Monday, April 09, 2012

Easter Bunnies and Goddesses

An Easter card from 1907

First published on Good Friday on The Great Raven

As I lie in bed with my trusty iPad, I must, of course, pay tribute to the day and the festival. Soon I'll be getting up to go out for some tin-rattling on behalf of the Royal Children's Hospital. This is an annual tradition on Good Friday and one that my friends and I have done for many years. Good Friday is not my holy day, but I do have one beginning tonight, Passover, which, this year, coincides with Easter.

I could talk about related books, such as the Haggadah and, going on from there, the gorgeous Sarajevo Haggadah and Geraldine Brooks and Howard Fast, and maybe Terry Pratchett's Soul Cake Duck which lays chocolate eggs, but these will wait for another post. I want to do that justice. Today I'm talking about goddesses and eggs and bunnies -er, hares.

And one book at least. Jacob Grimm wrote a book about Germanic mythology, along with the fairy tales. In it, he mentioned a certain goddess from whose name Easter was taken and argued it was the real thing, because even in those days there were scholars arguing the whole thing had been made up by the Venerable Bede.

 Let's start with eggs. We may think they're just an add-on, but they could be the oldest part of the whole feast. In the northern hemisphere, where Easter began, it's spring, the time when new life begins, grass grows, buds swell. The egg is a symbol of new life. It's certainly a part of the Orthodox Easter; I remember my Greek friend Denise bringing along an extra red-painted egg for me so we could smash the shells together and eat the hard- boiled eggs inside.

And there's a symbolic egg on the Passover table, too. It's hard- boiled and the shell partly burned. It symbolises new life, just as the Easter egg does, but also reminds us of the sacrifices in the Temple.

Eostre and hare
 The Easter bunny began life as a hare. Some stories link it with the Goddess, capital G, and there's a beautiful song by Maddy Pryor of Steeleye Span fame about this. So of course, it's also got witchy familiar connections, and there's the goddess Eostre who may have been a goddess of the dawn, with hares carrying lights as she arrives. This is what it says in Wikipedia, anyway. But the Easter hare is something I read about long ago. Freya, after whom Friday is named, got around in a chariot pulled by cats, but also was associated with hares. A lot of the trappings of our current religions do go back to earlier ones. The Puritans sure believed that and cancelled Christmas for that reason.  Bah humbug!

I'm going to go out and get some money for research at the Royal Children's Hospital and then I'm going to eat some of the eggs of the Soul Cake Duck, brought by the Easter Hare, companion of the Goddess. Have a good holiday, everyone!

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