Deity Spotlight: Persephone
It is the time of year, in the northern hemisphere, where the earth is preparing itself for survival. Plants and many animal species are gorging themselves now, storing up as many nutrients as they can to sate them through the hibernation of the coming winter, while other animals are preparing large food caches that they can snack on as the land becomes temporarily barren. Those of us who celebrate Thanksgiving or a similar holiday will soon be gorging ourselves as well, a tradition much older than the holiday itself and the mutual invention of symbolic celebration for the harvest as well as literal requirement for an ancient time of scarcity.
During this time of the year it is common to see Demeter highlighted as she is often referred to as mother earth herself since she represents the harvest and the fruits of the earth. However, with the approach of Halloween we thought it best to discuss her daughter, Persephone. Many have heard the name but few know her story. She was renowned for her beauty, vitality, and youthfulness. She loved to gather flowers and it was during just such an expedition that she first drew the attention of and fell into a trap set for her by her uncle, Hades, the King of the Underworld.
Once he had her in the underworld he offered her something to eat or drink in an effort to console her and convince her that the Underworld wasn't such a bad place. Not seeing the harm in accepting a bit of sustenance, Persephone ate several pomegranate seeds but what she didn't know is that there was a rule stating that anyone who ate the food of the Underworld must never be permitted to leave. Demeter was beside herself, searching the world over for her daughter and throwing it into utter chaos in the process until, at last, Zeus himself was forced to intervene.
Fearing the consequences of breaking a rule of the Underworld whilst also concerned for the state of life on earth as it was being affected by Demeter's bad temper, Zeus was forced to strike up a compromise in which Persephone would be permitted to return to Demeter for part of the year and would be required to reside with Hades for the remainder. For this reason, the earth is warm and lush during the spring and summer months that Persephone is with Demeter, and baron and cold during the winter when she is with Hades.
You may be wondering why we would have decided to discuss Persephone at this time of year when the nature of her story is so mutually rooted in every season. Due to her marriage to Hades, King of the Underworld, Persephone became the Queen of the Underworld and, with Samhain, Halloween, or All Hallows Eve approaching – this seemed like the perfect time to discuss her. This is the time of year when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead grows steadily more thin until it eventually reaches its thinnest point on the eve of Samhain.
The two worlds and this veil between them has fascinated mankind since the dawn of time and though many stories are fraught with tales of those who have tried, few have entered the Underworld and successfully returned to tell the tale. One of the many reasons that Persephone is so astonishing and important is her miraculous journey between these worlds, and not just a one-time act of heroism or fortune but an annual pilgrimage. Imagine the immense strength of character and fortitude of constitution that must be required to make such an arduous journey even once, let alone over and over again.
In this month, October, from the 13th through the 17th is the festival of the Greek Thesmophorus in which Persephone plays a very important role. While the majority of the festival is to honor her mother and the harvest, the 4th day of the festival is spent fasting and lamenting for Persephone while the fifth and final day is spent in feasting and celebration. It is also no coincidence that the food Persephone ate in the Underworld which sealed her fate was a pomegranate as the primary month for harvesting most varieties of pomegranates is October.
For many of you the path to a particular deity may already be chosen or perhaps you have a relationship with many deities at once; in either of these cases we honor and celebrate your journey. But if you are among the many that feel somewhat daunted with the idea of finding a deity that resonates you, while also experiencing the yearning of having a connection to deity by some name or form – here are several excellent indications that Persephone may be a good fit for you.
- You feel particularly drawn to the fall season and especially the month of October
- You love pomegranates
- You experience a fascination or connection with the Underworld and seek to better understand it
- You appreciate the colder or darker aspects of duality – not in the sense of evil versus good but in the sense of night versus day, fall versus spring, or dark rich colors versus lovely pale pastels
- You consider yourself a bit of an outcast or always seem to be the black sheep but you've always been, or have learned to be, comfortable with this role for yourself
- You especially appreciate things that are unique, different, and often unpopular among others
- You are fond of dirges or solemn choral music
If you are looking for some ways to develop a relationship with Persephone, or if you simply wish to honor her as a member of the collective forms of deity, here are a few great ideas that you can try:
- Observe a day of fasting and quiet contemplation or communion for Persephone on the fourth day of the Greek Thesmophorus which is the 16th day of October
- Follow this with a day of feasting and celebration on the fifth day or the 17th of October
- Contemplate how you think Persephone must feel about her arrangement and consider asking her in quiet or silent conversation: Do you see her as a victim, forced to endure a marriage with Hades against her will and granted freedom for only part of the year? Or does she strike you more as a proud queen, honorably accepting and perhaps even relishing in her mutual importance in both the worlds of the living and the dead? Does she enjoy being the Queen of the Underworld, do you suppose?
- Present an offering of lovely flowers, either through planting or as part of your altar, decorum, or personal attire
- Give the offering of a pomegranate or pomegranate seeds in a method which best suits you. This can be burying a pomegranate in your yard or somewhere in nature, presenting some pomegranate seeds on an offering plate upon your altar, or placing the seeds in a dish outside the door of your home until they've withered or disappeared entirely. (For an interesting theory on why withering food is a sign of consumption from the Underworld, be sure to come back for next week's blog about the roots of Halloween!)
- Spend some time imagining what your own journey to the underworld might be like. Will it be frightening or exhilarating? Will you try to return or enjoy the new adventure? Given the opportunity, will you kneel before your queen or demand release? What would you say to her or ask her if you could speak with her face to face?
Perhaps there are many other ways in which you feel a calling to connect with Persephone that are not listed here. If so, we would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions as well in the comments below!
Until next week, Merry Meet & Blessed Be.