Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for those who follow the Christian faith and is probably one of the most depressing occasions in the church calender. It was a day upon which the 'Rite of Ashing' took place, where burned ashes (usually obtained from last year's palm crosses) were sprinkled onto the head or forehead in the form of a cross, whilst the body was covered with sack cloth. It was supposed to remind man that from dust he came and to dust he will return.
The custom of ashing however, predates Christian times for an occasion of ashing is described in the Old Testament where Job covers himself in ashes and says, 'I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.'
In 1548 Edward V1 decided to abolish the ritual, but replaced it with what could be described as an even more depressing church ceremony, where the priest would read sentences from the book of Deuteronomy, especially the bit where God curses sinners and states that he will take revenge upon obstinate sinners, such as the unmerciful fornicators, idolators, slanderers, drunkards etc. Following this tirade of abuse everyone was expected to kneel and repeat the psalm, 'Lord have mercy upon me O God.'
It is little wonder that we have trouble loving ourselves if we have been brought up within this regime of self hatred. I jokingly asked my husband what he intended to give up for Lent and his answer was that he intended to give up denying himself pleasure! Now there's a good Pagan soul!