It’s safe to say that this will be the most unorthodox Easter weekend in living memory. With the UK, along with much of the wider world, on lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, many traditional Easter observances will be unable to go ahead in their customary manner. Social distancing requirements will prevent people from visiting relatives, while the ban on mass gatherings means church services will be unable to take place on what is the most important weekend in the Christian calendar. Meanwhile, guests on ITV’s This Morning show have been engaging in heated debates as to whether or not the Easter Bunny qualifies as a frontline keyworker. While it’s safe to say that most children can sleep easy in the knowledge that they will indeed be receiving chocolate eggs as usual on Sunday, the wider disruption caused by Covid-19 cannot be understated.
The turbulent events of recent weeks have, however, invoked the true spirit of Easter in quite unexpected ways. The enduring message of Easter weekend is that of Christ’s ultimate triumph over death following the trials and suffering he endured upon the cross. The entire world is currently undergoing a trial of unimaginable proportions – a kind of mass crucifixion – but in the midst of all the pain and suffering we’ve seen some fantastic examples of the true spirit of humanity shining through triumphantly. We’ve seen it in the selfless efforts of the frontline keyworkers fighting the pandemic – the doctors, nurses, paramedics, carers and midwives, the police, the teachers and the shopworkers battling to keep our supermarket shelves stocked. We’ve seen it in the parents who’ve been forced to home-school their children and in the masses of volunteers who’ve stepped forward to help their local communities in a multitude of ways. Such acts are truly representative of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.
No matter what happens in the weeks and months ahead, we as a society will emerge stronger on the other side of this grim pandemic because we’ll all have had to pull together and support each other in ways we never have before in living memory. That is the true message of Easter, symbolised by Christ’s resurrection. The story of the crucifixion is an eternal reminder of our own ability to bounce back from defeats and temporary setbacks. It tells us that no matter how bad things may seem, or how deep our grief and pain, there always exists the possibility for regeneration and renewal. This is a particularly important message now because for many people, particularly the elderly and those with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, the isolation caused by the imposed lockdown is extremely traumatic. They wonder if it will ever end. Being cooped up at home for long periods only heightens the emotions for those experiencing anxiety over the economic implications of coronavirus or wondering when they’ll be able to see their friends and loved ones again. They need to know that we will get through this and that there will, eventually, be a brighter dawn on the other side of the chaos.
This is a theme I’ve touched upon before because it ties in directly with our ethos here at Phoenix Coaching & Therapy. The symbol of the phoenix, like Christ, is an example of the death-and-resurrection archetype which can be seen reflected throughout myth, legend, religion and folklore all the world over as well as in our own personal life experiences, world events and in nature. The theme of cyclical renewal can be found everywhere - the cells of our bodies die and are replaced; crops and vegetation grow, die and rise again in annual cycles, constellations in the night skies die and are “born again” the following night, we lose consciousness in sleep each night and then awaken renewed and refreshed the following morning, seasons follow each other with regular periodicity, the sun “dies” at sunset only to be reborn anew at sunrise the next morning, personal, tribal and national fortunes wax and wane and so too do human moods.
The concept of birth-death-resurrection has been hardwired into creation and into the collective unconscious of humanity since ancient times, manifesting itself in symbols such as the phoenix and the archetypal phenomenon of the ‘dying-and-rising-god’ or messiah who traditionally sacrifices himself for humanity only to be reborn anew. The most famous example of this archetype is obviously Jesus Christ, but the same principle spans all cultures and faiths and can be seen reflected also in the stories of the Egyptian Osiris, the Greek Dionysus and the Roman Bacchus among others. It is not necessary to believe in the literal truth of any of these stories in order to still derive benefit from the fundamental spiritual truths embedded within the allegories. This is not to suggest for one moment that the gospel accounts of Christ’s crucifixion are not accurate, merely that it is not necessary to prove their historicity in order to gain personal benefit from the metaphor. If we look at the stories of Dionysus and Bacchus, we immediately see that both were gods of the grape harvest, which further reinforces the connection between crop cycles and the death-and-resurrection archetype, even more so when you consider that Jesus too described himself as “The True Vine” and that the sacrament of Holy Communion uses wine to symbolise Christ’s blood. The parallels are glaringly obvious.
The Christian celebration of Easter was in fact preceded by the pagan festival of Ostara, traditionally celebrated on the 21st of March to coincide with the vernal equinox. Ostara marks the coming of spring and the fertility of the land; the emergence of new growth and the symbolic death of winter with the “resurrection of the light”. Sound familiar? Indeed, the tradition of Easter eggs, often equated with the stone rolled from the entrance of Christ’s tomb, actually originates in the symbolic use of eggs to represent new life. The symbol of the snake is also associated with Ostara, on account of the fact that snakes constantly renew themselves by shedding their skin, making them yet another archetypal symbol of regeneration.
At this stage it’s worth taking another look at our Phoenix logo (pictured right), created by graphic designer Daniel Laing. Note the distinctive shape of the letter O in the word Phoenix which has been skilfully designed to resemble an ouroboros – the snake that swallows its own tail. This ancient Hermetic symbol dates back to Ancient Egypt and is commonly associated with regeneration, reincarnation and immortality as well as with the cycles of time and nature. In the ouroboros, the snake’s tail is a phallic symbol, while the mouth represents a womb. The serpent is simultaneously destroying and recreating itself… just like a phoenix. Ancient Greek versions of the ouroboros depicted the top half of the serpent as black and the bottom half as white, with the two halves coming together to make a perfect whole similar to the yin-yang symbol of Taoism. In alchemy the ouroboros is considered a symbol of the perfect union between opposites - the microcosm and the macrocosm, male and female - like the six-pointed star or Seal of Solomon. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung saw the ouroboros as a key symbol of the process of individuation – the transformation one goes through in evolving towards their greater personality or “Higher Self”. The use of an ouroboros in our phoenix logo further reinforces the firebird's message of regeneration which we aim to instil in clients looking to recover from setbacks, trauma or adversity, or even if they just want to reinvent themselves or undergo a process of self-improvement.
The underlying message of all these regeneration metaphors is one of hope. Sometimes a period of turbulence and trauma is a necessary precursor to fresh opportunities and new growth. We must have hope that the awful events we have witnessed in recent weeks will ultimately make way for a better, more equal and caring society. Fluctuating fortunes are an intrinsic part of life on the physical plane but what goes down must come up and we will see brighter days again. It may not be next week, or even next month, but things will improve. The symbol of the rising phoenix, like the resurrection of Christ, provides hope for a new dawn, a fresh start and ultimate triumph.
Here at Phoenix we'd like to wish all our clients and friends a happy and safe Easter weekend.