THE cycle of the March Equinox is Sacred to the Great Mother of the Gods, and to her divine lover-son Attis, who dies and is reborn at this time of year.
Persephone returns from the underworld, and the verdure returns to the face of the Earth.
The death of Attis is symbolic of the fruit flowers that appear at this season and then fall away, making room for the ripening fruit.
It was celebrated in Rome with the introduction of a great pine tree that was carried into the Temple of Magna Mater.
An image of the dead Attis was carried on a bier and hung from the tree which was decorated with purple ribbons and violet flowers.
On the Day of Blood, the priests performed austerities including the self-castration of new priests, and the bloodletting of the old priests to the accompaniment of drum and cymbal music.
After the Day of Blood, when Attis was said to have risen again, the festival turned to joy and elation and was known as the Hilaria.
The final part of the sacred days was the day of cleansing, when the image of the Great Mother, a black stone encased in silver, was taken to the river Arno and washed by the priests.
Flamen Antonius Subia says:
"The five-day cycle of the Equinox ... the the Mithraic Mysteries and all the other remembrances ... are all contained in the Death and Resurrection of Attis, the beautiful boy, who severed his own testicles and died giving his blood to the bosom of the earth ... but did not die."