Today is the day — the first of two — in which the Earth’s equator passes directly through the center of the sun, causing the day to be balanced in both light and darkness. This phenomenon is called the Equinox — more specifically, the Spring Equinox. Days like today were rife with superstitions and myths and legends and everything in between. However, today we will be looking at another couple of myths from around the world that talk about the change of seasons. Last time we took a look at both Chinese and Greek mythology — at the kidnapping of Persephone and at the candle dragon himself. But now? Now we will see what the Canaanites believed as well as the Norse in regards to the change of seasons.
According to Canaanite beliefs, the changing of the seasons happened after Baal — the god of storms — defeated the god of the sea to become king of the gods. Baal thought himself to be above all, and so he ordered that Mot, the god of the dead, was to not set foot anywhere on the earth except for the desert. Mot, forced to wander the desert, turns around and invites Baal to the Netherworld for a “visit.” Baal is, in turn, forced to go in order to save face as the new ruler of the gods, however when he gets there, Mot tricks him into eating the food of the dead: mud. Thus, Baal is trapped in the underworld and the world dries up into an eternal summer — crops do not grow, the land becomes scorched, and the heat causes the waters to dry. While Baal is away, Baal’s wife — Anat — prays for her husband’s release. The gods refuse to help her, so she herself descends to the Netherworld to plead with Mot directly. Mot of course refuses, and thus an infuriated Anat battles the god of the dead and defeats him, wounding him so badly he cannot stop her from taking Baal away. Rains were restored, but because Baal ate the food of the dead, he is required to spend a part of every year in the Netherworld, and at summer’s end he can come back and heal the world once more.
Our second myth today is a funny one, since many versions of this myth exist and they all contradict each other. The beginning is usually the same: either Frigga (Baldur’s mother), Odin (Baldur’s father), and Baldur himself begin to suffer from nightmares about Baldur’s death. Frigga goes around and has every living and non-living thing swear that no harm will come to Baldur — with the exception of mistletoe. The other gods make a game of throwing things at Baldur and watching them bounce off harmlessly until Loki convinces a blind Hodr (in some versions of this myth, he is Baldur’s brother) to throw a spear that Loki guides. This spear is made of mistletoe, and when it pierces Baldur’s chest, he drops down dead.
This is where the myth changes. In some versions, both Hodr and Baldur die — Hodr being killed for murdering his brother. In these pre-Christian versions, Frigga begs Hel to release them and they are allowed out — separately — for half of the year only. Hodr, because he is blind, is associated with darkness and explains the winter seasons while Baldur was described as a god of light and therefore was the other half of the year — summer and spring. Other post-Christian versions of this myth tie Baldur to Christ in that he will only rise once more after Ragnarök, returning from the land of the dead. However, these post-Christian versions also depict Baldur as being passive as objects are thrown at him while pre-Christian versions show him as being battle-ready at all times.
These myths from both Canaanite and Norse mythos are both examples not only of spring/seasonal myths, but also show how myths have changed over time. From Baldur’s myth which has so many versions including his rebirth, to the myth of Baal which has many versions as well — including one where every seven years the two fight, the winner deciding if there will be a good season or a drought. The truth is, there were many myths, legends, fables and stories, some of which do in fact explain away the changing of the seasons. But let us remember today that with the start of spring, there is a god walking out from the land of the dead somewhere. And whether they be Persephone, Baldur, Baal, or some other god/goddess, let us rejoice with the return of all things green and celebrate.
For more reading on spring myths (sources):