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The Approach of the Equinox

As the Autumnal Equinox approaches, the underworld king and those in his domain begin to anticipate the return of their queen.

Pluto in the Offseason
By Blue Cowboy

The Persephone myth has been reclaimed in recent years, retold to be about its heroine whose name is restored as Kore, who goes into the underworld out of a sense of adventure, either with Hades or on her own. The myth of Hades seizing Persephone out of his desire has been muted and reworked so that young women can find their own power in it. It ceases to be a story about sexual lust and becomes a story of female exploration and mother love.

It always was a woman’s story anyway, wasn’t it? Women know the Persephone myth before we know it. We hear it before we have ever heard it, in the embrace of our mothers. And we immediately sense upon our first encounter with this story how different it is from the other myths and fairy stories we read: it isn’t only about a girl and a prince (it is that, after all) , but primarily it is a about a girl and her mother. The story is about the way the girl’s mother loves her to distraction, and it is set in a female world of flowers and growth and agriculture.

We feel comfortable in this story, familiar with it, as little girls alternately separating from and missing the women who gave birth to us. We feel reassured that we can leave and reassured that we are loved. And our mothers never hesitate to tell us this particular myth story, not only for the joy of reunion it carries but also the way they can express the depth and intensity of their love for us through it.

The Persephone myth is about mother love and it is also about Spring and the revivification of the visible world. We celebrate Persephone’s coming back to Demeter because when she does it is Spring for us. We have the prejudice of winners in that regard, in this context. We celebrate Persephone’s return because the aesthetics are favorable to our experience and point-of-view.

But all things have a mirror side. For one thing that is gained; another thing is sacrificed. For one thing that is celebrated; another thing is taken. Every mirror has a side that you don’t see, and Demeter’s myth is Hades’ myth as well.

For as much as we may celebrate here, it is they in the Underworld who mourn. When we mourn above, they celebrate below, for when Persephone leaves us to return to the Underworld, Spring reasserts itself there. Spring returns to the heart of Hades who hears his lover coming to him, hears her footsteps in the fall of the leaves whispering to the forest floor that is the roof of his realm, hears her throaty laugh in the warm sounds of animals burrowing into their hibernation. Perhaps he is the one who colors the leaves, sending their brilliance up from their roots, a herald of the joy he feels, or as a signal to call his lover back. And in preparation for her arrival, he polishes the walls of his great underworld caverns to an obsidian sheen, so bright that they reflect the colorful banners he has strung and the feasting of the souls around him, who have been deprived for so long in the darkness, whose hearts cry out for their Queen.

So that is the scene of joy that welcomes her, fanfares and dances in her honor. In our Autumn, Spring comes to those below in the form of joy, a delight so sharp that the souls in the Underworld remember what it was like to be alive. Even those of us on the surface know the feeling of a Spring so ebullient, so lively, that it makes you want to run and jump so much that you can imagine it bringing even the dead to life. Such a Spring is a Persephone Spring, and if we feel it that acutely, imagine how the souls below feel it, they who have not felt the quick in their bones quicken for many a year. When their queen returns to the under realm, the following months which are so dark and cold to us here are made into delight and nourishment to them there, and bliss to him who welcomes back his mate. His realm comes alive as he comes alive, as he feels her traveling down the passages to him. The report of ice booming and cracking as it freezes is the sound of his throbbing heart.

But when Persephone leaves the Underworld to bring our Spring to us, to become on the surface of the earth the presence of Spring, that whole underneath realm returns again to mineral, inorganic darkness. The long global-warming summers are pain to Hades, confusing and stretched-out as our recent warm autumns in Tennessee have set irises blooming, thinking they can sprout again. Hades must hate that: ‘No, it is time for her to come back, ’ and when she does, and time comes for his lover to leave again, Hades wishes on Demeter a new Ice Age so that he can keep his beloved with him for longer, for ever.

Have compassion on Hades. Every time you have ever had to bid farewell to your lover, you have felt what he feels, as vast and empty as the inside of a hollow planet. Every time you have caught sight of your lover, welcomed him or her back to you, you have felt what he feels, all verdure and flowering, filling with sap, everything in you rising to life again. Hades waiting is the archetype of longing and fulfillment on a regular cycle: joy always laced with incipient loss; loss that is relieved by the knowledge of the eventual return of the lover.

As you might feel the cold stillness of the winter hit your heart and the lowering skies get you down, feel reassured that deep in the Earth lovers are joined and are celebrating, Hades holding in his shadowy arms his amphibious Persephone, she who can be of two worlds while he is only ever in one.

And have compassion on Hades, when you celebrate the Spring!



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Sep. 3rd, 2009 08:10 am (UTC)
I sent the author a message. I was so completely bowled over by what she wrote. I have loved the story since I was a little girl, and she just opened my eyes as to why it meant so much to me.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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