Category Archives: Myth

The Color of Hope

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Color of Hope

The Color of Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

So says Emily Dickinson.  Knowing Emily as I do (she’s an old favorite of mine), I’m inclined to go along with the traditional rainbow-at-the-end-of–the-flood interpretation of her poem.  Nevertheless, she was well versed in irony and used it to alleviate bouts of frustration, bitterness and despair.  It’s possible “Never stops at all” means “Oh PLEASE, shut the Hell up!”

Do you ever get a tune in your head that won’t quit, just keeps replaying, again and again, no matter what?  Hope can sound like that – a repetitious melody that disallows any other thought and won’t let you rest.

Hope can be regarded as a delusion that keeps reality at bay; a dangerous illusion that can prevent introspection, delight in present pleasure or engagement with the world. Emily’s last line speaks to this when she says hope never “asked a crumb of me.”  In other words, Hope precludes relationship, give and take, mutuality. It can be a lonely pastime. Henry Miller would agree. He said, “Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions.”

Of course there’s no definitive answer to whether or not hope is a blessing.  It remains a word of many colors – some somber, some bright.  Speaking of color, April’s prompt  from Leah Piken Kolidas at Creative Every Day is color.  Rainbow seemed an appropriate association for both color and hope.  Among my Pandora related collage images I found a rainbow-colored box and a rainbow-colored bird and although Michelle had already appropriated Emily’s poem, I wanted to use it, too.

My last collage for this story, leaves the ending as ambiguous as ever .  It answers none of our questions.  Who sent the storm that rained for forty days and nights – and why?  Why must girls be raised in ignorance to be exploited, manipulated and used?  Who profits from promises?  Who does Hope serve?  What lies beneath the surface of this tale built on deceptions?

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The Box

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On Opening the Box

 

This week, I embrace the most accepted meaning (in our culture) of negativity – bad, evil, yucky, eech, nasty, unpleasant, dirty, harmful, damaging etc.  These are the attributes normally attributed to the evils Pandora let loose on mankind.  These are also  qualities often associated with women. (Yes, Virginia there is a misogynist.)

To this day, many forms of Christianity blame Eve for expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  Furthermore, any child born of woman gets stained, tainted, indelibly marked with sin as he/she slides through the birth canal.  These negative notions manifest in all sorts of ways in our society – you, no doubt, can easily name a dozen or so.  For example, women have a plethora of ugly sobriquets, which don’t bear repeating, so do their genitalia.  The mis-translation of Pandora’s jar to Pandora’s box doesn’t surprise me.  As Freud said, “There are no accidents without intentions.”

Jars, cauldrons, and pots are archetypal symbols of the great and holy mystery of the womb.  Even without vulgarization, the association is obvious but why does this ancient story connect women’s sexuality with ill?

We don’t know what exactly what changed during the 3rd and 4th millennia B.C.E. to subvert the worship throughout southern Europe of the Great Mother as a primary deity, but I tend to agree with Marija Gimbutas that a widespread invasion from the north took place by a people with superior technology whose primary deity was masculine.  Since human psychology is based in our mammalian brains, it has continued pretty much the same for thousands of millennia.  We were as susceptible to a good smear campaign in 4,000 B.C.E. as we are today and just as capable of manufacturing propaganda, mis-information and lies.  It isn’t difficult  to imagine a new religion dissing the old in order to replace one god with another.  We can find many historical examples of this in our  history, it’s not a stretch to imagine pre-historic predecessors engaged in the same activity.

How ere it came to be, modern twenty-first century women still suffer from it, as we have for generations. This collage is a picture of that lie.  It shows evils in the form of insects (other beings suffering a bad rap) emanating from Pandora’s “box”.  The vulture and the bronze representation of a liver are elements from the related Prometheus myth and denote the cruelty of Zeus (depicted at the lower right).  The liver also stands for the art of hepatoscopy, a kind of divination based on reading the liver.  It’s a reminder to search for the meaning below the meaning (see previous posting).

The vulture is one of the oldest known symbols associated with a goddess.  Even before Isis, with whom it became closely linked, the vulture belonged to Nekhbet whose oracle shrine is the oldest yet discovered in Egypt. (3100 B.C.E.)  Her priestesses were called muu (mothers) and wore robes of Egyptian vulture feathers.  The vulture stands for regeneration, maternity and the mystic cycle of birth, death and rebirth.  In my collage she represents the lost power and sanctity of the feminine.   However, the vulture’s wing encircles Pandora like a mother’s arm; the power, beauty and sanctity of the feminine are still Pandora’s to call upon if she will waken and remember.

The First Sinner

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The First Sinner
Pandora’s Box:
Wk 3 the negative aspect

The First Sinners

Pandora’s Box: Week #3, The Negative Aspect

 The fabric is torn. When women are seen as the lesser of the sexes, instead of as different but equal,  society is weakened and suffers discrimination. When it is taught that men are more logical, inventive, mathematical, and scientific and the stronger and brighter of the species,  society is negating half of its people. In the story of Pandora’s Box or  Eve and the Garden of Eden, the woman is cast in the  role of  the gullible, devious, nonsensical, illogical, stupid, disrespectful and naïve instigator.

 The difference between Instigator and Initiator is intent. An instigator is someone who starts trouble, or something destructive, while the person who is the initiator is someone who causes something important to begin. In both stories the woman is an initiator.

 In Timothy 1. 2:11-15 Paul gives as his rationale for directing that a woman should learn in quietness and full submission and she is not permitted to teach or assume authority over a man, she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. He gives the women the major part of the blame. I think he was a misogynist.

In my collage, we see Pandora being lectured by the heavenly angel. The Angel is telling Eve/Pandora that all women are marked of her sins,  hereditary sin is the punishment.  This darkness is symbolized by the Crow. Because Eve tempted Adam to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge and Pandora opened the box lid and let all the evils into the world, the two women are branded First Sinners. Now humankind is born into sin. The Angel says, “It’s all your fault.” I hope Pandora isn’t buying into this bogus crap.

I think all of this is nonsense. These are stories to keep women subordinate to men.  It is an attempt to blame women for all the evils of the world. In the case of Zeus, he is the one that put all the evils into the box in the first place. Who gives a beautiful box as a wedding present with a caveat? Here is the key but “what ever you do, do not open the lid.” wink, wink!  Zeus was the instigator. He knew Pandora would open the box, Zeus made sure Pandora had the quality of curiosity.

In the case of Eve and the Tree of Knowledge, God puts the forbidden tree right in the middle of the garden. Then he has the tree produce tasty eatable fruit. Everyday Adam and Eve see the Tree of Knowledge and are tempted. The Snake, probably a woman, seduces Eve into taking the apple. God could have put the tree in an out-of-the-way corner,  or the tree could have bared bitter berries, or cones or hard nuts. But God was the tempter, the instigator. The woman was  set-up. The Gods use women to get back at men. These stories suggest that the Gods need to get in touch with their feminine side and stop tricking women into doing their dirty work.  Ever notice that these stories always make the woman beautiful, picturesque and hard-working? And if  Paul has his way, all women would be compliant and quiet.   “Good Luck with that!”

Hope is the Thing

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Hope is the Thing

Pandora’s Box:  Week #2 Positive Aspect of the Story

Hope is the Thing

Emily Dickinson wrote …

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.

 Hope gives us a reason to believe. Hope moves us forward, lifts us up, and changes us for the better. In my collage, the woman is offering up Pears, a symbol of hope, in the hopes that the gods will favor her goals. In the Emily Dickinson poem, she uses the metaphor of a songbird as the symbol of hope. The songbird sings his song never really knowing if anyone is listening. By singing out our hopes there is a chance they will come true.

The dictionary defines the word “Hope” as the feeling, “that what is wanted can be had or that “something you want to have happen is likely to happen.”  Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson argues that “hope” comes into play when our circumstances are dire, when things are not going well, and when there is considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. She states that hope literally opens us up and removes the blinders of fear and despair. It allows us to see the big picture, thus allowing us to become creative and have belief in a better future.

Butterflies and dragonflies are symbols of hope. Psychologist, C.R. Snyder says that hope is cultivated when we have a goal in mind. When we believe the goal is reachable and have a plan on how to reach that goal. We are like “the little engine that could, because we keep telling our self “I think I can, I think I can.”

In the collage, she places her heart on the world axis, opens her self and waits in anticipation. In the human heart, hope endures, defeating despair despite overwhelming circumstances. She sits near her Hope Chest. It is full of needlework, quilts, bed linens, and towels. She is ready to begin a new life and she has Hopes that the desired out come is at least possible.”

 

Curiosity

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The Harbinger

The Harbinger

Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance.

~William Wirt (9th Attorney General of the United States 1817– 1829)

Wonderland is rife with stories about the consequences (initially dire or at least unhappy) of opening forbidden boxes.  Sometimes the boxes come as covered baskets woven by Native Americans, sometimes they are locked rooms, sealed jars or stoppered bottles.  Always the person who opens them is driven by insatiable curiosity to take a peep inside.  Most often they’ve been warned to KEEP OUT!

But, like the person who insists on visiting the spooky basement at midnight to investigate a strange noise instead of sneaking out the back door and running like hell while dialing 911, the insatiably curious just can’t help themselves.

Tales about locked boxes are often touted as learning stories intended to make people conform.  But, if we read them carefully, we find by the end justice prevails.  So perhaps the stories are really about the necessity to persevere through trial, error and some suffering, in order to bring about change for the greater good.  These accounts are among our oldest, old enough to be called myths,  with roots that go back into antiquity.  They are often complicated, richly layered tales full of twists and turn, successes and set-backs.  To me, they seem like initiation stories- rites of passage.

One characteristic of initiations is to take everything the student has learned and turn it upside down by teaching a seemingly opposite truth.  This radical paradigm shift knocks the aspiring initiate out her/his previous assumptions into beginner’s mind; open to new ways of inquiry and conjexture.  In Pandora’s Box the story seems to a warning.  On the other hand ,it might offer the neophyte encouragement to continue on the journey.  Or the story might be a koan meant to force the student to think more profoundly and explore alternative explanations.

In my collage, Pandora, who wears still keeps her golden key in the  medicine bag strung around her neck (perhaps she will encounter other boxes) has already unsealed her jar (bottom right corner) letting loose a swarm of noxious insects, many of which fly and/or sting.  The insects have long since dispersed.   Now, months later, something new has appeared on Earth – flowers.  Many of those flying, stinging, creepy-crawlies were pollinators.  Not only is the world awash in beauty, but a new kind of food is growing in abundance – mangos, paw-paws, bananas, apples, pomegranates, peaches pears, watermelon, pecans, walnuts, cashews,  almonds, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant, squash, beans , chilies – the list is endless.

You can see these flowers in my collage and also the pollinators, without whom much of the world’s population would starve to death.   The closed jars represent the potential for discovery – the potential for emptying that leaves the womb, which all jars represent, ready for new life.  The emptying is essential to creation; be it a baby, a book or a better mousetrap.  The sealed jars are the catalysts of curiosity, harbingers of action.  Pandora is the universal girl who dares act, who uses the gifts she’s been given to initiate change.

Pandora’s Keys

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“Pandora’s Keys”

(Pandora’s Box) Week #1 The Big Picture

 As the Greek Myth begins, Zeus is angry with the brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus for stealing fire and giving it to humans. He decides to send the brothers a “gift” … the gift of trouble in the form of a woman. He orders Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, to create a woman out of Earth and water. Hephaestus asks Aphrodite to be his model and when he is done, Athena breathes a soul into the creation. All the Gods and Goddesses give Pandora a gift so that she will be complex and beautiful. Apollo gifts her music, Hermes gifts her persuasion and great curiosity, and one by one, the gifts are added and received.

In my collage, I show Pandora as a young beautiful maiden. She is the first human woman. Zeus expects her to be very desired by all men. In fact, the first man to see her falls madly in love and they get married.  Pandora is very innocent.  She has no life experience and is surely uncorrupted.  As is the case with many young women today, she has no idea just how beautiful and vulnerable she is.

Zeus gives Pandora  a beautiful golden box with the admonishment to never open it.   Zeus knows that the gods have given her curiosity and Hermes  a set of keys. He knows it is only a matter of time before she opens the box.  One day when she is alone in the house, she sees the golden box and wonders what’s in side. She remembers the keys.  She tries the largest one first. Nothing happens. Next, she tries the littlest key and sure enough, the lock clicks.  Surprised, she gently opens the lid a crack to peek inside. As soon as the top is ajar, all the ugly evils fly out and about the room. She stares as they disappear through the crack beneath the door.

She is deeply saddened. Why would Zeus give her such a lovely gift and blackness pours out? As she is about to re-lock the box she hears a strange voice call out to her. “Pandora, take off the lid,” the voice said.  Pandora uncovered the box and out flew the spirit of Hope. “Zeus tricked you”, the spirit said. “I was hiding at the bottom, beneath everything else, Zeus didn’t see me. Now that I am free, I will give Humans Hope.”  Pandora opened the window and let Hope fly out into the afternoon breeze.

On the Way to the Wedding

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On the Way to the Wedding

On the Way to the Wedding

Last month we had a spare story where we had to delve and dive for meanings, this month with Pandora’s Box we have a story rich with store-bought meanings, some of them diametrically opposed.  I’m very curious about what will fly out as we unpack the story and shake out the wrinkles.

I’ve been fascinated by Pandora since I was a little girl, hearing the story for the first time.  I’ve thought of Pandora as very young ever since.  No doubt I identified so strongly with her because I too was a child filled with insatiable curiosity.  From the very first time I raised my hand in class to ask a question  it marked me as different.  Being an Army brat, I changed schools the way other girls changed clothes.   There were plenty of opportunities for fresh starts in new environments; besides my mama didn’t raise dummies – I knew perfectly well  if I wanted to fit in, or at the very least escape notice, I should throttle that insistent inquisitive other who  kept shoving my arm up and flapping my hand around.  But I couldn’t.  Just like Pandora, I had to keep opening the box and suffering the consequences.

It certainly didn’t escape my attention that Pandora and Eve had a lot in common; both being ‘first women’ blamed unfairly for letting mankind’s ills loose upon the world.  From the get-go I got how unfair that was.

Pandora is the dummling, the Fool, the innocent setting out on a journey for which she is totally unprepared.  She hasn’t even had the benefit of a childhood with all its lessons of separation and betrayal to toughen her up.  Zeus has ordered her freshly made and sent her like a time bomb into the world.  So, she isn’t just my little girl suffering the normal slings and arrows of childhood, she is also every child used and abused by adults for their own ends.

In this first collage we see young naïve Pandora carrying all the gifts the gods have showered upon her neatly packed in a basket, on her way to her new home. She rides on top of the hope chest of a bride and her path is strewn with celebratory flowers.  Behind her hovers the shadow of the woman she has already, unbeknownst to her and without her consent, become – a sexual object to be bought and sold by men and gods in games of power.  At this moment though, she is still unaware of her fate; still seeing the world as freshly painted just for her.

Painted red – to stand for marriage (China, India), sacrifice (blood, virginity), fire (Prometheus), hidden knowledge (alchemy) and the “uncontrolled lust for power leading to self-absorption and hatred” (Zeus).  This particular shade of red symbolizes “yang” the masculine life force.  You  see it reiterated in this collage, emphasizing the imbalance of yin and yang. (See previous post March 25)

The story begins with the sibling rivalry between Zeus and his brother Prometheus, which leads to the theft of fire for mankind, resulting in Zeus’s commissioning Pandora from the (male)smith Hephaestus before giving her to another brother Epimetheus as his bride.  Perhaps the evils hidden in Pandora’s box will emerge out of this gross imbalance between feminine and masculine elements rather than the curiosity of Pandora.

The Papess

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Pope Joan with pigs 200

La PapesseDivinatory meaning
~Upright ~

Intuition, wisdom and secret knowledge, the feminine side of the male personality. Something remains yet to be revealed, but patience must be observed. Duality and mystery. Hidden influences affect both home and work and intuitive insight suggests new solutions. The influence of women.

~Ill Dignified or Reversed~

Lack of personal harmony and problems resulting from a lack of foresight. Suppression of the feminine or intuitive side of the personality. Facile and surface knowledge. Repression and ignorance of true facts and feelings. In women, an inability to come to terms with other women or themselves. Things and circumstances are not what they seem.

The most interesting part of this story for me was the odd inclusion of the Pope in the wife’s list of ambitions. Those of you who have read my novel Magdalene A.D. know how interested I am in feminine Christian religious figures. It’s taken years for me to accept my Christian cultural heritage because of the long history of misogyny so deeply entwined in it. Only by going back to the beginning and learning how the divine feminine insisted on her reappearance, despite concerted efforts to excise her, could I finally begin to reclaim some part of Christianity as my own. Magdalene A.D. was an exercise in active imagination in which I rewrote a traditional story, filling in the blank spots with my own midrash in an attempt to help heal this deep historical wound.

So, of course the idea of a female Pope fascinated me. There is a legend, dating in written form back to the thirteenth century, describing the reign of Pope Joan. As the story goes, enamored of learning, she disguised herself as a man and became a priest in order to peruse her studies. (It’s hardly unusual for women to disguise themselves as a man).  Joan, erudite and wise beyond her years, rose quickly in the estimation of her peers to the point that they elected her Pope. Perhaps she had a lover; perhaps she was raped – at any rate two years and seven months into her reign she gave birth to a baby boy during the middle of a public procession right in the middle of the street. Some versions say she died; others that she was done away with; still others that she repented and spent the rest of her life in a convent doing penance.

As with many other traditional tales, one can safely assume that oral traditions long predated the actual inscription of the story. The story of Pope Joan may antedate the written account by two or three centuries or more. The most interesting part for me is the persistence of this legend. The Papess found her way into the earliest tarot decks and also into folk tales like The Fisherman’s Wife. Why did so many people believe it? What, about this particular story, appealed to the popular imagination so much that scholars and novelists wrote about it and engravers illustrated it?

I’ve dressed my fisherman’s wife in sumptuous robes and a diamond mitre. As in the story she is surrounded in flames. I still don’t know what these staggered torches stand for. Do they echo the myriad lights carried by the faithful in religious processions? Perhaps they represent the enormous super-sized candles on the high altars of cathedrals. Candles were an extravagance and burning dozens at a time might seem the height of luxurious abandon to a woman only days away from life in a pigsty. Fairy tales were often told to illustrate the vast divide between rich and poor. They provided a safe way to criticize and make fun of the establishment (church and state) and to rewrite abhorrent circumstance into an easier more bountiful existence. The many lights might have been a critical look at the extravagance of the church at the expense of the poor. The fisherman’s wife might be an allegory for the vain ambition and worldly lusts of a supposedly sacred institution dedicated to the precepts of a Master who asked his followers to walk away from all worldly goods.

I like my little Papess. She seems to have a sly peasant twinkle in her eye, as if to say, “I’ll just play this out and see how far I can take this joke.” I think her good common sense tells her that the deck is stacked against her and this ride can’t last. I also think that under her cynicism and street smarts lies rage – hot and fiery as the flames that surround her. She’d like to burn everything down and start over- even if it means starting from scratch again in her pigsty.

Speaking of pigs! Pigs are ancient symbols of both fertility and death – earthly dwellers and creatures of the underworld linked since long before recorded history with both the moon and the feminine divine. Pigs are ferocious omnivores who will devour shit, grain, human flesh and their own off-spring with equal abandon. Fierce hunters, their tusks appear in the mouths of both demons and gorgons, but their large litters and fleshy bodies also symbolize abundant life and fertility. Their sacred nature is acknowledged in Egyptian, Semite, Indian, Native American, Polynesian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Asian and Greek myth. European culture links them most closely with Persephone and Cerridwen. Their inclusion here hints at a deeper more arcane mythic level to this story. I’m reminded of Kali dancing on the body of Shiva. The Wikipedia article explains the Tantric interpretation of that image thusly:

“The Shiv tattava (Divine Consciousness as Shiva) is inactive, while the Shakti tattava (Divine Energy as Kali) is active. Shiva and Kali represent Brahman, the Absolute pure consciousness which is beyond all names, forms and activities. Kali, on the other hand, represents the potential (and manifested) energy responsible for all names, forms and activities. She is his Shakti, or creative power, and is seen as the substance behind the entire content of all consciousness. She can never exist apart from Shiva or act independently of him,just as Shiva remains a mere corpse without Kali i.e., Shakti, all the matter/energy of the universe, is not distinct from Shiva, or Brahman, but is rather the dynamic power of Brahman.[45] Hence, Kali is Para Brahman in the feminine and dynamic aspect while Shiva is the male aspect and static. She stands as the absolute basis for all life, energy and beneath her feet lies, Shiva, a metaphor for mass, which cannot retain its form without energy.”

(More on pigs – Jack and Catherine Hart have created a wonderful mythic resource on their website – the page on pigs is fascinating.  The Harts deserve big kudos for their generous sharing.)

I mustn’t forget to mention the moon- a feminine symbol if there ever was one, and profoundly associated with water and emotion. The fisherman’s wife’s next ambition will be to become Lord of the Sun and Moon. All her efforts have been leading up to this. She wants to have mastery over both feminine and masculine – perhaps she wants equity both within herself and without; perhaps, her struggle with her husband has been all about righting the balance between masculine and feminine. But, here the Prince disguised as a fish finally balks. It’s beyond even his power to give her mastery over the Sun and Moon (i.e. masculine and feminine, in other words, herself). Maybe the lesson of the story is that equity of this kind can only be achieved internally by individual effort. No matter who we are or what resources we command, happiness and contentment are contingent on learning to know ourselves. We ignore this lesson at our peril.

Week Four: Light

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Light is the prompt that Leah Piken Kolidas chose for this month. I was having a hard time connecting Red Riding Hood to the concept except in the most abstract way. Then I discovered this interesting quote in John Thackery Bunce’s Fairy Tales, Their Origin and Meaning. It still seems a bit of a stretch to me, but at least I’ve got something to go on.

One of the fancies in the most ancient Aryan or Hindu stories was that there was a great dragon that was trying to devour the sun, and to prevent him from shining upon the earth and filling it with brightness and life and beauty, and that Indra, the sun-god, killed the dragon. Now this is the meaning of Little Red Riding Hood, as it is told in our nursery tales.
Little Red Riding Hood is the evening sun, which is always described as red or golden; the old Grandmother is the earth, to whom the rays of the sun bring warmth and comfort. The Wolf–which is a well-known figure for the clouds and blackness of night–is the dragon in another form; first he devours the grandmother, that is, he wraps the earth in thick clouds, which the evening sun is not strong enough to pierce through. Then, with the darkness of night he swallows up the evening sun itself, and all is dark and desolate. Then, as in the German tale, the night-thunder and the storm winds are represented by the loud snoring of the Wolf; and then the Huntsman, the morning sun, comes in all his strength and majesty, and chases away the night-clouds and kills the Wolf, and revives old Grandmother Earth, and brings Little Red Riding Hood to life again.
Or another explanation may be that the Wolf is the dark and dreary winter that kills the earth with frost, and hides the sun with fog and mist; and then the Spring comes, with the huntsman, and drives winter down to his ice-caves again, and brings the Earth and the Sun back to life.

~John Thackery Bunce Fairy Tales, Their Origin and Meaning