By Jan Finley
The news about the kidnapped girls in Nigeria has disturbed me enormously, for so many reasons. In Stephanie's weather report one morning, she referenced the Persephone myth in regard to the kidnapped Nigerian girls and my mind was captivated. The Persephone myth has always disturbed me, because I never felt it was the complete story. She was taken against her will, returned by the profound perseverance of her mother, a new pattern (the seasons) was implemented but what is never really mentioned is how profoundly Persephone herself must have been changed by the experience.
I am not ignoring the profound implications of the horror inflicted on these girls, believe me. That this should occur is an outrage and horrific.
I am merely looking at the myth from another direction, so bear with me. A friend of mine has recently been contacted by someone from her long ago past, someone with whom she was deeply in love with. He hurt her badly, causing her to sever a portion of herself, a concept that those of you who are familiar with shamanism will recognize. From the moment the wounding occurred in her life, she has never been the same. She has been a shadow of herself.
Certainly this sounds extreme, but how often does some form of this severing occurs in the lives of women? I believe that each one of us has lost some treasured aspect of ourselves as we have striven to assimilate and belong. We are trained from an early age to be good girls, responsible girls. We leave passion behind. We forget who we really are, in our efforts to accommodate. Certainly, there are exceptions, and as we age, we often rediscover those aspects of ourselves. Many times, however, that wound remains unhealed and oftentimes acknowledged.
And this brings me back to the Persephone myth.
It seems to me that there may be another aspect to this story. A young woman is living her life, peacefully, loved and adored by parents. Safe. And along comes a man who covets her. He appears before her larger than life, radiant in his role as God of the Underworld, and captures her (her heart, her spirit, her physical being), if not against her will but certainly against everything she believes to be true and real in her life, and whisks her away to a new and unfamiliar place. He proclaims his love but still he frightens her. He intrigues her. He awakens her. She might resist it, even fight it, but she is changed by the experience.
And yes, meanwhile at home, her mother and those who love her and miss the person she has been in their lives, react from a place of loss and fear. She must be returned to them.
Winter arrives. The landscape changes. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Meanwhile, the young woman alternately misses the safe life she had, warm and comfortable, cherished and safe, but a door has opened within her, forever altering her. Even if she were to return to her familiar world, she is no longer the young woman she was. And she never will be again.
The young woman returns to her previous life for six months of the year; her mother is happy but the young woman is forever altered.
And this is the crux of my sense of incompletion with this myth. Many of you will be crying out in outrage: But she was taken against her will!! Is this not violation of the worst kind? And yes it is, but we don't know the whole story.
I have always wondered why Persephone went back every autumn if it was so horrific with Pluto. Certainly The Lord of the Underworld would have experience and knowledge to which she had never been exposed, never even imagined existed. I have come to think of Pluto as ‘The Lord of the Unawakened’, rather than simply the Underworld. Certainly, the Underworld carries implications of the undiscovered within all of us, the shadow aspects which must be reclaimed for self-unity to take place. And Pluto can certainly turn a life upside down, but isn't that really what awakening is? When you awaken, it is to a wholly new you. And most times, the undiscovered aspects of ourselves are not welcomed with open arms.
Passion falls into that realm. We love the idea of passion, especially in movies and book or someone else's life. But passion is powerful and huge and disruptive and messy. Our society has long equated passion with sex, and goodness knows that we have come to view sex as something often suspect and dangerous. Sex is a complicated issue these days.
However, the truth is that passion is so much more than that. It is passion that fills every endeavor with joy. One has only to look to the arts to see that. Passion inspires great works in everything from the daily grind to those great works of Art. And yes, passion takes romance from the mundane and transforms it into the stuff of legends and myths.
So I submit that Persephone, while initially terrified and frightened, found a place inside herself that she had no idea even existed, and that place was her own passion. I believe that even had Pluto let her go for good, never asking for her annual return, she might have returned to him on her own, a moth to the flame of her awakening.
As for her mother, and the creation of winter.... Without winter, we would not feel the fierce joy that Spring brings, with the first hint of green and blush of warmth. Spring awakens our own passion, bringing us to the fullness of summer. Persephone's sacrifice(?)( commitment?) allows us to awaken to the fullness of our own expression. The letting go and drawing in of autumn and the quiet introspection of winter perfectly lay the groundwork for the passion to arrive again in the spring.
It is repression, I believe, where the true darkness lies. In denying an integral part of our expression, we become predictable, perpetuating the crime of safety, that illusion around which we gravitate with such dedication. As women, we conform every day, until we re-member who we are and reclaim those abandoned aspects of ourselves. We are taught to be good girls. We are taught to adapt and adjust. We forget to fly. We forget to howl with abandon. The Divine Feminine has become shackled by denial of self.
The lesson in this may be that while we do indeed pay a price, even a great price, for the reclamation of our passion, our most holy and divine Selves, we also regain our authenticity and without that, without that spark which generates our most sacred truth, we are nothing.