Friday, March 21, 2008

Rekindling the fire

Yesterday at 5:48 UT the Sun crossed the sky's equator and moved into the northern celestial hemisphere. Today at 18:39 UT the Moon is full. By ancient convention, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full Moon after the vernal equinox. Easter seldom occurs earlier than it does this year. Seldom does the liturgical celebration of the Sun's return coincide so closely with the astronomical event.

I loved the Easter week liturgies as a child. The three-hour silence on Good Friday afternoon. The replacement of the bells by the wooden clackers during the time Christ spent in the tomb. The purple, black and white vestments. The lighting of the Paschal fire. The denuding of the altar. The teasing unveiling of the Cross (Ecce lignum Crucis). The glorious sunrise celebrations on Easter morning. The rabbits and eggs. It was all so magnificiently pagan. Even the name "Easter" may derive from the name of a pagan goddess.

It was the genius of the early Church to incorporate so many pagan rites and customs into the new theology. And why not? What was nearer or dearer to those who lived in the northern hemisphere than the fulcrum of the season when the Earth's axis tilts again towards the source of heat and light? We have lost most of our connection with nature's intrinsic rhythms. Artificial heat, air conditioning, electric light, and the global transport of food have pretty much erased our consciousness of seasonal change. We have divorced ourselves from the sky and from the Myth of the Eternal Return. Our theologies are neolithic, but they have been ripped from their neolithic roots.