With Easter upon us, I thought I’d take us through a brief history of how tradition formed and look at how fasting as a spiritual practice in the Christian tradition is observed at this time.
Like Christmas, Easter has both Christian and Pagan roots which have interwined into what we celebrate today. In the pagan tradition both are northern hemisphere seasonal rituals, with Christmas in Winter and Easter in Spring.
Easter’s Pagan Heritage
The vernal equinox marks the time that the sun crosses the earth’s equator and is one of only two times in the year when day and night are equal in length. Here in the southern hemisphere, at this time of year we refer to this vernal equinox as the “winter equinox”, in the northern hemisphere it is of course the “spring equinox” (with the reverse again in September).
In earlier times, the northern hemisphere spring vernal equinox was considered the beginning of the new year as it signified the beginning of regeneration and new life.
Easter is celebrated on the first full moon after the equinox which in the northern hemisphere is usually the first week in April. The word “Easter” itself is linked to the old english word for “east”. Easter marks the dawn of Spring and the dawn itself begins in the east.
In pre-Christian Europe, Anglo-Saxons worshipped Eostre, the moon goddess of spring and fertility. She was portrayed as standing among spring flowers and holding an egg in her hand. Her sacred animal was the hare, which laid eggs to honor her and encourage her fruitfulness.
Later Christians adapted many pagan traditions and symbols for their own celebration of resurrection. Eggs are of course a symbol of new life but another reason they became part of the Easter celebration is that they were forbidden during Lent, the forty-day period of fasting and penitence that ends on Easter Sunday.
The Significance of Fasting Leading into Spring
Fasting as a spiritual practice is present in virtually all of the worlds wisdom traditions, from tribal shamans, Native Americans to Taoists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Fasting has been used as a means of releasing emotions and connecting one’s soul with the sacred, used often as preparation for divine revelation as the act of fasting is a means to access a relationship with divinity. Fasting in this spiritual context then is a means of reducing or eliminating tension between the earthbound body and the divine – in essence it’s a discipline of making space for God.
There are 74 references to fasting in the Bible, the best known being Jesus’ 40 day fast in the desert and Mose’s 40 day fast on the mountain. In the Catholic tradition “Lent” which commemorates Jesus’ 40 day fast, traditionally forbids the consumption of eggs (along with meat) for forty days leading up to Easter Sunday. The consumption of eggs again on Easter Sunday honours then this symbol of Christ’s resurrection.
More generally though, christian fasting has always been seen as a way to overcome desire for earthy things, to purify oneself, make oneself more Christ-like, and prayer more powerful.
Applying the Meaning
For non-Catholics / Christians there is probably even less deep connection with Easter for many of us here in the southern hemisphere, due to the lack of linkage to “spring renewal” (which its pagan heritage associates with it).
I think all of us though, in our own way can acknowledge the shift in our mother earth at this time. Food is our most intimate link to her, so whilst fasting or dietary modification may not be your practice at this time, I hope you’ll take time to pause for a moment and reflect on your choices and give thanks to our mother earth for the bounty that she gifts us.
Happy Easter to you all.
The Floor Is Now Yours
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Aaron Travers is author and creator of “ The Boda Cleanse– The 4-Step Intermittent Fasting Program to Detox, Burn Fat and Restore Vitality. ” Aaron writes at www.thebodacleanse.com.au giving tips and personal insights on how to bring more health promoting simplicity into our lives .
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