The Christian term Easter is taken from the pagan Germanic fertility goddess Eostere who had a festival on the Spring Equinox. Her ritual animal was the hare and she is associated with the full moon and eggs. As much as we associate eggs with fertility, the Easter egg is a symbol of resurrection and new beginnings.
The Easter story speaks to the archetypal pattern of the Eternal Return or the sacrifice-death-rebirth cycle. We see this cycle in the seasons, in the tides and in the phases of the moon. Daily, we sacrifice and consume food to further our life, eventually returning to the earth our self. The forty days of Lent leading up to Easter mark the time of giving up or sacrificing something such as meat or eggs. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “the real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare us for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ.”
The sacrifice-death-rebirth cycle has psychological relevance as well. Individual sacrifice is necessary to bring forth new energy. This means actively letting go of something of value in service of something larger. On a psychic level, our Ego is asked to surrender something – an old attitude or a tired way of seeing our self – in order for something new to emerge.
From folklore it was stated, “At Easter let your clothes be new, Or else be sure you will it rue.” Putting on new clothing symbolically represents the possibility of developing a new aspect of one’s identity. It is about letting go and accepting change. As Joseph Campbell advised, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” However, as the cycle tells, change or rebirth does not come without sacrifice or suffering. Jung agreed, stating, “Suffering is necessary for complete development of the psyche” or soul.
This internal letting go is experienced as entering a void and we fear this darkened space. We fear the losses that will no doubt occur because we have let go. The fear and pain associated with suffering are understandably avoided. However, as the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton stated, “The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer.” One needs to be courageous enough to leave behind what was once valued and trust that possibilities more worthy of your true self will appear.
Spring is a time to reflect on what belief, role or quality you are prepared to let go in order for something new to come into your life. As Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”