“In the oddity or maybe the miracle of life, the roots of something new frequently lie in the decaying husks of something old.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough
As I finished my walk with my best friend the conversation turned toward religion, as it often does. It continued while we drank our morning coffee at a local cafe. For some reason he thinks I’m more versed in this area than I really am. Less versed but our conversation got me thinking. Always an uncertain condition for me.
One of my thoughts was how the conservative, Evangelical Southern Baptist and the liberal, raised Methodist, and Dudeist continue to find common ground. Tis a shame some of our other brothers and sisters in faith can’t find the common ground. All it takes is a little work on both our parts. For clarification I am the liberal, he the conservative.
Later my thinking took me down a pig trail and the mental gymnastics I attempt to avoid. Coming to grips with my own beliefs…or lack thereof. A day of thinking turned into my own form of comedic relief. I realize it may only be funny to me.
April is a month in which the three major monotheistic religions and pagans celebrate important somethings and I found myself doing a bit of research. I am no longer as less versed as I was three mornings ago, but a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.
Today, as I share this, is the Christian Easter, the most important celebration on the Christian calendar that proclaims Christ’s victory over death and the forgiveness of our sins as we are washed in the blood of Christ. As a child, being washed in the blood of Christ was a bit scary as were many of the stories told to me from the Bible. I still find myself more literal than I should be.
Besides celebrating the resurrection of Christ, we have expanded our celebration to include Easter hams, hot cross buns, new clothes, chocolate bunnies, dyed eggs, and rainbow-colored chicks along with Passion Plays, Easter Masses and Communions. There seems to be a tie in with the Christian Easter and ancient pagan spring festivals celebrating fertility and rebirth. (More on that later)
In accordance with Christ’s teachings, this connection to pagan festivals is perfectly fine with me. Resurrection is a form of rebirth and there are fertile fields of pseudo believers, nonbelievers, and those who have slid back waiting to be harvested. I know, for I am one.
Connected to Easter, Biblically and by the calendar, is the Jewish celebration of Passover, the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, which occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the first month of Aviv, or spring. To translate that into English for non-Jews, Passover is celebrated from April 15 through April 23. In Western Christianity, Easter Sunday must always follow the first full moon after the spring equinox which means Easter is celebrated near Passover. In the Eastern Orthodox Christianity, it is a bit more complicated because it involves a different calendar but sometimes, they even coincide.
During the time of The Passover, according to the Book of Exodus, God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to mark their homes with lamb’s or goat’s blood so that the Angel of Death will pass over them. This was the tenth plague placed upon Egypt for keeping the Israelites in bondage. The plague – the deaths of all first-born males except for those protected by the blood.
After the death of all firstborns, the Pharaoh orders the Israelites to leave, taking whatever, they want, and asks Moses to bless him in the name of the Lord. The Passover sacrifice of a lamb or goat recalls the time when the LORD “passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt”.
After ten plagues I understand why the Pharaoh might have been happy for the Israelites to leave but he backtracked some seven days later sending his chariots after them and setting up another miracle, The Parting of the Red Sea.
April is also the month of Ramadan for those who practice the religion of Islam. The Islamic holiday of Ramadan began on April 2 and lasts through the month of April. It’s centered around fasting, self-reflection, and prayer, and serves as one of the Five Pillars of Islam central to the religion.
During this month, Muslims can eat before sunrise – a meal called suhoor – and after sunset. The evening meal is called iftar. The month ends with a celebratory feasting holiday, Eid al-Fitr.
Unlike Easter and Passover, the origin of Ramadan is not surrounded by “blood”…that will come later. According to Muslim traditions, in a cave on a mountain, Muhammad was visited by the Angel Gabriel and was told he was a “Messenger” or “Prophet of God”. This was confirmed to Muhammad by a Christian relative Muhammad discussed it with.
Shortly after, Muhammad began to receive further revelations from Gabriel, as well as from the realizations of his own heart. According to hadith, the stories about Muhammad’s life, all holy scriptures were sent down during Ramadan, making these thirty days the holiest in the Muslim religion.
Along with the monotheistic religions I must shout out to my pagan friends too. I know I have one. They are involved in this intersection too and seem to be a fun group. Their calendar was based off the lunar cycles and equinoxes and solstices were important, none more so than the Spring Equinox. I know their lives were hard, but they certainly knew how to throw a celebration. Their Spring festival to the Goddess Oestara or Eostre or Biblically “Ishtar” being just one.
Their Spring celebration is the origin of the Easter Bunny and the Easter Egg except for the pagans it was the ‘moon hare’ that laid the ‘Cosmic Egg’ from which emerged all life. It is a short leap to chocolate bunnies and dyed eggs. The ‘hare of Eostre’ became the ‘Easter Bunny’ and the ‘Cosmic Egg’ became the Easter egg. It is thought that the word Easter morphed from Eostre.
Further, in pagan time special cakes were baked as sacrificial offerings to the moon goddess and were marked with an equal-armed cross to divide the cake into four quarters. These represented the four lunar quarters. The cake was then broken up into pieces and buried at the nearest crossroads as an offering. Again, we have a short leap to the ‘hot cross buns’…with a slab of Easter ham resting between two halves. That too is of pagan origins.
Biblically, Ishtar, both the mother and wife of Nimrod, a grandson of Noah, became pregnant and bore a son named Tammuz claiming he was the product of a sunray, which caused her to conceive. But Tammuz grew to be a hunter and was later killed by a wild pig. Ishtar, who claimed Nimrod had not died but became the god, Baal. She designated a forty-day period (the source of Lent?) to mark the anniversary of Tammuz’s death.
During this time, no meat was to be eaten. Every year, on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, a celebration was made. Ishtar also proclaimed that because a pig killed Tammuz, that a pig must be eaten on that Sunday, preferably in a hot cross bun. I added the bun part.
Enough research and intersection. I hope however you celebrate Easter it is a wonderful experience. I am going to have a ham biscuit.
A cousin of mine, Sara Howie Hammond, pointed out to me I was remiss in not including the Baha’i Faith, the newest of the world’s revelations, which is celebrating Ridvan which is a twelve-day celebration beginning on April 21. Bahá’u’lláh, the latest manifestation of God, came to unite the people of the world, to eliminate prejudice, and to bring an era of peace and justice to the world. The celebration starts at sundown on the 13 of Jalál, which corresponds to the 20 or 21 of April, depending on the March equinox date. The Ridván Festival is known as the “Most Great Festival” and the “King of Festivals” and it is the holiest festival in the Baha’i faith.
Thanks to Laura Dye for suggesting the site: Folklore, Customs, Legends and Mythology. It was helpful and the basis of my research on pagan celebrations. I might have even copied a bit.
Google supplied the Bunny Rabbit image although it looks just like the semi-tame bunny who lives in my back yard.
Don Miller’s latest release is a nonfiction group of stories and essays named “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes, More Musings From a Mad Southerner.” The book may be purchased in paperback or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=