The spring is sprung the grass is riz…. Alban Eiler, the Vernal Equinox, the start of spring – it’s come and gone – and the planned blog for that day has been forgotten – the clocks have gone forward with the attendant lack of sleep and panic on Sunday morning, and bluer skies have kept me from the screen. I spent the day with a very good friend and his daughter. Nothing much happened.
It is a funny time of year though – when the hidden hand rises and we are surrounded by occult imagery for weeks without thinking about it. Easter is here, the ancient festival of Oestre – the goddess of spring and renewal – her eggs, resplendent imagery of the rebirth of the land after the death of winter. Yet this welter of pagan imagery is promulgated to children at playgroups throughout the land – Christian playgroups sing Easter bunny songs (the hare long known as a witchy symbol and also the animal most associated with Oestre).
In ancient Anglo-Saxon myth Oestre, (The Vikings knew her as Ostara, the goddess of dawn) is the personification of the rising sun, depicted with a Hare’s head or ears. In that capacity she is associated with the spring and is associated with fertility and ressurrection – this because of the hare and reabbit’s reputation of fecundity and sexual appetite. Eggs were decorated and left at her shrine. The Druid’s Egg – a ball of snake spit, also known as adderstones is protected by the hare, which is the symbol of Alban Eilir.
The hare is declining in Kent due mainly to the agribusiness management of our rural areas – the idea that the NFU and the Countryside Alliance promulgates of farmers as the custodians of the land is so risible. Widespread reductions in crop diversity have restricted the hare’s diet, and a switch from spring-sown to autumn-sown crops has created a food shortage in the summer. Increased livestock grazing densities have likely discouraged hares from many areas, and loss of hedgerows and woodland has reduced winter shelter. Silage cutting often coincides with peak leveret numbers and direct mortality from machinery is another factor affecting hares.
As I write this I hear a programme on the radio that made me think of the subsuming of the ancient by the Christian church and the subsequent regurgitation of the lot by post-religious popular culture into a stew from which it is hard to pick out the individual elements. The speakers discussed the replacement of the festival of The Holy Trinity in Soviet-era Russia by a non-religious Birch Tree Day. (This is further confused however by the fact that Holy Trinity Day coincided with a series of Slavic pagan holidays called Zeleniye Svyatki, or “Green Christmastide,” which focussed on the worship of the “Spirits of Greenery.”). However the speaker Margaret Paxon mentioned a ‘new’ tradition started since th collapse of the Soviet Union of tending the graves of relatives, speaking to them and even drinking with them on this day – something that she describes as being “deeper than the Orthodox Church or Soviet State.
G. K. Chesterton said When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything. I think he missed a trick there – I think what happens is that once the power of the the orthodoxy is removed, we tend to revert back to what we always believed deep down.
But let us not get too hung up on the pagan origins of Easter – in the same way as you youngsters wear denim jeans without once having toiled as agricultural workers or miners in Americaland – it is reasonable to expect these deep cultural symbols to migrate through the thin walls of observance. It is only as wrong as someone wearing Gloria Venderbilt jeans refusing to acknowledge the plight of the sharecropper.