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Where Does the Catholic Ash Wednesday Originate from?
by Wes Penre, March 03, 2006
(Posted here by Wes Penre: March 04, 2006)

Wes PenreEvery Catholic in the world "knows" what Ash Wednesday is; it is the Wednesday after Quinquagesima Sunday, which is the first day of the Lenten fast. This is the day when Catholics put ash on their forehead as a religious tradition. The question is; how many devoted Catholics know the REAL story behind Ash Wednesday? How many know that this tradition has clear pagan roots? I found an easy-to-follow explanation on Hour of the Time website: 

Ash Wednesday"It [Ash Wednesday] was taken from Roman paganism, which took it from Vedic India. Ashes were called the seed of the fire god Agni, with power to forgive sins. Ashes were said to were a symbol for the purifying blood of Shiva, in which, one could bathe away sins. During Rome's New Year Feast of Atonement in March, people wore sackcloth and bathed in ashes to atone for their sins. As the dying god of March, Mars took his worshippers sins with him into death. The carnival fell on dies martis, the Day of Mars. In English, this was Tuesday, because Mars was identified with the Saxon god Tiw. In French the carnival day was Mardi Gras, "Fat Tuesday," the day of merrymaking before Ash Wednesday.

Ashes are the residue of fire, and just as fire is regarded in mythology and folklore as something which purifies and also regenerates, or brings new life, so the same properties are associated within ashes.

The Hindu God Agni  Shiva
The Hindu God Agni {left} and  Shiva {right}

The ancient Jews sacrificed a red heifer by fire, the ashes being used to purify the unclean. The ancient Egyptians burned red-haired men, not as a purificatory rite but so that their ashes could be scattered on the fields to quicken the seed in the earth.

At the root of the custom of burning living creatures in sacred fires to fertilize the soil lies the conviction that ash is the soul of fire and so bring renewal.

An entirely different way of looking at ashes is found among medieval alchemists, who saw them as the dead body of a substance. If you burned a piece of wood, the smoke rising up was the "soul" of the wood and the ashes left behind were its corpse.

Cremation of a body comes from these beliefs. - Rob T."

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Last Updated:
Friday, March 03, 2006 07:41:51 PM

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