Easter. Let’s talk about Easter.
To Christians, it’s the festival commemorating the death, and resurrection, of Jesus.
So…what’s with the eggs? I mean, the Magpie approves of anything involving tasty treats – especially if they’re wrapped in foil (Shiny Things!) – but seriously, what’s the connection between a saviour who died on a cross, and eggs, or chocolate imitations thereof?
Well, since humans first kept poultry, and possibly as hunter-gatherers raiding nests before that (I mean, us eating eggs had to have started before we realised exactly where they come out of, right?), we’ve have been fascinated by the idea that life can emerge from something that, externally, looks featureless and non-living.
Of course, we worked out, much later, that we come from eggs ourselves, but as we’re mammals, those eggs are somewhat unimpressive to anyone outside of an IVF clinic. And since the eggs of other creatures aren’t particularly tasty – with the possible exception of caviar – it’s bird eggs that have been a focus of myth and magic down the centuries.
In some creation myths, the universe itself hatched from an egg – as opposed to science, where it hatched from a singularity, which in symbolic terms may not be that dissimilar. (But have you ever tried to buy a chocolate singularity?) Eggs have been used as emblems of life, as good-luck gifts for babies and brides, and as vectors to take away disease in healing charms. Fairytale villains have kept their souls in them, magical geese laid golden ones, and the jeweller Faberge made exquisite jewelled eggs for the Russian court.
Oddly, nobody’s linked the Easter egg to the one egg that would have been involved in the original Easter story: the traditional roasted egg of the Passover Seder meal (which is what most scholars agree the Last Supper was). Considering that this egg symbolises both the not-yet-emerged life of the Jewish nation, and the Temple sacrifice – which Christians would say was the forerunner of Christ’s own sacrifice – you’d think that connection might have been made. All we do know is that the first mention of Christian Easter eggs was from Mesopotamia; that since eggs were banned during Lent, eating them again was seen as an Easter ‘thing’; and that some Christians have seen them as resembling the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.
Of course, plenty of explanations also go round involving eggs as a pagan symbol of rebirth, which they were, and as an attribute of Eostre, Saxon goddess of Spring – which we have no evidence of. While there are traces of a European dawn goddess called Eostre, or something similar, we know little about her rituals, and they probably didn’t influence Easter aside from the name (for which we can thank the Venerable Bede, who may have noted it while he was collecting Saxon folklore in Kent). Neither is there much evidence that bunnies were her sacred animals, although hares (rather than rabbits, a comparatively late import to Britain) have been seen as sacred signs of lust, magic and the Moon since ancient times. But this is one more myth that, having been widely circulated, refuses to die. And if it’s seen as myth, rather than as historically proven belief, and if it helps people celebrate the season in their way, why not?
Eggs, however they came to be used this way, are still a powerful symbol. Spring is a good time to take stock and ask yourself: What do I want to develop in the coming months? Here’s a project to give some springtime energy to those goals.
It’s pretty easy to get hold of hollow eggs right now, the kind that come in two halves, in plastic, card or papier mache – lots of craft shops have them, and some chocolate companies package their wares in them. (You only need the egg, so I leave to you the tiresome and gruelling task of disposing of the contents.) You can decorate them however you want; try paint (sanding and a layer of gesso first will help, especially on plastic eggs), glitter, decoupage paper, beads and other bling, artificial flowers – whatever you like.
(Note: My ‘galaxy’ egg in the picture below was painted with the help of this tutorial.)
Then, fill your egg with small objects that symbolise the things you want to ‘hatch’. I won’t reveal what went into mine, but try things like crystals and polished stones; beads or buttons; small feathers, shells or seeds; milagros, religious medals or other charms or jewellery…use your imagination. You might like to create a ritual for naming what each item stands for as you place it in the egg.
When done, put your egg together and keep it in a safe place. And then…leave it to incubate. Because like the contents of eggs, like seeds in the ground, things tend to grow when we’re not looking…