Persephone: the myth and the meaning

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One of my favourite Greek myths, set in the beautiful Sicily, talks about how the seasons have been created…

It’s told that Demeter, the Goddess of the harvest, was maintaining the world in a state of perpetual spring.

She was also taking great care of her daughter Persephone, a beautiful and innocent girl, who was enjoying going out in the nature and playing with her friends.

One day she joined them at the lake’s Pergusa’s shore (nowadays in the province of Enna): the day was marvellously sunny and warm, the sky of a deep blue.

But… that group of joyful girls did not go unnoticed

Hade was one of the most powerful and lonely Gods of the Olympus, always isolated in his realm, the world of the dead. No one wanted to share that dreariness with him.

He came in the world of the living decided to abduct a woman and to force her to marry him. And, in between that group of pretty girls, Persephone made his hearth race…

No one could stop him: not the brave Cyane, pushed aside and turned into a river, not the screams… the light of the sun was soon miles away, on the surface, while the poor girl was dragged down in the darkness.

Demeter was waiting for her beloved daughter, in vain. She started looking for her everywhere: hours, days went by, in vain.

Restless, Demeter abandoned her work, letting the world be a dry and barren place where the leaves fell from the trees, the fruit rot and the living starved to death.

Far from the light and her mother, Persephone was getting pale and depressed. Her husband was kind with her, she always had everything she needed, but the two most important things above.

She kept looking at herself in the mirror, wandering what she was turning into… and one day, like he was reading his wife’s mind, Hade simply said to her: “You are a queen now”.

He gave the same explanation to Hermes, the messenger of the Gods: “Persephone belongs to this realm, and this realm belongs to her now. Besides, she ate the fruits of the underworld, there is no way someone can go back to the living after tasting them!”.

Hermes reported the message to Zeus, the king of the Gods; he was furious: his sister Demeter was refusing to work until she had her daughter back and his brother Hade was not helpful at all.

“Enough”, Zeus said, “this is becoming ridiculous!” Still everyone was arguing with him, who needed to take a difficult decision. So he decided to take his time and think… until he came up with an interesting idea.

He knew the girl had eaten six seeds of that pomegranate, fruit of the dead, so he decided each seed could represent a month Persephone needed to spend in the underworld. The rest of the year she could have stayed with her mother.

Hade and Demeter were not entirely satisfied, but they needed to accept the only possible solution. From that moment on, the world became much different from before: during the six months Persephone was ruling the underworld her mother was too much depressed to work, so everything became cold and barren. Instead, in the months Demeter had her daughter next to her, the world became warm, full of flowers and fruit, as it was used to be. The four season had been created this way.

(The description of the myth above is inspired to “Demeter, Persephone and the Birth of the Seasons”, from “Myths in Sicily”, vol. 2, by Riccardo Francaviglia, Splen edizioni.)

Who is Persephone

This myth is about a metamorphosis, something we can be quite scared to embrace in our daily life: some of us are used to say everything was much better in the past, maybe during the youth, without acknowledging what we can call “the gift of the shadows”.

Persephone was living a beautiful life, without any changing or challenge, just perfection and a protective mom looking after her… until her brightness attracted the shadow.

We often say we don’t deserve the horrible things happening to us, without realising that, sometimes, the most bitter is the medicine the better it does… In Persephone’s case, she needed to go through a big trauma, losing all her the dearest things, to finally understand her complexity.

She could not be that innocent little girl forever, she could not longer believe the sunshine was just outside of her.

This paradox, a bright girl leading the realm of the dead, is actually a logic consequence of Persephone’s nature: just who has got enough light inside can lead the shadows, just a bright light can shape them well.

Persephone and Hades are just apparently different: they are the two faces of the same medal, and together they are one. Persephone must leave the old skin behind and live the first very complex situation of her life to become who she is supposed to be, and Hade is there to help her in the process.

The myth clearly explains great changes happen, inside and outside of us, just when we get in contact with our antithesis: those shadows we would like to keep as far away as possible, are actually the engine of our life in terms of constant change.

The more we push them on a side, trying to enjoy just the bright and beautiful side of life, the more we are making an inevitable process delay.

Persephone is just an ancient invitation to get to know the shadows better, in order to become who we are meant to be.

With love.

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