Everyone knows that Easter is based on an ancient pagan festival of rebirth – hence the eggs and bunnies, fertility symbols par excellence, aligned with a full moon of pregnant portent. Historically, Christianity overtook every sign of an alternative spirituality that it found, building over sites like Notre Dame as well as converting seasonal celebrations like the winter solstice, now swamped by the commercial celebration of Christmas.
In both of these cases, the major Christian celebrations are removed from the earthly and seasonal reasons behind them. Trying to explain this to my children, i spoke about the difference between Catholic and Protestant forms of the dominant western religion. Catholicism kept the rituals, the incense, the Saint days and other ways of representing the mystery of life alive. Meanwhile, Protestantism rejected the priestly power games to argue that each of us could work out our relationship with the divine within.
While i wholeheartedly support any shift away from power dynamics that privilege middle managers and disempower any individual, i also know the cost of our modern dissociation from ritual. We are no longer proficient at dropping into the subliminal otherworlds beneath and within this physical reality. The ‘techniques of ecstasy’ that Eliade called the skills of the shamanic class are limited to (mostly) desacralised trance-like artists, the aforementioned priests (where they find an audience), and psychotherapists in their clinical rooms. Rarely do any of these settings provide us with the deep connection that we crave, to the cosmic spirit of life that courses unheralded through our veins, the planet, deep space and time.
What we need, at Easter and Christmas and the solstices and equinoxes and every day, is that sense: that we are part of a living world, filled with the spirit of life, confirmed in our minds and bodies so completely that we no longer question it. This is what great myths always did – as Joseph Campbell described it, they put us in touch with the universe and keep us there. So, enjoy a chocolate egg or three, but also take time to meditate and ritualise your relationship to ultimate power, in the here and now, at whatever time you can. This is one of the greatest lacks in modern life and another reason we remain so disassociated from the natural world even while we destroy it in our ignorance.
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