Its links to Easter & other religious celebrations
Linkages between the equinox, Pagan celebrations, Easter, and perhaps the Hindu Holi festival:
Many, perhaps most, Pagan religions in the ancient Mediterranean region had a
major seasonal day of religious celebration at, or following, the spring
equinox. This equinox typically occurs on or about MAR-21 each year, when daytime and nighttime are of equal durations. Both are close to 12 hours long on this day. However, in ancient times, astronomy and timekeeping techniques were rather primative, so the equinox was often celebrated after the exact date --in this case, when the daytime was noticably longer than the nighttime.
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," and was
said to have died and been resurrected each year during the period MAR-22 to
MAR-25; i.e. at the approximate 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 during ancient times, Christians "used to
celebrate the death and resurrection of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) 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 two and a half centuries before
Christianity, it is would appear that if any copying occurred, it was the Christians
who copied the traditions of the Pagans, rather than vice-versa..
Today, no consensus exists on the linkage between the Attis legend, and
the stories associated with many other god-men -- including and Jesus Christ:
Some 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. After his execution by the Roman Army, they were simply grafted onto stories of Jesus' life
in order to make Christian theology more acceptable to Pagans throughout the
Roman Empire -- and thus make their conversion to Christianity easier..
Ancient 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.
Most present-day Christians regard the Attis legend as being a Pagan
myth of little value. They regard Jesus' death and
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 which occurs after MAR-20, the nominal
date of the Spring Equinox. As a result, these faith groups celebrate Easter sometime between March 22 to April 25th.. Its ancient linkages to sun and moon worship are
obvious. Many Internet references state, in error, that the starting date of the
Easter Sunday calculation is the actual day of the Equinox rather than the nominal date of
MAR-20. Other sources use an incorrect initial reference date of MAR-21.
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 the Jewish Passover, then the
Orthodox churches delay their Easter - sometimes by over a month.
Spring celebrations by various faiths - ancient and modern
ANCIENT 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.
ANCIENT IRELAND: The spring and fall equinox were also celebrated
there 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 fall 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:
ANCIENT 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, which is the nominal date for Yule, the winter
ANCIENT 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
ANCIENT 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
ANCIENT 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, 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 Final 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." 5This dualistic God/Satan
concept is surprisingly close to the views of conservative Christians
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.
ANCIENT ROMANS: "... 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. 7The similarities between the stories
of Attis and Jesus are obvious.
ANCIENT 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
BAHÃ'ÃFAITH: Naw-RÃºz is an ancient Iranian New Years day
festival which occurs near the Spring Equinox. It is now a world-wide holiday of the
BahÃ¡'Ã 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. That involves arranging
seven objects whose name begin with the letter "S" in
Persian; e.g. hyacinths, apples, lilies, silver coins, garlic, vinegar
CHRISTIANITY: 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.
HINDUISM: Holi is a popular festival in India and other countries where Hindus have settled. It involves two-days of celebration at the start of their Spring. It begins on the evening of the full moon that occurs during "Phaluna" the 12th lunar month in the Hindu calendar. This day is known as Holiday Dahan or Chhoti Holi, when people gather around a bonfire and celebrate the victory of good over evil. It continues throughout the next day, which is called Holi or Rangwali Holi. Festival-goers spread colored powder on each other.
The festival is based on an ancient Hindu legend of a demon king, called Hiranyakashipu. He enjoyed limited immorality in that he could not be killed by either animals or humans, indoors or outdoors, during the day or night, on land, sea, or air, or by projectiles or weapons. He was considered evil and murdered many people. Lord Vishnu appeared and successfully killed him by bypassing all of his immortal powers:
Vishnu is half human and half lion.
They met at a doorstep, which is neither indoors of outdoors, and at dusk which is neither day nor night.
He was killed while on Vishnu's lap, neither on land, sea or air, by Vishnu's claws which were neither projectiles nor weapons.
JUDAISM: "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.
NATIVE 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 amphitheater 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. 10The 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.
SUFISM: Sufiscelebrate Nawruz -- the
traditional Iranian new year holiday -- as a holy day. Sufism is a mystical
tradition within Islam. Some religious historians believe that Sufism
started as a mystical tradition before the time of Muhammad and was later
adopted into Islam. 12
WICCA 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.
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 In contrast, Monotheistic religions, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, tend to
view time as linear. It started with creation; and will continue until the world as we know it
ends at some time in the future.
Wiccans recognize eight seasonal days of celebration. Four are
referred to as minor sabbats and occur at the two solstices and the two equinoxes.
The other four 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
Near the Mediterranean, this is a time of sprouting of the
summer's crop; farther north, it is the time for seeding. 8Their rituals at the Spring Equinox are related primarily to the
fertility of the crops and to the balance of the day and night times.
In those locations 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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.