Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Symbolic Meaning of Easter

Just as we have personal dreams, religious myths embody group dreams or shared symbolic content, what Jung calls the collective unconscious. Looking at Easter from this point of view, I see a marvelous tangle of meaning: the one I’ll focus on here is how we participate psychically in the myth of resurrection. First there is the sacrificial death, symbolizing the death of my individual, potentially antisocial desires for the greater good of the group. As I contemplate the god dying for the good of the group, I participate by sacrificing some of my selfishness for the good of others.  Once I’ve acknowledged the “bad” parts of myself, symbolized by the god going down into hell, I’m ready for resurrection as  purified and perfected (or at least somewhat improved) member of society.

At its most primitive level, this yearly resurrection coincides with the rebirth of nature in the northern hemisphere. Ancient fertility rites lie not too deeply below the many-layered observance. Participating in the fertility of nature gives me food, or sustenance, and, with our own propagation, carries the life force forward. At the spiritual level, the myth celebrates our human attainment of consciousness: we have transcended our animal nature and been reborn into a higher, godlike, level of awareness.

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