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Straying Towards the Underworld.

{written by : Jane Meredith}

Article word count : 2266 -- Article Id : 1923
Article active date : 2009-04-09 -- Article views : 6878


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When we re-examine the myth of Demeter and Persephone from Persephone's perspective, what do we discover? A simple tale of a daughter growing up? A teaching of Sacred Marriage? Both of these, plus a story of female Underworld initiation into one's own powers and place. Published in Avalon Magazine





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Once, long ago, in the realms before Time had settled itself down, there lived a beautiful maiden and her loving mother. They lived in a land where it was always summer, for this mother was the goddess herself, the bountiful Demeter. Wherever she went the trees burst with flower and fruit both, the grains in the fields ripened beneath her gaze and everything was plentiful. And her daughter Persephone went everywhere with her mother and listened to her in all things.

We all know the rest of the story – the Lord of the Underworld falls in love with Persephone and lures her into his realm where he holds her captive. Eventually Demeter frees her, having brought about the first winter with the depth of her mourning for her daughter but it is too late for Persephone to be entirely freed – she must return each year to the dark realms. And so we have a story explaining the existence of the seasons – but this story is much more than that.

There are two powerful relationship themes in this Greek myth, and both of them are skimped over in the popularly told version. One is the theme of sacred marriage – in this case between the daughter of the goddess, a maiden who becomes the embodiment of Spring and the god of the underworld – a marriage where opposites are brought together and some transformation is wrought. The other theme is that of the relationship between mother and daughter; or it might be read as being that between parent and child.
These themes, and the tension between the characters, are what make the myth so appealing. If the myth is told in only a slightly different way, with all the main characters and actions intact, these relationships are highlighted and our own relationship to them becomes more apparent.

Once, long ago, in the realms before Time had settled itself down, there lived a beautiful maiden and her loving mother. They lived in a land where it was always summer, for this mother was the goddess herself, the bountiful Demeter. Wherever she went the trees burst with flower and fruit both, the grains in the fields ripened beneath her gaze and everything was plentiful. And her daughter Persephone went everywhere with her mother and listened to her in all things, although of course from time to time she wondered what she would do when she grew up and sometimes had quite different opinions from her mother.

One day Persephone strayed near the edge of the field they were in, towards the forest, and she saw there growing in the ground a beautiful flower, the like of which she had never seen before. She was drawn towards it with fascination and a tinge of fear, for would she not be familiar with all flowers, since they were a part of her mother’s domain? What drew her was not just the flower’s beauty, but its unfamiliarity; this beckoned to her and whispered of other possible places and ways that were not those of her mother.


This action of Persephone’s – this straying, this attraction, this forward movement – changes everything, for suddenly Hades himself appears, seizes Persephone and disappears with her into the Underworld, his own realm. The flower was his, the lure his and, surely, her attraction to it was her attraction to him. Meanwhile, her mother mourns. Her only daughter is lost to her, stolen away into another realm. Her daughter has left her, to follow a different path. Her daughter has grown up. What follows between Demeter and Persephone is the healing of the rift that has come between them, now that her daughter has moved away and declared her own path.

The impact of the story changes significantly if the idea of Persephone’s unwillingness is questioned. Why would she be so unwilling? Wasn’t it time she had a life of her own? Isn’t it obvious, from our own lives, that she would want to do something different than what her mother did? That she might strive to be as different from her as possible? That she was drawn towards the flower in the first place, even that she was straying at the edge of the meadow – all these seem to me to be indicators that she was looking for something beyond what she already knew; as it happens, something wild and dark and masculine.

By accepting the actions described in the myth, but questioning or re-examining the motives, I arrive at a story that is about a daughter leaving her mother for her lover, and for her chosen path, if you take Persephone’s future role as Queen of the Underworld into account. She has left childhood – being defined as primarily Demeter’s daughter – for adulthood: becoming a Queen, taking a lover, moving away from home. Now we are dealing with a story that is about the coming of age, a parent letting go of her child and coming to terms with her as an adult, and about sacred marriage. As readers of, or listeners to the myth, we are now dealing with our relationships to our own parents and our intimate, sexual relationships.

I am thinking about this story from a woman’s point of view, but there is also Hades. What was he thinking, in the Underworld, watching Persephone and deciding she was the one for him? The whole set up of the myth leaves her looking younger than him, vulnerable, beautiful, unfulfilled. One of the elements of sacred marriage is the meeting, and blending of opposites. The union of the light and the dark, of the masculine and feminine, of different but equal powers. The completion of each by the other.

The sacred marriage theme has tremendous attraction. We get versions of it in the current media via filmstars’ liaisons, the whole romance novel market, the films we watch and songs we listen to. Rarely, in these versions of love, is a woman or man drawn to someone exactly like themselves. Often she or he is as different as it is possible to be; and in our own relationships we play less dramatically with the ‘opposites attract’ theory, often very aware of the differences between ourselves and our partners. And these differences do not necessarily lead to ease within the relationship – rather they provide the tension, the balance, the magnetism.

Exploring this theme of opposition and balance not psychologically but magically, in a sacred way; within the setting of ritual, using the backdrop of the story or stories of the god and goddess, I come into a very powerful and empowered place. Literally enacting one of these stories, or working from it and with it, I come to feel the dynamics of sacred marriage as a tangible thing; not primarily as an idea, but as an energy. I can then take this feeling, this experience and apply it in my own relationships and move into a deeper sense of the sacred within ordinary, human dynamics.

Persephone and Hades had something very strong going. Something that rearranged the ordering of the world, that caused an outcry across the entire earth, that was explosive, mysterious and fascinating. What really happened between them? Exploring the possibilities of their story, my own story unfolds and unfolds.

As I become stronger and more centered in my own power and what I will call the feminine, I find myself more and more attracted to men who are living in the masculine realm – that literally balance me out. It’s not a process I am consciously controlling, I just find it happening. I think it is part of the process of deliberately searching for the dynamic between the goddess and the god, the sacred marriage. That initial attraction is only part of the story, for Persephone and Hades then have a long story – eternity, presumably – of balancing opposites and integration and we all know this from our own relationships. A story like this, of god and goddess, teaches about sacred marriage; about literally how to be within that, what it is like.

The other strong theme in Persephone’s myth is that of her relationship with her mother, Demeter. For women, it seems that the relationship with our mothers, and the relationship of our mother with her mother is essential; we keep coming back to it and back to it. All of us, men and women, have the experience of being carried in our mother’s womb and born from her body. Surely this must be the main experience we have in common that allows us to recognise the form of ‘goddess’. And part of this relationship with the mother is leaving her – leaving her body, leaving her comfort, eventually leaving her house and her authority and her world view.

Persephone simply does these things that all of us do. She appears to do it for a man, and certainly in the contemporary version of the myth she does it against her will; but even then, she does it. I believe that the almost hidden theme of her coming into her power, in her eventual role as Queen of the Underworld, and the bringer of Spring to the earth is covered up by the rape and abduction drama but remains nonetheless powerful. Many women throughout recent history have used marriage as an escape from their parents and the restrictions of their upbringing. More are now using a career. But we all seem to do it – men as well – find some way or ways of moving into our own lives and away from our parents. Sometimes, our actions may look as dramatic as those of Persephone.

This process of moving away from our parents and then reconciling is often delicate, gradual and continual. In the story of Persephone and Demeter it is incredibly dramatic – but many of us do have exactly that element of drama in our personal stories with our parents. As with the sacred marriage theme, moving into this story can teach us ways to be with our parents and our children as we each find our own ways to live. The story does offer understanding -–of Demeter"s grief, of Persephone’s changes – but even more than that, it offers the basic dynamic of leaving (rejection) and return (integration). Working along these dynamics gives us room to grow in our own relationships.

Exploring the mythological landscape is fascinating in itself. Applying what we learn to our own relationships we begin to interact with that mythos, it informs and supports us. Either consciously or unconsciously, when we do this we are working in the sacred; we are working with god, with goddess. And I believe that we are not just learning, not just playing, not just healing but also dancing the great dance of god/dess becoming – that we are co-creating the sacred realms within our own lives and on far deeper levels as well.

Once, long ago, in the realms before Time had settled itself down, there lived a beautiful maiden and her loving mother. They lived in a land where it was always summer, for this mother was the goddess herself, the bountiful Demeter. Wherever she went the trees burst with flower and fruit both, the grains in the fields ripened beneath her gaze and everything was plentiful. And her daughter Persephone went everywhere with her mother and listened to her in all things, although of course from time to time she wondered what she would do when she grew up and sometimes had quite different opinions from her mother.

One day Persephone strayed near the edge of the field they were in, towards the forest, and she saw there growing in the ground a beautiful flower, the like of which she had never seen before. She was drawn towards it with fascination and a tinge of fear, for she was familiar with all flowers, since they were a part of her mother’s domain. This flower was something she had never seen before. As she approached it, the ground opened beneath her feet and the god appeared before her.

He was everything she had dreamed of. He was everything she was afraid of. He was everything that challenged her, that attracted her and that repelled her. It was the most powerful moment of her life, and as for him, he could hardly believe that she would agree to go with him. He had long watched her, desired her and raged at his own weakness in longing, in loneliness, in desire. They took each other’s hands and vanished instantly, into the Underworld.


Demeter lost her daughter. She was desperate to regain her, and in her despair she plunged the earth into its first winter, withholding her gifts until Persephone should return. Meanwhile, Persephone tasted the seeds of the fruits of the underworld. She grew up. She had a lover, she became a Queen, and goddess in her own right. She was not just Demeter’s daughter any longer.

Time passed and eventually it was agreed that Persephone could return to her mother. Now it is discovered that she has already moved beyond that role, that she can no longer exist solely in her mother’s realm. She has eaten the seeds of the pomegranate and therefore will return, again and again, to her own place, to her ‘adult’ life. But now she can comfort her mother, now she can walk upon the earth’s surface as well as underneath it. Now she can integrate the two halves of her life.

May it be so.


Author Bio :

Jane Meredith is a Priestess of the Goddess who lives in Australia. She is a writer and runs workshops internationally. Her workshops cover such topics as the Dark Goddess, Women's Sexuality, and actively exploring myths including those of Persephone, Psyche, and Sacred Marriage.
You can find further information and sign up for E-Zines at her website: www.janemeredith.com.

Her forthcoming book, Aphrodite's Magic: Celebrate & Heal Your Sexuality will be published by O Books (U.K.) in 2010.

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