Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Eggs

Jesus in an egg painted on the ceiling of a small church in Munich.
Eggs appear in many myths throughout the world. They are usually a symbol of birth. One of my favorite Greco-Roman myths is the world hatched from a giant egg. Here is the summary from Bulfinch “…the creation, according to which Earth, Erebus, and Love were the first of beings. Love (Eros) issued from the egg of Night, which floated on Chaos. By his arrows and torch he pierced and vivified all things, producing life and joy.” In other words, chaos and darkness gave birth to love which created the earth. I find the symbolism so beautiful. Later Gaia (Earth) has children with Cronus (time). I have often thought about the image of Cronus eating his children and that is what time does to all of us. Eventually we will die and go back to Gaia, but the cycle of life continues.

Today, I don’t want to go too much into the Germanic fertility goddess myth involving the rabbit and eggs, which is directly attached to western Christianity. Instead I want to talk about the significance of the egg within Christianity. I have spent many Easters in Europe, mainly in Bavaria, which is a predominately Catholic state of Germany. In Oberammergau there is even a famous Passion play that runs from May to October. When I lived in Munich, I went to an egg art show where all kinds of eggs were decorated and for sale. In the grocery stores one can buy the eggs already boiled and colored. I learned from living there that the eggs are specifically colored and have different meanings within Christianity: Red symbolizes the blood of Christ – Yellow for wisdom – White is purity – Green for youth – Orange is for endurance.

When I was looking up information for this post I was surprised to find how many legends involving Mary Magdalene and eggs. One of the legends says that she was brought cooked eggs to the tomb of Jesus to share with the other women, and the eggs turned red when she saw the resurrected Christ. The egg itself symbolizes Christ’s resurrection. The hard shell symbolizes the tomb that Christ was placed in after his death.

The Divine Comedy has much symbolism involving Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension to heaven. In Inferno, Dante descended to hell on Good Friday. The language used in Inferno and Purgatory are completely different. In hell everything is dark, hopeless and without a sky. At the very beginning of Inferno, Dante begins to ascend a hill but loses all hope. Virgil, his guide in hell and purgatory, even asks him, “Why not climb up this blissful mountain here, the beginning and the source of all man’s joy.” We know during that time, Dante was not allowed to ascend the mountain because he needed to be led through hell to fully understand sin. Dante goes through hell and afterward begins his ascent of Mount Purgatory on Easter Sunday. In Purgatory the language changes and there exists hope. The colors that are described such as “the heavens lit with joy” and “the tender tint of orient sapphire” they are a reference to hope. Green grass is in Purgatory and a man is even described as wearing a green robe. Green is the color of hope.

I love the colors of spring. In western NC the trees do not become green all at once, but instead become green slowly climbing up the mountains like Dante ascending the blissful mountain. 

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