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For millennia, as flowers began to bloom and the weather heated up, individuals celebrated the coming of spring. Here's at how ancient gods made sure that spring had sprung.01of 05
EostreDid Easter (and its rabbit/egg/fertility implications) hail from Eostre?. Andrew Bret Wallis/Getty Images
The Christian holiday of Easter, symbolizing Jesus's resurrection, supposedly bears etymological ties to Eostre, an alleged Germanic goddess of springtime. While modern pagan groups have touted Eostre, or Ostara, as an important deity, our records of her are few and far between.
Most of it comes from the eighth-century chronicler Bede, who writes, "Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated 'Paschal Month,' and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month." Most importantly, he adds, "Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance."
Bede's reliability is debatable, so we're not entirely sure that Eostre was a real goddess worshiped in antiquity (let's take into account the fact that Bede was a Christian historian, for one). But she's at least a deity by modern standards! Regardless, it's clear Easter is a celebration that built on ancient ideas of rebirth, fertility, and springtime at this time of year.02of 05
FloraFlora poses in a Renaissance painting by Jan Matsys. Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Dubbed "Mother of Flowers" in Ovid's Fasti, Flora was born Chloris, "a nymph of the happy fields." Flora bragged about her beauty, stating "Modesty shrinks from describing my figure; but it procured the hand of a god for my mother's daughter." She was abducted and raped by Zephyrus, god of the west wind, who then married her.
Pleased with his new wife, Zephyrus gave Flora the job of overseeing flowers and springy things. Her gardens are always full of blossoming flowers, too pretty to comprehend; as a goddess of fertility, Flora helped Hera conceive a child by herself, Ares, to match Zeus, who had sort of done the same.
Flora also had great games hosted in her name in Rome. According to the poet Martial, in honor of her flirty nature, there was "a lascivious nature of the rites of sportive Flora," accompanied by "dissoluteness of the games, and the license of the populace." St. Augustine observes that, by his standards, she was no good: "Who is this mother Flora, and what manner of goddess is she, who is thus conciliated and propitiated by a practice of vice indulged in with more than usual frequency and with looser reins?"03of 05
PrahladPrahlad inspired the spring festival of Holi. Artur Debat/Getty Images
The Hindu festival of Holi is best known to outsiders for the colorful powders participants throw at one another, but this spring holiday has tinges of fertility all around it. It's the story of the triumph of good over evil!
The story goes that a prince named Prahlad angered his impious royal father, who asked his son to worship him. Prahlad, being a pious youth, refused. Eventually, the infuriated king asked his demoness sister, Holika, to burn Prahlad alive, but the boy remained unsinged; the Holi bonfire celebrates Prahlad's devotion to Vishnu.04of 05
NinhursagNinhursag hangs out with her family. Image via MesopotamianGods.com
Ninhursag was a Sumerian goddess of fertility who lived in the absolute paradise of Dilmun. With her husband, Enki, she had a child who was then impregnated by her own father. So grew an incestuous line of gods and, oddly enough, plants.
Angry at her hubby's philandering, Ninhursag put a jinx on him and he started to die. Thanks to a magic fox, Enki started to heal; eight gods - symbolic of the eight plants he'd consumed that had once sprouted from his own semen - were born, each coming from a part of Enki's body that had hurt him the most05of 05
AdonisVenus mourns her lover, Adonis. DEA/G. NIMATALLAH/Getty Images
Adonis was the product of a bizarre and incestuous couple, but he also was the paramour of the goddess of love herself, Aphrodite. The Cypriot princess Myrrha was made to fall in love with her father, Cinyras, and she and her nurse tricked her dad into bed with her. Myrrha got pregnant and, when her father found out, she fled; when Cinyras was about to kill her, she turned into a myrrh tree. Nine months later, a baby popped out of the tree: Adonis!
Adonis was such a hottie that the most beautiful deity of them all fell head-over-heels for him. Aphrodite fell so hard for him that Ovid reports she "prefers Adonis to heaven, and so she holds close to his ways as his companion." Angry at losing his lover to another guy, Ares turned into a boar and gored Adonis to death. Once he was killed, Aphrodite ordered that the Greeks mourn his death ritually; thus Aristophanes chronicles in his famous play Lysistrata that "Adonis been wept to death on the terraces," and a drunk woman was screaming, “Adonis, woe for Adonis.”
From Adonis's blood sprang up a gorgeous flower, the anemone; thus, life sprang from death, fertility from barrenness. Not bad!