For those folks in the southern hemisphere who are entering fall as we in the northern climates enter spring, I offer this next personal narrative.
Every autumn, I buy a smooth skinned crimson pomegranate to celebrate the Fall Equinox. But, until this fall I have never intentionally bought a pomegranate to acknowledge the Persephone in me, although her cyclic journeys to the underworld have also been my own. I have resisted my alignment with Persephone because I have come to fear my own descents. In the last few years, these periods of depression have become more severe.
This September, I turned 70 on the last day of the ancient celebration of Persephone’s Eleusinian Mysteries. Quietly, I spoke out loud as I set my birthday intention. I am aligning myself with Persephone. I held a pomegranate in the open palm of my hand, thinking of the fruit as a symbol of my willingness to take this step. I also saw the beautiful round fruit as the Earth, imagining the ruby-like seeds imbedded in the soft white flesh as Earth’s possibilities. As I surrendered and finally accepted my mythic identity/alignment with Persephone, I experienced a subtle energy shift. I thought about the maiden goddess who becomes Queen of the Dead, and the one who makes predictable cyclic descents into the Underworld. As I breathed through my body, I experienced a palpable sense of relief… I recalled the recent dream that informed me that the “Way of the Goddess” was my way, and that I had to choose her again. Not surprisingly, within a few days I once again entered a state of profound depression during which time I suddenly remembered my first encounter with a pomegranate…
I must have been about five or six the night my father brought home the lush red fruit with its silky skin. He sliced the pomegranate in half.
I was transfixed by the sight of this fruit that was also full of seeds, and I entered some kind of non-ordinary state as I took half the pomegranate from my father’s hand and ate the first bittersweet ruby seed.
This memory of the two of us is so sharp and clear, and it ends so abruptly that I realize now that it was a mythic story that I had tapped into as a child. I entered Persephone’s “field” for the first time as a young girl. This past fall, when I accepted my mythical alignment with Persephone, I crossed her threshold for the second time, and with a lightning flash of insight I understood the meaning behind my compelling childhood memory. When I took the pomegranate out of my father’s hand, I accepted the fate that was mine to own—albeit unconsciously. On an archetypal level, the young child entered into a mythical contract with her father, a Hades figure. She took the fruit and ate the seeds insuring that she, too, would become an underworld figure. My identity as a Persephone was sealed by that encounter, although it would take a lifetime to live it and to unravel the threads. To perceive Persephone as an archetype is to understand that a pattern of energy/information is attached to the figure. Archetypes work as attractor sites pulling a person into a particular alignment with an archetypal pattern or field. The nature of these fields is unknown, but they work on the same principle as other known fields like the field of gravity. Archetypes are impersonal; they are patterns of energy that carry specific information and each one has a specific region of influence. Archetypal patterns often live through us without our knowledge, but if we are sensitive to their energy charge we may have the feeling that we are living a more authentic life once we are pulled into a particular field because like attracts like. In this way of thinking, as a child I already had personality traits and I had been born into a specific field of influence that left me vulnerable to being drawn into a death field as a Persephone. I remember vividly how I reacted when I first read the myth; I was enthralled by all the characters and inexorably drawn into the story almost against my will. The character I was most reluctant to align myself with was Persephone. And, that was more than twenty years ago. Last fall, when I accepted Persephone in me, it opened a mythic door to my most authentic self. What I didn’t realize then was that by accepting Persephone in me as the woman who makes cyclic descents, I also gained access to the story of her joyous ascent in the spring.
Author’s Note: A Brief Overview of the Myth of Demeter and Persephone:
The story begins with Persephone gathering flowers (saffron crocus or poppies) in a field one autumn with Demeter watching over her beloved daughter. Suddenly the earth splits in two and out of the chasm comes Hades who scoops up Persephone, and, in a flash, he descends back into the Underworld. Demeter searches frantically for her daughter and eventually meets Hecate, goddess of the crossroads, who takes her to Helios. Helios, the sun, explains that Persephone has been chosen as the bride of Hades who is King of the Underworld. Demeter is in such a fury that she causes the Earth to become barren. Eventually Persephone is released from the Underworld to appease Demeter’s wrath. In some early versions, Hecate rescues Persephone. Demeter is overjoyed to be re-united with her daughter and the Earth once again becomes fertile. When Demeter learns that Persephone has eaten the seeds of the pomegranate she realizes that Persephone will have to return to the Underworld for a few months every year because she accepted the seeds from Hades, who tricked her. During the months of the year when Persephone is once again Queen of the Underworld, the land becomes barren. Both Demeter and her daughter accept Persephone’s fate, and, in autumn, every five years the Eleusinian Mysteries are celebrated with Persephone leading the procession. The mysteries are secret, so nothing is known of what transpired at Eleusis for almost 2000 years—except that those that participated were freed from the fear of death.
Read Part 1.