“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
We’ve known what spring is, what causes winter, what brings back the green for a long time now. Surprisingly, it doesn’t involve worshipping at the feet of a twenty-foot statue of Jeff Goldblum. The tilt of the Earth, the distance to the sun, weather patterns are all triggers. But you knew that. Ancient peoples had no such repositories of knowledge however, and relied on storytelling to inform their world. The Greeks had Persephone, the Babylonians Inanna, and the Norse Idun, among others.
All of these mythologies share key aspects - the descent or kidnapping of a bright goddess (usually fertility or nature) to the underworld, an admonishment not to eat or drink anything from that place, and a rescue, usually by a loved one or a repentant figure (in Idun’s case, Loki. Not the Hiddleston one though, but the get myself pregnant as a horse and give birth to my own father’s eight-legged mount). It’s interesting to note that the Norse have a darker version as well, where Baldur, beloved by the gods, was kidnapped into the underworld and couldn’t be released until everything in the universe wept for him. Loki (of course) gave him the shaft by taking the form of a titan who refused to do so, so now he’s stuck ‘til Ragnarok.
In the end, the hero (or heroine) returns with the goddess, and the world, wilting like cheap roses, springs (sorry/not sorry) to life. But - the goddess who was trapped in the underworld had a serious case of the munchies, and now she’s cursed to return to the Bates Motel of divinity for 4-6 months of the year. (Not eating anything in a strange place is another piece of mythology that’s stuck with us as well - Alice in Wonderland, fairy abduction stories, and gas stations.)
The important thing we can learn from this is twofold (three if you count ‘never trust Loki’ as one): The rise of the goddess as coequal to their male counterparts as agrarian society grew, showing the shift from a hunting, male-based culture to one of stationary cultivation. At that point, society had recognized women as essential to life, to the health of the community, and though there was some way to go, it was a step up. The other was the promise that though the world can be dark at times, eventually the sun breaks through.
In time, all those myths trickle down, and you end up with symbols. Symbols are the shorthand of culture, and are probably a lot easier to understand than actual shorthand. The lily, the rabbit, the egg. Fertility, new life.
And life, uh, finds a way.