have a happy Easter holiday?

Easter

By holiday do I really mean holi day? “holi” being the Hindu celebration of the start of spring in which they welcome the Lord of Pleasure, Madana, son of Vishnu and Lakshmi? Or do I mean a Christian Holy Day, a day when we put aside our daily toil behind the plough, over the blacksmith’s fire or on top of a thatched roof, and attend worship services on a day set aside by the Christian Church for devout chanting and singing in the commemoration of a significant religious event?

In New Zealand, this Easter holy day was, of course, to commemorate the death and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; and we were commemorating this because, based on this resurrection, the collection of Christian Bishops, gathered together by Roman Emperor Constantine in Nicea in 325 A.D., voted that Jesus was actually a God as well as a human. With this declaration 1641 years ago, the Christian religion was established as a bona fide standalone religion rather than just a sect of Judaism. And so the Christian faith was established to become one of the three great religions of the modern era. It also slightly adjusted the Christian Church’s Judaic base belief system from being purely monotheistic to being a trinity of three Gods in one: a human form, a holy ghost form, and a paternal form.

And so, after 300 plus years of persistence, Christianity, we are told, officially replaced the beliefs of Paganism as the official beliefs in Rome. For a Church that believed that Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated the triumph of a human-form of God over the pagan forces of nature, it is peculiar, then, that the date of Easter changes annually, based on the timing of the first weekend after the full moon following the Spring Equinox. This uses an undeniably pagan calendar and coincides with a long-established Spring Equinox pagan festival.

One would have thought that the actual date of the crucifixion and resurrection would have been recorded according to the Julian calendar of the day in Rome and Judea, which would then have been handed down with the gospels by the early Christians and then readily been converted to today’s Gregorian calendar. But no, for some unexplained reason, the Council of Nicea decided the pagan symbolism and timing of the first full moon after the spring equinox was the appropriate time to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Spring equinox celebration in paganism (witchcraft) today is called the feast of the Germanic goddess of fertility and new birth “Ostara” or “Eostre”, which is clearly the root name for our Easter. This is one of the eight neopagan holidays that make up the pagan wheel of the year. Knowing the Roman Catholic Church’s fundamental opposition to paganism and witchcraft, it is surprising that the commemoration of the death and resurrection is also named Easter, after this Germanic goddess.

And if we dig a little deeper in history to paganism in Rome at the time of Emperor Constantine, we find the older Spring Equinox festival where they believed in a goddess Cybele, the great mother of Gods, who had a consort named Attys. Attys had been a shepherd who was born of a virgin birth from his mother, Nana. Attys is reported to have been killed by a boar, which is then thought to be why his followers abstained from eating the flesh of pigs.

Attys’ resurrection was then celebrated each year during the Spring Equinox. It is said that during this festival a pine tree was cut in the woods and brought to the sanctuary of Cybele. The duty of carrying the tree was entrusted to a guild of Tree bearers. The trunk was swathed like a corpse with woollen bands and decked with wreaths of violets (violets were reputed to have sprung from the blood of Attys). The parallels to our Christian mourning of the crucifixion are uncanny. On the third day of the festival the high priest (Archigallus) drew blood from his arm and offered it as a sacrifice. The inferior clergy also danced their way into a frenzy of self-mutilation to splatter their blood on the tree. The splattering of blood was supposed to be an aid to resurrection. Again the sacrament of the blood of Christ offered up at the last supper is an uncanny parallel. The subsequent rebirth of nature as spring progressed is then seen as proof of the restoration of life. The worship of Cybele and Attys was brought to Rome from Phygria (Asia Minor) in 204B.C. The black stone (meteorite) in which the spirit of the goddess was embodied was entrusted to the Romans who installed it in the temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill. The subsequent harvest was exceptionally good and her position in their belief system was established.

So the question that I raise is, did the Council of Nicea actually achieve an official takeover of Paganism by Christianity, or was the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in effect a reverse takeover of the original Christianity by the pagan emperor Constantine? After 300 years of Rome trying unsuccessfully to suppress this Judeo-Christian cult, did he in fact simply don a Christian façade and bring the dissident Christians under his control in this way? Was the new, improved Christianity post-Nicea simply a hybrid Pagan/Christian religion designed to bring a bit of religious harmony into the Roman Empire? Did he bring the feasts of paganism and the dates of paganism, complete with funny hats and symbolic staves? (plural of staff, didn’t you know?), meld them with carefully edited texts about the life of Jesus (many original texts were said to have been declared heretical by this new church, and burned) and say: “Behold the new Christianity!” ? Constantine himself is reported not to have actually converted to Christianity himself until his deathbed, at which point who is able to dispute his conversion anyway?

How much do we really now know, then, about the early Christians? And what did they really believe? It was Peter who first started preaching to pagans sometime after the crucifixion and later Paul, who only joined the mission years after the crucifixion, also extended the mission to the pagans and gentiles. But the original mission as stated by Mathew’s account of Jesus’ instruction (Mathew 10:5) was “Do not turn your steps into pagan territory and do not enter any Samaritans town; go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” And later in Mathew 15:12 when a Canaanite woman asked for help, Jesus’ reply was “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel…..it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the housedogs.”  Pretty clear Judaic messages. We do know in the early days post-crucifixion there was much dispute among the Christian disciples about Peter and Paul selling out this Jewish mission to the Pagans. So was the Council of Nicea like “Bethlehem’s family bakery, baking bagels since 33AD” selling out to “Romano’s Bagel and Pizza Shack”- global franchise enquiries welcome.

Whatever your religious beliefs, it would appear that the Roman-Christian festival of Easter is in fact a rebranding of the Pagan festivals of Eostre and of Attys, including the moving-feast practice to align annually with the full moon following the Spring Equinox. So if we continue to base this Christian feast on a Pagan observation of the cycles of the sun and moon to bring in the ‘new life’ of Spring, then logically, in the southern hemisphere, we should celebrate Easter in September. Otherwise it simply makes no sense. Constantine obviously didn’t think it through to the spread of his Empire to the southern hemisphere.

So, did you put aside your daily duties and attend your Church Services? I confess that we celebrated Easter Sunday, not with a wafer of bread and sip of a cheap red wine at a Church, but with sharing a delightful platter of breads, olives, meats, cheeses and dips, washed down with an Allan Scott sav blanc and a West Coast beer and followed by desert and coffee, at a charming little restaurant. As did many other families.

For us, as I suspect for the majority of people, Easter, like Christmas, is actually a family celebration rather than a religious one. Families make an effort on these holidays to get together and share a meal. So shouldn’t we set aside the holidays of Yahweh, Allah, Jesus and Vishnu and replace them all with family celebration days? Use your annual leave for your specific holydays if that is your personal vibe, but should the official public holidays be just familydays?

Family gatherings promote harmony irrespective of creed. I am sure your God would approve and I suspect it’s the way Constantine would do it today if he just wanted to bring a bit more harmony into the community.

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