Pagan Reflections on Another Easter Passed

In spite of having left Christianity behind 17 years ago, I found myself at another Easter service this year.

I’ve been Pagan for about 15 years, but in recent years I have been drawn back to Easter and Christmas services … but not for the reasons you might think. It not because many of my friends and family are Christian.  And it’s not because of any residual or resurgent Christianity on my part.

It’s because of the Pagan-ness of these holidays.

I’m not Christian.  But I do find these Christian services meaningful … even if I do have to switch around the words a little in my mind.

When I take communion, I feel like I am taking part of the holy earth into me, affirming my dependence on the soil in which the wheat stalk and the grape vine grow, and on the cycles of growth and decay in nature, and also celebrating the awakening of the earth in spring.

Jesus the ground

In the Creed it says he descended into Hell,
Some call it the harrowing of Hell.

I remember the summer I worked on a farm
driving the tractor, harrowing the rough-ploughed fields
dragging a big comb through the earth,
breaking up the clumps, softening it for the seeds.

Some say Jesus went down and raised the righteous dead,
led them forth from the shadowy regions of Sheol.

What if when he harrowed hell he became the earth,
rich and open and fertile, the ground for the grain,
for the vine, what if we literally take his body
and turn it into bread and wine.

What if Jesus so loved the earth
he gave his only begotten body to the ground.

— Elizabeth Cunningham

If there is a central organizing myth for my Paganism, I think it would be the myth of the Dying and Rising God.  The Dying God myth underlies the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year and the semi-seasonal rituals that are the most visible expression of the Neo-Pagan mythos:

The rebirth of the Sun God at the winter solstice

The union of Goddess and young God in the spring

The battle of the Oak King (summer) and the Holly King (winter) for the love of the Goddess

The sacrifice of the God of the harvest in the autumn and the descent of the Goddess into the underworld to learn the mastery of death

The origin of this myth can be traced, not to ancient pagan myths, so much as to the modern reinterpretation of those myths by James Frazier and Robert Graves.

For me, the Christian Jesus is a type of the Dying God.  There are differences, of course. While the Christian Easter season celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus in relatively short space of time, the Neo-Pagan liturgical year separates these events, with the sacrifice occurring in the fall and the “resurrection” occurring in the spring.

At this time of the year, I can’t really connect with the themes of death and sacrifice, which I associate with autumn.  But rebirth is something very much on my mind at this time of year, as I notice the the buds appearing on the trees, the birds singing again in the morning, and the wild geese returning north.

For this Pagan, Easter is celebration of the parousia, the manifestation of Indestructible Life which shows forth in the warming sun and the rising green grass, as well as in the lifting of my spirit from the shroud of internal winter.

Now the Green Blade Riseth

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

In the grave they laid him, Love whom men had slain,
Thinking that never he would wake again.
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green,

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three [months] in the grave had lain.
Quick from the dead the risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
His touch can call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

So I feel no cognitive dissonance in celebrating the Easter holiday this year.  Whether we call it Jesus, or Life, or Love, or the Dying and Reviving God, it is the same force that springs forth alike in the trees and the birdsong and in our souls.

One thought on “Pagan Reflections on Another Easter Passed

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  1. I think you have absorbed the Unitarian Universalist message, John. I find we UUs are at our best when we can help each other reclaim the best of our old dispensations while walking our new path.

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