20 March 2009

Spring is in the air!


Today is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, so it’s time to celebrate spring in mythology.

Let’s start with the Classical mythology of Greece and Rome. Okay, who remembers the word “chthonic”? It’s a Greek word that means “of the earth.” As in, the actual soil and interior of the earth. Many deities associated with spring and growth are chthonic, as they were worshipped in relation to agriculture, i.e. digging around in the dirt.

Gaia, for in stance, was a primal goddess in Greek mythology. She is the mother who bore the Sky and the Sea and all the Titans. She came before them all and was the embodiment of the Earth.

Cybele is also a Greek mother goddess, but her origins are slightly different. She springs from Phrygia, which is now part of Turkey. Another goddess, Rhea, fulfills a similar position, but she is Minoan.

One of Gaia’s offspring is Demeter, the Greek goddess of growing things, grain and fertility. Her Romance equivalent is Ceres. Demeter is a more Olympian goddess, though. While she is concerned with the bounty of the earth, she is also subject to the arrogance and thoughtlessness that characterized Olympian deities.

Demeter’s daughter Persephone, however, is more earth-based than Olympian. The myth of her abduction by Hades is something called an “origin story” or a story devised to explain earthly mysteries, such as the seasons. She spends six months of the year above ground with her mother, Demeter, helping things grow, then she returns to the Underworld for six months as the earth lies fallow.

Flora is a minor Roman goddess, one of many associated with fertility, but she has the distinction of a festival in her honor. Floralia was held at the conjunction of April and May and was celebrated with offerings of milk and honey. It was also a celebration that Rome’s prostitutes claimed as their own, so Floralia got pretty bawdy!

Moving on from the Classical world, the Germanic goddess Ostara or Eostre is in many ways the basis of our current Easter celebration. She is the goddess of dawn light and was celebrated with many items associated with fertility and fresh growth, such as hares and eggs.

Freya, the Norse goddess of fertility has associations with spring, but she’s more about the sensual than the agricultural.

Brigid is a Celtic goddess and her dealings with spring are specific to her role as a bringer of light because she rules over sacred flames. At the festival of Imbolc, traditionally celebrated on Feb 2 (Groundhog Day), she is said to bring the first light to the turning of the year.

Whichever mythology you prefer, though, there is a unique way to celebrate the warming of the earth and the fresh, renewing spirit of spring!
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