The twelve beautiful nude virgins danced joyously around the only tree in the field that was bearing leaves and blossoms. They had been appearing at the base of the tree for the past thirty days each dawn to dance, and then vanished each evening with the last rays of the sun.
The valley where the tree has always grown was forbidden to everyone in the land during this time, and yet young boys and men were known to slyly hide in the low peaks at the valley’s edge to watch, at first with crude telescopes and more recently with binoculars, gazing with lust at the alluring maidens.
Their only attire were the wreathes of wildflowers they wore in their hair, fresh every morning. They were seen neither to eat nor drink and never paused to rest for even a moment, but constantly maintained their dance as if it were their passion and religion.
“What do you think it means, Hadad?”
“You know what it means, stupid. It is a welcoming dance for the return of the Goddess, Nabu.”
“I’ve got something I’d like to welcome them with.” Utu leered and grabbed his crotch.
“Shut up. You know it means death to enter the valley. The Lord would drag us into his realm and we would be tortured for our impudence.”
“You think we’re safe up here, Hadad?”
“We’re not dead yet, are we, Nabu? Besides, my Grandfather told me he used to come here as a boy to watch the virgins. As long as we don’t cross the boundary into the valley, the Lord has no power to punish us.”
“Nabu, my Grandfather says that his Grandfather used to come to watch the maidens when he was a lad. How long do you think this has been going on?”
“No one knows, Utu. As far back as our ancient ancestors, long before our land had its present name.”
Each boy returned to his binoculars to admire the objects of their longing and lust. Last year, one of their classmates named Mot tried flying a drone with a video camera mounted on the underside over the valley, but it exploded the instant it crossed the boundary line. He had been so terrified that he ran all the way back to the village and swore never to go near the valley again, even when it was permitted, which was most of the time.
“It’s today, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Nabu.” Hadad groaned impatiently. “Everybody knows she returns to us today.”
“There, I see them, more leaves and blossoms on the tree. It must be soon. And the maidens are dancing faster. Wow, look at those bouncing…”
“Just shut up and watch, Utu.” Habab slapped his age-mate on the back of the head.
Then the maidens stopped their dance and solemnly moved away from the great tree, still in a circle around it. They sank to their knees and then bowed so their heads were to the ground. The earth shook as it did on this day every year and a mighty chasm opened to the south. Out of it erupted a dozen chthonic horses pulling an ebony chariot and inside the chariot, was the fearsome Lord himself. The maidens did not look at him or even move, but remained motionless in piety surrounding the tree.
The Lord stopped his horses and stepping down from the chariot, strode toward the tree, but did not cross the circle made by the virgins.
The tree shimmered with emerald light and seemed to fold and undulate as if made of cloth, twisting and reforming until she appeared, the Goddess.
She was unspeakably beautiful draped in a gown of sheer, translucent jade, and while the boys had passionate desire for her twelve handmaids, they experienced complete devotion and awe at the sight of their Mistress.
Utu wanted to leave, terrified by the Lord’s presence, but he couldn’t move. None of them could. The only sound among them was the chattering of Nabu’s teeth as he was shivering with fright.
The Goddess looked at her husband and smiled. “My Lord Kur, fierce and fiery dragon of the deep.” She extended her hand toward him. The two virgins nearest the Lord subtly widened the distance between them in invitation and the Lord entered the circle.
“My dearest Ereshkigal, Goddess of my lands and my heart.” He took her hand and gently helped her down from what was now a large tree stump, her glorious dais. The moment she stepped off and strode across the grass with the Lord Kur, the tree exploded with fresh green sprouts. Within minutes, it would be completely regrown.
“I shall miss you, my Goddess. My realm though filled with all the souls of the dead will be a vacant abyss without you.”
“I will return to you my beloved upon the next equinox as always and resume my place at your side.”
The virgins had risen from the ground and now stood silently in two lines behind the Goddess. The boys saw they were now pregnant, as if ready to give birth to their children at any moment.
Hadad and Nabu heard a sound behind them. Utu was sliding down the rise. He whispered, “Let’s get out of here before he sees us.”“You think he doesn’t already know, Utu?” Habab was whispering too and although he tried to sound confident as the leader of the trio, he also was slowly crawling down and away from their vantage point. “Come on, Nabu.” He tugged at his friend’s pant leg.
Nabu had been mesmerized by the majestic scene but now roused by Hadad, lowered his binoculars and followed his friends. They would have a great tale of daring and skill to tell, amazing their less courageous friends for the next month. The girls at school would pretend to be offended, but secretly they would want to be desired the way the now pregnant virgins had been.
Kur and Ereshkigal shared one last embrace. “Enjoy this season of your life, my Goddess. I will count the days until the next equinox.”
“As will I my Lord and King. Return to the Underworld in peace.” She caressed his dark and foreboding visage.
“Grace the lands of the overworld in beauty.” He took her hand and gently kissed the palm, then released her and returned to his chariot. The Lord of the Dead stood there for a few more moments, the reins in his hand gazing at his beautiful Queen, then commanded the twelve dark horses to return him to the vast depths of Hades. The chasm closed behind him and with his departure, the rest of the trees in the valley began to sprout with emerald buds. With the goddess, who some call Persephone, came the Spring and with Spring, fertility and life.
Handsome Hadad would make love with lovely Ellil tonight in the hills behind the village. She would give birth to a healthy baby boy in December, long after the Goddess had resumed her throne as Queen of Hell.
I wrote this for the Tale Weaver – #159 – February 14th – The Coming of Spring hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea is to author a poem, short story, or other creative work based on the coming of Spring.
I tried a number of different approaches but couldn’t come up with anything until I looked up one on my favorite myths, Persephone. Basically the legend goes that Hades, Lord of the Underworld, kidnapped (and in some legends raped) the goddess Persephone, taking her to the Underworld to be his wife.
Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and agriculture, became increasingly depressed with each passing day at not being able to see her daughter. As this continued, the world became colder and there was less sunlight. The other gods appealed to her to return the temperate weather lest all the Earth become frozen.
Demeter demanded the return of her daughter but Hades refused and the Earth grew colder still. Finally the gods brokered a deal. For six months Persephone would remain in the Underworld with Hades and for the next six months she would return to the world above and remain with Demeter.
Each Spring, Persephone rises into the world and her mother brightens in spirit returning the good weather. Each Autumn, Persephone descends to her husband Hades and Demeter, missing her, withdraws warmth and growth. This is supposed to explain in mythology why we have the seasons.
Looking at the Wikipedia page for this goddess, I found there was way too much information, so I mined only a little. It is believed that the myth is pre-Greek and may have originated in ancient Sumeria, which is why I used the Sumerian names for Persephone and Hades and chose Persian names for my three “Peeping Toms.”
In some legends, the goddess grows out of the ground when returning in the Spring, like a tree. I made up the handmaidens both to represent purity and fertility (and once she returns to the world above, they become instantly nine-months pregnant and the fertility of the surrounding human communities skyrockets).
Hades is sometimes depicted as riding in a chariot behind a team of chthonic horses and myth says he used this in his kidnap and rape of Persephone and also to catch the souls of the dead and carry them down into the Underworld.
There’s a lot more really interesting stuff surrounding these legends and if you’re interested, click the links and have a read.
I decided to extend this story for another writing challenge: The Goddess Blesses.