Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy Easter! Of Jesus, Eostre & Persephone

Happy April! Today, of course, is April Fool's Day. My most fertile prank-days occurred when my older three were elementary-school students. I used to pack dog or cat food in their lunch boxes on this day. They always seemed fooled and delighted. Little kids are great!
Happy Easter to all! Another day rooted in pre-Christian traditions.
Don't misunderstand, I believe that Jesus Christ existed. He was a wonderful man who I always felt close to, especially when I was younger. From early on, I had a deep sense that Mary Magdalene got a bad rap and wasn't a harlot, but a close and important person in Jesus' life.
I always imagined that Jesus would scoff at the finery of Easter Sunday, and of church-going in general; the gloves, the hats, the shiny shoes, preferring instead simple, flowing robes and a good meal - picnic-style under a shade tree.
I used to ask my Great Uncle, actually my Grandmother's first cousin, a Catholic Monsignor, why women couldn't be priests, as they were the ones who bore children and nurtured the family. He usually just smiled, patted my head, and sprinkled me with holy water.
I was all of 4 or 5 years old when I tried to coax the sweet old fellow into debate, as he died when I was at most 6-years-old, and on my birthday to add insult to injury.
I'm sure dear "Father John, " as we called him, suspected that I was trouble in the making, and if he assumed that, he was correct. But I also know he loved all of us little cherubs - the grandchildren of his cousin.
He was a shining example of who a priest should be (if not a woman!), a gentle, devout, kind person who would never hurt or betray the trust of a child.
Even our dog loved him. The scene was always the same between the Monsignor and the collie.
Our big Irish collie - all unbridled enthusiasm, fur and muscle - would bound toward Father John upon his arrival at our home. Tim, the dog, would rise to full height, placing his paws on Father John's shoulders (he was a short man, of French and German decent) and proceed to gently lick Father's face.
Father John, always with good humor and I think even delight, would reach into the pocket of his robes to retrieve his holy water sprinkler (if you're Catholic, you know what I'm referring to, a gold large pen-like device with which priests shower the masses, or in this case, the collie, with holy water). The dog would retreat to all-fours and bow his huge head as Father John blessed him with holy water and words. The dog would trot contently away after the blessing, satisfied with the ritual, to his favorite spot under a dogwood tree.
I can still feel the sun's warmth, smell the spring air and see the bright yellow forsythia bushes that lined and graced our long driveway. I can still see the clear, clean air and feel the joy that came when Father John visited.
As I grew, I learned the stories of the pre-Christian rites of Spring, but I always felt, very deeply, that there was a connection, an affinity, between the ancients and the new savior, Jesus Christ, and his dear companion, Mary Magdalene.
I continued to worship in the Catholic Church through my teen years, leaving Saturday picnics and/or Sunday softball games to walk to Church - Catholics often offer a Saturday evening mass in addition to Sunday masses. The flowered hats and lacy dresses gave way to Levi jeans, t-shirts and flannel shirts (we were Neil-Young worshipping grunge before grunge knew what it was).
While discreetly recognizing ancient traditions, I raised my three older ones in the Catholic tradition, informing them of where the "modern" traditions originated.
My favorite stories of Spring involve Eostre or Ostara, the Teutonic goddess after whom Easter is named, and the Greek maiden Persephone.
Eostre roamed the Earth in Spring in the form of the fertile, precocious, moon-animal, the rabbit. When I spot a rabbit in Spring, I fancy that I am witnessing the continuing rebirth and reign of Eostre.
The Greek story of Persephone is a beautiful testament to the love a mother should have for her daughter. Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of the Harvest. Her beauty attracted the attention and adoration of Hades, the god of the underworld. Hades captured Persephone.
In her daughter's absence, Demeter became deeply distraught, and because of her sorrow, the world became barren and lifeless.
Zeus, by way of Helios, the sun god, found out that Hades had captured his daughter. He strong-armed Hades into freeing Persephone, allowing the Earth's rebirth in fruitful abundance and fertility.
As Persephone was leaving the underworld, a still-smitten Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, binding her to the underworld for all time.
Zeus struck a deal with Hades that allowed Persephone to return to the Earth, and to her loving mother, every spring, with Persephone returning to Hades and the underworld in the waning seasons of the year.
Spring, its fertility and beauty and life-sustaining bounty, is the manifestation of Demeter's limitless and eternal love for her daughter.
Thus, the seasons were born and winter was explained with the comforting knowledge that Spring would eternally return throughout time, as the great mother's love for humanity endures through the ages . Persephone, in some versions, is said to emerge from the underworld each Spring in the form of a rabbit.
So Happy Easter to all! Wishing you love and contentment, prosperity and abundance, as the Earth renews herself and bears fruit and promise for all!

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