Re-posted from March 30, 2013
The word Pesach in Hebrew means to pass over or to spare with compassion. Erev Pesach or Passover Eve on Nissan 14 was a day of preparation for the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. They were told to kill a lamb at sunset – the start of Nissan 15 and beginning of Pesach day one of seven – and put its blood on the sides and top of the doorposts of each home. Seeing the blood the angel of death that was to pass through the land to kill every firstborn of the people and domestic animals would pass over that household and spare them this tenth plague which would break Pharaoh’s final resistance to letting the Hebrews leave Egypt. The meal was to be eaten in haste – shoes on, robe tucked into the belt and staff in hand.
At midnight, around 1300 BC or about year 2400 on the Jewish Calendar, an anguished cry went up across the land and a distraught Pharaoh summonsed Moses demanding he take his people out of Egypt immediately. They left in the middle of the night by the light of the full moon, a band of slaves about to become a nation on their way to a promised land of their own, never to return to Egypt.
Some 1300 years later, around the year 3795 on the Jewish calendar a young Rabbi sat down with a dozen shaken and confused followers to commemorate the Passover feast. He declared that he was God’s Paschal lamb, that he would die in place of these men and all humanity but then step out of the grave overcoming death forever. This resurrection life was available to all, accessible through each individual’s heart of faith, to join him as equals.
I do not know if there was a full, partial or no moon later that night when he prayed alone and then was arrested. It may not have been that important because his was not an external engagement of Pharaoh’s chariots or his pending Roman captors but rather an internal struggle and agony of soul seeking to embrace for himself the reality of Light over belief in darkness and the truth of Life and Love over the perception of death and fear.
By the full moon’s light on the dark and bitterly cold February night of 1184 sombre bands streamed into Old Uppsala from all over Sweden, caravans traveling with horses, cows, oxen, rams, pigs, dogs and cats arriving for the Great Mid-Winter (human and animal) Sacrifice held every eight years in the sacred grove surrounding the Viking Temple in Old Uppsala. This temple was dedicated to Frey, the god of fertility and weather. Three huge mounds dating back some six hundred years or more dominated the sacred groves and were positioned much like Stonehenge or Mayan Yucatan Pyramids, huge edifice calendars to exactly capture seasonal light pinpointing the arrival of the “lamplighting” January/February full moon. This was the full moon that was required to enable travel across the nation during the short winter days to attend and supply the sacrifice.
It was believed Frey, whose statue reigned over the sacred grove and temple grounds, was entombed in one of these mounds. Frey’s day – Friday – had remained unchallenged over the centuries until this new Good/Long Friday, granted by the tradition of a Semitic people and an obscure rogue Rabbi of a millenium ago, now threatened to unseat him.
Each day for 9 days one man and seven domestic animals chosen from every province in the land were hung from the “holy” trees until 72 bodies were swinging in the wintery wind and allowed to decay while birds and rats ate the corpses as this sacrificial life’s sustenance was intended to nurture the trees of the sacred grove. The satisfied gods would then cede national blessing for another period.
Led by the King of Sweden, who faithfully presided over the ceremonies, this event anchored success in national affairs, trade, commerce and warfare. Known regionally for their prowess these Swedish Vikings for hundreds of years were sought for their laws, administrative acumen, business shrewdness and fierce battle skills throughout the great river lands of Russia, Ukraine and across the Black Sea, embracing the Byzantine Empire where they served as the legendary personal Varangian “Swiss Guard” for a series of emperors in Constantinople.
They were known throughout the region as the “Ryss”, old Swedish for rowers. Some claim they were more predominantly known as the “Russ” Vikings from “Rusiori” which was ancient Greek for Blond. The lands they rowed through and engaged became known as “Ryssland”, the Swedish name for Russia today. At local request they built and stayed to rule mighty cities like Kiev and Novogorod. Upon the Byzantine emperor’s death, in gratitude for their services, each member of this vaunted guard was honoured to enter into the royal treasure room and take for himself gold, coins and gems, as much as they could bear at a single time. Thus, from this repatriated treasure, Uppland today still uncovers more era Byzantine coins than anywhere else in the world.
The Uppsala Vikings had no inclination to raid Europe or ply the Atlantic waters to Vineland in the New world, that was the lot of their Norwegian and Danish cousins, also empowered by the pleasure of their gods appeased by the dark rituals of their regional sacred groves scattered throughout ancient Scandinavia. Theirs was the promise, mystery, business and treasure of the vast lands to the east and to the south, the gateway to a splendid national franchise for the Near Orient and beyond.
Trade Routes from Uppsala of the Swedish (Varangian) Vikings from the 9th Century
It was the king’s duty to maintain this national welfare and ascendency by ensuring the trails converging on Old Uppsala, lit by the February full moon, were filled with living votive gifts and sober witnesses to satisfy the gods and secure yet another eight years of their pleasure and support for national prosperity.
The light of Christianity had become increasingly disruptive by 1084 creating uncertainty and jeopardy for this cult fountainhead of national well-being. Already it had been necessary for the local Uppland power elite, who funded and directed the king in national affairs, to dethrone the previous king. A convert himself to Christianity, he had refused to lead this exchange of human and animal life for national prosperity in the very preceding Mid-Winter Sacrifice of 1076. As Christianity was spreading, more and more leaders across the country obligated by law to attend the sacrifice were refusing to participate in this event despite the heavy fines imposed on them.
In fact, this 1084 occasion was to be the last national sacrifice in this holdout national cult center against the rising tide of Christianity in the country and by 1164 the eclipsed sacred grove and burial mounds were triumphantly transferred to the Swedish Archbishopric.
Nearby what had been perhaps Scandinavia’s most dominant cult center for human enslavement, the tallest church in Scandinavia was erected within two centuries. Shortly after, the first Scandinavian University and one of the earliest in Europe was founded in Uppsala to pioneer many of the foundational pillars in academic progress. Today this institution and city is a Mecca for the former client lands and trading partners of the Uppland Vikings. These former Soviet Union countries , bordering the Baltic Sea and beyond come to Uppsala to seek access to stable government models and innovative economic and industry systems.
13th Century Uppsala Cathedral (Domkyrka) Built Under Roman Catholicism Taken Over by the Lutheran Church at the Reformation Served as Cornation and Burial Place for Swedish Kings for over 500 years.
So what have these annual Easter/Passover birthdays meant to me over the years? I have spent nights on the farm as an adult and walked the streets of Uppsala and Old Uppsala enjoying for the most part penetrating, unusual beauty and peace. I have lived briefly and intimately on three occasions in the land promised to the people of the Pesach exodus and naively been caught in the literal cross-fire of Abraham’s son’s ongoing grievance with each other, forced to maintain a cool head to extricate myself from bullets and stones of an ancient war…to be concluded.