By Jane Lyle
The annual Easter festival is a wonderful springtime mosaic of celebrations, many with ancient pagan origins. It’s named (in English) after a mysterious Saxon dawn goddess, Eostre, and its date is calculated using the phases of the Moon. Nature is bursting with life and energy – so much is fresh and new. We can all honour that amazing feeling of rebirth now – you really don’t have to be religious to find springtime joy. Just go for a walk in the park, enjoy some fragrant spring flowers, listen to the birdsong…..
And yes, of course Easter is a major Christian festival, celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also frequently coincides (as it does in 2019) with a major Jewish religious festival, Passover, celebrating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Ancient Egypt. Jesus celebrated Passover at the Last Supper, just before his crucifixion. So both these important religious festivals are connected, and both are timed by both the date of the Spring Equinox (20th-21st March) plus the lunar calendar, linking them to the seasons and the cosmos, the Sun and the Moon.
Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is held on the Sunday following the first full Moon after the Spring Equinox. Passover begins on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month, Nisan, in March or April. Usually, Passover coincides with the night of a full Moon after the Spring Equinox in the Northern hemisphere. Yet the seasons and the ever-changing Moon, stars and planets in the night sky were used to time events here on Earth for thousands of years before either of these now-familiar religious festivals were celebrated.
Easter themes of death and resurrection echo nature’s seasons and cycles. So it’s not surprising to learn that there were quite a few myths and festivals marking that sacred cycle in the ancient world, featuring gods such as Attis, Mithra, Osiris, and wild-eyed Dionysus. They die, or are sacrificed – and then they are restored to life – just as the trees and plants each spring put out new leaves and blossoms.
Phrygian god Attis, for instance, “died” each year on 25th March. His official “birthday” was nine months later, on 25th December. Three days after the ceremonies marking his death, Attis returned to life – and those party-loving ancient Romans enjoyed wild celebrations, featuring carnival, colourful costumes, and fleeting love affairs. Attis, and his more powerful companion, mother, or lover, the great mother goddess Cybele, had a temple on the Vatican Hill in Rome for six hundred years. In pagan stories, there’s almost always a goddess.
As for Eostre ( or Ostara) she’s an elusive goddess. Saxons named a whole month, April, after her though – Eostramonath – so it’s likely that Eostre was once important. Eostre is a dawn goddess – representing the birth of the Sun, light, and life every morning. She’s related to Eos in ancient Greece, the ancient Roman dawn goddess Aurora, Egyptian Hathor, and Middle Eastern Astarte.
We don’t really know if Eostre had anything to do with eggs. Yet eggs symbolise life too – and they’re everywhere in folklore, myth, and legend around the world. At Easter and the Spring Equinox, there are red eggs, decorated eggs, and yes, goes without saying - chocolate eggs. Still, somewhere all these bright and beautiful eggs represent creation – pushing home the message that the life force is rising all over the northern hemisphere.
And what about those fantastical Easter rabbits? Some legends say Eostre’s sacred creature was a hare – so, maybe, here comes today’s Easter Bunny!
Rabbits and hares are also very amorous, fertile creatures – its spring, after all, and we’re celebrating life after the very dark days of a northern winter. Perhaps the bunny also remembers its origins as a magical hare in the Moon? Witches were once said to be able to shape-shift into hares, and witches know all about the power of the Moon too.
2019’s Easter full Moon rises in airy Libra on 19th April. It’s our second full Moon in this sign of partnerships and balance – the Spring Equinox full Moon rose at the very beginning of Libra on 21st March.
It’s a crackling full Moon this year – impulsive, rebellious, full of energy that’s hard to contain. As you probably know, full Moons in astrology mean culmination and harvest, high tides and strong emotions. This Libran full Moon illuminates all our relationships, including our relationship with ourselves. So what’s coming to a peak for you? What’s out of balance? What needs sacrificing, renovating, or an unconventional rethink? Libra likes to co-operate with others, so why not share your thoughts – if not your secret Easter egg stash? Joint efforts to solve a dilemma, or focus on a new project, can work out very well now.
As the Easter full Moon wanes, we clear things away, ready for May’s new Moon in that earthiest of signs, Taurus the Bull. And ready for yet more dancing goddesses, Green Men, and the great Celtic fire festival of Beltane. May is named for a goddess too – Maia, Mistress of Magic.
Looking ahead at the astrology, the spring months could be the perfect time to move forward with your projects and dreams, and this Easter break would be a good time to think about that. We’re heading for a big summer slow-down as planets appear to retrace their paths in the sky, just as they did in summer 2018. This heralds a rollercoaster summer season, with much backtracking, rethinks, or delays. So if you want to make progress, now’s the time. The beautiful season of rebirth is showing us all the way.