The Easter story speaks to the archetypal pattern of the Eternal Return or the sacrifice-death-rebirth cycle. We see this cycle in the seasons, in the tides and in the phases of the moon. We sacrifice and consume food to further our lives, eventually returning to the earth our selves.
The forty days of Lent leading up to Easter mark the time of giving up or sacrificing something such as meat or eggs. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “the real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare us for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ.”
The myth of Persephone also illustrates the death-rebirth process. Demeter, a sister of Zeus, was in charge of the harvest and as long as she remained happy, the crops remained healthy. She was happiest in the company of her daughter, Persephone.
Beautiful Persephone caught the eye of Hades, God of the Underworld, and was soon kidnapped by him. Demeter became distraught with the loss of her daughter and her unhappiness threatened widespread crop failure. Zeus, worried that his adorning humans would be without food, ordered Hermes to the underworld to strike a deal with Hades.
Negotiations among all parties resulted in Demeter agreeing to allow Persephone to marry Hades in exchange for Persephone being able to return to be with Demeter for six months of the year. Each spring Persephone lived on Earth where bountiful crops and flowers grew. Each fall she returned to Hades, with crops dying until spring, when the cycle began again.
As the descent and return of Persephone brings about the seasons, it symbolically represents the sacrifice-death-life cycle of all living things and has psychological relevance as well.
At certain times in our lives, it is required for us to descent into our underworld to undertake psychic work. This descent is experienced as entering a void and we understandably dread this darkness. We fear the losses that will no doubt occur. However, as Jung stated “Suffering is necessary for complete development of the psyche” or soul.
Individual sacrifice is necessary to bring forth new energy. This means actively letting go of something of value in service of something larger. On a psychic level, we are asked to surrender something – an old attitude or belief that no longer serves us – in order for something new to emerge.
Joseph Campbell advised, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” However, as the cycle tells, change or rebirth does not come without sacrifice or suffering.
During our descents, it appears on the surface that nothing is growing in our barren wintry fields. However, we have gone underground, shifting energy into our unconscious, where we are patiently sorting and tweaking, waiting and trusting.
During our moments of stillness and apparent lack of outward progress, there is nothing ever not going on within our ever-fertile and healing psyches. Like nature’s seasons, psyche too knows the wisdom of when to grow and when to rest.