Content warning: This article contains the word ‘r*pe’, although does not discuss themes of sexual assault/violence, instead using the word as its original Latin translation from ‘raptus’ - to seize or carry off.
You are invited to accompany me on a soul journey within the words that follow, to sit in the earth with me, fingernails dirty and faces glowing with your sweat from the day, around the crackling fire, under the cover of darkness, and under the influence of your most open mind, most intuitive magic, and most ancient instincts. Listen closely, witches; hear the beat of the drums, Druids, keepers of the Muses, foretelling the coming of firelit tales. See stories dance in the flames Pagan sisters and brothers, watch them dance with the fire and smoke, let them enchant you as you listen to these tales…tales of Dark Goddesses who drag us screaming, filthy, and bloody through our own torment and darkness to face our most barbaric truths as they break us into dust and breathe into us new empowerment and strength, endurance, and the memory of the wild, free, terrifying spirits we have always been…
So come, sit in the earth with me as I lead you from a vibrant sunny meadow into the very depth of the ancient Greek Underworld, and let me weave into your eager minds the tales of Persephone.
Zeus rules Mount Olympus as King of the Gods, claiming dominion over all who dwell on the many lands upon the Earth. The waters and seas of the Earth pledge allegiance to his brother, Poseidon, and the Underworld bows to a third brother, the dark God Hades. Married to Hera, Queen of the Gods, Zeus’s reputation for being overly amorous and tricking unsuspecting Goddesses to satiate his lustful desires with him is one that all on Olympus know the truth of.
Amongst these Goddesses is Demeter, a wonderfully grounded Earth Goddess who reigns over harvest, grain, and agriculture. From the union of Zeus and Demeter, we are gifted with the birth of the Maiden Goddess Persephone. Beautiful and carefree, Persephone embodies the Maiden Goddess of spring and fertility, dancing with abandon through fields and meadows as her mother cares for the Earth. At this youthful time Persephone picks wildflowers and knows only the few troubles of the archetypal carefree maiden.
When I meditate on Persephone as the maiden, I can see with perfect clarity a field of wildflowers; petals of purple, red, and pink, blooms of white and blue, buttercups of sunny yellow in every size and shape swaying gracefully on impossibly thin stems in the soft spring breeze. I see fields of corn and grassy hills roll away to the horizon. I am Persephone in this moment. I feel the dirt beneath my bare feet, I smell the sweetness of the flowers in the air. The warm sun caresses my almost bare skin and my sheer dress of pale peach flutters as I spin around and around in crazed yet peaceful dance across the meadows and fields. I have no worries, I have no cares; I am raw fertile energy, and I am free, yet I am safe as mother Earth, my own mother Demeter, is never far. I remain protected by the womb-strong love that bore me. My vibrant orange hair flies in graceful wisps around my face as I twist and turn. My smile, never short of broadness and laughter, is infectious; my eyes luminous windows into the grass green soul of the Earth Maiden.
Little does Persephone know (so the mainstream stories tell us), that there is a darker place than this, a darker place than the starlit nights cradled by the Luna Lady high in the sky. A cavernous world of the dead where no sun rises and no flowers grow. Little does Persephone know that there is a plan underway to tear her from her mother, her meadows, her maidenhood. Little does she know that she will be betrayed and tricked. That the very flowers she so loves will be used as the cruel root of that trick. Little does she know how she will break, be broken, be nothing. And little did she know that with the fierceness of all goddesses, she will collect every broken bone, every drop of blood, every shattered piece of psyche, and forge herself anew. Little did she know the transformation that can take place in the very deepest depths of darkness.
Some call it the kidnapping. But let us remain authentic in this telling; when we tell this tale we acknowledge the truth of Persephone’s ordeal, kidnapping does not take us to the root the experience Persephone arises reborn from.
Deep in the underworld, Hades, God of the Underworld (also called Hades) and brother of Zeus, harbours an unthinkable secret. Who knows how long he has stalked the banks of his river Styx contemplating this burning desire? In his heart – did Hades have a heart? – Hades knows that he can never have what he so yearns for simply by asking for it. It is abhorrent; he will be rejected without thought. Hades has succumbed to the beauty of Persephone and fallen in love with her. He knows he must have her but knows also that Demeter will never allow the union, never permit her only beloved daughter to move from the Earth into the very depths of the Underworld. No, Demeter will never allow that. Her love for her daughter is too fierce, the bond between them too strong. Not dissuaded by this knowledge, Hades knows there is nothing for it, he knows his mind, he will make Persephone his, and he will have to ask his brother Zeus for help. A plan is hatched by Zeus.
Knowing the love Persephone has of the meadows and of picking arrays of springtime flowers, Zeus watches her frolicking with the daughters of Okeanos on the plains of Nysa and seizes the opportunity to bring his plan to fruition. Acquiescing to the will of Zeus, Gaia brings into existence a bloom unseen by Persephone, a Narcissus bloom, a bloom described by Homer as “a marvellous, radiant flower. It was a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see; from its root grew a hundred blooms and it smelled most sweetly, so that all wide heaven (Ouranos) above and the whole earth (Gaia) and the sea's (Thalassa) salt swell laughed for joy.”
How can our sweet, sweet Persephone resist adding such a wondrous and new flower to her picks? How can she stay away from something so beautifully enticing? Her dance of spring takes her unsuspecting innocence to the Narcissus and to the last time any god or mortal man will see her as the carefree Maiden Goddess of spring and fertility.
Beneath her feet a great chasm opened in the plains and mountains of Nysa, and out of this chasm rode Hades, in a carriage of gold led by his immortal steeds. Sweeping Persephone into his carriage of gold, Hades fled the Earth back to the Underworld with Persephone as captive, wailing for her mother in a mournful lament.
Only three heard the cries of Persephone as she was stolen away from her life, the light failing behind her and the darkness of the Underworld racing towards her; her cries diminishing into the abyss of the word of the dead. One who heard her was Helios, Sun God, but he cared not, being high in his temple lavishing in the offerings of Men. The next to hear was Hekate, who from her cave heard the cries of angst but, being deep in her cave, did not see Persephone’s plight. The last to hear, at the very end of Persephone’s cries, was her mother, Demeter.
Hell hath no wrath …
Upon hearing her daughter’s cries of anguish, Demeter flew across the Earth, fiery torches aloft and heavy cloak fallen to the ground, to seek news of Persephone. But none she asked would tell her any truth, none would tell her that her own lover, her daughters’ father, had sent her Persephone to spend eternity in the darkness. Nine long days and nights Demeter wandered in this state, desperate and grief stricken, until on the tenth day Hekate went to her with the news that Helios, high in his lofty temple, had seen Persephone ripped from the meadows. Confronted by Demeter and Hekate, whose pity for Demeter knew no bounds, Helios told what he had witnessed: of Hades erupting from the darkness to drag Persephone to the depths of the Underworld to serve as his Queen. Seized with dread and fear, Demeter sought out Zeus and demanded he rescue Persephone from his brother. But Zeus would not. He cared not for the suffering of Demeter or Persephone.
Enraged with Zeus and overcome with devastating grief the likes of which she had never known, Demeter, Earth Goddess and bringer of abundance and life to the earth, shrouded herself in darkness, swearing “that she would never set foot on fragrant Olympus nor let fruit spring out of the ground until she beheld with her eyes her own fair-faced daughter.”
Flowers began to wilt, leaves fell from the trees, crops failed, and fruits rotted. Mankind’s faith in the great Olympian gods waivered. The offerings received by the gods lessened as Mankind slowly had less and less to offer, and less inclination to make offerings. Used to an array of worships, pledges and offerings raining down on them, the gods of Olympus found the withdrawal of Demeter to be intolerable yet knew she was immovable in her sorrow. The Olympians knew only one path could lead to the rebirth of the Earth, to the return of their unquestionable exalted states. The cries of woe arising from humanity also rang constantly in Zeus’s ears, allowing him no peace or quiet. Only one option seemed to present itself. Persephone would be returned to Demeter. Zeus had relented.
Word of Zeus’s plan reached the Underworld and wound its way to Hades, who was not about to let his bride be taken from him and returned to Demeter. Knowing that to eat the food of a captor meant all, from gods to mortals, were obliged to remain with their captor, Hades, as he helped Persephone into his chariot to take her back to the surface of the earth, offered her a pomegranate. Persephone accepted the pomegranate from her husband and carefully, purposely, took six seeds from the pomegranate and ate them. This simple act bound Persephone to Hades and to the Underworld, forcing Zeus to find another solution to soothe the woes of Demeter and ensure that Persephone did not fall foul of her newly created bond to Hades. Zeus ruled that as Persephone had eaten six seeds from the pomegranate, her fate would be to spend six months of the year in the Underworld with her husband Hades, and the remaining six months above ground with her devoted and grieving mother Demeter.
Ascending & Descending with the Seasons
Following this ruling, which pleases neither Hades nor Demeter, the Earth sees the seasons change with the coming and going of Persephone. Spring blooms into life and virility returns to the Earth when Persephone rises and lays her feet in the dirt with her mother. After six sunny and glorious months nurturing life across the Earth with Demeter, Persephone begins her descent into the Underworld to reconnect with Hades, and autumn returns, inevitably transitioning into winter as Demeter’s loneliness and longing for her daughter becomes once again unbearable to her. As the winter months pass and Demeter feels hope and increasing excitement for her daughter's ascent, the first flowers begin to bloom, and the cyclical nature of this magical tale begins again.
Persephone Rising; Queen of the Underworld
Following the ruling of Zeus, Persephone rises to become a much beloved Queen to Hades throughout the Underworld. She sits upon her own throne alongside Hades, equal to him, and rules by his side. She embraces her role and lives in happiness during her spells in the Underworld.
A few questions to leave you with at this point, as we reach the end of this telling, are ones that I myself very much meditate on when I am looking for guidance from Persephone as a strong, independent and fierce goddess and a powerful role model to women (or anybody else for that matter) looking for the strength and endurance within themselves:
As the daughter of a powerful and prominent Olympian goddess, I believe Persephone would be very much aware that eating the pomegranate seeds would bind her to Hades, her captor. Yet not only did she accept the pomegranate from Hades, she, without any influence from Hades, specifically chose six seeds and ate them of her own free will. It is my personal view that Persephone had fallen in love with Hades and loved him as she loved her mother, compelling her to put together a plan that would allow her to return to Hades, allow her to have freedom from her mother’s objections and disapproval of Hades, and ease her descent back to the Underworld by binding herself to him.
Another school of thought, one that I do not subscribe to as fully as the above, but that I do feel has merit, is that Persephone and Hades were in love before he stole her from the Narcissus flower; that the kidnap was a plan put together by the pair as a beginning to the larger plan to bind Persephone to the Underworld.
The aspect of Persephone that I work with the most is her descent into and ascent from the Underworld, reflecting on the light and dark within all of our minds, and the understanding that to be in a place of darkness is not a bad thing; we should not strive to emerge from dark places before we are ready. There is much learning to be done in the dark, much growing to be done in quiet and dark places. Seeds begin their journeys in the dark beneath the ground. The beauty of the universe around us is best visible when the sky is dark. The dancing of flames is best watched when the fire is lit in the darkness. Our bodies sleep and regenerate in darkness (whether overnight or in darkness we create ourselves with curtains and by darkening our rooms). Darkness is as good for us as the light, balance is healthy and embracing the truth of our authentic selves is imperative to continued growth, healing and happiness.
I hope you have enjoyed this journey with me through the tale of Persephone, and that you will join me in the next journey with another of our wise Dark Goddesses’.
Darkest Ginger Blessings