Hope springs eternal

Of all times of the year, spring offers the most promise. It is a time of renewal and rebirth, literally a season of light, since the official beginning of spring — the vernal equinox — indicates the precise moment when the earth is tilted so that the sun hovers directly over the equator. In fact, equinox means “equal night”: the time when both day and night are of equal duration (12 hours).

The vernal equinox has long been viewed as holding great power and energy. For many cultures, the return of life to earth after the desolate winter supported their deepest mythology.

Ancient Egypt and Greece each cherished stories associated with the onset of this favorite season. One of the first tales ever recorded about death and resurrection is the Egyptian myth of Osiris and Isis, who ruled the land in bliss and harmony. This ended when Set, the brother of Osiris, murdered him in a jealous rage, cutting up his body and scattering the pieces throughout the world. A heartbroken Isis gathered the pieces, taking them to Anubis, god of the underworld, who brought Osiris back to life. The reunion of Isis and Osiris produced the sun god Horus — and, thus, the light was reborn.

In the Greek version, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility, fell in love with the handsome Adonis. Fearful of losing him, she put him in a box where no one could see him, and gave this box to Persephone, queen of the underworld, for safekeeping. Unable to contain her curiosity, Persephone opened the box and promptly fell in love with Adonis, refusing to return him to Aphrodite.

The earth was made barren by the mourning of Aphrodite. To settle the question, Zeus decreed that Adonis should spend a third of the year with each goddess and a third of the year alone. So each spring, Adonis returns to Aphrodite; winter finds him with Persephone in the underworld.

For Christians, Easter — traditionally celebrated in the West on the first full moon following the spring equinox — is associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God (and sometimes called “The Light of the World”). Easter is considered a rebirth of God’s holy spirit for all mankind; the Christian holiday follows the last week of the Lenten season, a 46-day period of penitence.

The term “Easter,” however, derives from a much earlier pagan tradition. The Scandinavian goddess Ostra and her Teutonic counterpart Ostern or Eostre signified spring and fertility; their festival was also celebrated on the vernal equinox.

Among the pagan traditions that have survived in Christian times are the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and Easter eggs, originally painted with bright colors to represent spring sunlight.

Modern-day Wiccans, whose religion derives from the pagan traditions of the Druids and early Celts, continue to honor Eostra or Ostara as the goddess of spring, the goddess of fertility, the goddess of the East and the dawn. Their holiday emphasizes a reverence for the fertility, beauty and abundance of nature. It is a time of spiritual renewal.

The Jewish festival of Passover (or “Pesach,” from which is derived from “Pasch,” another name Europeans used for Passover) also falls in spring. The eight-day celebration commemorates the flight of the Jews from slavery in Egypt to freedom.

All cultures, in fact, seem to recognize this transitional moment in the earth’s calendar, whether their observance be born of religion or simply tradition. The Japanese celebrate O-Higan, a week-long holiday held March 18-24 in which all families hold rites in honor of the dead. The O-Higan observance comes from the Buddhist belief that when night and day are equally divided, the Buddha appears on earth for a week to save stray souls and lead them to nirvana. During this festive event, families often take food and sake to the family cemetery, offering incense and prayers to the ancestors for the salvation of the dead.

In Egypt, both Muslims and Christians also mark the first day of spring with a picnic, called Sham al-Naseem, which means “the smell of spring.” Traditional foods such as midamis (kidney beans) and fasiyah (dried fish) are eaten, and neighbors are hailed with the greeting “al Salamu Alay-cum” — meaning “peace be with you.”

For all, spring seems to promise the return of the lost qualities of goodness and spiritual renewal that are essential for the survival of humankind. Look for it this year on Monday, March 20, at precisely 2:35 a.m.

Together in the season

Feeling festive? An upcoming event offers you a chance to salute spring with fellow revelers from a variety of backgrounds. “Unity in Diversity 2000,” to be held on Sunday, March 19 at City/County Plaza, will feature dancing, drumming, singing and various ceremonies heralding the arrival of the season.

“It is a time to honor the universal spirit and welcome the divine presence into our lives, to remove our mask and reach deep within ourselves … in doing so, deep healing takes place as we look into the mirror of each other and see ourselves,” the event’s coordinators offer, by way of invitation.

The party happens from 1-3 p.m. For more info, call 254-8522.

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