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About the Spring Equinox

Links to Easter & other religious celebrations

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Linkages between the equinox, Pagan celebrations & Easter:

Many, perhaps most, Pagan religions in the ancient Mediterranean region had a major seasonal day of religious celebration at, or following, the spring equinox. In one religion, Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, had a consort who was believed to have been born via a virgin birth. He was Attis, who was said to have died and been resurrected each year during the period MAR-22 to MAR-25; i.e. at the time of the vernal equinox in the Julian calendar. 

Wherever Christian worship of Jesus and Pagan worship of Attis were active in the same geographical area in ancient times, Christians "used to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on the same date; and pagans and Christians used to quarrel bitterly about which of their gods was the true prototype and which the imitation." Since the worship of Cybele was brought to Rome in 204 BCE, about 250 years before Christianity, it is obvious that if any copying occurred, it was the Christians that copied the traditions of the Pagans.

Today,  no consensus exists on the linkage between the Attis legend (and the stories associated with many other god-men) and Jesus Christ:

bulletSome religious historians believe that the god-man's death and resurrection legends were first associated with Pagan deities many centuries before the birth of Jesus. They were simply grafted onto stories of Jesus' life in order to make Christian theology more acceptable to Pagans in the Roman Empire.
bulletAncient Christians had an alternative explanation; they claimed that Satan had created counterfeit Pagan deities with many of the same life experiences as Jesus had. Satan and his demons had done this, in advance of the coming of Christ, in order to confuse humanity. 
bulletMost modern-day Christians regard the Attis legend as being a Pagan myth of little value. They regard Jesus' death and resurrection account as being an exact description of real events, and unrelated to the earlier Pagan traditions.

Among the Roman Catholic church and Protestant denominations, Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after MAR-20, the nominal date of the Spring Equinox. Its ancient linkages to sun and moon worship are obvious. Many sources incorrectly state that the starting date of the calculation is the actual day of the Equinox rather than the nominal date of MAR-20. Other sources use an incorrect reference date of MAR-21.

Easter Sunday can fall on any date from March 22 to April 25th. The year-to-year sequence is so complicated that it takes 5.7 million years to repeat. Eastern Orthodox churches sometimes celebrate Easter on the same day as the Roman Catholics and Protestants. However if that date does not follow Passover, then the Orthodox churches delay their Easter - sometimes by over a month.

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Spring celebrations by various faiths - ancient and modern

bulletANCIENT BRITAIN: Both the solstices and equinoxes "were the highly sophisticated preoccupation of the mysterious Megalithic peoples who pre-dated Celt, Roman and Saxon on Europe's Atlantic fringe by thousands of years." The equinoxes were not otherwise celebrated in ancient Britain, until recent years.
 
bulletANCIENT IRELAND: The spring and fall equinox were celebrated in ancient times. A cluster of megalithic cairns are scattered through the hills at Loughcrew, about 55 miles North West of Dublin in Ireland. Longhcrew Carin T is a passage tomb which is designed so that the light from the rising sun on the spring and summer equinoxes penetrates a long corridor and illuminates a backstone, which is decorated with astronomical symbols. 1,2 A speeded-up video of the backstone's illumination is shown below. It was taken at the time of the spring equinox on 2005-MAR-23. The the original 50 minute video was speeded up to 1 minute and 46 seconds:


bulletANCIENT GERMANS: Ostara, the Germanic fertility Goddess was associated with human and crop fertility. The English word "Easter" was derived from her name. On the spring equinox, she mated with the solar god and conceived a child that would be born 9 months later on DEC-21: Yule, the winter solstice.
 
bulletANCIENT MAYANS: The indigenous Mayan people in Central American have celebrated a spring equinox festival for ten centuries. As the sun sets on the day of the equinox on the great ceremonial pyramid, El Castillo, Mexico, its "western face...is bathed in the late afternoon sunlight. The lengthening shadows appear to run from the top of the pyramid's northern staircase to the bottom, giving the illusion of a diamond-backed snake in descent." This has been called "The Return of the Sun Serpent" since ancient times. 3
 
bulletANCIENT GREEKS: The god-man Dionysos was a major deity among the ancient Greeks. "As a god of the spring rites, of the flowering plants and fruitful vines, Dionysos was said to be in terrible pain during winter, when most living things sicken and die, or hibernate." Persephone, a daughter of Demeter, descended into the Otherworld and returned near the time of the spring equinox. This story has close parallels to various Goddess legends, stories of the life of King Arthur, and of Jesus Christ. 4
 
bulletANCIENT PERSIA; ZOROASTRIANISM: Various ancient civilizations (Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Babylonia, Elam) circa 3000 to 2000 BCE celebrated New Years at the time of the spring equinox. "No Ruz," (a.k.a. Norouz, Narooz, Norooz, Nawruz, Newroz, Nauruz, Nawroz, Noruz, Novruz, Nauroz, Navroz, Naw-R©z, Nowroj, Navroj, Nevruz, Navruz, Navrez, Nowrouz, etc.) It has been celebrated in the area of modern-day Iran since the Achaemenian (Hakhamaneshi) period over 2500 years ago. It survived because of Zoroastrianism which was the religion of Ancient Persia before the advent of Islam about 14 centuries ago. Many religious historians trace the Judeo-Christian concepts of Hell, Heaven, Resurrection, the arrival of the Messiah, and the last judgment to Zoroastrianism. In that faith, the Lord of Wisdom "created all that was good and became God. The Hostile Spirit, Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), residing in the eternal darkness created all that was bad and became the Hostile Spirit." 5 This dualistic God/Satan concept is surprisingly close to the views of conservative Christianity today.

No RuzIt continues to be celebrated in Albania, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, many countries in Central Asia, etc. as a secular holiday. It is held on the day of the equinox, or on the day before or after the equinox. It is also observed as a holy day for adherents of Sufism and the Bah'ai Faith.
 
bulletANCIENT ROMANS: In "about 200 B.C., mystery cults began to appear in Rome just as they had earlier in Greece. Most notable was the Cybele cult centered on Vatican hill ...Associated with the Cybele cult was that of her lover, Attis (the older Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, or Orpheus under a new name)...The festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over the resurrection." Attis was born of a human woman, a virgin named Nana. He "grew up to become a sacrificial victim and Savior, slain to bring salvation to mankind. His body was eaten by his worshipers in the form of bread...[He was] crucified on a pine tree, whence his holy blood poured down to redeem the earth."  6 The celebration was held on MAR-25, 9 months before his birth on DEC-25. In Rome, the rituals took place where St. Peter's now stands in Vatican City. 7 The similarities between the stories of Attis and Jesus are obvious.
 
bulletANCIENT SAXONS: Eostre was the Saxon version of the Germanic lunar goddess Ostara. She gave her name to the Christian Easter and to the female hormone estrogen. Her feast day was held on the full moon following the vernal equinox -- almost the identical calculation as for the Christian Easter in the west. One delightful legend associated with Eostre was that she found an injured bird on the ground one winter. To save its life, she transformed it into a hare. But "the transformation was not a complete one. The bird took the appearance of a hare but retained the ability to lay eggs. ..the hare would decorate these eggs and leave them as gifts to Eostre." 4
 
bulletBAHÁ'Í FAITH: Naw-Rúz is an ancient Iranian New Years day festival which occurs near the Spring Equinox. It is now a world holiday of the Bahá'í  faith. If the equinox occurs before sunset, then New Year's Day is celebrated on that day in the Middle East; otherwise it is delayed until the following day. In the rest of the world, it is always on MAR-21. It is one of the nine holy days of the Baha'i faith when no work is undertaken. It is celebrated with many symbols indicating regrowth and renewal - much like the Christian Easter. Some members follow the ancient Iranian "haft-sin" custom on this day involves arranging seven objects whose name begin with the letter "S" in Persian; e.g. hyacinths, apples, lilies, silver coins, garlic, vinegar and rue.
 
bulletCHRISTIANITY: The record of the Roman Army's execution date of Yeshua of Nazareth (later known as Jesus Christ) has been lost. Dates linked to the Jewish Passover celebration in the years 29 to 33 CE have been suggested. Easter commemorates Jesus' execution, visit to Hell, and resurrection. Easter Sunday is a moveable holy day, being celebrated  from late MAR to late APR. It is named after the "Teutonic goddess Eostre, whose name is probably yet another variant of Ishtar, Astare and Aset..." 7

Roman Catholics hold the Feast of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on MAR-25. This was the nominal date of the spring equinox, according to the old Julian calendar. Catholics believe that this is the time when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was pregnant. (Luke 1:26-38) Nine months later, at Christmas/Yule, Mary is traditionally believed to have given birth to Jesus, while still remaining a virgin
 
bulletJUDAISM: "In its origin, the Passover dinner itself was a spring fertility festival - the unleavened bread coming from the agricultural past of the people and the paschal lamb from its more distant pastoral years." 8 The Bible passages of Leviticus 23:5-8 and Numbers 28:16-18 state that Passover is to be celebrated in the springtime, on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. The Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord is held on the 15th. It evolved into a celebration of the story of God's liberation of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.
 
bulletNATIVE AMERICAN SPIRITUALITY: There are countless stone structures created by Natives in the past and still standing in North America. One was called Calendar One by its modern-day finder. It is in a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical rocks and other markers around the edge of the bowl "At the winter solstice, the sun rose at the southern peak of the east ridge and set at a notch at the southern end of the west ridge." The summer solstice and both equinoxes were similarly marked. 9

"America's Stonehenge" is a 4,000 year old megalithic  site located on Mystery Hill in Salem NH. Carbon dating has estimated the age of some charcoal remnants at 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. Researchers have concluded that the site was erected either by Native Americans or an unknown migrant European population. 10 The site contains five standing stones and one fallen stone in a linear alignment which point to both the sunrise and sunset at the spring and fall equinoxes. 
 
bulletSUFISM: Sufis celebrate Nawruz -- the traditional Iranian new year holiday -- as a holy day. Sufism is a mystical tradition within Islam. They believe that it is possible to become close to God while alive on Earth. Some religious historians believe that Sufism started as a mystical tradition before the time of Muhammad and was later adapted to Islam. 12
 
bulletWICCA AND OTHER NEOPAGAN TRADITIONS: This is a group of religions which are attempted re-creations of ancient Pagan religions. Of these, Wicca is the most common; it is loosely based on ancient Celtic beliefs, symbols and practices, with the addition of some more recent Masonic and ceremonial magic rituals.

Monotheistic religions, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, tend to view time as linear. It started with creation; the world as we know it will end at some time in the future. Aboriginal and Neopagan religions see time as circular and repetitive, with lunar (monthly) and solar (yearly) cycles. Their "...rituals guarantee the continuity of nature's cycles, which traditional human societies depend on for their sustenance." 11

Wiccans recognize eight seasonal days of celebration. Four are minor sabbats and occur at the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The other are major sabbats which happen approximately halfway between an equinox and solstice. Wiccans may celebrate Lady Day on the evening before, or at sunrise on the morning of the equinox, or at the exact time of vernal equinox.

Near the Mediterranean, this is a time of sprouting of the summer's crop; farther north, it is the time for seeding. 8 Their rituals at the Spring Equinox are related primarily to the fertility of the crops and to the balance of the day and night times. Where Wiccans can safely celebrate the sabbat out of doors without threat of religious persecution, they often incorporate a bonfire into their rituals, jumping over the dying embers to assure fertility of people and crops. It is experienced as a time of balance, of equilibrium.

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Loughcrew Megalithic Cairns," at: http://www.knowth.com/loughcrew.htm
  2. "Equinox - Loughcrew Cairn T," 2002-MAR-23, at: http://www.knowth.com/l
  3. "Mayan spring equinox sacred sites tor and cruise: The return of the sun serpent," at: http://www.solunatours.com/
  4. "Lady Day: March 19-20 (The Vernal Equinox)," at: http://ladyhedgehog.hedgie.com/
  5. "Iranian New Year: No Ruz," at: http://tehran.stanford.edu/
  6. B.G. Walker, "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets," Harper & Row, San Francisco CA, (1983), Pages 77 to 79.
  7. Janet & Stewart Farrar, "Eight Sabbats for Witches," Phoenix Publishing, (1981), Page 14; Pages 72 to 79.
  8. A.M. Greely, "The greatest mysteries; an essential catechism," at: http://www.usao.edu/
  9. J.W. Mavor & B.E. Dix, "Manitou: The sacred landscape of New England's Native Civilization," Inner Traditions (1989).
  10. "America's Stonehenge" is at: http://www.stonehengeusa.com/ 
  11. Yisrayl Hawkins, "Ancient Pagan Religious Expression," at:  http://yahweh.com/
  12. "History of Sufiism," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-FEB-23
Latest update: 2009-SEP-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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