Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter: A Study Of Folklore and Legend For Gnostics, Occultists and Crafters

It may come as no surprise to those familiar with my dual-faith teachings, that I believe Easter to be a a feast that should be acknowledged and celebrated by mystics, Gnostics and occultists regardless of their religious persuasions. While literalist Christians celebrate a “real” resurrection of Christ at this time those of a mystical persuasion must look deep into this mythos and discover the real meanings behind it. In our search let us look first to the date of Easter. Easter is one of the moveable holidays in Christendom. The date is calculated be looking at the date of Passover, due to the fact that the Easter story was supposed to have taken place at this time.  That is to say, Passover as it was believed to fall by early European Christians. Passover begins on the eve of the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar one and each month begins the day that the first sliver of the moon can be seen following a new moon. This typically places Passover just following the full moon of Nissan. Easter falls on the Sunday following this date (or the Sunday during Passover) in some years.  In other years the two can be a nearly a month apart.  To simplify the calculation for those not familiar with lunar calendars, Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox (known in the west today to be the first day of spring.) Easter, therefore, follows closer to early pagan celebrations of Eostre.  Easter, thus can fall on any Sunday as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th. The date of this festival, therefore fell very close to Teutonic spring fertility festivals that had been celebrated at this time of year. As Christianity moved through the Roman Empire it began to encounter these cultures and many of their customs were assimilated. It bears mentioning that Easter was not even originally called such, but rather Pasch or Paschal which it is often called to this day in non English speaking countries.

The Goddess of Light and Life

According to the Venerable Bede the festival derives it's name from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring fertility and light. A late variation of this goddess may be found in Grimm when he writes of the spirit Austra. She may be able to be traced back to the Greek dawn goddess Eos and some have speculated that her origins may be further east in Babylon as the fertility goddess Ishtar! Beyond even this the we can trace her to India and the word usr, meaning dawn. In Anglo-Saxon countries the month that corresponded with what would become the Gregorian April was named for this goddess and called Eostremonat. As with many late Christian feasts, the church adopted both the name and many of the customs associated with the springtime fertility revelries.
When we stop and take a look at what the very word “light” means to the mystic and magical mind, we get a clearer look at who this “Dawn Goddess” might truly be.  Light, of course, is a metaphor for mystical knowledge or gnosis. Thus the light bearing goddess of the spring is also the bearer of knowledge! In this way she is Sophia, the feminine, wisdom bearing principle of the Godhead to the Gnostic, otherwise known as the Holy Spirit. Sophia, much as Christ, had both her spiritual principle as well as an earthly one. In her earthly body she is Mother Earth and the cthonic goddess of death and the underworld (a highly initiatory station!) In her transcendent body Sophia becomes the bestower of light (Holy Spirit,) the Star Goddess and Queen of Heaven. In this representation we see the great mother goddess present in the forms of the Virgin Mary, Isis, Ishtar, Astarte and Eos. Also we see her dark side as the cthonic Hel, Holda or Kolyo. In her wisdom we see her reflected as the Tree of Knowledge, which it has been said that Sophia took the form of, and which the first humans ate of.  This leads us to our next revelation of the Easter season.

The Living and Dying God of the Sun

For those on a mystical or occult path it is no new revelation that Jesus, as we are told of him today, is an amalgam of various deities from the ancient solar and agrarian mystery religions. Osiris, Mithras, Dionysus, Baal... the list goes on and all are living and dying gods of ancient mystery cults. Jesus is but the latest of these. The word Christ is derived from the Greek kristos meaning “anointed one” literally “the messiah,” as it were. Anointed being one who has been blessed or initiated by holy oil. Within Gnostic traditions there are those who have associated the Christ with divine fire, and thus gnosis as well. In this way Christ is represented by the sun (appropriate as He is an ancient solar deity) which sheds light upon the Tree of Life. This is telling as to the relationship between the “Son” and “Holy Spirit” in regard to our own gnosis and initiations. Of course, the old mystery traditions were concerned, often, with agrarian symbols, and thus this solar deity becomes important.
In these mysteries the Living and Dying God (or Christ as it were) dies that the people might live by the grain and vine. So it is with the Jesus myth. Jesus dies to save the souls of sinners in the literalist version of the myth. In reality this is an allegory that we can use for our own “salvation.” Man has always striven to be as god. According to the ancient wisdom the soul and spirit are not as one, as we are taught in the modern day.
The soul contained the being as born in a human body, the spirit was just that, a spirit independent of the mortal coil. This spirit would correspond to what most in the modern world would deem to be the guardian angel. When the mortal coil died this guide would move on to guide a new body and fulfill it's fate. Now, the ultimate goal of these spirits is to reunite a Godhead that was shattered at the dawn of existence by overcoming “fate” or “karma” as many understand it today. This can be accomplished by uniting the soul, which exists only while the body lives and is the essence of every person, with the spirit. Here is the secret of all of the tales of wizards attempting rituals to become immortal. It was never meant to mean a physical immortality, but one meant to carry on a repository of knowledge and fate in future lives to aid in the recovery of the True God. This is the truth, as well, of what is called the “sacred marriage.” Within some sects this sacred union is the Cross itself and is represented by the sexual union and man and woman, tying us once again to fertility rites! How, might one ask are these feats achieved and in what secret rituals? It is simple indeed, the rituals meant to unite soul and spirit are hidden in plain sight with the Sacrament of Bread and Wine (body and blood) or Eucharist. This rite is an emulation of the death and resurrection of the Living and Dying God, or Yeshua/Jesus Christ. So we have one of the ancient mysteries revealed! Thus we see that the resurrection story is a mythical guide for the mystic or magician to follow.
Further illumination of this topic is revealed in certain Gnostic ideals in which we see, within The Secret Book of John, the goddess Sophia becoming the Tree of Knowledge itself. In Gnostic thought we see that the Tree of Knowledge and the True Cross are one and the same! This Gnosis and the Crucifixion are the same! The “lost” Gospel of Truth has this to say of the Crucifixion:

For this reason error was angry with him, so it persecuted him. It was distressed by him, so it made him powerless. He was nailed to a cross. He became a fruit of the knowledge of the Father. He did not, however, destroy them because they ate of it. He rather caused those who ate of it to be joyful because of this discovery.”

Thus we are led to the occult truth of the matter.

Symbols and Customs of Easter

So we come to the seemingly secular items found in our Easter tide, though secular they are not! The first of these that we shall delve into is that of the Easter Bunny, or more appropriately, the Easter Hare. Hares and rabbits were seen, in the old time, as symbols of fertility based upon their rampant reproduction. At one time, we are told, hares were considered to be an animal sacred to Eostre, and so figure prominently in her fertility rites. According to folklore the moon hare was supposed to have laid the great egg from which creation came. This bit survived as a curious piece of lore, for in some regions people believed that hares laid eggs for some time! Thus bringing us to our next Easter symbol.
Eggs may well be the most popular Easter symbol the world over. The origins of the Easter egg custom stem from two sources. The first being the obvious pagan fertility symbol, as one of the hangers on that made it's way into the celebrations after the conversion of the European peoples. This fits in very nicely with the studies that we have already made. The second reason for eggs at Easter (and why we hard boil them) is a bit more obscure. This has to do with the lenten fast. During the middle ages in Europe eggs were forbidden along with meats. So that people would not lose their eggs the would boil them and preserve them in other ways, thus when Easter Sunday arrived, eggs featured prominently into the feasts. Events such as egg rolling and Easter egg hunts date back to this early time period and it's festivities. The painting of eggs has many different sources. The most well know of egg dying traditions (that is, outside of the realm of mass produced egg dying kits in industrialized countries) is that of Pysanky. Pysanky is the method by which the people of Poland and the Ukraine dye their eggs using wax to preserve patterns and coloration.
Yet another custom, often forgotten in the modern world, is that of the Easter Fires. The Easter Fires are one of many customs which most assuredly come from the pagan solar feasts. A fire was lit on Easter Sunday to honor the return of the sun. Later the Church adopted the custom (unable to stop it entirely) and made it to symbolize the resurrection. In some regions of Europe and effigy was burnt representing winter. In other areas the effigy symbolized Judas. In yet other regions this effigy was burnt upon a cross and called the “Easter Man.” Upon Easter Monday the ashes from the fire which had consumed the Easter Man would be strewn about the fields to make them fertile.
In some parishes the fires would be lit on Easter Eve instead of the Easter Morn. In these services all fires are extinguished within the parish. A candle known as the Paschal candle is lit from a great fire and used to relight all of the candles and lights within the church. The congregation bring sticks of beech, walnut or oak which they char in the fire. This is then used as an amulet to guard the congregant's home from lightning strikes and fires. The stick would be kept through the year and be burnt in the following year's Easter fire.

The Rite of Eostre

Armed with the preceding information a group of properly trained occultists or witches might be able to perform the following rite in honor of Easter tide.

Ritual Preparation: All lights should be put out, save for those that are absolutely necessary to get about and, if needed, read. A fire should be built, but not lit, in the east or center. Sticks may be brought by each member of the coven/congregation if desired, for charring as protective charms. Following the ritual an egg should be buried on any members land whom will grow produce in the coming year.

The Compass is Drawn as normal

Invocation of the Master

Magister steps forward and rings the bell to the north:

Prince of the air,
You who baptize by holy fire,
Son of I Am,
Golden born Horn Child
That dies and descends into Hell,
To rise again, and remember
King of Hell and Lord of Light,
Oh Great He on the Tree,
I call to you with sorcerous words,
I call to you of many names;
Hesus, Osiris, Mithras, Jesus, Dionysus, Attis,
Adonis, Woden, Indra, Baal, Quirinus, Thulis,
Sakia, Quetzacotl, Ascended Pythagoras, Prometheus
I beseech you risen Devil, King of Faerie,
Come let us adore you,
That we might learn your ways,
And our spirits become as your own!

Invocation of Eostre

Dawn Maiden,
Herald of the coming season
Nurturer of all that grows,
Wake now from winter’s slumber,
I call to you with sorcerous words
Dawn Maid, Hare Queen I call:
Eos, Eos Ostara; Eos Eos Eostre!
I beseech you Queen of Hares,
Come Let us adore you,
That we might bask in the glow of summer’s rays,
And our spirits fly to the Sabbath Grave!

The Arrival of Eostre

The Magister steps toward the fire and speaks:

Long and cold has the winter been. Long have we awaited the warmth of the spring. Now we gather to celebrate the dawn upon the green Earth and the waking of the world. Now is the coming of Eostre, the Dawn Maiden. We celebrate as she wakens the sleeping Earth from winter’s waste. Behold, Spring is come!

The Maid gestures toward the fire and says:

Behold Dawn is come! Spring is come! Eostre has returned to the children of the green Earth!

All draw three crosses before the fire. Candles are lit from the fire to illuminate the Compass. All who wish then proceed to the Eostre fire with their sticks in hand. The sticks are put into the fire briefly to be charred. The charred sticks are then taken and kept in the home for the next year as charms against fire and lightning.

All may then chant, or if chanting is not desired the Summoner or Magister may read:

Greet we now our Lady,
Returning with the Spring.
Bringing back the greening,
Swift and Swallows Wing,

Blessed now the hilltop,
Blessed now the stream.
Oak, ash and elder wood,
Wake from winter’s dream.
Wake ye mystic rowan,
Enchanted hazel, HO!
Slumber not old willow
Nor dread mistletoe.

A Mill is here tread while chanting:

Eos, Eos, Ostara

Eggs are here blessed by the Magister and an offering given to the fire.

The Sacrament of Bread and wine is here performed.

Ending Declaration:

The Rites of Eostre are over,
Go now with the blessing of the Spring
And bound to the Risen Horned Master.
The Earth wakens in the dawn!
She shall feed Her children!

The Compass is swept away and implements retrieved.

Following the Rite the Magister may "anoint" the foreheads of the each attendee with ash from the fire to give Eostre’s Blessings