The sagas of apokastasis[i] are as old as human thought, sentiment and mythogenesis. Karl Gustav Jung extends the tradition back to the ancients? efforts at cosmogony: he maintains that the allegory of cyclic, repeated patterns of life-following-death is an aspect of the hero archetype[ii] ; a manifestation, among other things, of a desire to be rescued and given a better life by a superlative power. Archetypes mold the mind. The hypnagogic apparitions and reproductions of the dying and reborn hero?s mythos shape the psyche of ordinary mortals in daydreams, daily lives and reveries… but they can do so because they are collective, i.e., somehow they become formative elements of culture by way of unconscious universal constructs.
Apokatastatic legends attributed to myriad deities come from all parts of the world: Buddha-Bodhidarma is still very much alive. Krishna in India; Mythra of Persia; our very own Persephone, daughter of Demeter, whom, quite a few scholars connect to Kybele, Artemis and some, thence to Virgin Mary; the epiphanic, foreign-born God Dionysus, who made home of the Aegean vineyards and cellars, as susceptible as we humans to wine and its effects; not to forget Tammuz, who died time and again in the middle of summer… Tammuz, after whom the month of July is named, is also known as Adonis, the young, handsome god of the Hellenophonic world, wooed and contested and shared between Aphrodite of beauty and Persephone of the underworld.
Various mystic cults and occult endeavors also carry the life-after-death archetype to daily praxes: for instance, at least two Major Arcana cards in the Tarot deck, Death and the Hanged Man, could attest to the lay and profane variations of the creed of continuity.
Apokastatis is obviously related to a sense of passage and transience and hence, its strong, albeit sometimes oblique psychic link with death; or to use its synonym, passing. To the human animal, who dreads the evanescence of life, that pass(age)ing, in order to be tolerable without causing insanity, must bear a promise of eternity somewhere within its own narrative. Probably, the immense strength of religions is attributable to believers? readiness to be convinced in the possibility, however vague, that immanent in that ?passing? is some form of rebirth.
And to persuade people that death is neither terminal, nor there is such a phenomenon as total extinction, a divinity, a prophet and a leader who perpetually dies and rises from death is the logical paragon to follow.
A Jungian, Joseph L. Henderson notes that except one, all mythologies of rebirth repeat in annual cycles… Persephone climbs to the earth as flowers bloom; every July, Tammuz bleeds to death as days begin to grow shorter after the harvest; life seeps renewed into the veins of plants about what is generally marked as the new year ? or particularly, as Christmas ?, etc., etc…
The exception, Henderson notes, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to Christian tradition and dogma, Jesus breathed his last approximately two millennia ago today, on ?Good Friday?[iii], atop the Golgotha, at the end of a cruel passion up Via Doloresa; nailed to the cross, crowned by thorns, blood from stigmata falling to the earth like seeds, vinegar-washed lips parched and muttering ?Eli, Eli, lama sabakhtani??[iv]
Jesus was then shrouded and placed in his burial before Sabbath day began. And to the sceptic, that is the end…
On Sunday, he couıld not be found in the cave where he was buried. He was reported ?seen?, alive, stigmata healed, by women that attended the whole ceremony of his execution and its aftermath, then showed himself to his Apostles. Wrote John the Theologian in the ?Revelations?: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever?…
For all practical religious purposes, except those loyal women who saw him rise, and the few Apostles to whom he appeared before the Ascension[v], the only time Jesus will corporeally come alive and be seen by ordinary mortals again, will be the Day of Judgement. Jesus differs from other deities in that, whereas his death brought the promise of eternal life for Christians by shouldering their sins, his Second Coming is supposed to abrogate all life as we know it… Indeed, the idea and visions of Christian Apocalypse created such fright, the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, through which Jesus rode his beast of burden on Palm Sunday, is walled[vi] since the Muslim conquest ? for fear the Kyrie on his final resurrection, will walk in through that gate and walk all over them.
Easter (or Pasqua) also signifies rebirth from another aspect of the narratives of Jesus: according to all the Gospels that are currently relied on[vii], the death and burial, i.e., the interment, the ?sowing? of Christ and his subsequent rising, i.e., ?blooming?, are witnessed (c/f Johannus, Mattheus) and/or recounted (c/f Markus, Lukas) primarily by women ? with special reference to Maria of Magdalene. In deep contrast with the period tendency in Palestine to berate women, either that contingency was added to the Bible in latter, possibly Anatolian experience and retellings or simply bespeaks of woman accorded a special status in the saga of Jesus Christ as the vessel of fertility. After all, it is the fertility of nature which we experience through the natal, about which all spring and revival mythologies sing exuberant praise.
Historically, too, the birth of Christianity, in a way, epitomizes the blossoming of Jesus ?the seed?, the sperma. Since its inception, Pasqua has signified the divine passage of the Son to the side of the Father for Christians, which philosophically corresponds to a new paradigm for understanding the world; to a shaking of the meanings of extant political[viii] structures and adding a fresh meaning to being human by equalizing all before the eyes of the Lord.
With all such attributes, as it used to be in the case of our pagan forebears, it is no wonder that Pasqua is the prime festival of Christians. After all, it is a celebration of life re-found and rendered universal.
Before Constantine the Great encaged Jesus in Basilicas and crowned him Chief Despotic Advisor to Emperors, he was first exalted as a God of Anatolia, one of the holy lands where Christianity first took root. Jesus probably reminded the hellenic-speaking people of Anatolia[ix] of Hermes, bearing the good tidings of father Zeus[x]. Mother Mary of Artemisian purity, appears as another obvious appeal to the Kybele-Demeter oriented Anatolians. Just like Dionyssus who came from other lands, Jesus (in the messages of his emissaries) was embraced, his blood, like Dionyssus?s, the blood of their toils. They disregarded the commandment and made his ?graven images?, because it is how they worshipped[xi]. They iconized Christos, as they once did other beloved deities ? if Jesus became a symbol of love, rather than of fear like other divine figures, maybe it is attributable to the dionyssiac, artistic, philosophical culture of Anatolia.
A culture that is poesia, drama, diversity and festivity, poured into a unique exegesis of Jesus.
Easter is a time for rejoicing the coming of summer, following grief and gloom of a dead winter. It is a time for painting your eggs in all merry hues and fighting them… a time to eat sweet and say sweet things… a time to greet friends and loved ones… a time to remember those that were with us, so that they will come alive in our memories… a time to enjoy all the delight around us and breathe as much of it in as we can.
For, to say in the great language of the greatest civilization in human history, ?O Xristos anesti?… and now, is the time to reply ?alithos anesti?[xii]… and smile like crazy!..
Happy Easter to all who wish an occasion to be happy!..
[i] Restitution, destruction followed by rebirth and redemption.
[ii] Simplified to criminal level, unconscious symbols common to entire humanity.
[iii] I read somewhere it has nothing to do with goodness at all but comes from the German ?gott?, i.e., ?god?. However, there is the hint of a believers? optimistic submission which is a theme of this piece as well, in calling what empirically is the worst day in Christian history, ?good?.
[iv] ?Father, father, why hast thou forsaken me?? After he uttered those words, Jesus ?passed away? immediately.
[v] For non or not-so-very Christians, there exists a period between Christ?s rising and his climb into Heaven to the Father?s side, the Ascension.
[vi] Muslims, like a few early Christian sects before Constantine made it the state religion of Rome, do not accept the divine nature of Jesus but recognize him as a prophet of the one and only Allah. They also believe that on the day of the Apocalypse, it will be him who will come as the Messiah. The Eastern gate of Jerusalem is probably a precaution, and there is a Muslim Cemetery just outside the Eastern Walls, built, who knows, maybe to guard the entrance?
[vii] Effectively, the King James version; such apocryphal texts as the Thomas Gospel are not yet authenticated to be considered as references.
[viii] Used here in the broader, Hellenic sense of ?relating to the polis?, i.e., comprising everything that is social.
[ix] I use the concept of Anatolia rather too loosely, definitely to include all Aegean Islands, mainland Greece and Macedonia, maybe to comprise the entire Western part of Alexander?s empire where the greatest cultural accomplishments of humanity ever were made in a composite civilization that is attributed ? for me in a major way very justly, ? to ancient Greece.
[x] Another Jungian reference, though the original comparison is with Luke, the light bearer where the mercurial Hermes represents the irrational.
[xi] And today, the Christian Church is the abode of fine arts and music.
[xii] ?Christ has risen?, and the answer ?risen indeed?.