Easter just has to take the award for most bizarre of the quasi-spiritual holidays we have scavenged for the three-day break here in the great Downunder. This was my thought yesterday as I unwillingly found myself in a K-Mart aisle surrounded on all sides by half-price buck-tooth bunnies. Fluorescent lighting, gold aluminium foil and giant eggs made from cheap chocolate….feeling so spiritual right now. But honestly, even before I became such a cynical bitch, I found it very hard to connect to Easter in any way which moved me. Back when I was seventeen, I went to church, I prayed, I tried really hard to FEEL something spiritual – I wanted to participate in something holy, I wanted to do ritual, but it all felt as empty as the inside of my Red Tulip rabbit.
I’d sit and listen to sermons (hey, I love a good story, and that minister had a way with words) and learn about Jesus and I really liked him. A lot. He was a rebel against an archaic, corrupt system. He exposed the hypocrisy and greed amongst the religious leaders of the time, and he spoke to everyone, including the lowest and most despised citizens. Humble but powerful and obviously charismatic, he was by far the sexiest and coolest prophet I’d come across. I loved the way he spoke gently to the woman at the well, even when men weren’t meant to talk to women. I love the way he said Let the little children come to me, when the other guys were trying to shoo them all away. He even said that if we all don’t become again like little children, we could totally forget about going to Heaven. So Heaven is inviting us to play, to be in wonderment and to be excited about sandcastles again. It’s exactly the opposite of the uptight, self-righteous, judgmental stuff we associate with the church. Or did. I don’t think too many people even think about it any more, not in Australia anyway.
When I think about Jesus in the Tarot, I think about him as the Hanged Man, the Sacrifice. To me, he represented the Truth, in all it’s innocence, simplicity and power – and the message he taught was to Love. Truth, Beauty and Love – the holy trinity. In all the old religions there was always an element of sacrifice, and often the gods and goddesses were most pleased with a sacrifice of blood. It is hard for us to conceive of this in our culture- the idea of sacrifice is not appealing to those who are used to getting what they want. But to give up something is a necessary part of life, an acknowledgment of the intrinsic nature of life’s cycle. The Catholic practice of Lent, where one gives up something they love for a period before Easter, follows this tradition of Sacrifice – and it makes sense to me. It’s often only when you can’t have something, or sacrifice something, that you really begin to value it. Sacrifice heightens the awareness and breaks through numbness and routine. A challenge to rise to, a respect for the sacred.
The Hanged Man is also about reversal. Hanging upside down to get a different perspective on the world is very important. A group of us were out walking the other night, and came across a kid’s playground – a really good one, like a mini fortress kind of thing – and before we knew it we were playing a game. Entering into the state of the child again, where the world’s edges end where the tanbark does, where you exist in the exact moment and anything can happen depending on your move, your skill – and it’s thrilling! I hung upside down on the monkey bars and shook all the toxic crap they tell us right out of my head. Get clear, friends, shake it out. Don’t believe what you’re told until you check it out from a different perspective. Reverse everything you’ve been taught – and only then decide what you want to believe. I’m serious, get upside down and tell me you don’t feel enlightened. Why do you think yoga is so full of inverted postures, headstands, shoulderstands and the like? Blood flood to the brain.
God, was I talking about Jesus and did I wander slightly off the beaten track? Take the narrow road? Seems to be a wont of mine, and apparently one which will lead me far, far away from the eternal damnation which is K-Mart hell. It’s the broad road which leads to shopping malls, make no mistake. You only had to take a drive on Easter Saturday to see that the masses, deprived of shopping on Good Friday, couldn’t wait to make up for lost consumer-spending on the Sabbath. I think we all know that Money is the new god, shopping malls the new church. Or, for the boys, it’s gotta be Bunnings. Oh, the eagerness with which they converged upon the giant warehouse full of power tools and gardening supplies – and not only was there the usual sausage sizzle at one entrance, but, lo and behold, as a special Easter Bunnings treat, a free hot-cross-bun and single serve of Western Star butter at the exit- talk about Pearly Gates of Heaven! I’m sure Jesus would’ve been there if he hadn’t been indisposed – we all know he was a carpenter, and would’ve needed his supplies along with the other working men – and now that all the little independent hardware stores have folded under the weight of the supergod store, well, where else would he have gone? See how it all weaves together, so beautifully, with a slightly poignant twist of irony to boot….
Ah. Now, back to the beginning, where I was saying how I couldn’t connect with any real sense of the spiritual around Easter, no matter how hard I tried, remember? Well, I finally realized why this might be. It’s really, really obvious once you find out: it’s because Easter comes from pagan fertility celebrations called Ostara, or Eostre, which were celebrated around the spring equinox. All the eggs and rabbits symbolize fertility and new life, which makes sense in springtime, but is kind of weird here in the southern hemisphere, where we are sinking well into the cold darkness of autumn. The spiritual energy of this time of year in Melbourne is that of letting go, of harvesting the last of the summer crops ( I can say that without flinching, as it is literally true- still have a basket of cherry tomatoes to prove it from our garden- oh, and a runt of an eggplant but the purple colour is spectacular!), and feeling the coming of the Crone, of winter and death, as the leaves fall once more. It is truly beautiful, but it is not spring, it is almost Samhain (for us, Samhain is 30th April. Weird, I know, especially when Halloween is still commercially celebrated on 31st October… ).
I have been reading a wonderful book by Neil Gaiman called “American Gods” recently, and in it, serendipitously, he writes of the forgotten goddess Eostre (pronounced Ee-stra), a lush, voluptuous fertility goddess. All the old gods and goddesses are being forgotten and dying, lost in time as they are lost in memory as the collective consciousness becomes more and more technologically oriented and the link with nature and our pagan origins is severed. Eostre was all about new beginnings, partly deriving her name from the East, where the sun rises and the new day begins. Eostre is associated with maidens in white, youth and the first blooms of spring. When the Christians replaced the old pagan celebrations with their own, the fertility aspect was kind of lost, what with the crucifixion and all, so it’s interesting that it’s survived in the egg and bunny thing somehow, don’t you think? Even so, the aspect of sacrifice remained. Old gods and new, all need sacrifice to sustain their power.
Anyway, it’s easy to see why this celebration of ours can leave us feeling so confused. It’s all been reduced to cheap chocolate and the actual meanings have become all tangled together in a way that makes no sense whatsoever, no matter which angle you take. At the end of the day, you just have to laugh and walk the labyrinth with a childlike curiosity and sense of adventure, never knowing what’s around the next corner or who you’re going to bump into, and just taking care not to trip. Follow the white rabbit. Perhaps in the tall green hedge, you might stop, and hollow out a little sacred altar to the gods and goddesses of the past, light a white candle for Oestre and offer an egg or two. It wouldn’t hurt, would it?