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The Birth of the Winter Solstice Child © 1999. Jon Grate. [gratesrun.hypermart.net]
"Many cultures and civilizations, as assurance the long night would again end and that the sun would be reborn, developed a symbol of their hope. This symbol was the birth of a man-child: a symbol and promise in human flesh of the coming rejuvenation and quickening of the land. Dumuzi/Tammuz in the Fertile Crescent was the most ancient of the winter solstice children. Osiris came soon after in most ancient Egypt slightly before or at the time of the first pharaoh and well before the first dynasty at about 2800 B.C. Adonis followed in Mesopotamia and over the Near East. Attis was the child from Asia Minor. Dionysus and Mithras each claimed birth on the winter solstice later, around 700-400 B.C. Jesus was the last of the winter solstice children by the claim of his adherents.
With the exception of Jesus, winter solstice children were three things in their societies. They were vegetation gods assuring the fertility of the fields, flocks, vines, orchards, and people. Their deaths told of the cycle of seasons and life. They performed sacrifices or were sacrifices for the well-being of the community. Also, the winter solstice children were symbols of a promise of rebirth, a blessed afterlife, or resurrection. In the last two of these things, Jesus definitely was seen as a winter solstice child; in some ways we shall see that Jesus was also a divinity tied by his worship to the cycles of the seasons and life and to fertility. To understand the births of the winter solstice child and why they came into existence, one must briefly review the syncretic progression of myth, rite, and religion in the history of the Near East, the Levantine, and Europe.
This look into the past hints at the development of religious beliefs and how the ideas from the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) fused and syncretized into religions that are with us today and are major religions around the world. The deeper birth, the historical birth, of the winter solstice child was the long labor from the Paleolithic to the great hunt across the sweep of the rolling grasslands and on to the great goddess of the planters/herders and the nomadic herder hunters.
[..]. A suggestion of the belief in the spirits of both beasts and man is present. The beasts, appealed to, do not mind dying; they are part of the round of life and accept that their deaths will bring them back through the circle of life growth and death back to life. They are the gift of flesh from the archetype of their species. The humans, on their part, did not take more than they needed so that the spirit of the beasts would not turn from them and leave them to famine. [.....]
Thus, the hunt was a rite of sacrifice.
[...]. As a spirit of fertility, the corn spirit or the spirit of vegetation also is affected by the acts and fertility of humans. Rites of fertility and vegetation continued in Europe even until through the nineteenth century, Christian Era.
Dumuzi had been a king of Uruk, and to ensure the fertility of the land, the kings of Uruk, successors to Dumuzi, ritually mated with the goddess of fertility, Queen of Heaven, Inanna, in the guise of her human queen representative. As the Goddess of Life, the goddess was the Queen of Heaven. She became in Classical mythology the water-born Aphrodite with her lover, the ever-dying and reborn Adonis.
Triptolemus, the foster son of Demeter/Persephone was shown the secret of grain to bring into the world, and reigned with Persephone in the land of the dead rather than Hades of the male god trinity, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.
Triptolemus and Adonis were both fertility gods who died and were reborn with the planted grains. This dying son was also known as Tammuz in the Middle East. His worship as an adjunct of the Mother Goddess began about 3500 B.C.
Tammuz was the god of the harvest in Mesopotamia in Akkad and Sumer. Tammuz personified the annual death and withering of vegetation. Again, a dying god brought back to life by the Great Goddess, here Ishtar, represented the fertility of plant, animal and man that the goddess controls.
Again, Tammuz was a dying sacrifice to the continued favor of the goddess who provided everything to the living. Again, his death was mourned by weeping and wailing in the autumn when red flowers bloomed. The living were never to be too happy of his sacrifice in the person of a consort king to the Goddess's representative on earth, due to the Goddess's great sacrifice at the loss of her love.
The same story is told for Adonis with slight variations on a theme. Adonis is a title (Adon, Adonai) which means "lord." The title was changed to a name by the Greeks. The cult center for Adonis was Nega (Byblus, on the Syrian coast). Again, the myth of Adonis tells the story of a young man of great beauty whom the goddess of heaven, Astarte, (later Aprhrodite) and the goddess of the Dead, fought over. In some stories he was killed by a boar, the animal of winter. Like the sun whom he, as well as all the solstice children, were identified, he was at his lowest ebb in the affairs of life and had least effect during the winter.
Deaths of victims, royal or otherwise, would continue for centuries and even in Christian Europe in the nineteenth century, remnants of the old rites for the goddess and her dying son could be found in the traditions followed by the country folk. Even in Jerusalem in Judaic times, Adonis was revered under the name of Tammuz and wept for at the north gate by the women. This was one of the turnings-away from the worship of the God of Israel that the prophets of the Bible denounced. Another winter solstice child, born to the Great Goddess of Asia Minor, Cybele, was Attis. Attis was a god of vegetation, and a Phrygian deity. Variations on his story include that Ishtar, who may be identified with Cybele, swallowed an almond or pomegranate seed, thus conceiving him. The popular story is that his mother's demented love for him drove him to castrating himself beneath a pine tree, thus dying. Like many ancient myths his myth is a shorthad for a deeper wisdom, sort of a memory device. Actually, Attis was a vegetation god whose death refertilized the fields. The interesting point of his worship is that a human sacrifice was turned into a symbolic death for the fertility of the fields - his castration.
There are other incidents of a ritual of human sacrifices being changed to other fertility and animal sacrifices. Most notably, the story of Abraham and Isaac from about this time period suggests a change from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice, with the addition of dedication of the circumsized foreskin to the god.
These early deaths of king-priests, and later a passing stranger or harvester, was tied to a sacred fir tree and slain. Later only the image of the god was tied to the tree, slain, mourned, and then, after blood rites, resurrected as a child again. The rite is similar to the tying of Odin to the world tree.
. Osiris is credited with having reigned as a king and to have tamed Egypt. Before his coming, the Egyptians were alleged to have been cannibals. Osiris taught the Egyptians laws and how to worship the gods. His wife and sister, Isis, discovered wild wheat and barley. Osiris introduced cultivation of these and was said to be the first to gather fruit from trees, train the vine to pole, and to make wine. Like Dionysus after him, he traveled the world teaching mankind these benefits. He invented the brewing of beer and taught it. When he returned to Egypt with much wealth and hailed as a god, he was plotted against by his brother and conspirators. His brother and the conspirators sealed Osiris in a coffin and the coffin was dropped in the Nile. [...]At any rate, Isis was able to recover all the pieces but the phallus and embalmed Osiris. Thus, he was revived and became king and judge of the dead. This also inspired a belief in the Egyptians of an afterlife and a continuance of eternal life for those who lived an orderly life (ma'at) within the bounds of the community and the cycles of nature. Osiris' death is said in myth to have caused the Nile to flood, thus fertilizing the Egyptian land. As a dying and rising god, Osiris, like the other winter solstice children, represents the fertility of the grain which feeds the land, fertility, in general, and the harvest. He was a vegetation god and also a sacrifice for the community's welfare and order. Evidence suggests that human sacrifices were annually offered in the worship of Osiris. The sacrifices were tied to the fear of crop failure or social disaster which the death of the victim would prevent. The sacrifices, apparently always red-haired men, were dismembered and cremated. The ashes were then scattered over the fields to fertilize them. The early kings, who were responsible for the welfare of the state, may have been slain and dismembered themselves in the character of the slain god. The pharaoh's duty was to perform rites to see to the safety and welfare of the community and the feeding of the people. Also at the festivals of sowing in what is roughly equivalent now to November and December, the priest buried effigies of Osiris made of earth and corn which were later dug up to show the corn had sprouted from Osiris' body; symbolically, the god produced corn from himself and gave his body to feed the people: he died - as the later winter solstice children did - that the people might live. Later tombs (1500 B.C.) show that figures of Osiris filled with barley were placed in the tombs to signify the resurrection of the god and the hope of individual resurrection.
The Magi of the three kings of the Orient who came to honor Christ were the priests of the Medes in western Iran. The influence of Zoroastriansim had a profound effect on Judaism due to the Jew's captivity in that region. It, therefore, had an influence on Christianity. Also, Christianity was in competition with Mithraism during the first two centuries of the Christian Era. Christianity accepted many tenets of Mithraism and other religions as it was Hellenized and went through a period of syncretism that lasted until the final codification of Christian theology around 1000 A.D.
Mithras, like the other winter solstice children, was born on December 25th and represents the divine child of light and hope of the world. Mithras sprang, by various myths, from the cosmic egg that was the birth of the material universe (the Logos) or from mother earth where his birth was witnessed by shepherds - an obvious reference to the pastoral, patriarchal/phallic nature of the worship. Mithras was, like Jesus, the intercessor between god and his followers. Mithras offered his followers worldly success and joy in the afterlife as did the other cults represented.
There is an apocalyptic separation of the good from the bad in Mithraic religion. The statement, "None come to the Father but through me" is part of the Mithraic tradition. It was primarily a male religion, women following the religion of Bona Dea or Cybele in late republican and later imperial Rome. As a mystery religion, Mithraism was available only to the selected, which is different from Christianity, also a mystery religion in the first two centuries of the Christian Era, which was open to all and promised universal redemption to believers.
Christianity took from Mithraism and the other religions it succeeded, an adaptation to cultural values and beliefs of differing geographic areas and cultural traditions. Unlike Mithraism and most of the goddess-son cults, Christianity subsumed the gods and goddesses of the earlier religions and elevated its patriarchal, Judaic traditions of a universe where time began and time would end, unlike the previous idea of boundless time and creation. Jesus, as the winter solstice child now widely accepted in the world, has a Persian and Greek background as well as a Hebrew background. This is from the Hellenization and syncretization of his thought both before his ministry began and more so after his death on the cross as his following spread the gospel. He is definitely related to the sky/solar deity of light, evidence of which, Joseph Campbell mentioned, can still be found in references within the Christian liturgy. He is also definitely a patriarchal deity, although his worship eventually recognized a subdued, Christianized version of the great goddess in the acceptance of the Assumption of Mary, his virgin mother in 1950 Christian Era. The earliest version of the gospel is the gospel of Mark which is certainly written within a time span that would allow the writer to have lived within the lifetime of Jesus. The gospel of Mark is less Hellenized and begins with Jesus' baptism. There is some evidence presently that the other gospels might have been written closer to the generations alive during the time of Jesus than was previously thought, but the evidence is tentative. The earliest events of the nativity gospels show in the story of the Magi (priest of Zoroastrianism and astrologers), and shepherds, and the placing of his birth in a grotto where a kine and an ass, symbols of fertility, creation, and spiritual power and darkness of the soul, respectively, show his relationship to Mithraism expecially and also to earlier religious cults as well. Skipping discussion of his possible miracles, divinity, and ministry, which are not discussed or questioned here, the details of his story show the Christian theology's debt to earlier religions. Mention of the role of Pilate in the story of the crucifixion, the basis of Easter, the resurrection, the Trinity, Christian communion, and his role as a final sacrifice suggest the affinity of Christianity to its religious predecessors and to Islam which is the only major religion to be born after Christianity. First, assuming the crucifixion story to be accurately reported, Pilate, as a cosmopolitan Roman may have seen in the sacrifice of Jesus the ancient rite of killing a substitute victim for the king in times of trouble. There is a possibility of both human sacrifice in early Judaism and a verified use of animals as scapegoats to take on the sins of the people and then be driven to their deaths. The placard on the cross proclaiming Jesus as the King of the Jews and his scourging suggest such a possibility. His death on the cross is reminiscent of Attis' death tied to a fir tree and Odin's nailing to the tree of life. That Pilate freed himself and Rome of the death by a symbolic washing of his hands, suggests he may have seen Jesus as a king-substitute sacrifice. The word "Easter" is not mentioned in the Bible except in Acts 12:4. The word "Easter" comes from the lunar spring celebration of the goddess Eostre or Ostara. It was generally set on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Christian Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox as well. This is a tie both to the lunar calendar (full moon) and the solar calendar (vernal equinox, the first day of an equally long night and day). It is interesting to note, too, that the first Passover in 621 B.C. and the time of Jesus' crucifixion occurred on the date of the annual resurrection of Adonis, another winter solstice child. Eostra had among her symbols eggs for fertility and conception and the rabbit, due to their legendary fecundity. Both the goddess and the god are thereby united in this symbolism. The Trinity of Christianity carries within it the heritage of the old triune goddess and the pastoral gods such as Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. The Christian communion hearkens back to the rites of partaking of the flesh of the god either in an animal or human representative as other religions did, going all the way back to cannibalistic ceremonies of very ancient times. Jesus is alleged to have said that the bread of the Last Supper was his body and the wine his blood. This was taken literally in the doctrine of transubstantiation which stated that the bread and wine of the communion were actually miraculously changed to the flesh and blood of the god. The resurrection and the harrowing of Hell have a long history of goddesses and gods being Lords of the dead or harrowing the underworld. The resurrection is interesting in that it is a promise of physical resurrection at the end of time to a revitalized Creation rather than a belief in an afterworld or the goddess and other cults' beliefs in a boundless eternity of which life on earth is only a natural portion of the cycle. As the final sacrifice, the worship of Jesus, except for the ritual consumption of his flesh and blood, accepts no sacrifice from his followers except the reformation of their passion and the awakening of their spirits. He paid the price of the absolving and carrying of the sins of individuals and the community as was the purpose of sacrificial victims throughout the ages. This discussion is no disparagement of Christianity, nor is it an attempt to diminish it to the position of a fertility cult. It is obviously more than that. If nothing else, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as redemption of the souls of humankind to allow the flourishing of the human spirit raises it above the sacrifices to bring the fields, orchards, vineyards and livestock to fruition. Christianity is an attempt to nourish the soul's hope. Such are the winter solstice children, part of the progression of religion and spirit and in the line of the developing knowledge and awareness of God and His or Her Creation. The perfect conclusion to this article would be the conclusion to Joseph Campbell's Occidental Mythology. In that he stated that the first function of mythology, and all properly called religions, was that of "eliciting and supporting a sense of awe before the mystery of being." One may see this in all healthy religions, whatever their beliefs or time periods. This article presented the idea of the cross-fertilization of cultures by invasion and migration and other means of passing on the kernel of ideas.
The Birth of the Winter Solstice Child © 1999. Jon Grate. [gratesrun.hypermart.net]
|It's not Jesus but the story that's important.||385||PhilH||13-Feb-04 06:11|
|Re: It's not Jesus but the story that's important.||116||Milo||13-Feb-04 06:47|
|Re: It's not Jesus but the story that's important.||119||Richard Fusniak||13-Feb-04 16:05|
|Re: It's not Jesus but the story that's important.||112||Milo||13-Feb-04 19:25|
|Re: It's not Jesus but the story that's important.||171||Nebankh||13-Feb-04 16:30|
|Re: It's not Jesus but the story that's important.||101||Milo||13-Feb-04 19:37|
|Re: It's not Jesus but the story that's important.||113||Segestan||13-Feb-04 14:27|
|Re: It's not Jesus but the story that's important.||144||Milo||13-Feb-04 19:51|
|Re: It's not Jesus but the story that's important.||197||Cookiemonsters||14-Feb-04 23:30|