Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Musings on Persephone

Persephone & Relationships

Jean Shinoda Bolen divides goddeses into virginal (independent), vulnerable (dependent on relationships), and alchemical (both relational and independent.) The three virginal goddesses are Athena, Artemis and Hestia. The three vulnerable goddesses are Demeter, Hera and Persephone. Aphrodite is the lone alchemical goddess. I think it would be more useful to divide them up into relational or independent. Relational goddesses turn to outwards to others, and mainly see themselves through their relationships: Demeter the Mother, Hera the Wife, Persephone the Daughter and Aphrodite the Lover. The independent goddesses are fundamentally independent of others and mainly see themselves in relation to their work: Artemis with Nature, Hestia her Home, Hecate her Studies and Athena her Success. However, Aphrodite and Athena are the two goddesses that can flip being relational/independent: although Aphrodite lives to love, she's independent at heart and never stays with one lover. And although Athena lives out in the world, mixing it up in the battle of success, inside she's always Daddy's Little Girl, seeking his approval.

Athena and Persephone

Athena is Daddy's Little Girl. Sweet Persephone lives to please Mommy. Persephone lives to please her Mother, whether that is her literal mother or society in general; she is sweet and accomodating, marrying the "right" man (ie. her mother's, or the socially acceptable, choice). She never grows up and never stops needing her Mother. Athena, on the other hand, wants to please her "father;" in childhood she's the studious, serious girl who spurns "girly" things and, when she grows up, the successful woman who makes her Daddy proud. "Daddy" in this case can either be her literal father, or the authority figure she's most identified with, usually her mentor or boss.

Demeter and Persephone

It's always puzzled me; I meet these women who are so different from me, usually extremely conventional and traditional, and yet I love them! And they love me back! It's because Persephone is always looking for Demeter and Demeter, in turn, is looking for her lost daughter - when we meet, we tend to feel an almost instant bond of affection. No wonder I'm so attracted to motherly Demeter's!

In fact, Persephone's life task is to leave her mother, which she doesn't want to do, and is thus dragged kicking and screaming from Demeter's paradise. Persephone doesn't want to separate, she doesn't want to grow up. But in order to grow she has to let go of being a girl and become a complete woman, with all the darkness and shadow that includes.

By the same token, Demeter has to learn to let go... and learn that, by letting go when the time is right, she is doing the most nurturing thing she can for her children.

Hecate and Persephone

Goddess Power writes about how Hecate, who is closely tied to Persephone (Maiden/Mother/Crone or Persephone/Demeter/Hecate) did nothing to help Persephone when she was abducted by Hades, nor did she say anything when Demeter looked for her. She describes Hecate as follows:

Witch & killer - the one who ignored Persephone’s cries -- [Persephone's] unconscious, repressed rage which is projected onto others
This just seems wrong to me. Granted, Persephone can be self indulgent, whiny and narcissistic, but I don't think this is just Persephone projecting her darkness onto others. Hecate is the Witch goddess, with Moon wisdom, and possibly related to the Fates. She more than anyone knows that Persephone needs to go down into the underworld... she needs to start taking charge of things rather waiting for Mom or someone else to do everything for her, or to blame others for not taking care of her. In short, she needs to grow up. Hecate kept quiet because she knew if Demeter convinced Zeus to get Persephone away from Hades, and out of the underworld, she'd never do that.

Hecate and Persephone have a deep bond, as if she went through this whole experience herself, so she knows excactly what Persephone needs. Hecate looks for Persephone with Demeter when she's first abducted, and, after Persephone becomes Queen of the Underworld, she stays in Hades to become her closest advisor. She is one of only two beings who can come and go from Hades at will - perhaps a metaphor that once a Persephone descends and completes integration, she is able to pass from the deep subconscious to the daylight realms of consciousness at will.

Aphrodite and Persephone

Like Persephone, Aphrodite tends to make people uncomfortable with her passionate, unlimited feelings, but Persephone often expresses what society most wants to keep suppressed underground, in the depths of the subconscious. She’s one of the archetypes, along with Ares and Dionysus, that expresses the suppressed aspects that society refuses to acknowledge but must integrate if it is to attain health, balance and growth. And both Persephone and Aphrodite tend to merge with their partners, like the waters of the ocean, but where Persephone often loses herself, Aphrodite doesn’t – she has a secure, queen core of strength that enables her to retain her sense of self.

Another interesting connection between the two is that Persephone is sometimes called Aphrodite of the Underworld, the same way that Hades is Zeus of the Underworld (and also has ties to Dionysus.) Persephone is desired by many as a girl, even though she is non-sexual. When she descends to Hades to become Queen of the Underworld, however, she becomes orgasmic. And both Persephone and Aphrodite's symbol is the pomegranate. In addition, they both fought over Adonis... and won equally.

When Persephone descends and integrates the totality of herself, she becomes sexual in a powerful way, like Aphrodite. But where Aphrodite's sexuality is of the daylight realm - intense but happy and joyful - Persephone's is darker and often violates the rules of the daylight realm. But both are sexually intense.

Pomegranate Symbolism

Pomegranates represent the “indissolubility of marriage." By eating it’s seeds, Persephone tied herself to Hades.
Pomegranate symbol meanings deal with abundance, fertility, lusciousness, generosity and union. Used in many cultures as a symbol of marraige, fertility, and love, the pomegranate with its leathery outer skin and its juicy, sweet interior is a symbol of encompassing bliss, reminiscent of passion and luxury. It is also a strongly feminine symbol, and is associated with female sexuality.

The pomegranate also has ties to the Triple Goddess, who evolved into the Olympian Hera, and who herself is sometimes represented offering a pomegranate. In one representation Hera holds a scepter in one hand and a pomegranate in the other like a royal orb, and wears the calyx of the pomegranate as her crown. In some artistic depictions the pomegranate is found in the hand of Mary, mother of Jesus. The pomegranate is also related to the poppy, with its similar shape and chambered interior, and in some Greek dialects the pomegranate is called rhoa; its possible that there's a connection with the earth goddess, Rhea. 

It's clear that Persephone eating the fruit of Hades is a metaphor for their sexual union. There's often debate as to whether or not Persephone was complicit in the whole pomegranate eating thing - I suspect she chose to accept Hades "pomegranate" because it isn't until a Persephone makes a choice to accept Hades that she can grow. But it's often an incomplete choice, because she still lies to Demeter when she tells her mother that she didn't actually make that choice.

Links: Tarot Teaching: Pomegranate

Persephone as the Triple Goddess

In the Eleusinian mysteries Persephone is the child to Demeter, and the two are spring, the grain, death and rebirth. But Persephone herself is the triple goddess. She's the Kore, the maiden; Persephone, the powerful and sexual queen of the Underworld; and Hecate, the wise crone.

Persephone the Queen is not related to childbirth or fertility. She's Aphrodite of the Underworld, a dark, powerful sexuality. As wife of Hades she has power that few of the goddesses retain after their marriage. Hera and Amphitrite basically lose their power upon marriage to Zeus and Poseidon, doubtless a metaphor for matriarchal goddesses power being absorbed by patriarchy. When these married goddesses do show up in myths it's always in reaction to something their husband did, usually their infidelity. This is completely different in Persephone's marriage, where she actually gains  power as a result of her marriage to Hades. As Kore she is the weakest, most diffuse of the goddesses. But as Persephone the Queen she's the equal of Aphrodite, one of the most powerful of the goddesses, and the only other goddess who is able to retain her independence while fully relating with men. Persephone also appears to be the most multiple natured archetype; she's the only one I've found so far who has multiple Major Arcana cards for her almost opposite stages (The Star for her Kore self, and Death for her Queen self.)

Persephone and Hades, the gods of the underworld, are both triple natured. Persephone is the maiden (Kore), sexual queen (dark Aphrodite) and wise crone (Hecate); Hades is the lover of Persephone (ecstatic Dionysus), powerful king (dark Zeus), and the stern but wise Hades. The triple goddess and the triple god.

Persephone and Dionysus

One further aside - I feel like Persephone and Dionysus are linked in some way. I've always been attracted to Dionysus men, and usually have one or more Dionysuses as good friends. We're like playful children and love goofing around. But something occurred to me as I was writing the above - Persephone's child self (of her triple self) is Kore, the girl. Hades' is Dionysus. Maybe that's why I've always been romantically attracted to Dionysus men, because up until very recently I've been so deeply identified with my Kore self.

Persephone In Love

The Persephone pattern is that she won't see be able to see the man she needs, who she yearns for (Hades), because mother/society doesn't approve. Persephone doesn't have her own beliefs - she absorbs others' beliefs and then thinks that they're actually hers, so even if she does meet Hades (and she constantly will - he's always being thrown into her path), she usually doesn't recognize him. Usually the only way she ends up with her Hades is if he "abducts" her, but, unless she gives up her childish desires for approval and gives herself to Hades she'll either end up with the "approved man" and be frustrated when he's unable to handle the emotional eruptions she needs to pass through to grow... or she'll end up alone, sad and lonely, never growing up.

Little Edie of the documentary "Grey Gardens" is a classic stagnated Persephone. She was never able to separate herself from her mother, and it wasn't until she was well into middle age and her mother died that she was finally able to develop as a person but, even then, she was never completely able to make the break and remained a little girl to the very end.

Another movie that personifies the Persephone myth is "Labyrinth" starring Jennifer Connolly as the young Persephone girl Sarah and David Bowie as the Demon King, Jareth. In the movie Jareth forces Sarah to descend to his realm by kidnapping her infant half brother. She eventually rescues her brother by telling Jareth that "he has no power over her" and the two go home and everyone lives happily ever after...  according to Demeter and the larger society that doesn't understand what Persephone needs, that is. This is actually the wrong ending to Persephone's story and, when a Persephone lives out this version of her myth, she's cursed to remain her mother's Good Little Girl forever.

Near the end of the movie, after Jareth has done everything he can think of to seduce or even force her to stay, he sings to her in despair:
How you turned my world, you precious thing
You starve and near exhaust me
Everything I've done, I've done for you
I move the stars for no one
You've run so long
You've run so far
Your eyes can be so cruel
Just as I can be so cruel
Though I do believe in you
Yes I do
Live without the sunlight
Love without your heartbeat
I, I can't live without you
I can't live without you
I, I can't live without you
The ending to the Persephone story that allows her to transform is only possible when she gives Hades power over her... this allows her to make the painful and difficult transformation from child to woman; sweet, accomodating daughter to the beautiful, powerful Queen of the Underworld. This, then, is the true marriage where Persephone brings the Light of the Star to Hades dark realm, and she can claim her own power as it's Queen.

Persephone and Hades' story is so difficult for other people to understand because it's so different from everything they know. Their story is the myth of the soul's journey to the Underworld and it's transformation. Persephone is the Star, who must descend to Hell to be transformed into the World; the whole, complete woman, who's integrated both shadow and light, evil and good, pain and joy. To those of the daylight realms this necessary death horrifies and repulses them. But the Underworld is a bizarre, topsy-turvy reflection of the Overworld - what looks like pleasure is really painful, and what looks like pain is really joyful. What looks like death is really rebirth. Only when Persephone makes the choice to turn her back on the daylight realms is this possible... even though she is acted on and shaped by Hades, it is her deliberately chosen submission that makes this possible. This is the contradiction: weak Persephone, who has no will, is the one who decides whether this transformation is going to happen. And by making that choice to give her power to Hades, she transforms her weakness into power.

This submission doesn't have to be a literal submission to a literal Hades man, although sometimes Hades/Persephone relationships follow this pattern for at least some part of their relationship. In this case, it is often a cathartic growing experience for both: Persephone chooses the darkness and, by letting Hades contain her, she's able to pass through that darkness and come out the other side. In his turn, the Hades man also grows through the experience, often finding his own power and connecting to his deeper self. Other times, however, Persephone's submission is metaphorical rather than literal; by simply choosing to enter into the relationship, and staying with it, no matter how difficult or painful it is for her, Persephone finds herself descending and going through her transformation. And by being seen, perhaps for the first time, Hades is able to start connecting to his inner strength and develop his deep, inner vision. However it works out, a Hades/Persephone relationship is transformational.

Archetypal relationships: Persephone and Hades

Also, go to the Persephone posts page for a detailed description of my own transformational (and still ongoing) relationship with both an actual Hades man and my animus.

Random thoughts

Goddess Power talks about one of the things Persephone's needing to do being letting go of our youthful selves and embracing the Queen and Crone selves. A sign of this problem is retaining a "youthful mask" into middle age and that's definitely true - people regularly think I'm 10 or even more years younger than I actually am. My problem is that I actively resist growing up - Perserphone, desperately trying to stay Mommy's Little Girl. I have to let go of Petra Pan and accept being the Queen of Hell... which is funny, I have far less of a problem with the "hell" part than the grown up part!

A lot of the above came from various Wikipedia pages, a font of knowledge!


  1. I would like to say a massice thankyou as fate would have it I came across this at the right moment on my journey and it has inspired me and give me a deeper insight into what I need to do. Keep up the great work

    1. I don't know if you'll get this response as it's been soooooo long since I really checked on my blog (stuff happened :( ) but I really do appreciate you taking the time to comment. And I'm so glad anything I wrote helped you! That's what this blog is here for! :)

  2. Thank you so much for your blog !!! ( sorry for my English i'm french ) i understand so may things since i read you and i feel much more comfortable with myself. i'm happy someoine like you exists in the world.

    1. Sorry that this response is so late - you're so welcome! I am so, so glad something I wrote could be of help to someone else. We Persephone's are so often told that we're in adequate which is not just hurtful but wrong. Best wishes on your personal journey!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.


I'm not back but I will stop ignoring this blog

I just recently decided to check in and see what, if anything, was going on. And it looks like this is actually quite active! Apolog...