The Myth of Persephone
Persephone was a goddess, the beautiful daughter of Demeter and fathered by Zeus. Abducted and seduced by Hades, she eventually became the queen of the underworld. In her earthly guise she was venerated as the personification of spring and exalted as a deity of the fields to ensure the abundance of crops at the time of harvest. But at the heart of the myth, and perhaps why it resonates deeply in so many, is that it describes in our own living experience the truth of life on earth. Just as it was for the plight of Persephone, each of us journeys into the dark underworld of our unconscious and returns to the light of the sensory world.
It was the feminine essence of the earth’s spirit which Persephone embodied that stirred the carnal desire of Hades to possess her. And it’s the same fiery passion that arises in anyone who dares to love, regardless of the consequences thereafter. With the connivance of Zeus his brother, Hades waited for his chance to steal his prize. As Persephone gathered wild flowers from the meadow, Hades struck – parting the earth to swallow the startled goddess before carrying her down to his lair. Every woman has at some point been swallowed by the deluge of her emotional pain that takes her down into the depths of despair. And every man has been the betrayer of love by giving in to his unconscious sexual urges. When left to atrophy, the emotional energy of the world in a woman lives on in the underworld as the unresolved aspects of past. The task of the noble man is to love woman selflessly in the flesh and assimilate through his organ of love the tension and stress absorbed through her being in existence.
Life consists of the comings and goings of seasons, people and events that contribute to the drama and uncertainty of the living life. Each of us contributes in our way to how another experiences their life. The disappearance of Persephone caused Demeter, the distraught mother, to withdraw into her being; and, in so doing, the nature principle she embodied was unable to be fructified as before on the earth. Externally, strange changes began to manifest from natural abundance to periods of aridity and infertility. The mother at all levels suffers as a consequence of the distress and separation from love in her children.
Persephone, too, began to adjust to her strange new environment. Hades, far from being cruel and overpowering, respected and loved his bride; and, in time, Persephone perceived the divine character behind the god’s foreboding presence. But it was still a struggle at times, particularly since Zeus had forbidden Persephone to consume any food while in the underworld. One day, after the grief of Demeter threatened to extinguish life on the earth, Zeus granted Persephone permission to visit her mother. Her first encounter was with Hermes, who offered the starving goddess a pomegranate (as instructed by Hades and Zeus). According to the myth, Persephone ate six pips with the knowledge that this would bond her for all time to Hades. It was also arranged that for six months of the year (one month for every pip), Persephone would remain in Hades; and for the other six months she’d be set free to be with Demeter. And so the seasons of change began to reflect the time Persephone was on earth: as the full blossom of life in all its diverse bounty, and then her time in Hades when nature gradually withdrew and the earth became still in its mystical union with life.
The primal matter of the planet, being devoid of life, is an unspeakable energy which is sometimes touched upon in delirium or in the dream state as an overwhelmingly intense ordeal; such is its impact that the experience is never forgotten. The stygian darkness of the underworld is symbolic of this impenetrable barrier to light. Hades dwelled in a subterranean half-light, subdued by the absence of the sun’s rays yet lit enough for the dead to participate in the affairs of the afterlife. Persephone is symbolic of the purity of the psyche which each of us represents as an individual cell within the great body of humanity. For millennia, her feminine essence was able to offset the external forces of existence until nature itself began to wither by the emerging human nature in revolt to the natural way of life. Today, a mighty wall of resistance impedes the harmony and flow of the psychic stream, symbolised by the river Styx – the gateway to Hades which, according to the myths, all must cross on the way to the afterlife. For the mythic man or woman, the challenge is to make the crossing while alive to rekindle the spirit of Persephone as a being of love on earth.