Pagan Easter

March 29, 2010
To open the minds of Christians to a more inclusive vision, I like to cite pagan examples because they mirror Christian beliefs and practices. Pagan mystery religions had divine heroes whose lives were honored in large public ceremonies and in small private gatherings like Paul’s Christian communities, which assembled in homes for sacred meals. Christian meals commemorating Jesus’ gatherings with his disciples gradually evolved into the Mass, which has elements that apparently derived from the liturgies of mystery religions.

Mystery religions portrayed a god’s or goddess’s life in ceremonies that incited a sympathetic union of participants with the deity. They felt with Isis in her struggles over Osiris, with Aphrodite in lamenting the deceased Adonis. They hailed the resurrected one, Attis, and sympathized with Demeter in her search for Persephone.

I like to cite the story of Demeter and Persephone because this Mother-Daughter pair preceded the Christian Father-Son pair. Persephone like Christ descends to the dead. When she rises to the living, her Mother Demeter allows the earth to reawaken into spring. The Eleusinian Mysteries celebrating their story began yearly at Eleusis and ended in a moving ceremony at Athens after fasting and a great fourteen-mile procession between the two cities. The whole event lasted about fifteen days and left participants feeling a new spiritual status after having traveled from grief to elation with their divinity.
Something like Lent to Easter.

The Greek word mysterion meant secret. Divulging what happened in the Eleusinian Mysteries was forbidden under penalty of death. We do not know the details of their liturgy—what raised the ecstatic response to the Mysteries—but snitches of ancient literature suggest some details.

Like the Christian Holy Week, the rites effected a mix of contrasting spectacle and contrasting emotions. There were special light effects with torches, music, and singing. The initiates were suffused with awe, confusion, sorrow, despair, bliss, and joy. They experienced opposites in sensory impressions and emotions, moving between extremes of darkness and light, terror and bliss. Using verbal formulae—we can call them liturgical statements—along with contrasts of light and dark, music, and whatever actions the pageant included, the Mysteries engendered the alternate states of hope and despair, fear and exultation, mourning and rejoicing. The rites transported participants out of ordinariness into the transcendent realm. They induced a feeling of renewal or regeneration, a kind of mystical union with the deity.

This relationship of pagans with their god resembled the union of Christians with their Jesus, communion in sympathy and hope of a blessed life after death. Jean Shinoda Bolen said,
The mystery must have been the experience itself, an ineffable revelation that changed the participant into an initiate who no longer feared death.
An Easter experience. A similar drama—but less vivid in post-modern times—plays out in our liturgical year, especially during Lent and Holy Week from Palm Sunday through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

Easter Rising—March 24, 2010
Lois Wedl, OSB, sister of Janice Wedl, OSB, shared this:
On Sunday morning, Dr. Holly Peterson dressed in the white coat she wears for rounds, stopped by Sister Janice’s hospital room early. Since Janice seemed to be resting comfortably, Dr. Peterson didn’t want to wake her.

However, as she put the stethoscope on her chest, Janice opened her eyes, broke into a most beautiful smile and asked: “Is it time to go?” Dr. Peterson wept as she shared this with us the next day and added, “I’ve never been mistaken for an angel before.” Very likely when Janice saw this person all in white, she was sure it was an angel coming to take her to heaven.

And today Janice’s angel did come to take her to her heavenly home where she surely was welcomed warmly by all in the heavenly court including our wonderful family members and so many, many people Janice touched in her 81 years of living life so fully.
At the funeral service we heard that Janice asked about certain Bible passages, "Do you really believe this?" And we heard she was feisty. Since Saturday I've cherished these and other things I heard because they sustain me when I’m in the trenches saying the words that agitate, upset and provoke to deeper reflection.

As in my St. Cloud Times writing on Monday: Christians not alone in celebrating spring. The point of all religions is transformation.
(I'm not responsible for the run-on at the end. Someone took out my period.)

Janice modeled the most eventful transformation of our lives by joyfully rising to new life.


Sarcastic Gamer said…
I'm starting to find myself of the mindset that religion is actually a human coping mechanism.

I'm very happy I found your blog. Thanks for writing it.
Jeanette said…
Sure. That's what it is, among other things. Hope you poke around in my blog index and read, read, read to your heart's content.
We have work to do, those of us who have awakened.

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