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Symbolism in Spring

The Origins of Easter

by Jonathan Young

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An old superstition said to wear something new on Easter. A new garment worn on this day would bring good luck through the coming year. The birds would punish those who wore old attire by dropping decorations on them from the air.

The Easter Parade grew out of the old beliefs about dressing up in new clothing. This grand event provided a chance to be seen wearing the latest fashions and fads. The elegant ritual reinforced social hierarchies through conspicuous displays of wealth and taste.

Eostre Easter has deep roots in the mythic past. Long before it was imported into the Christian tradition, the Spring festival honored the goddess Eostre or Eastre. The name is pronounced Easter. She was the ancient Anglo Saxon goddess of the dawn and the Vernal Equinox. Her name venerates the sun rising in the east. Easter Sunday sunrise services continue the sun-worship aspect of the holiday. The equinox is when the days begin growing into the long sunlight that will be Summer. This increase of daylight makes crops possible, hence the theme of fertility.


The annual event in honor of Eostre celebrated new life and renewal. The superstition about wearing new clothes came later, but echoed the commemoration of the new. Eastre is in the lineage of Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love and fertility. Other names for this archetype include Inanna, Aphrodite, Diana, Isis, Venus, Astarte, Demeter, Esther, and Freya. Freya is specifically honored on Good Friday, the day named for her.

The Easter Bunny is a continuation of the reverence shown during the spring rites to the rabbit as a symbol of abundance. The honoring of such emblems of fertility extended to eggs. The egg serves as a representation of new life. It stands for the renewing power of nature and, by extension, agriculture. The egg can also symbolize regeneration in a spiritual or psychological sense. The ritual of coloring Easter eggs stems from the tradition of painting eggs in bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring.

Hares and harebells, symbols of spring

Hot cross buns have long been associated with Good Friday and Easter. They were originally cakes for the Queen of Heaven. The markings indicating the four phases of the moon. The crescent moon is a goddess emblem. It is sometimes seen as the horns of a bull or ox. The word bun is derives from the classical Greek for ox.


Insights from the Images of Easter

Taking the superstitions and rituals of the spring festivals as psychological symbols, we can appreciate the importance of personal renewal. Putting on new clothing could represent the possibility of developing a new aspect of identity or finding a fresh sense purpose. Forever clinging to old ways of seeing ourselves can end up feeling like life is pooping on us, and few appreciate adornments bestowed by birds. Birds as symbols, might suggest that our relationship with the transcendent is less than flourishing. This is about accepting change. There are times to let go of the familiar and enter a new phase of the journey. This can involve accepting a new self-image. Spring might well be the appropriate moment to don new clothes, in a figurative sense, and claim an underused side of ourselves.

This might also be a good time to find the inner Easter Bunny. Both rabbits and eggs suggest the possibility of renewal. We might consider re-connecting with our natural fertility. The long inner winter we have just come through might not have been the most creative season. We are naturally creative creatures. There are occasions when embracing the idea of abundance is fitting and useful. A personal ritual for this month could be deciding what crops we want to develop in our lives so that we have a flourishing summer ahead.

Waking from Hibernation, Rose Red, 1894

A personal sunrise service might be adding morning exercise to our schedules. It is amazing how beneficial it is to absorb the energizing light of the sun on a regular basis. The simplest treatment for mild depression is a twenty minute walk every morning. Appreciating the gift of energy in general, and using it thoughtfully, is a meditation in its own right.

We would all do well to honor the goddess. In psychological terms, this could include respecting the areas of mystery within. The unconscious has treasures for us if we can be receptive to its still small voice. Collecting the wisdom of the moon can come through reflecting on dreams. There are vast landscapes within waiting for our exploration. Finding personal ways to celebrate the subtle themes of Easter can take rituals that have been mere superstitions and give them lasting meaning.