Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Surely Ash Wednesday is an original Christian practice?

It's not, and don't call me Shirley.

Ashes were in common usage by vastly different pre christian cultures. It seems to be one of those universal things. Some examples:

Let's start with the most famous unbroken Pagan lineage, Hinduism: Bhasma is holy ash of wood burned in a sacred fire. It's worn on the third eye and dedicated to Shiva. According to wiki: "The word bhasma means “that by which our sins are destroyed and the Lord is remembered". ”Bha” implies Bhartsana (“to destroy”) and “sma” implies smaranam (“to remember”)."

And don't forget Agni, the God of Fire! Fire and ash belong to him. It was also in his power to forgive sins. :-o

This blogger believes it's a Norse petition to Odin to purify and protect Viking warriors. Wednesday = Odin's day and that's why it's done on Wednesday. It's a nice thought, but let's not forget that the real celebration is on Tuesday: Martes! and it's in March! The month of Mars! Mardi Gras is the celebration on the eve when the dawn brings the holiday. The purification ritual before the Pagan New Year of Spring. Others have said it better:

"At Rome’s New Year Feast of Atonement in March, people wore sackcloth and bathed in ashes to atone for their sins. Then as now, New Year’s Eve was a festival for eating, drinking, and sinning, on the theory that all sins would be wiped out the following day. As the dying god of March, Mars took his worshippers’ sins in with him into death. Therefore the carnival fell on dies martis, the Day of Mars." (Walker B. The woman’s encyclopedia of myths and secrets. HarperCollins, 1983, pp. 66-67).

I find it interesting that: a) Mars is depicted with red hair (the red planet!) and b) as I posted previously, was originally a fertility god. c) Egyptians would sacrifice read heads and spread their ashes on the land for fertility. Or perhaps as a sacrifice to Osiris since Set was alleged to have red hair? Any Egyptian fans out there want to school me on this bit of lore?

And my favorite example of burning things and ashes and debauchery: Carnevale ended yesterday. In Calabria, and other parts of Italy, an elaborate funeral is held for the spirit of Carnevale itself and burned in a large funeral pyre. Interesting timing, dontchathink?

In my reading today, I've come across another blog on this very subject which includes nifty information on Tammuz and Ishtar (Ash-tar?) and his springtime resurrection. In Mithraism, initiates would wear the "Egyptian Sun Cross" on their forehead.

I'm not writing these things to offend anyone. Why should anyone be offended by fact? I'm tired of people besmirching Paganism when what they practice IS Paganism, but with different names.


  1. As always, I am delighted by your post, Beth. ::PILFER:: Consider the content pilfered! I will be posting myself later today...muahahahahaha...

    Seriously, thanks for the info. Guess what's being incorporated into MY spiritual practice? :-D

  2. Um, I duno.... ashes? Mars as Fertility God? lol Feel free to repost the info, I don't have a claim on the information other than my particular flavor of snark added to the mix. Mmmmm snark cake.