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Resurrection and Easter

April 23, 2011

Why do so many myths promise that life goes on after our bodies die?

The Christian version, which (when co-opted by capitalist enterprise) promotes the idea that we should seek to eat our body weight in chocolate delivered by the Rabbit of Regeneration in a pagan rite, consolidates a common and ancient theme. Death leads to rebirth. This can be interpreted in many ways, though. Traditional western Christians were asked to accept Jesus into their hearts and thus to ensure entrance into an otherworldly but eternal heaven. Pagans, or animists like me, take a very different stance, believing that the only ‘paradise’ we can be sure of is right here on earth. (They don’t necessarily therefore believe there isn’t some other reality involved in or behind this physical one; their challenge to the mythic framework of otherworldly transcendence is temporal, not spatial.)

My question is about the fear of death that drives much of this speculation. As a child I could not understand this fear. But I felt the promise of the halo – the ring of light around the magical ones, the icon celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church – was all about the now, being in this body with a sense of honour for life that resulted in the glow of spiritual generosity. As James Hillman once pointed out, we get religions when we are prepared to accept that someone else – a spiritual hero like Jesus – can do our underworld journey for us. Jesus dies, is placed in a dark cave alone, and floats out to new life three days later. This is a common myth not only from Fertile Crescent (or ‘Near East,’ assuming you are looking from the West) cultures but in many indigenous, animistic and shamanic cultures also. The Mystery Religions of ancient Greece practiced such initiations regularly.

These quests for spiritual regeneration are pretty much universal, like a Dark Night of the Soul, forcing us to look deeply into our own limits and flaws until we let that self die and become reborn as a new person, hopefully more mature and accommodating of life and others (including nonhuman creatures and the earth itself). They seem more useful to me as a way of living better in the here and now, not as a path towards overcoming the fear of death by inspiring hope for something better elsewhere and elsewhen.

Have a regenerating and transformative Easter.

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3 comments

  1. Great post Geoff. I was just thinking how appropriate it would be to write about transformation over Easter. You beat me to it.


    • Thanks James! I didn’t actually mean to, it started out as a reflection on resurrection itself, but then i realised my animistic leanings meant it had to become about transformation. Enjoy the break.


  2. I really like the way you put things…and I’m very much with you on this one. Bravo! To life as it is!



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