters don't do too much damage to my spring vegetable gardens.
Our hens are laying. We have countless chicks running about following our free-range hens and the lilacs are budding. It is spring here in the Catskills of New York.
I celebrate renewal.
Join with me today in thoughts of peace.
No matter your faith tradition, or your secular positions as progressives we can find a common ground in a shared humanity, and desire for a spring of renewal for us all.
Let us all be re-energized.
We have much to accomplish in the years ahead.
I am a Pagan with a capital P, and that "p" in my heart stands for people and progress.