The Persephone Myth has been an important one for me throughout my life – as is it for many modern Pagans. I got interested in it first through the work of the Jungian Astrologer Liz Greene, long before my Pagan journey started in earnest. She believed that because of the universal, archetypal nature of myth, each of our lives would express a resonance with specific myths, our personal experiences echoing their themes and lessons.
When I first read the Persephone Myth, I was struck at the uncanny resemblance to my teenage life experiences: as a thirteen year old girl I was undoubtedly Kore’s ignorance and innocence. The death of my mother coinciding with the beginning of an abusive sexual relationship with someone older also seemed to mirror quite starkly Kore’s abduction into the Underworld by Hades, resulting in her mother Demeter being lost to her. Also, although my grandparents had all died and some uncles too at that point, my mother’s death was definitely the one encounter with Hades I’d had so far that illustrated to me the shock of my own mortality, the utterly visceral nature of death.
Choosing to approach the Persephone Myth as one of my own life myths was enormously healing; it gave me the opportunity to see my life journey not as a pointless and meaningless set of events but as a story rich with meaning and full of wisdom and potential learning. It gave me a route through the pain and confusion to find depth and understanding.
It is no wonder that this myth was central to one of the most successful Mystery Schools in the Mediterranean: Eleusis. Its power resides in the truth that this myth’s themes are ones that we will all encounter at some point in our lives. We are each Kore’s ignorance of life’s darker lessons; we are also her need to grow. In meeting Hades we confront not only our own mortality and loss but our potential for transformation and change.
We have or will know Demeter’s grief, anguish and depression. The Goddess Demeter’s fruitfulness shrivels into barrenness; loss for us can also mean that the world becomes a place devoid of life. We can become Demeter’s joyless search, her aimless wandering to regain what is lost.
I have found that when innocence is lost; when love and nurturance and protection seem to have abandoned us, this is when Persephone comes into her own in our lives. The transformation from the powerless and terrified Kore to the wisdom of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, is a saving grace for us all. Kore’s violent awakening to the reality of death and loss is the beginning of her transformation:
I am Persephone and in my suffering I have seen the cold, pitiless face of Death transform into peace and compassion. I have felt the violence of his grip turn to a protective embrace. I have touched his hand in understanding. I have eaten of the dark, red seeds, full of the potential for new life. I have planted them within me.
In eating the pomegranate seeds, Kore becomes Persephone and her fate is sealed to live both in the upper and the underworld but then this was always inevitable; we cannot undo what has been done; we cannot escape death or the wisdom of experience and nor should we try.
The Goddess Hecate’s role in this story teaches this point beautifully. When we recognise it is time to release Kore’s innocence and inexperience and Demeter’s grief and tenacious grip on the past, we – as Persephone – come to the heart of Hecate, to the place of making sense and letting go:
I am Hecate. I am both the moonless dark and the brilliance of my torch. I am the devouring night and the path made clear. I am the web of wisdom that connects; I make sense of every lesson: seed-time and harvest; death and life. I am the perfect love and trust of release; I am the midwife of renewal.
Going through the processes of loss, making sense, seeing the connections, are all part of us eventually returning to the surface of our lives; however, our experience means that we will now always be aware that we also inhabit that inner, sometimes shadowy space –something we may not have been aware of before – and more than this, we come to understand that we can draw nourishment and guidance from it too.
I have felt Persephone calling many times in life. I have lived long enough to know that the most challenging of our life experiences have the potential to lead us to greater wisdom, no matter how much we rail against the journey. The last few months has had me feeling at times both Kore’s fear and Demeter’s grief, and yet, you come to a point when you have to place your trust in the Queen of the Dead, feel her moving into view at the heart of the struggle. The wisdom of Persephone teaches us that in returning from the dark realm of Hades, lit by Hecate’s torch; upheld by Demeter’s love; carried forth by Persephone’s wisdom and compassion, we come to find that we are once again Kore, a new shoot, our old life – broken down in the soil – feeding our new growth. Through Persephone’s journey we find our greater wholeness.
And so, I offer up a prayer to that Goddess of the Land of the Shades –she who seems to have walked so closely by for so much of my life. Through her presence –with compassion and acceptance – I have learned to patiently wait for that moment, that shift, when the darkness brightens and the way is made clear.
Persephone, guide me safely into the darkness.
May I know that for every journey there, you are at my side;
for every moment of fear and hopelessness,
you are there to comfort me.
Great Goddess of life’s deepest mysteries
plant me; enfold me in your still darkness, and with compassion
help me grow towards the light of a new understanding, a new wisdom.
In you I await my new beginnings; in you I find my deepest strength and wisdom;
because of you I will never be the same.
With you I walk the light and the dark
and fear neither;
With you, I journey to the depths, I endure and I survive, transformed and reborn by the experience.
I give thanks that I travel now with a foot in each place,
nourished by both my inner and outer worlds.
I am a bat at home in the darkest cave;
I am a blossom unfurled in the warmth of the sun.
I embrace all that I am and honour all that I have experienced;
in the depth of your compassion may I find grace.