Hares giving gifts, slaughtered lambs, & COVID-19

April is upon us, and with it comes Spring, Easter, Passover, and ongoing social distancing. It was a struggle to decide whether to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic for this month’s blog, or to shift focus to other topics in order to give our readers a bit of a reprieve from the crisis. We’re going to do a little of both.

The major religious holidays that occur during the month of April all have some themes in common. Basically, these holidays are a celebration of Spring, no matter how twisted the stories are. Of course, there is Good Friday, which celebrates the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, followed by Easter, when Jesus rises from the dead three days after he is buried. The Easter bunny works his way into the celebrations by way of Germany. According to German Lutheran folklore, the “Easter Hare” is a sort of Santa Claus/ Krampus figure who judges whether children are good or bad. He carries Easter eggs and other goodies in his basket to bestow on the good children. Ancient legend describes the bunny as a hermaphrodite who could reproduce without losing its virginity, and for this reason is associated with the Virgin Mary in ancient artwork and texts. Okie dokie.

Then there is Passover. In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites are enslaved in Egypt, so Yahweh appears to Moses as a burning bush, as one does, to tell Moses to confront the Pharaoh. As if appearing as burning shrubbery isn’t enough to show his power, Yahweh imposes ten plagues on the Egyptians, the final one being the death of every first-born. The Israelites are instructed to slaughter a lamb and mark their doors with the lamb’s blood so that Yahweh does not confuse them for Egyptians and murder their first-borns since his all-powerfulness stops at being able to locate where his would-be victims live.

Both of these holidays “borrow” their central themes from older traditions. The custom of celebrating death and rebirth during the Spring season dates back to ancient cultures. One source of this theme comes from the Mesopotamian Goddess, Ishtar, known in Sumerian literature as Inanna. One translation of this story explains that when her husband, Tammuz (Damuzi in Sumerian) dies, Ishtar goes into the underworld to find him. She is punished for doing so, and all life on Earth stops reproducing in her absence. After she is missing for, you guessed it, three days, her servant pleads with the other gods for her return. They are permitted to be resurrected for six months out of the year, which is how we get the seasons. This same story of death and resurrection is seen in the Egyptian myth of the murder and dismemberment of Isis’s husband Osiris, of her resurrecting him and then ultimately having a son, Horus, in the Greek story of Persephone’s abduction by Hades and her mother Demeter braving the Underworld to bring her back, in the Roman myth of Cybele and her lover Attis, and among many others.

Another connection the Christian Easter holiday makes is through the Pagan celebration of the Goddess of Spring, Eostre or Ostara. There is much debate as to whether the Benedictine monk, Bede, born in 673, invented the Goddess, or if there is credible evidence otherwise. A discovery made in 1958 of over 150 votive and altar offerings dating back to the first century with inscriptions of the names of Goddesses who were venerated has given sway to the acceptance of Eostre as an accepted ancient Goddess. In Jacob Grimm’s 1835 work, Deutsche Mythologie, he states, “OstaraEástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian’s God.” In the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, there is a holiday named for the Goddess, and in other forms of neopaganism She is venerated.

As we can see, it is common across time and beliefs to celebrate Spring as a season of renewal and rebirth. Spring has positive psychological effects on our mood and mental health. In many parts of the world it brings the warmer months and increased daylight. We hear the birds start singing and insects buzzing. We see the flowers and trees start to bud and bloom. After the long, dark, and cold winter months, we feel increased urgency to go outside more, socialize, and make the most out of the warmth and long days. Presently we find ourselves in an unprecedented and surreal situation. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to go against these natural springtime urges. With the high religious Spring holidays upon us, we are seeing many Christian and Jewish leaders defying the advisories and orders of social distancing and non-essential closures to observe their holidays. There have been many reports from around the country and the globe where leaders of the major religions have made proclamations that prayer will cure people with the virus or keep people from even contracting the virus. That their god will keep them safe. That a lack of belief in their god is what is causing the pandemic and if we would all just pray, pay tithes to their churches, ask their god for forgiveness, or any other number of superstitious claims, the virus will magically disappear and we will all be saved. It is an egregious abuse of power to ignore medical expertise and put the health and safety of countless people at risk. If your religion makes you question your personal safety and the safety of others, then there is something incredibly wrong with that system. If people in leadership roles of your religion are asking you to disregard the warnings of medical and scientific professionals, then you should really start to question that religion. Most of us are feeling the stress, strain, and anxiety due to the lack of physical social interaction, fear of the virus, and cabin fever, but we are all in this together. Utilizing technology to socialize and see loved ones and people in our communities is incredibly helpful. We urge you to reach out if you need support.

The Satanic Temple also has an official holiday this month. April 30 is Hexennacht, which is very appropriate given the current circumstances. Hexennacht for The Satanic Temple is “a solemn holiday to honor those who were victimized by superstition.” It’s an “occasion honoring those who fell victim to superstition and pseudoscience, whether by witch hunt, Satanic panic, or other injustices.” TST’s Suggestions for Celebration:

  • Feast with mead and sparkling wine (or nonalcoholic equivalent).
  • Grey Mass.
  • Destruction Ritual with bonfires, music, and dance.

All of these can easily be adjusted to practice indoors and communally via virtual means. In lieu of bonfires, you can use candles, if you are unable to obtain the suggested beverages, substitute with anything you wish that you have on hand. There is no official way to celebrate, feel free to personalize your holiday. This Hexennacht is going to be a powerful one due to the current situation we find ourselves in and all the above stated superstitious rhetoric that is going to cost people their lives. As a religious community rooted in compassion, empathy, reason, and science, we should use this day to reflect on our current state of the world, honor those who have had dangerous religious practices forced on them, and who are denied medical attention due to their religion.

Again, we are in this together. We can still celebrate the renewal of Spring while adhering to the safety guidelines. Open the windows and the shades to let the light and warmth in. Reach out to your community by phone or web when you need to and hail yourself! We will get through this together. Hail Lilith! Hail Satan! Hail science!

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