The Pagan Roots of Easter by Marysia Miernowska
Spring is here! Birds are laying eggs and joyfully singing in the mornings. Wildflowers are popping up and fruit trees are blossoming as bees and butterflies swirl in the breeze. People are falling in love, planting seeds in their gardens, cleaning their homes and decorating them with flowers. Fertility, new beginnings, hope and beauty are being called in.
Spring is a time of renewal of the earth and whether we are conscious of it or not, we may notice that in our ancient bones we too are feeling called to awaken and renew ourselves.
Perhaps you have felt called to do a large spring cleaning of your home. Maybe you are finding yourself reaching for more greens, juices and living foods that bring vitality and energy into your awakening body. Out with the old, in with the new- the mantra of spring is echoing in many aspects of our lives.
Many of us are also preparing for the spring holidays of Easter and Passover. Organizing egg hunts in gardens, dying eggs, decorating our homes with fresh flowers, preparing to celebrate these holidays of renewal with our families and friends.
When we pause to reflect upon the symbolism of the foods, rituals and festivities of the spring holidays, we can gain a valuable perspective into the energy, mystery and magic available to us at these times. With this awareness, we can drop into our own hearts and find the medicine we each need for our spring renewal, creating new and personal rituals with ancient tools and deep meaning.
While I am not a practicing Christian, Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays and I am flooded with joyful memories of Polish and American Easter customs of my childhood that have clear roots in paganism and earth worshipping practices. What I am sharing with you is based on my personal experience working with plant shamanism, earth based spirituality and my upbringing in Poland and the US as a Roman Catholic. I would be interested to explore the pagan roots of Passover, Nowruz and other spring holidays as well, but for the purpose of this piece, I will focus on my own experience and cultural roots. Feel free to share your reflections on spring customs and festivities in the comments below!
The Pagan Roots of Easter
Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus and before Christianity, the Spring Equinox represented the return of the sun God from the underworld - the birth of light, life and creation. The two vernal equinoxes, the only two times a year when there is a perfect balance between light and dark, day and night, were auspicious, potent and celebrated by people whose lives depended on the fertility of the earth. People all around the world created rituals and celebrations to tip us from that point of balance into a fertile spring, a time of renewal, regeneration and resurrection. Henceforth, the days would be longer than the nights, and Mother Earth would begin stirring and waking up from her winter slumber.
Today, we celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox -- the date of celebration alone is deeply rooted in the earth based traditions that follow the cycles of nature.
The symbols associated with Easter- the egg and the bunny or hare, are also ancient pre- Christian symbols of fertility, birth, creation and the Goddess. The rabbit is connected to fertility -- and spring is a time of creation, sex and birth. Imagine our ancestors who lived so close to the earth that their lives depended on animals procreating, bees fertilizing their fruit trees -- all of nature having sex!
The egg is a powerful and ancient symbol as well and thus when used in rituals such as egg painting, it becomes a tool for magic and transformation. Symbolizing the universe, we can imagine the shell as the crust of the earth, the magma as the egg white and the yolk the core. The egg represents life, and has a long history of ritualistic and shamanic use around the world. Adding the symbols of color to the eggs specifies the power given to them -- the Druids were said to dye eggs red, like menstrual blood, and bury them in the newly plowed fields in late winter to draw life force energy into the land and encourage fertility and abundance. Following the traditional origins of painting eggs, we discover a sacred and magical ritual of transformation and manifestation.
Pysanky - Painted Egg Talismans
While today many people dye eggs in rainbow colors, the tradition of egg painting was once more elaborate and the process was in fact a prayer and magical rite involving “writing” sacred symbols and prayers onto the egg.
Still practiced in my home country of Poland and in Eastern Europe, the ancient art of “Pysanky” (meaning “to write” in Ukrainian) dates back to 1300 BC. The symbols that are traditionally inscribed are rooted in the Trypillian culture, a matriarchal society that worshiped mother earth and flourished six thousand years ago in Eastern Europe.
The budding tree, the bird, the sun, the stars -- these are the types of symbols we find on the pysanky. One of the most notable ancient symbols found on all traditional designs is the unending line, which denotes the cyclical nature of life. Other examples include the circle, cross, dots, matriarchal symbols, wheat, fir tree, horse, stag, horns and bear’s paws.
The process of “writing” on the eggs involves pouring heated beeswax through a pencil like copper cylinder. Where the wax covers the egg, the color is preserved. The egg is dipped numerous times into various colors, and new designs are added each time a color is applied. The result is an egg covered in black beeswax. At the end, you bring the egg close to the flame of the candle, gently wiping the melting wax away, and revealing a beautiful, intricate multi colored pattern.
Legend says what we would otherwise intuit on our own -- people would inscribe their wishes, dreams and hopes as symbols onto the eggs by candlelight in the evening. It was often a solitary ritual that lasted many hours. As someone who makes pysanky myself, I can attest to the meditative trance one falls into while staring at the flame, the melting wax, and drawing designs on a delicate egg held cupped in my warm hand.
The tools used are no strangers to cunning folk. The egg, representing creation and the universe; the flame of the fire representing transformation and alchemy, the beeswax, a product of the sacred bee, made of the pollen of flowers which have been grown by the sun. When we paint the eggs, our prayers take form in a sacred ritual. It is truly an alchemical process. The symbolism is layered - each pysanka has a trinity of symbols: the symbol of the egg and tools, the symbols of the colors chosen, and the symbols of the designs.
The result is a sacred egg, said to have curative and talismanic powers. Once incorporated into the Christian tradition, the pysanky were said to symbolize the rebirth of man. My intuition says that they always have held this power and more. Drawing upon the sacred elements and powers of nature, we as humans have the power to create ourselves, our universe and call in the energies most appropriate for our current rebirth.
Egg Painting Ritual
Choose an evening when you are alone with your prayers and intentions for the spring. Feel the new you that you are calling into being and choose symbols that represent the energies that will assist your transformation.
Use a white wax crayon, a pencil or purchase the tools for pysanky online. Draw the symbols most sacred to you.
Choose a color that strengthens your intention. Traditionally, these are the symbols of the colors used:
Green - new life, new growth, hope
Red - passion, energy, transformation
White - purity, innocence, birth
Yellow - happiness, community, youth
Orange - strength, endurance, sexuality
Black - darkness, the void.
Blue - the heavens, air, peace and vision
When your egg is complete, hold it in your hands close to your mouth and whisper your prayers into it.
Rub your body with it, envisioning it pulling old energy out of your body like a magnet.
Go into nature and bury it in the ground, asking the Earth to receive this egg, your prayers, and to nourish your dreams into fruition.
Know that it is done.
And so it is. Blessed be!