As we enter the season of autumn, we have the opportunity to take a long and fruitful journey with the goddess Persephone. She is quite the intriguing lady. As bringer of spring and Queen of the Underworld simultaneously, she is paradox incarnate. She helps us to find balance in the many roles of our lives, and also to strike out on bold and daring new paths.
Traditionally the story of Persephone is quite dark and violent, and paints the goddess as more of a victim than a strong young woman with opinions and desires of her own. The tale is usually told in such a way that Persephone is innocently picking wildflowers with her mother, the harvest goddess Demeter, when she is snatched away by Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Varyingly referred to as her “kidnapping” or even her “rape” in these tales, Persephone is taken against her will to be Hades’ bride, and then tricked into consuming the food of the underworld, thereby trapping herself there.
Would we not expect a bit more from a goddess? Ellen Dugan, in Autumn Equinox: The Enchantment of Mabon, finally sets the story straight by showing how Persephone might have had a bit more choice in the situation.
While out picking flowers with her mother and the nymphs, Persephone decides to slip off on her own and muse about why life of late has seemed so very dull to her.
She sits among the flowers and tall, waving grasses and rests her chin in her hand. She sighs really deeply as she at last identifies that feeling deep in her heart as restlessness. Why won’t her own mother, incredible goddess though she is, acknowledge that she’s no longer a child? Persephone wonders what it would be like to have a lover; she hears the nymphs talk about it. What she really needs, Persephone decides, is a little intrigue, romance with a dark stranger and an adventure.
As soon as the thought pops into her head, Persephone notices an unusual flower blooming all by itself over in the field. Intrigued, she rises and goes over to take a closer look at it. The flower is a narcissus. It wafts out an incredible fragrance and glows in a luminous shade of white. Delighted at the unusual flower, Persephone leans over to pluck the blossom when the ground rumbles and suddenly opens up beneath her feet. Persephone screams as she falls and is then caught by a dark man driving a chariot pulled by black horses. As the ground begins to swallow them up, Persephone screams even louder for help. Then there is silence.
Persephone turns to look at her captor and her heart slams into her throat. Here she sees the dark, handsome and dangerous man she was secretly daydreaming for. She asks for his name and he turns to look down into her face. Her mouth dries up as she recognizes Hades, Lord of the Underworld. His voice is deep and final as he announces that he has taken her to be his bride. This is a statement, not a request, and Persephone begins to argue that she would like to have some say in the matter.
Hades silences her with a passionate kiss, which Persephone responds to despite herself. A few moments later Hades breaks off the kiss with a grim smile, and the rest of the journey is silent as they rush toward his Underworld kingdom. Rather than struggle, Persephone decides to give him the silent treatment, as if the kiss meant nothing. She waits him out and plots as to what she’ll do when they reach their destination. If he thinks she’s going to make it easy for him, he has quite a surprise coming.
Once they arrive at Hades’ great hall, Persephone begins to realize that she may be well and truly trapped. However, being a goddess herself, she decides to make Hades work for her affections. Hades sets out to woo his reluctant bride and slowly, in time, she falls for the “bad boy.” (What do I mean by bad boy? Well, let’s see. Picture a dark, gothic, prince type. Ooh, he’s dark, he’s tormented and he suffers; he needs her. A romantic secret fantasy come to life. Yup, she’s a goner.) Here in the Underworld, Persephone is a queen and she has powers of her own. She begins to settle into the very different world that she now rules and time has no meaning for her.
However, Demeter wants her back, and the earth is suffering. If Demeter is withholding her blessings from the earth, then people are starving and the land must be desolate. Persephone wanders off into the shadowy gardens of Hades, overwhelmed with guilt and admits to herself that she has fallen for her husband. While she ponders what to do, she plucks a deep red pomegranate from a tree and sits on a bench to think. While she misses the sunlight and would like to see Demeter again, she is torn between staying with the man she has grown to passionately love or returning to the sunlight, never to see him again.
Persephone is faced with a huge decision; one that will break her heart no matter what she decides. How to choose between two people she loves? She focuses on the pomegranate and realizes that she holds the answer within her hands. She splits the fruit open and tastes the ripe, ruby red fruit. She feels the importance of what she has done sink into her like a stone, for no one who eats the food of the Underworld can ever leave.
When she is eventually found by her mother, the truth that she has eaten the fruit of the Underworld is revealed and Demeter is devastated. However, having only eaten a few seeds, the gods are able to strike a bargain that she spend half of the year in the Underworld with her husband, and the other half on earth with her mother. Each year when she descends underground Demeter begins to mourn, and the earth responds with the bareness of winter, but each year when she returns to earth, Demeter is overjoyed and all the land begins to blossom. Persephone, by embracing both her dark and light sides, brings balance to earth. Mabon, her traditional time of descent, is the perfect opportunity to learn from her experience and ask for her help.
Choosing Your Own Path with Persephone
The autumn is often a time when we choose to begin a new venture, and certainly a time to embark upon some deep inner work by tapping into the darkening rhythms of the season. As a season of transition, the autumn is a wonderful time to work on the transitions in our lives. When faced with a difficult choice on where life will take you next, entreat the goddess Persephone for her help with the following spell. As Dugan says, “when you know that your decision will tear open your heart no matter what path you take, try having a little talk with Persephone. Remember, this is a young woman in her prime. Persephone is both confident and wise. She will send you strength, courage and conviction as you close one chapter of your life and begin another.”
Put a ripe, open pomegranate on your altar or table. You may wish to add candles and flowers that are associated with Persephone, including the narcissus or any deep purple or black-hued blossoms (examples include “Black Magic” pansies, “Queen of the Night” tulips, chocolate cosmos, black iris, black hollyhocks or roses in a deep, dark shade of burgundy). Meditate on Persephone and her journey, then take a few moments to examine your fears and what may be holding you back from making a rewarding but frightening change in your life. Do your best to let the fears melt away, and when you feel calm and centered, repeat this charm:
Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, hear my call,
Your sacred seasons of power are the spring and fall.
I stand in doubt at the crossroads of my life,
Help me to move forward without pain or strife.
It is time to let go of the past and of old dreams and fears,
The future is bright and many opportunities are near.
Taste the pomegranate, setting a few seeds aside to dry. If you used any flowers in your arrangement, let them dry out as well. Place the dried seeds and petals in a small charm bag, and keep this with you as a talisman during your coming journey of transition and transformation.