It's time to explore the myths of Easter
HEART AND SOUL
by Reverend Andrew Schmidt
I WAS teaching my RI classes and noticed that in one class they where doing a little Easter themed math.
Part of the Easter theme was the thoroughly desacralised Easter symbols of the Easter egg and the Easter bunny.
Exploring why these symbols might have become associated with Easter I want to clear away one idea first.
There is a myth that circulates every now and then around this time of year that the rabbit was the companion animal of Eostre, a Germanic fertility Goddess, and that Easter was originally a festival to honour her.
There are two major problems with this myth.
The first is that the only historical evidence for what is supposedly a powerful and widely followed tradition is a small reference in Bede of Jarrows works, and we might reasonably expect more that that.
The second is that the association between Easter and Eostre only works in English.
In Latin and Greek Easter is called Pascha, which somewhat short circuits the conspiracy theory of Eostre.
I asked the students if they had any idea as to why eggs and rabbits might be Easter symbols, and got some very good guesses.
The guesses included that new life hatches from eggs, and that rabbits and hares have large families, and as such are symbols of life.
Historically there is some debate. I have always liked the idea that the hare, representing the soul seeking God, a traditional symbol in art, combines with the eggs to represent the new life for the soul that comes to us through Easter.
I suspect that, as with many symbols, there is not the clear linear progression from idea to execution.
Rather I suspect that for a while there was association, and then an investment in that association to create a new symbolic entry into the story of Easter.
I certainly hope this is the case because then the creation of the symbol becomes its own Easter narrative of order and new life emerging from chaos.