Winter to many is a foe, an unkind influence, as diabolical as any malevolent entity that can be imagined. We fear and curse it, but stand in awe of its potent capabilities. We avoid it like the plague, if we can, withdrawing and barricading ourselves in our heated, summer-like homes, preparing for the worst. As the tightening, icy winds swirl outside and transform the life-giving ground into iron and drape a stoic cloak over the lighthearted waters of the earth, we pray for salvation from this repetitious pestilence, cloistered away from the sins of the world like a penitent friar or nun. Snow seemingly piled a mile high nearly extinguishes all hope of deliverance. When apathy at last takes hold and begins to invade our very souls the same as frost inches its way through the flesh of the earth, and all appears lost, the stifling clouds miraculously dissolve, letting the heavenly rays descend to squash the cold and harsh monotony of the bleak winter season. Spring has finally arrived—and a myriad trickling streams now hurry the free-flowing blood of the earth back to where it can give new life and reanimate the weary world.
People throughout all ages and cultures not residing in the ever-balmy tropics have been of a similar vein of mind when it comes wishing the woes of winter away and rejoicing at the prospects that blow in with the warming winds. It is therefore not surprising in the least, that spring, the season of rebirth and new beginnings, has been disproportionately memorialized in legend and lore by innumerable cultures. Like most mythology, the most well-known tale comes from Greece:
The ancient Greeks believed the changes of the seasons were brought about by the moods of Demeter, the goddess of grain and growth. As legend has it, long ago, autumn and winter were non-existent, and the world was blessed with perpetual summer. This abruptly changed when Demeter’s attractive daughter, Persephone, was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld, who had long admired her from afar, and now wished to make her his bride. The disappearance of Persephone did not sit well with Demeter, who like any good mother, strove to locate her missing daughter. She literally searched both heaven and earth for an answer; and in the process, neglected her godly duties of tending to the world. Crops failed, vegetation withered, and a cold snap the likes of which hasn’t been witnessed since overtook the earth. Scores of people starved or froze to death.
Eventually, Zeus, the king of the gods, could no longer countenance the destruction levied upon his dominion. He begrudgingly revealed to Demeter what had taken place (he actually played a role in the abduction), telling her he would instruct his brother Hades to release Persephone from the underworld.
Hades agreed to the return, knowing a refusal would bring upon him the full and uninhibited wrath of the almighty Zeus, a mercurial god who was not to be disobeyed. Before doing so, however, he gave Persephone some pomegranate seeds to eat, well knowing this tiny acceptance of food would bind her to him and she would eventually be compelled to come back.
Demeter, overjoyed with the reunion, once again smiled. Warmth and fecundity returned to the desolate landscape, resulting in the first spring.
The situation was bittersweet. As the two caught up, recounting the trials each had experienced over the preceding months, Demeter was distraught when she heard mention of the pomegranate seeds her daughter had consumed. It was then realized that things would never again be the same.
Zeus decreed that by accepting food from Hades, and thus having had her lips stained by the ruby fruit of the pomegranate, Persephone had blemished herself—a stipulation for her return to earth was to be as pure as the day she had left, a condition she had clearly violated.
Knowing that the world would be imperiled if Persephone was forced to always remain sequestered in the underworld, a compromise was struck by Zeus. For half the year Persephone was to spend her time with Demeter, while the other six months of the year she would remain with Hades, reigning as Queen of the Underworld.
When Demeter smiles, having the company of her beloved daughter by her side the world rejoices, surrounded by the lush, verdant grandeur of summer. But when she mourns the loss of Persephone to Hades, and is heavy with grief, winter again sweeps across the earth.