Persephone blinked. Her ascent had been slow and the light was increasing, hurting her eyes. The smell of hyacinth, jasmine, and narcississ occasionally wafted down. Her ears could catch birdsong and the chatter from noisy cafes. She knew her mother had pulled out all the stops for her return. She had some awareness that the world was opening up, spring was back with gusto and people were gathering again. She was confused to how long she’d been in the underworld; was it four long years or only one?
As she rose, she felt both excitement and a bit of dread. Being in the underworld meant not having to keep much of a calendar, there was no place to go, nothing to plan for. She’d lived in basically pajamas, and found peace in jigsaw puzzles. It was simple. She’d miss the jewels found in sheltering in that place below. She’d miss her relationships with the dead. And, she’d miss Hades.
As she took more steps toward the light, she smiled to herself. She knew her mother blamed Hades. She knew that forevermore there would be different versions of her story. Some would say she saw it coming, that there were signs everywhere that an underworld journey was on it’s way. Others, like her mother, would claim Hades had violently abducted her and would cast him as villain. She smiled more. She knew what was true for her. She had foresight that of all the relationships among the gods, she and Hades would have the most stable and loving one. No drama except the beginning. Sometimes relationships with bad boys work out.
Persephone considered that there were many ways to journey to the underworld. Some resist it with all their might, some are drawn to descend willingly. Sometimes it comes in a flash, an instantaneous fall. Other times descents are slow and gradual. It was never the journey, but the destination that mattered. The journey would always be disputed by historians, psychologists, myth makers and others. The destination was indisputable.
The light got brighter. She rose, leaving the dark behind. It took some time for her senses to adjust. It was overwhelming. She put on her face covering. Hades had given her 6 pomegranate seeds to eat on the journey up. A vaccination of sorts he had told her, something that would help her travel safely back and forth between the worlds. He’d also had given her the face covering, telling her it now was di rigor on earth and to make sure and put it on as soon as her feet touched the surface. So she did, and headed towards the Eleusinian Café where she was to meet her mother, Demeter.
As she drew near, she noticed immediately the changes. There were little bowers outside, each full of happy diners. The inside appeared empty. She spotted her mother and rushed to hug her. “KORE!”, Demeter cried. Persephone pulled back. She looked her mother steadily in the eye and said, “It’s Persephone now, I’m no longer just your daughter, Kore. I’m Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, Bringer of Death.”
Demeter sat down hard. Her eyes welled up. “Do you know how hard I worked to get you back? I shut the whole world down. Does this mean you will go back? Please tell me you didn’t eat something there, you know not to eat in the underworld, right?” Persephone sat down softly and put a hand out to hold her mother’s. She squeezed it. She told her about the pomegranate seeds and how she’d grown to love Hades. She told her that the number of dead had increased and come in great waves the longer she’d stayed, only diminishing somewhat as she began her ascent. Even Hades found this curious and wondered what was happening above. “I found power in comforting them” she said. “Plus, there are jewels everywhere and precious minerals.
Demeter cried. Not the kind of crying she’d been doing since her daughter had been gone. A different kind, the sort when you know something is right but you just don’t want to accept it right off. It was the crying a mother does when a child launches, when they individuate and become their own person. It was the crying of being both proud and sad. She was Goddess of the Harvest. Of course her daughter would become powerful in her own right. “The world is now changed” she said softly. “Nothing will ever be the same”.
They ordered food, took off their face coverings, and Persephone found she once again had the sensation of hunger. Hunger not only to eat, but to hear what had happened while she was gone and to tell her mother what she had learned, what jewels she had brought back from the underworld.
Demeter told her how she had grieved, how she had raged. The loss of her beloved daughter had felt unbearable. The earth had been in perpetual spring before Persephone’s descent. Demeter had shut that down. Hard. No cafes, no theater, no fairs, no nothing but a long long winter of isolation. She told her daughter that her father Zeus had been useless, had barely lifted a finger to help. Persephone looked at her, shook her head and said “Yep, the patriarchy must go.” Demeter agreed and raised her fist.
Demeter’s grief had activated her and gotten her woke. She became attuned to the injustice on earth among mortals. It made her grief mightier. She explained how she had provided her protection to the mortals who went to the streets to protest or stood in long lines to vote. She raised such a ruckus and fomented such unrest that eventually mortals and gods alike petitioned for Kore the daughter to be returned. Demeter took a breath and became silent. No one saw Persephone, Queen of the Underworld ascending and the changes this would wreak. Least of all her mother. Yet, the woman in front her, the Queen of the Dead, made sense.
Persephone asked about the waves of dead that had flowed into the underworld. What was that about? What had been happening on earth while she was below? Demeter sighed. She’d shut everything down hard and brought on winter. But the mortals were responsible for denying loss, denying death, not taking precautions, not taking her shut down seriously. Across the earth, there had been untold deaths. Demeter had hoped her daughter’s return would turn everything around, but she saw now that this was true, but not in a way she had expected.
Persephone leaned towards her, gripping her hand. She looked into her mother’s eyes and said “Together, without coordination, our actions have created seasons, cycles of nature never before experienced by mortals. There will be spring, summer and then I will begin my descent and there will be fall and winter. Then I will rise again, life following death and death following life.” Demeter sighed yet again. She knew this was a great teaching, an advancement for the gods and the mortals. She’d miss her daughter 6 months out of the year, a month for every pomegranate seed. And, she was proud of what their relationship was birthing. A new time, a new epoch, a deepening of possibility. The mystery of cycles, seasons, life and death.
Persephone ordered dessert and said to her mother, “Life is sweet. But I’ve learned in the underworld just how important it is to hold death and loss as sacred, to find the riches in sorrow.” Demeter pulled from her robes a notebook and pen and said, “ Shall we write down some things we have to teach, some meanings made from our experience, from our journey?” Persephone gave a big guffaw. “Ha! Making meaning, that’s one of the hallmarks of being a Queen of the Underworld, one of the great riches! ”.
Persephone and Demeter started a list.
- There is sacredness to the cycles of nature. They are teachers. Honor the seasons and be a devotee to keeping them in balance.
- When natural disasters become persistent and the climate changes, something unnatural is happening and must be attended to.
Demeter took a sip of her coffee and shook her head. “You’d think I’d made my point, but I have a feeling this one may take awhile for mortals to wake up to”.
3. Mortals also have seasons. There is joy and there is sorrow. There is grief and there is gratitude. All are sacred, all are needed to be fully human. This balance in humanity is essential in assisting the earth in staying in balance.
3. The most dangerous of mortals and gods are those who don’t accept loss, who don’t acknowledge grief and sorrow. They will upset the cycles and their avoidance and denial of loss will endanger the earth and humanity. There is paradox and mystery that those who proclaim they are pro-life but ignore human suffering eventually become death cults.
Persephone shook her head. “I may be Queen of the Dead, but I have no truck with death cults. They offend me.” Demeter laughed. “They eventually wear themselves out. This too is part of the cycle of life”.
4.Reject leaders and philosophies that do not acknowledge vulnerability, that deny loss, that refuse to pay attention to the seasons and changes in climate. Elevate leaders who have integrated grief and gratitude, sorrow and joy. The real strength is vulnerability. Never let someone who doesn’t cry be in charge.
4. There are riches to be had in embracing grief and remembering the dead. What is remembered, lives. Remember the dead and listen closely to what they have to teach you.
Persephone put down her fork. “I think while here on earth I may start a hospice, a place where I can comfort the dying”. “Good idea” said Demeter.
5. Even in the underworld, comforting each other and being there for each other makes a difference. On earth, this also holds. Heroism is simply being there for others and also reaching out when help is needed. Connection makes a difference. Empathy is sacred and supports the cycle of life and death and makes it bearable.
“You comforted the dead and I did my best to protect the living who struggled to bring kindness and justice into the world when it was shut down” said Demeter. “Yep” Persephone replied. “Funny, I was in the underworld, but it’s almost like while I was gone, the entire world had an underworld experience.” Demeter nodded. “True”.
6. The Patriarchy has got to go. Honoring the earth in all it’s diversity and splendor also means honoring all mortals in their diversity and splendor and waving goodbye to the idea that one gender, race or religion is better than another.
Demeter groaned. “This one is going to be tough. I’m fed up with Zeus. He and his cronies will stop at nothing to keep in power”. Persephone smiled reassuringly. “It’s our story that matters, mom. It will be told and told and told. My coming and going and your love and rage will also become a story of the whole world, of humanity and the natural world. You might be required to shut it all down again, but eventually I have faith they’ll get this”, as she pointed at the list. “The dead do too”.
They vowed to met up every year at the cafe and keep refining the list. Eventually that meeting became what was called Eleusinian Mystery School that operated from c. 1600 BCE — 392 CE, once in the spring when Persephone returned and once in the fall, before her descent.
If you listen, open your senses to this story, you can feel that school is back, it’s teachings everywhere, it’s mysteries ready to be revealed. We are all blinking in this new time, adjusting to a changing world, bringing back riches. There’s more to add to their list, the Eleusinian Mystery School curriculum. What riches do you have to share from your journey? Old stories can be made new. This too is part of the great cycle of life and death. May it remain whole, may balance triumph. “It will” they both whisper in this writer’s ear. “We are on it”.