Friday, October 26, 2018

Persephone: Goddess of the Liminal Realms

"Persephone" 2016

Persephone's Feast Day

When all the names are gone,
fallen like fraying leaves before the coming of frost;
when there is nothing left for memory to feed upon
November incubates an unborn rhythm,
a silent heartbeat.

Perhaps all the wastes of love and time
ferment their healing, underground, here
in these Nigrado depths,
becoming at last Albedo,
the medicine.

Now, there is no valor 
in this rooting among decomposing fragments
of so many lives.

I offer now bread, red fruit, red wine:  to life.
To the voiceless, the lost, the  hungry, and the fallen,
to every transparent lover wandering
these grey Bardos in their solitude.

Come to the table all.
Here is a rich conversation
harvested from the last living garden
a dappled pear, an apple, a pomegranate.
a butterfly in its chrysalis, winged, moist,

the slow rebirth of color
deep in the depths of this dream.

The great Wheel will turn again.
The wheat has new life in it yet.
The blessing will still be given.

Halloween, Samhain, is a liminal time  of year, when the "veils between the worlds" are thin.  Persephone is a "liminal Goddess", a myth that comes to mind at that threshold time just before winter.  

Before she was Persephone, she was Kore,  the young daughter of  Demeter, and in the Greek myth, while gathering flowers she was seized by Hades, god of the Underworld, and taken into the realm of death, the below world of Hades.  Demeter, in her rage and grief, causes the world to die - no plants bear fruit, no bees pollinate, no flowers bloom.  At last an agreement is made in which Persephone can be returned to her mother........but because the youthful Goddess has eaten 6 pomogranate seeds, she must return to the underworld for part of the year to be the wife of Hades.  Kore thus  becomes Persephone, the dual and integral Goddess of both life and of death.

This myth partakes of a very ancient and fundamental  mythos  based upon the cycles of nature, in  which there is a generative  underground realm where the souls of people and animals and vegetation  go after death, returning in the spring to new life. Our most early and ancient ancestors observed that the natural world dies down, seemingly into the Earth,  in the fall ("falls") and then arises from the body of the Earth  ("springs") in the spring.  Hence, all things must return to the great womb/tomb of the Earth Mother, incubated in some mysterious "below realm" to be reborn at the next turning of the year.  It has been suggested that this concept goes as far back as the time of cave paintings, the caves themselves representing the womb of the Great Mother. 

The tale of Persephone is probably derived from the earlier Sumerian myth of the Descent of Inanna, wherein the Great  Goddess  Inanna descends into the underworld realm to encounter her Dark Sister, Ereshigal, who like Hades, or the Noric Hella, presides as Queen of Death.  In this myth, which preceeded the patriarchal Greeks, and it is the husband of Inanna, Dumuzi, rather than the goddess herself, who must travel for part of the year into the Underworld realm to become the husband of Ereshigal as well as the husband of  Inanna.

  "Persephone did what Inanna did. Persephone's myth is about moving into a new state of being.  All the soul riches, the knowledge, the art, everything was running down the drain into Hades and it stayed there.  It stopped circulating.  This was the myth of the descent of Inanna as well; everything went down to Ereshkigal, the keeper of the Underworld, and got stuck there in the universal unconscious.  Ereshkigal, the mind of the underworld, was on strike - she refused to process.   We can look at both of these stories, the stories of Persephone and Inanna, and see that these two Goddesses are pathfinders.  Pathfinders to the unconscious, to the other worlds.  Persephone, Kore who becomes Persephone, creates something new that was not thought of before her journey.  And that's a very important myth for our time.  And it's also why the Eleusinian Mystery, which was about Persephone and Demeter, was the defining experience of mature spirituality in the Mediterranean basin for 2,500 years."

    ......Elizabeth Fuller, The Independent Eye

 I felt like sharing again an excerpt from a book that has been  important to me in my own discovery of the  Goddess, the 1989 THE GODDESS WITHIN, by Jennifer Barker (formerly Woolger) and Roger Woolger.  And there is a personal story about that book I would like to share because it demonstrates the way, when we "follow our bliss", we can find a synchronistic pathway of "touchstones" that lead the way.  

In 2003 I spent a month at Byrdcliffe artists colony in Woodstock, New York.  I was working on some masks  about Persephone, and moved by the book, wanted to contact Jennifer Barker to thank her, and ask if she might possibly give me an interview.  Although I found references in the internet  to her living in Vermont and occasionally offering workshops specifically on women and the Persephone archetype, I could not find any way to contact her.

At Byrdcliffe during my residency they had a masked ball, and I happened to strike up a conversation with an artist who lived in the area.  We agreed to meet for lunch to continue the conversation the following week.  Over coffee I told her about my fascination with the Woolgers book,  how it looked like the Woolgers were originally from the area, but I was unsuccessful in locating the woman who wrote so profoundly about Persephone.  My lunch companion said "Oh, you mean Jennifer?  She and Roger got divorced and she moved to Vermont.  I can give you her number if you like."

It seems they were friends, and just like that I had a contact, and a personal introduction!   When something like this happens, it is not only encouragement to continue the Vision Quest, but it is also about being given a key to your own inner life work.   I did end up calling Jennifer Barker and making arrangements to go to Vermont for an interview, but as it turned out I had to return before I could make the trip.  I still very much regret that lost opportunity.

"Persephone" 2003


In the true life of the spirit there is both light and dark, joy and woe, and the unconscious has both a higher and a lower aspect.  To fulfill her greater destiny, Persephone cannot have one without embracing the other.  Her deepest challenge is to unite the dark and the light sides of the Goddess in herself.

At the heart of the great myth lies Hades, who is none other than Death personified.  When Persephone the maiden marries Hades, it is tantamount to saying that the maiden in her dies.  It is a figurative death, required by the greater wisdom of the psyche, a sacrifice that is also, as we have seen, an initiation.  Willingly or unwillingly, the Persephone woman has been called to renounce her innocent maidenly self and spend a large portion of her life going in and out of the underworld.  Most often she will do this in the role of a helper or guide to others.  Because she has been there herself, looked at the most terrible sides of human suffering, and survived, she is now a beacon.
It is no coincidence that all the accounts we have of the abduction of Persephone pass over in silence what happens to her immediately after Hades drags her into the darkness.  It is indeed a "mystery", a word that means "something that cannot be spoken"", from the Greek myein, which means "to keep silent".  Yet we know that death and loss were central to the mystical transformation that every initiate into the way of Persephone had to undergo. 

The return to the Mother, to Demeter is no longer the return of a maiden, but of a mature goddess, who now knows sexuality, death, and separation.  The return is a reminder that the two goddesses are in fact one, that together they represent the wholeness of being of the Great Mother, who can endlessly be separated from herself, endlessly die, and endlessly be reborn, as woman, as earth, as cosmos.

This is an awe-inspiring aspect of the primordial figure of the Great Mother that we have mostly lost today:  namely,  that she contains within her all opposites.  She is both youth and age, both maiden and mother, both warrior and tender of the hearth, and most significantly, both life and death.

Greek culture has been justly celebrated for its quality of brilliance and light, its establishment of the supremacy of reason, logic, and philosophy, it's lucid vision of the outer, physical world.  If there is a god who epitomizes this consciousness, it is Apollo, sublime god of light, reason and harmony.  Yet so much emphasis upon the light could not exist without a dark shadow being cast.  So, among the gods, as with the goddesses, there are splits and polarities.  The darker brother of Apollo is thus Dionysus, lord of ecstasy, madness, divine drunkenness, and sacrificial death, the very antithesis of Apollonian clarity.  Likewise, Zeus, imperiously sitting high upon his heavenly Olympian throne, must have a dark brother to oversee the lower depths - the mysterious and barely mentioned Hades. 

Once we realize this, we can begin to see that Persephone and her mother, Demeter, represent the two major opposite aspects of the primordial Great Mother that the Greek psyche was struggling to maintain.  Their myth represents, among other things, an attempt to see the whole momentous relationship of the higher and the lower, the light and the dark worlds, as part of a dynamic relationship, a cycle of life and death in which all beings participate.

If it were left to the male gods alone, there would be no such cycle, for masculine consciousness, lacking the inner mysteries of the body, of the menstrual cycle, of pregnancy and birth, has no cyclical awareness built into it.  Which is another way of saying that masculine consciousness knows nothing of the mystery of the life force. 

Masculine, Apollonian consciousness always tends toward mutually exclusive polarities:  something is either this or that, it is either day or night, but not both.  This is the whole basis of Aristotle's logic, one of the supreme achievements of Greek culture - at least according to the official patriarchal view of Western history.

Feminine or matriarchal consciousness, symbolized by the moon, lacks the extremes of mutually exclusive polarities - dark versus light, good versus evil - those dualities Western culture, especially Christianity, has grown so fond of.  Instead there is the model of the far subtler light of the moon in her infinite variations of light, shade, and darkness, forever changing, forever renewing herself…………The awesome side of Persephone as queen of death eventually became more frightening the more it was suppressed.  And it is, of course, in its suppressed form that it returns to torment the imagination of medieval Christianity in its paranoid fear of witches.

The mature Persephone who has returned from her journey lives somehow beyond the ordinary world, but she remains nevertheless intimately familiar with it.......In her completed form she unites the beginning and the end of the life cycle, birth and death in herself;  so, as an old woman she still retains her youthfulness, and as a young initiate she cheerfully carries the wisdom of years.”


“When a woman is over identified with Persephone she will invariably be attracted to situations in which she or others get hurt.  She may have accidents or strange illnesses that render her dependant upon welfare.  She may find herself unavoidably taking care of ailing or dying parents.  She may attract to her charming but ultimately brutal and intimidating men she cannot escape from.  None of these events are her doing.  They appear out of the blue; relentless, crushing, unexplained.  When we look at these stories more closely, we find one common pattern:  she is powerless and usually passive.  These things happen to her.  Yet she seems, on examination, strangely drawn to them, as if they were indeed her fate.  We are led to suspect that the Persephone woman has a secret attachment to a deeply human and intractable theme:  the wretchedness of the innocent victim!

Only Hades can claim the victim.  Only a genuine encounter that brings the death of all ego, all attachment to innocence, can put to rest the misplaced pride of the victim once and for all.  This is Persephone's challenge, her moment of truth.” 


“In her darkness and dividedness, the young Persephone woman yearns for the spirit to rescue her and deliver her from her inner confusion.  So when she learns of metaphysics and occult practices, she will frequently seek solace in the higher authorities of spirit guides, ascended masters, astrology, karma, and so forth.  This is part of the motivation that lead her to become a healer or channeler herself.  However, there is often a huge element of compensation in the way of the spirit, of channeled guides and masters, since it is all upward, into the light.  Unless she fully honors her dual nature, one that mediates between both the light and the darkness, between the living and the dead, she can become unaccountably arrested in her development.

Her true savior is not Zeus, but paradoxically, his dark brother Hades.  The wisdom of this extraordinary myth is that the source of Persephone's transformation comes from beneath, from the lower depths of soul, not from the higher reaches of spirit.  The spirit in its Olympian form cannot initiate Persephone.”

To be fully effective as a healer, Persephone must first, like all healers, heal herself.  But for Persephone this is not so easy.  Ironically her very capacity for empathy and psychic understanding is her greatest obstacle to the process.  Unless she finds outside help......all she will do is attract to her mirrors of her own unresolved victimization.

Why?  Because she does not know how to remain detached and separate from those whose suffering she feels so acutely; she lacks ego boundaries.  In her openness to the unconscious in herself and others, she is constantly fusing with the personalities and sufferings of those who are drawn to her.  Without the objectivity of a strong ego, she gets hopelessly bogged down in he morass of her patients' sufferings.


Understanding the meaning of Persephone's descent and her connection to the spirit realm is especially urgent today.  Thousands of women (and men) are currently discovering mediumistic talent or so-called channeling.  In addition to this, no one could fail to notice the minor epidemic of enthusiasm for metaphysics. Cold it be, as the late Joseph Campbell, the unparalleled authority on myth and religion observed, that the emergence of Persephone consciousness that we are currently seeing is actually part of a "twilight of the gods"?  In one of his last essays, written shortly before his death, Campbell raised the possibility that the old gods are dying and new ones are breaking forth from the collective unconscious to take their place as humanity approaches a whole new era.

If this is so, from a Jungian standpoint this would mean that the very structures and energies of the deep unconscious, which symbolically we perceive as "gods" and "goddesses" are undergoing a profound shift.  So, the type of persona who is most sensitive to such shifts, the seer or mediumistic type we are calling the “Persephone woman“, is going to be right at the center of this momentous eruption of new psychic and spiritual powers…..But to live for much of one's waking life "among the dead" can put enormous psychic strain upon any woman (or man) with a mediumistic temperament, especially when her experiences are misunderstood or feared, as is frequently the case.  More than any of the other goddess types, the Persephone woman can experience deep alienation, sometimes bordering on breakdown, if her true nature and vocation are not recognized. 

For the fact is that the underworld is essentially a place of spirits.  Which means that it is, alas, singularly lacking in warmth, substance, or what most of us would call reality.  How the Persephone or mediumistic woman relates to this realm, with its threats of dissociation, madness, and despair, therefore poses a unique challenge to our psychological understanding."


Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Fascinating post, Lauren. And I love the synchro you had with getting the author's phone number.

Elise Linich said...

Lauren, the day that you wrote this was my birthday. I am always pleased to see the synchronicity we share in mythos and dream time. XO Elise

Lauren Raine said...

Going back, I see this comment! Funny, and another example of how we are all connected. Elise is the model for these sculptures, because I used her face to make them. Also, she is very involved in Persephone lore herself.

We really are all connected, once we enter the dreamtime!