I love how old myths seep into cultural rituals—even cultural symbols as benign as the Easter bunny are diluted from a smorgasbord of ancient rituals celebrating the changing of the seasons, the rotation of soil, and the birth of spring.(1)
Witches and poets may be the ones who conjure up the old myths, a practice of keeping mythical consciousness alive. As the poet Robert Duncan writes,
“Thus, myth becomes mystery: its true significance and depth lie not in what its configurations reveal but in what they conceal…. From this result the various types and trends of myth interpretation—the attempts to disclose the meaning, whether metaphysical or ethical, that is concealed in myths.”
What is concealed in the culturally accepted stories we tell about spring? The Easter bunny, his chocolate form wrapped in colorful foil, replicated in every store; gingerly placed in pink laced baskets, on a field of grass, surrounded by chicks and eggs. What meanings can be disclosed from this odd ritual?
You may know the myth of Persephone—the mythological Queen of the underworld from Greek mythology who makes the earth barren in winter, but who ascends once a year to mark the transition of the earth to Spring.
But how about Ishtar (pronounced “Easter”), the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love, procreation, sexuality, fertility, and war?
Or how about the cosmic egg, which, according to the Vedic writings:
…has a spirit living within it which will be born, die, and be born yet again. Certain versions of the complicated Hindu mythology describe Prajapati as forming the egg and then appearing out of it himself. Brahma does likewise, and we find parallels in the ancient legends of Thoth and Ra. Egyptian pictures of Osiris, the resurrected corn god, show him returning to life once again rising up from the shell of a broken egg. The ancient legend of the Phoenix is similar. This beautiful mythical bird was said to live for hundreds of years. When its full span of life was completed it died in flames, rising again in a new form from the egg it had laid (Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs,” The Journal of American Folklore Vol 80 (315): 3-32.).
In his 1835 book Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob Grimm, looking for the origins of Easter celebrations, wrote that “Eostre” must have been a local version of a more widespread Germanic goddess, whom he named Ostara. But it doesn’t appear in any written record that Ostara existed before this moment.*** (2)
Of course, many of these myths are remembered and passed down by pagan communities seeking to maintain mythical consciousness as a resistance to the colonizing effects of Christianity on their polytheistic rituals and beliefs. How they congregate into a chocolate bunny is a meme replicated and changing as it evolves in the collective imagination.
For me, Spring is an awakening of the kind of creativity that pulls from deep, unconscious sources to synthesize energies and mold them into a new form. The veil between the seen and the unseen means that we are poised at equilibrium–body and mind are in a state of anticipation, ready to “spring” forward into a feeling of rapid growth. In this way, Spring is very much like the collective, creative imagination that takes different threads from various sources and weaves them into a crazy story about a rabbit who hides cosmic eggs in trees for the amazement of children.
So what’s your crazy story that’s gradually coming into form? What dreams do you dare to dream? What cosmic births are you ready to offer the world?
Here is a fun, easy way to acknowledge the energy of your creative Spring, as well as to pay homage to the myriad ways that myths expand and enrich our consciousness. It’s wonderful to practice alone, or with family/ friends:
On a hard boiled egg, write down key words for anything that has been put on hold during the long months of winter—anything that is dormant within you that you are open to allowing the new energy of Spring to blossom.
Crack the egg, and place the broken shells in a bowl.
Eat the egg as a symbol of the incarnation of a new idea, wish, or dream.
Find a growing thing — a plant, flower, or tree. Collect dirt from around the growing thing and mix it in the bowl with the shells.
Then pat the growing thing with the shell mixture—you are giving it back it’s soil, with the addition of the nutrients that come from eggshells. And your words are now a part of ecosystem that is a part of all evolving and growing things.
And now, follow the energy.
Here is a poem by the somatic healer, dancer, and poet Cheryl Pallant from her recent book, Her Body Listening which does just that:
I sky I earth and bleed dark, the wet round death birthing the shed of skin peeling logic and pretense, lines rendering senseless supreme sense. Sisters enter whole and crouch on knees and elbows, waves foaming, a small dance beaconing adamantine retrieval, the great perfection of imperfect. Strings vibrate. Chips chip away. La la lee. La la lo. Cannot winnows can to win.
***Still, Ostara took on a life of her own. Folklorists inspired by Grimm imagined fanciful tales about the Goddess of the Spring. My favorite story is one that I think blends multiple mythic origins into such a sweet narrative. It goes something like this:
One year, The Goddess of Spring arrives late. To her horror, she finds a baby bird who had hatched too soon, his wings encrusted with ice. In her grief, she transforms the bird into a snow hare, and his coat of white fur warms him back to life. Birthed of a goddess, he is of course a most alluring and handsome creature who the Queen of Spring takes to be her earthly lover. She loves him so much that she gives him the power to lay beautiful, multi-colored eggs—he was once a bird, after all—which he takes great joy in hiding in the knobs of trees.
Of course, a hare cannot resit his horny nature and one born of a goddess is no different. He is prone to frolicking with all the other beautiful creatures born into Spring. Irate over his infidelity, Ostara banishes him to the stars where he becomes a constellation—Lepus, who sits just South of Orion. (Until this story, Lepus, identified in the 2nd century, had no origin in mythology.) Perhaps realizing that her punishment was too severe, Ostara allows him to return to Earth once a year, at the start of Spring, to hide his eggs and bedazzle children with his beautiful eggs.