Most religious scholars these days accept that many Christian religious practices originate with much earlier pagan beliefs and practices. With Easter coming up later this month I thought I’d post something that brings together that idea with rural tradition from the part of the country where I live.
Easter was originally a pagan festival; the word itself is of Saxon origin, "Eastra", the goddess of spring, in whose honour sacrifices were offered at about the time of Jewish Passover each year.
Passover was traditionally associated with the sacrifice of a lamb, the lamb symbolising youth innocence and purity.
In pre-Roman times, particularly in Wales and the border country in which I now live, religious practice was directed by the Druids. Their “Easter” practice moved away from ancient Passover-style symbolism to reality as they chose a child to be sacrificed, typically high-born, and usually female from the community they represented.
Original Druid forms of sacrifice would have involved either decapitation or burning alive. However, after the Roman invasion they also adopted crucifixion as a method of sacrifice. Perhaps it was the enduring legacy of the Romans that left that memory in the psyche of the British people. At any rate, through until the late middle ages there are records of child sacrifice by crucifixion around Easter in remote, rural communities, especially after very severe winters.
Obviously, this was never condoned by the church but it was thought the practice went on with the active collaboration of local, village clergy in these remote places.
When the practice died out no one is really sure but there is nothing in the written record after the 1530s, which coincides with the English Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries which might be an entire coincidence, but then it might not.
All that remains, still rather disturbingly, is the common practice at Easter for villages around here to set up their “crucified child” token like the one here on the edge of our village.
Now, I’m a great one for history but I personally think it’s a foolish practice that should be ended. I think there are enough horrors in the world without perpetuating this horrible relic of days gone by.