Is the Easter bunny really a man? And Green?
I hope you’ll excuse the self-indulgence, but the passing of day 400 is the Corona House is one that I felt needed to be marked.
Many of you will remember that Vaughan and I were in self-imposed quarantine for some time before the national lockdown started in March 2020. As a result, apart from two drive by fruitings (delivering cake to friends), a journey to be vaccinated and to the dentist and three socially distanced visits to the shop, we’ve spent coming up to 14 months in the Corona house.
A brief reflection on some of what that’s taught me. It would certainly include the lesson that I don’t intend going back to the 5 days of office based work any time soon. I’ve also found a love of the garden, baking, rediscovered a wish to improve my piano playing and fallen in love with a bike that’s seen me riding 30 or 40 miles at a time and enjoying that time.
What it’s also given me is a refreshed perspective into what’s important and what is just bread and circuses. A number of things I’d stopped doing have shown the value they were providing to me and equally a number of things in which I had become ensnared were shown to be mere trifles of no real value.
I’ve regrettably found that I no longer recognise much of the society we’re building. We’ve gone beyond the search for a more just and inclusive society (which is nearly universally acknowledged as a good thing) to a bitter, hate filled, virtue signalling display of competing victimhood. A world where we seem to be fighting fire with fire, defeating racism by being racist, securing liberty by banning that we fear, making school children stand in assembly and apologise for being born male or protecting free speech by banning contrary voices.
It seems at present, we are so wrapped up with our own indignation and hatred of those who hold a different view or gender or race or politics that we can no longer see the wood for the trees. None of this is helped by an insatiable appetite for salacious gossip dressed up as news all bolstered and developed by social media platforms that are the modern day equivalent of the knitting undertaken under the shadow of the guillotine.
Shakespeare could have been summing up Twitter
One example of the latter would be Twitter. I held an active account for a few years, but the last year has shown it to be pretty toxic and at least for me of no value.
I have retained Facebook until such times as I can find an alternative means of keeping in contact with people half way around the world, along with friends and family.
However, I’ve cut out most of the remaining sites that usually come with a lot of heat but very little light or have such limited and limiting purposes as to be the true modern thieves of time. As to Twitter, I think Shakespeare summed it up perfectly nearly half a millennium before it was created.
Of course, you must make an allowance for this being part of the Covid blues and avoid shutting yourself away from the rest of the world. We all need social interaction and contact. However, at the moment, I’m growing comfortable with the idea of fewer social media contacts and saving some of the catch up for when I next see the person concerned. It’s almost like being in the eighties but without the good music.
So what, I hear you shout has any of that got to do with the Easter Bunny? Well everything and nothing is the honest answer. Except a little time of quiet reflection (some might call it a retreat) allows you to consider some bigger questions a flippant offshoot of one let me to ask where in the name of all things sensible does the Easter bunny fit in the picture.
This week and specifically Good Friday is a difficult one. The first week of April is when my mother died (6th April 2012) which also happened to be Good Friday that year. So this week is the double whammy reminder, if any were needed, both on Good Friday and on 6th April. For that reason I try to normalise this week as much as I can.
A 16th century view of God in heaven.
Here’s the God bit.
I chose to blog rather than post on Facebook partly due to the long form and partly because I didn’t wish to offend those of my friends on Facebook that hold deep and often profound religious beliefs.
The remainder of this post is not intended to be anti-religious, anti-Christian or any of it’s denominations. It’s simply a means of encouraging people to think more broadly about their faith and to make the same allowance you would seek for yourself to those who hold a different or less conventional belief in something bigger than ourselves.
That may be challenging for some. If it is, I’ll write something fluffy tomorrow. If you’re open for some (hopefully interesting) observations on belief and how to grow it then read on with my reassurance that I don’t wish to demean anyone’s personal beliefs.
This week is a hugely important and symbolic time for many Christians, followers of the Sumerian Goddess, any remaining followers of Mithras or the Cybele cult along with a moderate number of pagans.
However, it isn’t for everyone and this year the certainty of social media and the rise of general ignorance has seen me grow tired of being criticised for eating a lamb rather than a fish on Good Friday or failing to recognise the sacrifice that has been made for me by Jesus.
At the same time, people with equal certainty and undoubted intellect support the idea that Easter is a wasted effort as they have total confidence that there is no God.
Perhaps the best example is the late Steven Hawkins who points out that the Universe didn’t need God to create it.
As a thought experiment, let’s for a moment imagine an all powerful being existing outside our universe as we perceive it. He/she out of curiosity or love or boredom creates our Universe. Neither followers on Earth nor the scientists could explain the spontaneous creation, nor could they prove the existence of such a being but both of them could be correct. God didn’t need to create the Universe, but it doesn’t mean he/she didn’t.
It seems to me both the religious follower and the atheist have two things in common. The first is a belief in something greater than them. Ironically, the second thing they both have is their certainty – also known as faith. In the situation of our thought experiment, that’s all they could have and arguably all they need. However here’s where it starts to get interesting and where (in due course), we find the Easter bunny.
The Ancestry of Abraham
What appears to be common to all people is a need to answer where did we come from and why are we here.
Perhaps out of a need to seek those answers we have worshipped a creator. We use Greek mythology, Norse Mythology and similar phrases to identify those belief systems with multiple deities usually with particular responsibilities (eg Mars the God of War, Dianne the Goddess of Love or Isis the Egyptian Goddess representing the power of Love over death) – sounding familiar? This is also a system of belief followed by native American, indigenous Australian and many followers of Wicken beliefs where natural forces or phenomena are given either spirit, god or characters associated with those forces.
Then, through fashion, evolution, revelation or understanding the world moved to monotheism (the belief in one God). Jews know this one God as Yahweh or Yehovah, the self-Existent or Eternal. Jehovah, the Lord.
Muslims know this God as Allah. They say there is “No god, but God.” In the Semitic tongues, both Jews and Muslims use virtually the same word for God -only one mark distinguishes them. Christians know the Sacred One first in Matthew 1:23 as Emanuel, “God with Us.”
This single God has many similarities which is not unexpected given they all stem from a common figure Abraham. The Christian view of Abrahams ancestry is shown above.
A simplified religious divergence of the Abrahamic religions.
For those who aren’t fully up to speed with the family tree of Abrahamic religions, one simplified view is shown here.
Abraham’s relationship with his wife Sarah led to the birth of a child Isaac and through that route we have Judaism which in turn diverged with the emergence of Christianity around two thousand years ago.
Abraham also had a relationship with a slave girl and that led to the birth of a son Ishmael. Following exile, this branch leads to the formation of Islam and from there the further split between its Sunni and Shiite forms.
You will note that all three religions have one thing in common. At no point does any fluffy tailed wabbit make an appearance.
It’s worth considering the context in which all three of these new religions (for they were once new) developed. They were emerging into a world already replete with creation, rebirth and resurrection events. An example in point.
Who am I? I was thought to be born at the eastern most edge of the Mediterranean with my birth marked by a celestial event a pure star made of the light of the creator. I had no earthly mother being born of a virgin and my teachings centre around the power of love and the strong bonds that exist in that love between all peoples.
Sumerian Goddess Ishtar
Easy one to start? Of course, it’s the Sumerian Goddess Inanna worshipped in Babylon and later Assyria under the name Ishtar (sounds remarkably like Easter don’t you think?). Her symbols were the lion and the eight pointed star similar to the five pointed star familiar in Judaism today.
It should sound familiar, it’s thought to be a possible derivation of the word Easter. The celebrations for Inanna/Ishtar took place in the late spring in order to encourage her bounty for the coming summer.
It might not be surprising if emerging new religions borrowed a bit from the creation stories that had predated them – just to gain a little traction. I comment on the marketing only and not on the content.
Best out of three? Who am I ? I was born of a virgin, died and was reborn. My followers would meet annually in the spring on Vatican Hill in Rome to celebrate my rebirth. This celebration began as a day of blood on Black Friday, rising to a crescendo after three days, in rejoicing over my resurrection.
OK that’s a bit trickier – but I am referring to Attis, the lover of Cybele the religious cult figurehead adopted by the Roman Empire during its second war against Carthage (218-210BC). In Rome Cybele was known as Magna Mater (The Great Mother). In Greece she was merged with the lesser Greek Goddess Ghia as the mother protector perhaps in an attempt to align with the pagan beliefs of a great mother spirit prevalent at the times.
Another of those interesting marketing and assimilation techniques crops up here too. Cybele had two symbols, the first a cornucopia of bees and milk (from which milk and honey flow) and the lion.
You’ll notice the lion progressed from Ishtar to Cybele and also appears in the Bible (Revelations 5:5) with Christ represented as the Lion of Judah.
There’s nothing new with borrowing a successful symbol and it needn’t reflect on the other content or message, but it’s interesting to see how themes progress from the Pagan to mainstream belief.
The timing of Easter should also give a clue, it’s timed to hit most of the pre-existing spring festivities. Easter, rather than being a fixed date is the first Sunday following the full Moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox, how pagan is that?
In The Pagan Roots of Easter, author Heather McDougall says “All the fun things about Easter are pagan. Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit and her male counterpart whose symbol was the hare. Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead.”
The examples above have also pointed the way towards the origin of our fluffy friend, the Easter bunny. (Finally I hear you cry).
If you look up the pesky wabbit, most sources will try to point you to the Lutherans as the source of the Easter bunny. It’s true that the Lutheran’s did have something called a behaviour bunny who made appearances each Easter. It performed the equivalent of Santa Claus at Christmas. The behaviour bunny would essentially decide who had been naughty or nice since Advent and who would get their Easter cake.
An Easter Hare?
However, look at the early Easter bunnies and you’ll find them looking surprisingly suspect in the leg and ear departments. Many of them appear to be hares rather than rabbits.
That has led to the current belief that the origin of the Easter bunny lies with the Celtic and pre-Celtic Jack of the Green.
Jack of the Green is a figure from Pagan belief with the ability to take the form of a hare or a stag and is a symbol of spring fertility, rebirth and regeneration.
He is the male side or essence of the Great Goddess and is also known as The Green Man (the initial picture in this post). A strange looking Easter bunny don’t you think?