Spring has come to Newcastle, perhaps a little belatedly. The Vernal equinox – the astronomical switch into this season of growth – was on the 20 March: not that long ago! And with Easter just around the corner, it’s time to take stock in this wonderful time of year.
The word, equinox, comes from Latin. It means “equal night” – day and night being approximately the same length. There are two a year, one in autumn and one in spring, when the axis of the earth is titled neither towards nor away from the sun. The equinox has been celebrated for years, many of the traditions involved in its passing profoundly influencing how we regard the biblical passing of Jesus Christ.
Even the name Easter is probably derived from another source. Ēostre or Ostara is from a pagan tradition. The historical origin of the word is hotly debated but it most likely taken from the name of a goddess, who presided over dawn, light, sunrise, fertility and carnal desire. There are so many different celebrations around this time of year that it would be impossible to talk about them all. So, in the interests of time, we’ve picked a few which really piqued our interest to talk about.
Relevance to calendars: The equinox is important for quite a few calendars. In the Zodiac calendar it marks the first day of a new year. The same can be said of the Persian and Iranian calendar. It’s on the equinox that one celebrates Nowruz or New Day. This is when the mythical king of Persia, Jamshid, ascended to the throne. Eggs are painted red for the celebration, and new mothers eat as many eggs as they have children on the day.
Mithras: In Roman mythology, the god Mithras was born at the Winter solstice, from a rock. He was worshipped in caves as a consequence of this – over 420 Mithraic sites have been found in such locations. The story goes that he hunted and killed the tauroctony, a sacred bull, which he then feasted upon with Sol, the Sun God. This is known as the banquet of the Sun.
And, really, that’s next to all we know about him. This is helped by the fact that the cult of Mithras was very secretive. In order to gain entry, one would have to go through a torturous initiation ceremony. All that can be said for certain about this is that involved being stripped of one’s clothes, blindfold and potentially wounded. The initiation would be completed by a handshake with the pater (the head of the cult), just as Mithras and Sol shook hands at his banquet.
Some more information sheds a little light on the relevance of Mithras to the solstice and to Easter. On this day, he was resurrected to help his followers ascend to the realm of light after death. This echoes the bible, and the reincarnation of Jesus. It is also said that Mithras had a similar appearance to Jesus, and that he was amongst the most popular of Roman gods in the period that Jesus is estimated to have lived.
Blåkulla and the Devil’s party: Blåkulla is a mythical meadow, described as a ‘delicate large Meadow, whereof you can see no end’ in the Sadducismus Triumphatus. It has a gate within it, leading to another meadow and a house. Coincidentally, this just so happens to be Satan’s party pad.
This originates in Sweden. On what we know as Easter Thursday, the world’s witches travel to Blåkulla, which can only be reached by flight. There, the Devil greats them, dressed in a grey coat, red and blue stockings and with his red beard on proud display. They all go into the house, which has a banquet hall and a rather large bedroom, and party until Sunday. The myth gets a little bit too adult for us here, but apparently some of the witches bring ‘forth Toads and Serpents’ afterwards.
On Easter Sunday the witches come home, probably quite tired and a little hungover. Traditionally, some people lit fires to ward them away.
A history of the Easter Bunny: The Easter Bunny is, perhaps, one of the most endearing aspects of any Easter celebration. However, it is fair to wonder why. What on earth does a rabbit have to do with the death of Christ? Why does he bring us chocolate eggs?
Unfortunately, the exact origins of our favourite Easter critter are unclear. It’s just one of those weird things. The earliest sources on him say that he came to America in the 1700s. German immigrants settled in the state of Pennsylvania and they brought with them their tradition of egg-laying hares, known as the Osterhase or Oschter Haws. Their children made nests, where the creature laid coloured eggs for them. Eventually, this tradition spread and mutated into the staple we all know today. It’s strange, but there we have it.
So, whether you’re enjoying a family Easter, complete with chocolate eggs and the Osterhase, or catching a flight to the Devil’s house, we hope you enjoy this time of year. Concept will be on hand with fashionable eyewear for all of you as the sun begins to poke its head from behind the winter clouds.