I spent this Easter holidays in my town, and for the first time I went to see the processions Astorga boasts about. I was surprised to see so many confraternities in such small town (about 12,000 people), unequivocal proof of the vitality and strength of this tradition in this corner of Spain. Each confraternity departs from a different church, and they all merge in the Plaza Mayor, before heading towards the cathedral. The colorful robes and hoods, the drums, the big incense burners impregnating with its fragrance the narrow streets, and the solemn crowd, sprinkled with some pilgrims of The Way of St James, are some of the stimulus one can find in Astorga these days.
During this week, Christians commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. When we think about this historical event, occurred in times of the Roman Empire, we have the impression of having happened in ancient times. However, the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula had already painted the magnificent Caves of Altamira about twelve thousand years earlier, and we could still go back tens of thousands of years to find similar paintings in the vicinity of the Pyrenees. Until the arrival of the Romans and Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula, its inhabitants had developed along several millennia their own cosmology and religion, with additions from Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks throughout the last millennium BC. Seen this way, in retrospect and with the proper perspective, we realize that Christianity is not a religion as old as we thought.
Christianity, in the process of being introduced into Western Europe, had to incorporate the ancient traditions to convert the natives, adapted to a new iconography while respecting and maintaining a similar symbolism.
The two main annual events of Christianity are Christmas and Easter, the first celebrated on December 25th and the second on a date based on solar and lunar calendars which usually coincides with spring. This detail alone gives us a powerful clue about the cosmology that preceded Christianity. The winter solstice occurs in the shortest day of the year, after which the days begin to grow again. As winter progresses, the Sun raises every morning a bit further north over the horizon. From the spring equinox onwards, the days become longer than nights.
The Fathers of Christianity would set the date of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus, around the winter solstice to channel an ancient tradition that celebrated the symbolic birth of the Sun during the winter solstice. Similarly, they would set the date of the death and resurrection of Jesus to happen in spring, the annual time of the year associated with the “resurrection of nature,” signaling the end of winter. More precisely, the Easter days are chosen based on the next full moon after the vernal equinox, not an arbitrary day, but one full of cosmic meaning, since that is the first day of the year in which the Sun raises more to the north than the full moon. Nowadays, we have forgotten this detail, but in ancient times this was the most important day of the year, when the Sun defeated the Moon, and Spring was officially welcomed.
Some of the oldest monuments in the world are in Western Europe, and they were built with huge stones. For example, the cromlech of Almendres, in Portugal, was in fact designed to celebrate this date. This megalithic culture existed for about three millennia (between 4600 and 1600 BC). During that epoch, between the winter solstice and spring equinox, the Sun moved over the constellations of Aquarius, Aries and Pisces. If we now pay attention to the representations of these zodiacal signs, we may find something surprising.
The representation of Aquarius, as a young man pouring water from a pitcher sitting on his waist, is similar to that of Jesus bleeding from a wound in his side, as he is crucified. “One of the soldiers pierced his side with his spear, and forthwith came out blood and water,” says the Gospels (John 19: 33-34).
The fundamental icon of Christianity, particularly of Catholicism, is Jesus crucified shedding his blood. Could this shocking image be a survival symbol of human sacrifices carried out at winter during the megalithic epoch? Possibly. The intention would be to transfer life to the Sun, to save humanity from dying in darkness.
The association of Jesus with the fish and the lamb can also be explained, because the other two signs of the winter season during the megalithic epoch, Pisces and Aries, are represented precisely by the fish and the lamb.
In short, Christian iconography echoes a much earlier cosmic substrate. In the case of Christmas and Easter holidays, these celebrations could be related to human sacrifices that took place during the onset and ending of winter, typical of a solar culture that existed in Western Europe more than five thousand years ago.
The passion with which Easter is lived in Spain could be explained by the strong imprint stored in the collective unconscious of the Iberians related to human sacrifices to the Sun, transmuted much later by Christianity into Jesus giving his life to save humanity.
In my other blog, I have begun to analyze in greater detail and precision the role played by the Megalith Builders in the establishment of religion, culture and civilization in the West. If this topic interests you, please take a look at One Mystery Less.