The Myth of Persephone

I’ve been trying to write about just about anything else but the myth of Persephone and how she is haunting and nagging me this week. Full disclosure–I’m taking this great course in female archetypes. We’re in our second week and Persephone/Kore is the goddess manifestation we are thinking about this week.  If you aren’t familiar with it, here’s a decent retelling: Myth of Persephone/Kore.

In its most basic telling Persephone (Kore: The Maiden) is out hanging with her friends and being her beautiful young maiden self when Hades, King of the Underworld, kidnaps her, rapes her, and makes her his Queen (he’s also her Uncle but you know, Greek mythology tends to go that way). Demeter her mother roams the Earth looking for her, finds out what happened, appeals to her brother Zeus, meanwhile turns the Earth to winter in her sorrow. The long and short of it? Persephone doesn’t have any control over her initial fate. She’s kidnapped. She’s raped. She’s made to eat the food of the dead without knowledge of the consequences. Her relatives decide her fate: Half the year she must live in the Underworld as Hades’ bride and queen and the other half she lives above ground with her mother.

So much for alone time.

What is important to take away from Persephone in a Girl Body Pride context is this:  Like so many of us, she wasn’t in charge of her childhood, wasn’t in control of her destiny, and was barely in control of her knowledge of the world. In order to reign as queen, she had to lose all innocence.

It’s been awhile since that Women’s Studies class, hasn’t it?

But here’s the great thing about Persephone —she’s not someone who needs rescuing when all is said and done. She’s a survivor. She has been thrown these particular cards that are violent, cruel, and misogynistic and very much our culture. But she doesn’t whimper and cry in a hole somewhere. She reigns. She takes all that badness and becomes elegant, regal. She sees who she wants, when she wants.  She becomes her own queen not because someone ‘made her’ his queen. She becomes it in her own right.

I think of this myth in terms of our survival. We would not be who we are without our pasts. We would not be strength without struggle. We don’t just wake up our own goddesses—we become who we are because we fought to get here. If no one had ever told me I was fat and ugly, I don’t think I’d have tried to find myself beautiful. If no one had treated me badly would I know good people when I see them? Without having to become a survivor, I wouldn’t be who I am. Persephone wouldn’t be who she is.

I think of this myth now as we head into the December crazy holiday season where our childhoods reign heavy in our memories along side the taunts of culture and expectation. It’s a complex one. Persephone could have just been a victim but she’s not. We can have a joyous season, or not. The choice is ours.

Important in the myth of Persephone is the pressure on women to accept their circumstances as they are and to feel and support  those who have oppressed us. So in Stubenville, Ohio we are asked to feel sorry for the ruined college and sport careers of the rapists. When fathers come home in bad moods we are suppose to let them vent it out even if it ruins the evenings of the family. We are not to make waves. We are supposed to rise above it. We are supposed to not call men out on their shit when things go down. . We are asked to be complicit in our own lack of control. We are better than that.

But being ‘better than that’ is its own form of silencing.

Christmas season belongs to the women of the culture. They are the ones buying the presents and knocking themselves out in sacrifice to make sure everyone else is having a good time and gets what they want.

But what do we want? And can we put our needs first?

Let’s be queens, ladies. Someone else may have thrust Persephone into her role –but she’s the one responsible for owning that role and making it suit her.

Have a blessed December. Demeter is waiting for her daughter’s return. For all of us to return.

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