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The rectorate building ‘M’ is best known as the ‘cigar’. Yet its conspicuously oval shape also resembles an egg. With the start of spring and legend of Easter, what better time for an openminded VUB’er to reflect upon the origins of tradition and its oval link to this famous building.
The mere suggestion or concealed fact that Easter has its origins from the pagan festival of ‘Ishtar’ would undeniably be dismissed by many as a hoax, fake news. Ishtar was in fact one of the goddesses of ancient Mesopotamia. She was the Akkadian counterpart of the Sumerian goddess Inanna and Northwest Semitic Astarte. Ishtar was a goddess of fertility but also goddess of love, war and sex. Her cult held sacred sex use; her holy city Uruk was “City of the Holy Women” and she herself was the “courtesan of the gods” and she had many lovers.
But perhaps the Mesopotamians were not the first to celebrate spring. We also still acknowledge the start of spring - traditionally on 21 March, the day when there is a balance between light and dark (when daylight is equal to nightfall). On this day the sun’s rays fall right on the equator. It is also the day that marks the victory of light over darkness, or in VUB terms that of science over darkness, or enlightenment over ignorance. It is therefore not surprising that the sun was a symbol of life, both material and spiritual. The ode to the sun, source of all life, is found in many ancient cultures and mythologies ranging from ancient Egypt, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, India and the pre-Columbian Americas. They all talk about light and darkness, day and night, life and death.
Even the Catholic Church had its roots in something they call disdainfully paganism. It is also why the altar in the church is in the east (faces east), the sun appears on the ciborium, and the Saints wreath in the shape of a sun. Most solar gods were born on the winter solstice when our northern hemisphere again began to lengthen the days. Mithras, Horus, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha and Tammuz are well-known examples.
The death and rebirth of the sun gods were generally determined as a function of the spring equinox. This was the case for Osiris in Egypt, Tammuz in Babylonia, Syria’s Adonis, Attis of Phrygia and Mithras of Persia. The death and rebirth of Christ was determined by the sun captured on Easter, despite an absence of a fixed date it is associated with the spring equinox and celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the Spring equinox.
Spring also heralds the awakening of new life. The first seeds spring out of the earth seeking the warmth of the sun’s rays. For many animals spring is the natural time to give birth. From ancient times the egg is a symbol of creation and the birth of life. According to Chinese legend, the first man came out of the egg. The Greek god Eros and the Egyptian God Ptah are said to have emerged from an egg. The cosmic egg or Prima Materia is also familiar to alchemy as the source from which the homunculus emerged. This symbol was later adopted by many other religions, including Christianity, with the egg signifying the Easter festivities.
The egg with its oval shape is also a symbol of beauty, a shape that inspired Renaat Braem in designing building M, the rectory. It is also known as ‘the cigar’, which some people have re-named ‘la caprice des dieux’. Is a popular re-name long overdue? How about the ‘Easter egg’?
Athor: Steph Feremans
Source: Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishtar). The rest of the article is based on stories told by some well informed and educated friends in VUB pubs.