In sixth grade, our teacher led a semester-long study of mythology. We marked the end of the term with a “bacchanalia” (no alcohol of course, even though it was the ’80s and rules were different then). We listened to Greek folk dancing music, I had my first taste of moussaka and baklava, and we were assigned to dress up as our favorite god or goddess from either Greek or Roman mythology.
I knew instantly I would go as Persephone, the goddess of spring. Here’s her story (longer version below in “Story Time!”): after spending six months in the underworld, Persephone would emerge for six months each year and return to the earth, bringing with her the reawakening of life. In my mind’s eye, I saw a princess passing over fields, leaving sprouts and flowers in her wake. After spring and summer, she was sent back to the underworld, biding her time until her re-emergence six months later.
This always struck me as a “sensible” explanation for the change of the seasons, especially compared to some of the kookier myths we had studied, and I could imagine how welcome those signs of life would be for the ancient Greeks as it is for humans today. A celebratory return.
I also found resonance in her destiny to return back into darkness; this representation of the cycle of death and rebirth resonated with my burgeoning existentialist self.
And in the interest of full transparency, it also gave me the opportunity to dress in a hand-painted flower toga and wear a floral tiara to school.
Each year on the vernal equinox I feel Persephone’s presence.
The shifts in the earth become palpable (loamy spring air, and yes, allergies) and visible (what is that glowing orb in the sky?). Each bud and bloom is deeply life-affirming, as tree branches shift from barren twigs to dripping with blossoms; the ground becomes spotted with crocuses and snowdrops pushing through with fierceness and grit.
Spring is indeed a re-emergence.
Not to say that winter here in Portland is necessarily the same as the dark home of Hades…but maybe a little.
Happy Spring!* May the affirmation of the cycle of life bring you joy.
* and Happy Fall to my Southern Hemisphere readers!🍂
Persephone’s Tale (Highly Editorialized)
Beautiful, sweet, youthful (and, presumably, virginal) Persephone was hanging out, doing her goddess thing when she was spotted by Hades (God of the Underworld) who immediately “fell in love” and/or decided that he would assert his power to possess her. Teaming up with Zeus (King of the Gods), Hades abducted and raped her, making her Queen of the Underworld.
Her mom Demeter (Goddess of the Harvest) was devastated by the loss of her daughter, and as she mourned her loss, crops and plants all stopped growing. She went to see Zeus who, seeing the devastation of the earth caused by Demeter’s grief and not out of any genuine care for either Demeter or Persephone, agreed to broker a deal with Hades. At that visit, Hades set the draconian terms that Persephone would be free to go if she hadn’t eaten any of his food. Alas, Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds—in some tellings it is as few as three, in others, it is six—which led to the agreement that for each seed she had eaten, she would spend the equivalent number of months in the underworld, thereby explaining the cycle of nature on the earth.
As noted above, I cherish the components of the myth that illuminate the cycles of nature and the associated concepts of moving from the realm of death back into life and back again…
…however, one could also see it as a parable about power, domination, loss of agency as well as the patriarchal desire to assert control over “mother nature” and the mysteries associated with birth and death. Take from it what you will!
blast from the past
“My innate ‘go-go-go’ attitude easily converts to ‘grow-grow-grow.’ Channeling, supporting, and nurturing expansion is, well, life-giving.” —Slice of Sunshine, November 10, 2022
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