There are a lot of theories that try to explain why we hunt for colored eggs left by a big bunny on Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The one I used to believe, was that it comes from the story of a North-European goddess: she found a hurt bunny, fixed him (by turning him into a chicken), and so every year he brings her decorated eggs to celebrate. At any rate, Europeans have been celebrating Easter with colored eggs since before and after Jesus Christ.
But recently I discovered something much more interesting. Get ready for it, because it’s a big idea and I believe I’m the first to have made the connection.
Egyptians thought of the cosmos in the shape of an egg – so Horus (when he was being born) was in the womb or ‘egg’ of Isis. The egg was also a central feature of many Greek and Roman cosmologies – the creator God Phanes was born from an egg, along with other saviors. In Egypt, tradition held that Osiris had died and was cut into pieces by his enemy, the serpent Seth. Isis went around picking up all of the pieces of his body and putting them together; he then came back to life. Every year, in the spring, there was a big celebration to mourn the death of Osiris, and followed by a period of rejoicing (hilaria) when his body was found. Mourning, seeking, finding, celebrating are typical patterns of the mystery cults. Osiris can be interpreted as either a sun god or a vegetation god (although, of course, this limited pigeon-holing can’t cover all aspects of him).
Eggs are traditional symbols used to celebrate the spring equinox, in Christianity, Judaism and Islam (along with the symbol of the lamb). They represent the miracle of fertilization and rebirth (one of the attributes of the God of the old testament, reflected in ancient Egyptian psalms to the sun, is that “only he knows how life grows in the egg”.)
Here’s my hypothesis: we know that the rites of Osiris and other mystery gods – the public retelling of the mythology – were celebrated all over the ancient world annually. I’m willing to bet that included in these rites was a reenactment of ‘searching for the body parts of Osiris’. The god has gotten lost, he is missing, needs to be acted out before his ‘finding’ can be celebrated. Isn’t this the true source of Easter egg hunting? Jesus and Osiris both die and come back to life in the spring. Jesus’ death is mourned, and then his resurrection is celebrated (after finding the empty tomb, rather than finding the body).
There seems no other connection between Easter eggs and Jesus Christ, except by virtue of his relation to Osiris and other mystery traditions. There is, actually, a tradition found in the gnostic gospel of Peter, that Jesus likewise was cut up into pieces:
“My God, my God, why, O Lord, have you forsaken me? It was on the cross that
He said these words, for it was there that he was divided and separated.” The
Gospel of Philip, 49
Come Easter, take time to explain to your kids that Easter isn’t just about rabbits and candy. Tell them the eggs represent the body of Christ which was buried in the earth (hidden), and then ‘found’ (resurrected) in joyous celebration!