This Sunday I will be speaking about some of the spring festivals around the world (ancient and modern). In preparing my message, however, I realized I wouldn’t have time to mention some of the stories I really like–e.g., why Easter can come as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th; or why Persephone has to go back to Hades to be with her husband Pluto according to ancient Greek and Roman myths.
So I decided to tell you about the variance in Easter dates in next week’s Parson to Person column, and Persephone’s story in this one.
The first thing to note is that, because spring is when things come back to life, many ancient cultures celebrated a god who died and was then resurrected in the spring. The early Greeks had a female deity, Persephone (called Proserpina by the Romans), who went down to the land of death during the winter, but came back to life in the spring.
According to the story, Persephone was the goddess of growing things, and she was beautiful. Pluto, god of the underworld (that is, ruler of the land of death), fell madly in love with her and wanted to have her for his bride. But his love was one-sided; and he knew Persephone would never agree to marry him. So he plotted secretly and abducted her to his kingdom. While she was there, he tricked her into eating a pomegranate seed. And, you see, once you’ve eaten something in the land of death, you have to stay there. So Persephone couldn’t get out!
Naturally, her mother was upset about losing her daughter, so she made a famine happen all over the world, so that people would have no fruits. That was not only bad for humans but bad for the other gods too, since humans no longer had fruits to offer to the gods in their sacrifices. So the other gods agreed to rescue Persephone, and got Pluto to give her up for two-thirds of the year. The other third of the year she had to stay down in the underworld.
And that’s why nothing much grows during the winter: Because Persephone, the goddess of growing things, is down there in the underworld with Pluto (who is not just a dwarf planet, or even a cartoon friend of Mickey Mouse, but the deity of death himself). It is only when Persephone returns, in the spring, that we can have new growth and life.
Although this story may sound exotic to our ears, it was the story many of our ancestors told every spring; and, as stories go, it’s a rather interesting one. It tells of love (both true and false), trickery, treachery, compromise–and probably a number of other things that haven’t occurred to me.
But, for more of what I think Spring might mean to us spiritually, you’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out! Happy almost-Spring, everyone. And, of course…
peace and unrest,