Sunday, April 08, 2007

Blog against Theocracy III: Easter

the glorious firstFor First Freedom First - Blue Gal, Mock Paper Scissors, Neural Gourmet, Talk2Action, and Blogs against Theocracy present a Blogswarm Against Theocracy.

Easter Sunday. What's it all about?

Bede wrote in Latin:
"Eosturmonath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit."

Translated: "Eosturmonath, which is now interpreted as the paschal month, was formerly named after the goddess Eostre, and has given its name to the festival."
Eostre are derived from the Old Teutonic root 'aew-s', 'illuminate, especially of daybreak' and closely related to (a)wes-ter- 'dawn servant', the dawn star Venus and *austrôn-, meaning "dawn".

The Indo-European root is *aus- h2eus-
Derivatives include east, Easter, and aurora.
1a. east, from Old English ast, east (< “the direction of the sunrise”); b. ostmark, from Old High German stan, east. Both a and b from Germanic *aust-. 2a. eastern, from Old English asterne, eastern; b. Ostrogoth, from Late Latin ostro-, eastern. Both a and b from Germanic *austra-. 3. Easter, from Old English astre, Easter, from Germanic *austrn-, dawn. 4. Possibly in Latin auster, the south wind, formally identical to the Germanic forms in 2 and 3, but the semantics are unclear: Austro-1. 5. Probably suffixed form *auss-, dawn, also Indo-European goddess of the dawn. a. aurora, from Latin aurra, dawn; b. eo-, Eos; eosin, from Greek s, dawn. (Pokorny aes- 86.)
In most Christian countries/churches, the word for "Easter" is a derivative of the Hebrew "Pascha" (familiar to Americans, perhaps, in the appellation for Christ of "Pascal lamb"); in some Slavic countries it's called Velikden or Velikonoce, "Great Day or Great Nights".

Some Christians (such as Jehovah's Witnessess or Sabbatarians) don't explicitly celebrate Easter, instead keeping what the church of my youth called "the weekly remembrance of his blessed death and resurrection" and considering that sufficient without trying a single yearly celebration. Many others rue the pagan symbols that remain attached (rabbits and eggs), just as many rue the mingling of Yule and Christmas. But for most, Easter is the chief celebration of the liturgical year - for some, the only important one.

The date of Easter is calculated using an ecclesiastical lunar calendar that roughly accords with the astronomical one; Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, set as March 21. As the Eastern and Western churches use different calendars, their dates for Easter do not always coincide - this year they do, but last year they were a week apart (April 16 and 23) and next year over a month will separate them (March 23 and April 27). That's a pretty typical three-year cycle - week/month/same - though leap years can insert a fourth year in there in various spots.

The date of Easter was variously celebrated in the early church, it not being until that busy Council of Nicaea that the same date was ordained for all Christendom - though in practice it was nearly three centuries later that all the churches actually fell in line.

And what lies behind all this? It's not just another Dying God reborn in the spring, though that may have been the template (what CS Lewis once called the "good dreams" God sent to pagans to prepare them for the truth). Easter is about the redemption of the human race from its sin. For humanity is created sinful and can only be redeemed by the blood of the god that so created them... Or, as Jesus explains it to Mo, "It is the culmination of a plan set in motion at the dawn of time. Having created sinful man, I then contrive to get myself whacked in order to save him from my wrath, for it is only the spilling of my own blood that can appease me and cleanse man's sin."

You gotta admit, it's a heckuvan idea. God, dying. For us.

(If you just don't think about it too closely.)

And I freely admit that I can understand why, if you believe it to be true, you'd want everyone else to believe it, too.

But belief cannot be legislated: only outward conformity can be. And religiously coercive legislation breeds defiance, which creates martyrs, which breeds nonconformists - who spark rebellions and found countries with different beliefs, which start the cycle over again. While laxly enforced or lenient legislation, by eliminating the state support for dissenters while otherwise ignoring them, breeds ... well, look at secular Europe with its state-supported churches.

So preach the gospel, preach Easter - but don't try to use the law make it compulsive. That's in no one's best interest, after all.

This is the final post in my entry (and the least related, to be honest) - look here for day one and day two (the main one).

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At 11:23 AM, April 08, 2007 Blogger Mr. Verb had this to say...

Beautiful. I can't believe I didn't know about Blog against Theocracy until this morning.

The etymology of the Germanic forms for 'Easter', by the way, remains controversial to some extent. The story you give is certainly the standard one (to my knowledge), but modern works express some doubts or give other accounts (like the passage from Watkins you cite). One other view connects it with pouring water, as in baptism and old Germanic rituals ("Wasserweihen"). See Jürgen Udolph's 1999 book: Ostern: Geschichte eines Wortes, which I haven't read

At 11:09 PM, April 12, 2007 Blogger Glen Gordon had this to say...

I don't want to be nit-picky (but it's so much irresistable fun to be a little 'Rainman' from time to time, hehe) but the Indo-European root is now reconstructed as *h2eus- with an initial 'laryngeal' that is known to colour PIE *e to *a before disappearing in most Indo-European languages. It was probably pronounced something like an "h" deep in the throat, as with the Arabic h-underdot. It doesn't affect the etymology that you stated though. It's just that the asterisked form you cited is out-of-date by several decades.

At 5:14 AM, April 13, 2007 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Thanks, and correction made! I clearly need to pick up a new roots book ... not surprising. No science stands still.


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