Some recent educational resources have been aiming for solutions about teaching history and the social sciences to children via non-religious content. Research in the age-old, universal subject of the Spring Equinox has certainly revealed that the origins of Easter celebrations were not always linked to Jesus, but bore some aspects of the Passion story. Ancient art and building like Egypt's Great Sphinx, the mural at Angkor Wat, Cambodia, or the Tikal Temple I, Guatemala offer interesting alternate substitutes for teaching about Easter with timeless, non-religious themes. All of these cultures celebrated the Sun's passing over the Earth's equator, which is the Northern Hemisphere's "vernal equinox."
Scientists and historians say Easter signified the Spring Equinox, or gods of fertility and mystery. Who were those gods? What did they represent? Whatever the facts, such gods hold amazing ties to today's Easter in Western culture through ritual and symbol.
Perhaps the oldest tradition was that of Nowruz, the Persian new year, during the time of Darius the Great. This was a four-thousand year-old Iranian feast, based on astrological movements. Its related mythology featured Jamshid, an Indo-Iranian Aryan, whose Neolithic lifestyle relied heavily on crop success for basic survival needs. Later, the religion that surrounded this culture featured fire temples, fire keepers, and astronomers -- magush.
Scholars identify other gods like Cybele, Attis, Osiris, Horus, Dionysus, and Orpheus. Some are familiar, as their legends. For example, like Jesus, Cybele was born from a virgin, died, and resurrected during a three day feast. Sound familiar?
Here's another similarity. Ancient Saxon traditions honored "Eastra," a Germanic goddess whose worship linked to Passover. Even English folk mythology is based on hares and "Freyja." Those celebrations seem like ours because they include rabbits and eggs. So, why are rabbits so symbolic of springtime?
Again, the hare's significance goes back to antiquity. In Mediterranean cult, the March or Spring Equinox also pertained to crops and a balance between day and night. Cultic ritual, which involved a bonfire or leaping over burning ash, assured fertility. Rabbits symbolized fertility and became associated with spring across various cultures and ages. You don't have to wonder why the traditions that surround Easter provide fascinating content for classrooms or auto-didactic settings.
There are more sites around the world that uniquely marked the Spring or Autumn Equinox in antiquity. To discuss, map, and describe the varied origins of Easter, students can read about additional sites at Grianan of Aileach, Ireland; Stonehenge, England; El Castillo, Mexico; Mnajdra, Malta.
Here are some resources for further discussion and study.
Ellen B. Jackson, The Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth
Ellen B. Jackson, The Summer Solstice
Wendy Pfeffer and Linda Bleck, A New Beginning: Celebrating the Spring Equinox
AMACOM, Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion
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