4.24.2011

As the World Turns


Persephone on her throne (or chariot?), ascending once again from the Underworld.  Image of a Southern Italian vessel, ca 460 B.C.E.,  from the Internet via the Pergamon Museum, Berlin


What I love about Easter is not the Christian holiday, but that it coincides with Passover and that both religions coincide with a time from the Pagan past in which Earth's rebirth was celebrated each year.

In Greek mythology, when the maiden Persephone was out gathering flowers one day, she was abducted by Hades, ruler of the Underworld. Demeter searched for her daughter but to no avail. In her grief, this life-giving goddess of agriculture and fertility turned the world barren and cold.


Knowing his people could not exist in such a state, the all-powerful Zeus forced Hades to release Persephone, but not before the nefarious ruler tricked the young woman into eating a handful of pomegrate seeds, thus assuring her return to him. (The Fates had decreed that anyone who consumed food in the Underworld was doomed to return to it.)

When Persephone arose, the earth began to warm. Flowers bloomed and crops began to grow. Demeter, joyful at the longed-for reunion with her beloved daughter, turned the land verdant and fecund again. And when Persephone descended to Hades in the autumn, the earth once again became barren and cold, a cycle that ever was and ever may be.

I love this story, which has its roots in the agrarian culture of Bronze Age Greece (and probably long before that). Of course the ascension of the child to a higher realm is a familiar scenario, but I am always moved that here it is told in terms of mother and daughter, a reminder that culture has not always been defined from a male point of view. The lovely Persephone was Proserpina in the land of my Magna Graeca-Etruscan-Roman-Italian forebears, so I feel a special kinship to the myth, which was a religion, the Eleusinian Mysteries, long before the son ascended to his father.

* * * * * * * *
As for the egg, well it symbolizes new life in every culture, from the ancient Persian Nowrūz, the spring equinox, when eggs were decorated and gifted, to the pysanky, Ukranian Easter eggs, below.

The tradition of painting eggs with a beeswax resist exists through Slavic countries. These are Ukranian pysanky

But, wait, there's more. The fragments below are engraved ostrich eggs that date to some 60,000 years ago in Africa. An article in Science Now suggests that our common ancestors had the capacity for symbolic thinking, and that these shards suggest "the earliest evidence of the existence of a graphic tradition among prehistoric hunter-gatherer populations.” 

Something to think about when you bite into your chocolate egg

The Easer Bunny didn't bring these: shards from engraved ostrich eggs dating from about 60,000 years ago in Southern Africa

8 comments:

namastenancy said...

Beautifully put - What I love are our often unknowing connections to the most ancient myths and spiritual ethos of our culture. So many of the symbols of all our holidays date back to ancient Sumner. The egg, the reborn god, the meals of bitter herbs and spring lamb are all ancient and were certainly annexed by Christianity. But no matter because we know the source.

Wendy Wolfe Rodrigue said...

Thank you for this beautiful post-

Happy Easter! Happy Passover! Happy Spring!

mariandioguardi.com said...

The very word itself, Easter, comes from the Greek language having the very same roots as Estrogen. The word " Easter" does not have Christian roots.

Easter is determine by the first Sunday after the First full moon after the vernal equinox. This was the spring celebration that was also annex by Judaism. That is why Passover happens at the same time. It may not be why it's is celebrated but it's why it is when it is.

Ann L. E. Bach said...

Absolutely lovely post, Joanne.... Not that I ever have, but now shall never dismiss pomegranite seeds. In fact, it makes me want to chomp on a handful. Or have a Campari on rocks.......

Tamar said...

A beautiful post Joanne.
I appreciate the many symbolic connections you've made between ancient myths and modern celebrations (and I LOVE those inscribed ostrich eggs!). The sight of the first green shoots of spring and the celebration of Pesach (Passover) as a holiday of freedom and renewal have always brought me a sense of joy.

Kristine said...

Wonderful post and story.

Nancy Natale said...

Thank you for this reminder that narratives about the seasons go back into the dim past of human origins. I love the fact that the stories about spring are so linked to the female with their emphasis on moons and eggs. And of course chocolate and woman are nearly synonymous!

lxv said...

Thank you Joanne