(originally posted may 4, 2008)
Goddess Persephone epitomizes the maiden daughter archetype - eager to please and expectant, waiting for destiny to happen upon her and change her life, rather than actively seeking out her own design.
Her energy is passive and guileless - until she is abruptly taken hostage and violated.
When the mythic god of the Underworld erupts above ground, abducting the innocent Persephone, her psyche and perception are forever changed.
She is ripped from the security of her mother's embrace and dragged into the role of wife and Queen. From the green maiden of spring, to the mistress of the dark, Persephone becomes the Queen of the Dead.
Most of us can identify with the maiden Persephone. We all have a mother. We all have experienced innocence and dependency, and eventually we will all experience archetypal betrayal, held emotionally hostage by family, lover, illness, or community expectations. Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen identifies Persephone as one of the vulnerable Goddesses, defined primarily by her relationship to others. Persephone's psychological vulnerability is depression, triggered by boundary violation and abandonment. Ultimately, however, it is also the seed of her hidden strength.
In response to loss, powerlessness or abuse, many descend as Persephone into their own wintertime of shadows and depression, to a darkly lit journey of the soul, struggling with a profound sense of betrayal and lost innocence. Triggered by divorce, rape, or an invasion of boundaries by a toxic circumstance, the archetypal experience of Persephone's journey challenges us to go within our deepest Self, to re-evaluate, and grieve our losses. Depression is a natural response to soul wounding experiences, and if approached without judgment, much healthier than denial. Often the only way through – is down. This is the spiral way to wisdom. Into the dark and unknown.
Persephone's underworld journey acquaints her with death and suffering, and this, in turn, cultivates empathy and the gift of compassion (symbolized by her acceptance of the pomegranate seeds). When we engage our pain, and willingly face our fears, we may also, like Persephone, emerge in the spring, reborn from our night journey, richer in intuitive wisdom and insight.
The alchemical journey of Persephone is the journey we all eventually embark upon; often kicking and screaming in protest. We may not willingly enter our shadow selves, endure depression, or confront our fears and the meaning of death, yet such an exploration leads us to uncover our spiritual center. It challenges our beliefs and pushes us to deepen our awareness, to question our values, and to discover our innate connection to the divine. It leads us to soul. And soul leads us to magic. Magic happens when we align our true intention with the divine spark within. Ego and will may dictate our desires, but soul work beckons us to discover our authenticity. Magic happens when we open our hearts in compassion and allow the divine to gift us with insight, synchronicity, and grace.
When faced with loss, illness, or the death of a loved one, we may ask, "Why did this happen?" or "Why is this happening to me?" We may feel anger and outrage; and anger may linger, often underground. The absence of obvious anger may reveal its shadow is afoot. Depression is often anger turned inward. Acknowledging and working through our anger in an honest, healthy way; expressing it consciously through journal writing, frank discussion, painting, pounding bread dough or pottery clay, or crafting personal ritual; helps free the spirit from the grip of depression and anger.
Working through anger puts us smack in the center of the cauldron, in the fire of transformation. In the heat of the flames we are transformed. We gain insight and clarity, and become free to make proactive choices and embrace change. But until we surrender, we will not experience the alchemical fire that burns off the old self and delivers us, reborn, as the mythical phoenix from the ashes. This is inner work. Surrender is an inward journey to one's center, one's soul. In the mythic dark night of isolation, surrender is hard, especially for the ego. The ego views surrender as a death. But surrender is necessary for growth.
Through embracing our grief and difficult times, by keeping a journal and digging into dream work, we surrender to our own underworld and travel with Persephone, through the unknown realm of the dead, to face our darkest fears, and explore the aspects of our unknown Self. Persephone leads us into the dark. And we are wiser for it.
***kari ann alrich