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Easter Eggs

Easter Eggs

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Easter EggsAuthor(s): Venetia NewallReviewed work(s):Source:
The Journal of American Folklore,
Vol. 80, No. 315 (Jan. - Mar., 1967), pp. 3-32Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 06/04/2012 15:28
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VENETIA NEWALL
EasterEggs
CreationMyths
Webeseechthee,OLord,that thegraceofthy blessing maycomeupontheseeggsthycreatures:thatthey maybe wholesome food tothyfaithfulpeople takingthem andrender-ingthanksto theefor theresurrectionof ourLordJesusChrist.1
Sorunsaprayer,appointedbyPopePaulV,fortheuse of theEnglish duringMass atEastertide.Thecustomofexchangingggsat thistime ofyearstakenorgranted,since it is afamiliarandtraditionalritual;so muchso,that werarelypausetoconsider tsfullsignificanceandmeaning.Infact,like somanyfolkcustoms,his ritehasboth ancientandcomplicatedrigins.Totheprimitivemind,thesurroundingworld and universearepeopledwithmightypowerswhichregulateifeunder theformofordinary,amiliarobjectsandphenomena.Elementalorcesand items ofdailyuseappearchargedwithmysteriouspowerandmagicalproperties,as,forinstance,water, trees, stones,sun, moon,andfire. Thathumblehouseholdfood,theegg,also hasbeenanobjectofperpetualwonder,itssmooth,symmetricalhellenclosingthemysteryof a newlifeinformation.Ayoungcreature,mergingunexpectedlyrom whatappearedobe atotallyinanimateobject,mustcertainlyhavestimulatedearlyspeculationaboutthe natureoftheworldaroundus.Whereasearlyman wouldhavefound itdifficult ograspsuch anabstractdea as thebeginningofcreation,hecouldeasilyobserveaparallelprocessnthesimple hatchingofanegg,andtheideaofaworldegg,fromwhich thefirstcreatoremerged,mightseemlogicalandobvious. Thisiswhywefind theeggfiguringasanimportantsymbolinearlycreationmythsthroughtheworld.Itembodiedaconceptofadormantprimevalworldallatonceburstingntoactivityandchaos,whichrecurs ntheOldTestamentndinmanycreationmyths.Eggshells,thesignificancefwhich wemayonlyguess,havebeenfoundinancientombs;forinstance,at LosMillares,nsouthernSpain,ostricheggshellbowls,presumablymportedfromAfrica,havebeenexcavatedand datedap-proximately
400-1400B.C.2
 
Thefirstrecordedreference oa worldeggoccursinanEgyptianpapyrus3of theNewKingdomperiod;4his,togetherwithseveralsubsequentuotations,appearsna bookbyProfessorS.G. F. Brandon:5
OEggofthewater,sourceoftheearth,productoftheEight,greatnheavenandgreatintheunderworld,wellernthethicket,chief of theIsle of theLakeof theTwoKnives,Icameforthwiththee from thewater;Icameforth withtheefromthyrest.6
Egyptologistshave notdecidedto whomthistext refers.ProbablytisThoth,
thegodof themoon,whoappearedin theformofanibis,andwhoisdescribedvariouslyindifferentlegendsbothashavinghatchedtheworldeggatHer-mopolis,andashavingemergedfrom theegghimself.7Petosiris,thepriestof
Hermopolis,ecords hat:"Partof theEggwas buried nthisplace,andherewerefoundallbeingswhocameorthfromtheEgg."8
VariousEgyptiandeitiesareassociatedwith theegg.An allusion totheSunGodRareads: "ORainhisegg,who beamsin hisdisk,risesabovehishorizon,shapeshimself with his ownmetal."9 The sun itself is "The solareye,aneggtowhich isgivenlifeamongthem."'0Elsewherewefind:It was madeagainsthoseofyourretinue,onaccountof the wishofthespiritshatarethere,ornotlettingthe breathsbeinhaledexceptbytheGreatandAugustGod whoisinhisegg.IcomeotheeandI amatthyservice.llThisancient ideaofaprimevaleggwhich hatched the sungodoccursfre-
quently;he sunmythtookvariousormsnEgyptianhought.Inonerepresenta-tion the sun isanegg,laiddaily bythecelestialgooseSeb,thegodof theearth.FromthiseggwasbornthePhoenix,symbolof the
sun.12
Thus,inThe BookoftheDead,thedeceasedays:
Hail,thougodTem,grantunto methe sweetbreathwhichdwellethnthynostrils.amtheEggwhichsintheGreatCackler,ndI watchandguardhatmightyhingwhichhathcomentobeing,wherewith hegodSebhathopenedheearth.13
Khnum,agodofcreation,whosenamesignifies"TheMoulder,"ormedtheworldegg,asthoughfrom alumpofclayonhispotter'swheel.14n ancient
drawingswealsofindPtah ofMemphisseatedon his throneandmouldinganegguponapotter'swheel.In this case theeggisgolden.15Laterandmoredevelopedcosmogoniesdrawfancifulparallelsbetweenthe
contentsof theeggandthenatureoftheuniverse,eeing,forexample,heshell
as theheavens,thewhite as theair,andtheyolkas theearth.TheChandogyaUpanishaddescribestheoriginalact of creation asthebreakingofaneggintwopieces:The Sun isBrahma-thisistheteaching.A furtherexplanationhereof(isasfollows).Inthebeginninghis worldwasmerelynon-being.twasexistent.tdeveloped.tturnedintoanegg.Itlayfor theperiodof ayear.Itwassplitasunder.One of thetwoegg-shellpartsbecameilver,onegold.That which was ofsilver isthis earth.Thatwhichwasofgoldisthesky...Nowwhat was bornherefromsyonderun.Whenit was bornshouts
andhurrahs;allbeingsandalldesiresroseuptowardit.. .Hewho,knowingitthus,
reverenceshe sun asBrahma.164
VENETIANEWALL

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