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Reflections - The universality of spring
Thursday, March 30, 2017 - 00:00 Eleanor DeckertThe more I think about it, the more I wonder - is springtime the root of all ancient religions?
Springtime - it's life-and-death really. Before the Great Wall, Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, the Pyramids, go back to the earliest tribes. How important was spring to our ancestors? If you wander in search for food, or harvest your annual crops, or defend the grain or potatoes in your storehouse, or trek across frozen wastelands seeking prey, your anxiety about the cold-and-dark time of the year would be altogether different from our view today. It's all about food.
Do we pause to realize that for just over one-hundred years we have enjoyed warm, well-lit homes and international ships bringing us grapes and avocados all year round to fill our abundantly-provided-for refrigerator shelves?
Now - remove our modern conveniences, and try to imagine that firelight is all there is. Remember that before steam was harnessed it was muscle power that brought every bite of food to the table. Remove the calendar to help you measure the time. Can you be sure? Nature is so harsh and unpredictable. Will Winter's Grip, choking life from every stem and twig, let loose it's deadly grasp? Will warmth ever return? Will our food supplies last? Will we eat again? Will our family survive long enough to reproduce another generation? It's so far from our thoughts today.
While you worry, you begin to wonder: Maybe there is some Powerful Helper you can call on, appease, coax or beg to guarantee the return of light, heat, crops, food. Around winter fires the family tribe considers, remembers, collects information from the past to share through storytelling into the future. Could our actions here and now influence such Powerful Beings? Grandfather remembers abundance the year the people climbed to the mountaintop, singing and waving flags. Grandmother learned a special chant her ancestors said could quiet the wind and stop the snow. Maybe we should do those rituals again?
Archaeologists and anthropologists tell us that gods and goddesses who have powers over fertility abound in every culture around the world and through time. Springtime. New life. It is one thing we humans can all agree on.
In ancient Egypt, the annual flooding of the Nile brought the necessary enriched soil to the farmland. Osiris was the god of agriculture who taught people how to raise corn and vines.
Demeter (Greek goddess of farming) had a beautiful daughter, Persephone. Together, the Mother and Daughter spread their gladness and goodness all over the verdant green fields. Hades (god of the Underworld) desired her beauty and kidnapped her, bringing her down into the darkness. Grieving, Demeter neglected the farms and went in search of her child. The plants withered and cold came to the land. Persephone knew that she would not remain captive if she did not eat anything in the Underworld, but at last she could not resist her hunger and ate six pomegranate seeds. When Demeter found her and begged the king of the gods, Zeus, he declared that Persephone would remain underground for six months each year, and return above to the surface of the earth for six months with her mother. In this explanation the seasons change, gladness and grief bring plant life to fruition and dormancy.
Aboriginal peoples on this continent retell stories that at first the entire world was dark. Animals and people could not see. A ball of light was kept inside a box within the Long House where the Old Man and his daughter lived. The mischievous Raven stole the light and brought it out for everyone to share, thus causing the daytime and springtime to be available to all plants, animals and people.
In the Scandinavian lands and countries influenced by Celtic traditions, a variety of fairies, elves, sprites, goblins, gnomes, brownies, trolls, and pixies as well as water, tree and mountain spirits keep the seasons and plants continuing in order, unless sometimes, through their quarrels and pranks, they send cycles spinning in twisting confusion.
In the Far East, the idea of reincarnation is quite plainly linked to the return of the seasons. After death, surely, comes new life. There is no beginning and no end, only cycles.
A quick check in Wikipedia indicates that gods and goddesses with powers over agriculture and the seasons abound in ancient civilizations in Oceania, Africa, China and the Aztec nations to name a few.
Back to springtime now - no more hockey, it's time for baseball. No more snow shovels, it's time to dig in the garden. Will you pause and ask for a bountiful harvest or send a thankful prayer while you work?
The hibernation of winter, the isolation and waiting are over. Springtime. Like the animals, we come out of our homes and greet each other. We allow ourselves to realize we're all in this together.
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