The myth of Persephone (pronounced per-sef-o-nee) is one of my favourite Greek myths and while it had enormous relevance for our ancient Greek ancestors, it has as much, if not more relevance for us today as it did then. As usual I’m not very sure where to begin with this topic. It is very close to my heart therefore I so very much want to do it justice and in wanting to do the best job possible I’ve put it off more times than I care to admit. It seems in this case that careful planning leads to poor performance. So forsaking perfection…and arming myself with courage…here goes…
Persephone is a Greek Goddess. She is the only daughter of Demeter; ‘The Good Goddess‘. Mortal men knew Demeter as the ‘Goddess of the Harvest Wealth‘, for it was under her dominion that the Earth was green and abundant. So far so good, however, one day a terrible fate befell Persephone.
While picking wild flowers in a meadow Persephone strayed off from her companions when Hades, Lord of the Underworld arose from the depths, grasped our young Goddess and bore her along with him to the Underworld. Persephone’s cries at being abducted were said to be heard in the very depths of the ocean. And while Demeter searched frantically for her only daughter, no one was able to tell her what had happened. Demeter eventually asked the Sun ‘Helios’ for help. The Sun after all sees everything and sure enough he had witnessed the abduction. He told Demeter what had happened; that Persephone was down in the Underworld, in the realm of the shadowy dead.
At this point I am going to skip a large section of the story and get straight to the point that is relevant for us today.
Demeter, consumed by her grief abandonded her duties to men and the Earth gradually became lifeless and barren. Zeus, the Father of the Gods saw how mortal men were suffering and beginning to perish and sent Hermes down to the Underworld demanding that his brother Hades return Persephone. Hades did as he was asked, he allowed Persephone to return. Just as she was about to leave, Hades asked Persephone to grant him one final request; that she eat some something. He offered her a pomegranate. Dutifully, Persephone granted his wish and ate a pomegranate seed. Little did she know that pomegranate was the food of the Underworld and that by eating it she was binding herself to return to Hades. So Persephone left the Underworld and was reunited with her mother. Upon discovering what had happened with the pomegranate seed, Demeter’s sadness returned for she realised that she would once again lose her only daughter to the Land of the Dead. For four months of every year, Persephone resides in the Underworld as Hades’ Queen and as Demeter grieves for her beloved daughter life on Earth becomes still. The cold creeps in, flowers wither and die and the fields lie fallow.
And joy of joys when Persephone returns once more from Hades and the radiance of Spring and Summer bless the faces of mortal men anew. As well as being the Goddess of Spring, Persephone is equally the wife of Hades, Queen of the Dead. She is the only Greek Goddess out of all the immortals who has tasted Death. And yet she returns, she is reborn every year in Spring. Her time on Earth is limited. After the joys of Spring and Summer, her descent to the Land of the Dead begins. This is the Autumn Equinox, the dawning of Winter. The cycle of the seasons, the complexity of man. Summer and Winter, life and death, the light and the dark; these are all part of the human condition here on Earth. We haven’t yet learned to transcend our mortal bodies, and until we do so we are bound to this cyclical process of life and death, light and dark, only to be repeated again and again and again; what the Buddhists call the Wheel of Samsara, or the Wheel of Suffering. Enlightenment or illumination will cease this process for us, but until then we have to work within the parameters of the light and the dark.
On the Earth Plane the light and the dark are two poles of the same thing. We need the polarity, we cannot understand one without reference to the other. We only know the light of the dawn in contrast to the darkness of night. Darkness is real and it exists within us. It is part and parcel of being human. Trying to avoid our darkness doesn’t help, pretending it doesn’t exist is even more debilitating, it needs to be accepted, integrated and embraced. Persephone can help us with this. Out of all the Gods and Goddesses she is uniquely qualified. She dies every year. Her suffering is repeated year in year out. She is mourned by her mother every year.
What Persephone does not do however is let the darkness consume her. She never gives up hope, she never lets go of the light deep within her for she knows that she will return once again to light and life and love. In her darkest moments Persephone remains strong and calm and full of resolve that this is what she must do. If we allow her, she can teach us how to safely integrate darkness and death into our lives, without letting it corrupt and consume us. Persephone is the Light within the Dark.
I’ve done a lot of shamanic work with Persephone. I journey to her and I regularly do ceremony to honour her. For me She is real. She is a divine aspect of consciousness within the greater universe. Said another way, Persephone is a living aspect of the cosmos. She is accessible and with some effort on our behalf we can meet her, talk to her and receive wisdom, healing and advice from her, among other things.
I appreciate that not everyone holds the same views as I do. Ultimately we have a choice; we can see her as real, existent, out there, independent from us. Others might see her as a metaphor for an aspect of our own psyche. And there are those among us who might simply view her as a character in a fairy tale. Regardless of which option you feel more drawn to, you cannot deny that the myth of Persephone has much to teach us.