This year on my March 17 birthday (the day of the Celtic green!) I looked out over the expanse of drab lawn uncovered by the recently melted snow and saw that the robins had returned. Spring enfolds very slowly here in central Ontario. The robins touched with red busily foraging and the tiny buds barely visible on the highest branches are the first hopeful signs of renewal and rebirth. Year after year, ravaged by the cold in myriad ways (I don't like winter) it's no wonder that I resonate with Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, and her monumental struggles. In the discovery of Her story and the deep meaning inherent, I found a myth that speaks to my own experiences with hibernation and illness, and my emergence into the light of recovery and transformation.
In Greek mythology, the maiden Persephone, daughter of the harvest Goddess Demeter, is abducted and raped by Hades, the Lord of the Underworld. Facing abuse, adversity, and the bleakness of her new home, she still manages to find her true self and embody the dark and mysterious persona of Hades' new wife and Queen of the Underworld. In the meantime, Demeter searches desperately for her daughter. She neglects to nurture the land in the process, and the earth becomes a wasteland barren of crops or vegetation. Eventually Persephone is rescued by her mother, but because she was tempted by Hades to eat pomegranate seeds, she must return to the Underworld every half-year. Persephone now divides her time between the upper and lower worlds, with an awareness and existence in both the dimensions of the living and the dead. She cannot return to her original innocence, as she has eaten the seeds of death and knowledge and has evolved from Maiden to Queen.
Persephone by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The ancient Greek Demeter-Persephone myth was central to the Eleusinian Mysteries, and represents the dark and the light, two aspects of a single force, two faces and two phases of the same fertility Goddess. The latent power of the Maiden under the surface of the earth causes seeds to germinate, and the quickening power of the Mother above the surface of the earth causes new life to burst forth and blossom. The two fold into each other in the endless cosmic cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth.
The Persephone myth contains many layers of meaning for us today, and working with the story of her descent into darkness we learn that our own experience of powerlessness can be our greatest teacher. When we are betrayed by our own bodies or by dire circumstance, we enter into an Underworld of disability and pain, and lose our yang energy and the ability to act of our own free will. But like Persephone, when we surrender to the deep currents and dark places of our misplaced fears, many gifts and blessings can be found. We quickly learn to trust and honour the mysterious workings of our bodies at a deep cellular level, which is very grounding and humbling. We learn to trust our own unique purpose which may (or may not) include a healing crisis. We learn to slow down, to recognize our limitations and appreciate the small things in life, like the gestures of kindness and the everyday places we take for granted. Illness becomes our teacher and the greatest gift is the "turning within" which occurs. When in this yin mode we experience the peace at the heart of the world. Peeling back the layers, we come close to the Divine Plan and can feel the location of the "key to the soul" - the sacred energies that are at play in our lives. What at first feels like the push of The Dark Goddess into a life-shattering experience transforms into Her embrace!
As Daughters of the Goddess, we can keep the themes of Persephone's story close to our hearts. She is the "green fuse" in our soul, and represents the regenerative energy and potential for growth and transformation. Looking deep into the language of the myth we can develop the skills to transform ourselves as we adapt to all of our experiences, both light and dark, and move toward wholeness and awareness. Persephone teaches us that at our core we are of the highest ultimate value, and have an intrinsic self-worth. No longer afraid of the shadows in the Underworld, we have embraced the holy darkness, and claiming all parts of our soul, emerge into the light with joy and love both for ourselves and others. It is time to bloom, to ripen, to embrace our full power and celebrate our extraordinary triumph after a long and painful struggle.
pomegranate seeds represent fertility
For me, Persephone ultimately evokes springtime, sunshine and liberation! She symbolizes the recurring patterns and gravitations within my own self. In Her name I acknowledge the healing of the feminine and honour our transitions, the cosmic dance of all life, and the sacred cycles of the seasons. As surely as spring follows winter, and as the richness of the darkness moves creatively into the light, if we can surrender to our transformation nothing is ever lost.
unfurling first - the buds of willow
the grass - a thick carpet of green
the birds - can't stop their joyful singing
Persephone has returned!