Spring keeps trying to arrive but this bitter winter refuses to give up just yet. Our nationwide longing to be liberated from the tyrannical grip of winter made this a good time to examine some of the ancient myths about winter and the coming of spring.
The celebration of those myths at this time of year plus the fact that many of those myths centered around dead and resurrected deities necessitated Christianity’s attempt to superimpose its OWN dead and resurrected deity over top of those older stories. Hence the celebration of Easter in springtime. (And it’s not just Christianity that behaved that way – other religions also would superimpose their own celebrations over top of those held in honor of the previously dominant gods in their region. I’ll cover the behavior of those other belief systems – especially Islam and the Incan faith – another time.)
Not all seasonal myths conformed to the following pattern. I’m limiting this list to the ones that did.
Pantheon: Greek (The Romans called her Proserpine)
The Tale: Persephone was the beautiful daughter of the goddess Demeter (Ceres to the Romans). Persephone caught the eye of Hades, the god who ruled over the realm of the dead. Overcome with lust Hades (Pluto to the Romans) emerged from his subterranean domain and stole Persephone away to his realm to become his Queen.
The Savior: Demeter went searching for her daughter throughout the world, often assuming the form of a mortal woman. Her search wore on and on with no results, causing Demeter to fall more and more deeply into despair. Because she was the goddess of nature that despair manifested itself in colder weather, in the leaves falling off the trees, other vegetation dying and some animals hibernating or migrating to flee the cold.
As this first winter wore on, human beings began praying to Demeter to restore the world’s greenery and the warmer temperatures of the past. In her overwhelming sadness at the loss of her daughter Demeter ignored those prayers, prompting humans to begin praying to the other gods to intercede on humanity’s behalf. At length Zeus, the sky god who ruled over all the gods in the Greek pantheon, realized that the only way to end Demeter’s despair and end the terrible winter was to find her daughter Persephone and reunite mother and daughter. Continue reading