Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Feast

In 2006, my Mother-in-Law gave us a recipe book compiled by the Greek Orthodox community in Detroit, Michigan. It is the same recipe book that she has always used and has been published unchanged since 1957. Even though the Greek Orthodox community put this book together, I use the recipes for many of our traditional Hellenic festivals. Good food is just good food, regardless of the philosophy.


At the beginning of the book, there is a suggestion for a Greek New Year's Eve feast:

The Greek New Year's feast is symbolic of prosperity and good fortune - one to be shared by families and friends in open house fashion.

The Typical New Year's Eve table is adorned with fine linen and silver, and bears as a centerpiece a cornucopia (horn of plenty) overflowing with assorted fruits and nuts of the traditional Vasilopita or New Year's Cake. The Vasilopita, which is customarily prepared for New Year's Eve and in which is inserted a gold or silver coin, is cut at midnight into as many pieces as there are members of the family. The one who finds the lucky coin is said to have good fortune in the New Year.


New Year's Dinner

Shrimp Cocktail
Celery hearts, green onions, cucumber slices
Roast Suckling Pig
Pastitsio
Pork Pie with Coin
Mavrodaphne Wine
Coffee
New Year's Bread
Baklava

As I have learned in reading the Hellenic Cookbook, very rarely do the suggestions match the recipes included in the book. Those quirky Greeks! Therefore, I have no idea how to make most of these items but they sure sound like a great New Year's Feast. And with the addition of Pork, this menu would be appropriate to honor Persephone. If you set a table with the cornucopia, that would symbolize the bounty of Demeter to help usher in the prosperity of the New Year.

There is one recipe, however, that I do have. It is my mother-in-law's recipe for Pastitsio. It is probably my favorite Greek dish and I make it frequently. Family recipes like this do tend to evolve so as my Mother-in-law learned it from her mother-in-law and made her own modifications, I have done the same.

Baked Macaroni with Meat Filling - Pastitsio Me Crema

1 lb Macaroni (by this they mean traditional Makaronia, a long noodle with a hole in the middle. If you can't find this, I have found that some Ziti works just fine.)

2 lbs Ground Meat (it really does just say Meat - doesn't specify what kind. I use ground sirloin. My MIL uses both beef and pork)

2 cups grated cheese (I mix 1 cup each Parmesan and Romano)

Several cloves of chopped garlic. I like a lot of garlic, so I use probably about 8 or 10 cloves.

1/2 of a "Large" can of Tomato Paste. I have never quite been able to figure out what this means - so I just use a small can.

3 eggs
1/4 lb melted butter
1/2 cup wine (Red. Tasty)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Nutmeg to taste

Boil the macaroni in salted water, drain and return to pan. Prepare meat sauce by frying the garlic in a little butter, adding the meat, tomato paste, small glass of wine and seasoning. I like the flavor of Nutmeg, so I use a fair amount. Cook until the meat is done, adding a little water or wine of necessary to thin out the mixture a little bit if it is too dry.

Pour half the melted butter and most of the grated cheese over the cooked macaroni. Add three eggs, lightly beaten. Season the macaroni and place in bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Cover the noodles with meat mixture.

Now make the cream sauce:

1 quart of milk
2 eggs, beaten
5 tablespoons of wondra flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 lb melted butter

Place melted butter in a saucepan and add the wondra, stirring until mixed thoroughly. Add the milk, stirring all the while. Cook over low flame until thickened. Add salt and remove from flame. When cooled slightly, add the beaten eggs and mix well. Spread cream sauce over the assembled noodles and meat sauce. Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.

Bake in "Moderate" oven for 40 minutes. I have translated "moderate" to mean 350 degrees.

Eat and Enjoy.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter's Daughter

Sitting on the highway
I75 North,
Through Ohio, just thinking
The naked trees and the silvery snow
Make everything twilight
Leaving eternal summer
For the gray
Seeing family, I have missed them
But leaving Home. 

Each year, Persephone journeys
The underworld
Is not a prison, but a castle
And the guilded beauty of Olympos
Is cold and lonely

I long to see Atlanta
She longs to see the Underworld
It is the same path.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thinking of Dionysos

At the very least, he is Persephone's brother.  Some traditions say he is her son.  For some reason I have always linked the feeling of Chrsitmastime to the energy of Dionysos.  And even though this is a blog about Persephone, I wanted to take this little detour into his mythology.

Sure, sure...you might say it is all about the wine.  But that isn't exactly it.  I think it is that feeling of perpetual celebration.  About giving yourself over to feeling good. 

I have a habit of feeling "stressy" during the holidays.  I do it to myself.  I have a problem with not knowing how to react when too many things are coming at me all at once.  The Holidays tend to do that to you.  We travel during the holidays, so I always feel like I need to get things done super early to allow myself enough time to be prepared.  I am a planner by nature anyway.  When it starts to feel like I can't finish all of these things on time, I start to freak out.  Truth is, they always work out in the end.  The energy of Dionysos is like that - give yourself over to him 100 % and things will work out in the end.  It might be a wild and out of control ride, but it'll work out. 

One of my favorite Christmas movies is The Muppet Christmas Carol.  I love the way they handled the Ghost of Christmas Present.  I think there is something about his image - the giant, jolly ghost sitting among all the symbols of a great and prosporous feast - that is very Dionysian.  "Come and know me better, Man!" he says to Michael Cain's Scrooge.  That is exactly what everyone should do with a god like Dionysos.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Winter Solstice

As I have mentioned recently, I love this time of year. I love listening to Christmas music. I love decorating the house and trimming the tree. I love the crisp winter air and the crunch of new fallen snow under my boots. For me, this holiday season is about family and love and all the great things about life. And, of course, it is another turn on the Season Cycle that continues to connect me to the myth of Persephone.

Since moving to Atlanta, Matt and I travel for the holidays. This has spawned a tradition for us. When we exchange gifts with each other we don't like to pack them up and haul them up to Michigan just to open them and haul them back. So for the last 6 years we have celebrated Yule, or the Winter Solstice. On or around December 21st we will have a nice dinner at home, some wine and open our gifts to each other, including stockings filled with fun toys and candy. We really enjoy that tradition in our little family of two.


The winter solstice is a magical time of year. As I think of it in terms of Persephone's story, we see her descend into the Underworld each Autumn Equinox to spend the winter with her husband and ascend back to her Mother with the coming of the Spring. But the winter solstice marks the very middle of her time with her husband. From this point on, she knows that the time they have to part is getting closer and closer.
I imagine on the solstice, Persephone and Hades sit down to a lovely dinner and exchange gifts with one another. Maybe they even go for a walk in the night hand in hand in the snow beneath the twinkling stars and a canopy of leafless trees caused by Persepone's very absence in the world.




"Over the ground lies a mantle of white
A heaven of Diamonds shines down throught the night
Two hearts are thrillin' in spite of the chill in the weather

Love knows no season, love knows no clime
Romance can blossom any ol' time here in the open
We're walkin' and hopin' together."


Just like the young lovers in "Winter Winderland", composed by Felix Bernard with lyrics by Richard B Smith in 1934 (one of my perrenial favorites indeed), Persephone and Hades spend every waking moment with one another. They know spring is an inevidibility that will pull them apart again.

So, In the words of Blues Traveler in their song "Christmas",

"If it's Chanukah or Kwanza, Solstice Harvest or December twenty-fifth
Peace on earth to everyone And abundance to everyone."

Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, spend some time to show the people you care about most how much they mean to you. Our time is not infinite and you just never know what the future brings. It doesn't have to be with fancy gifts or a lot of money, everyone loves the gift of time well spent. During this long winter, just love one another.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Pomegranate Cocktail

When I did a search for "Christmas Pomegranate", this video appeared everywhere.  Enjoy the Christmas Pomegranate Cocktail from Jamie Oliver. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Persephone Crafts: The Olympian Yule Tree

It is that festive time of year.  The house is decorated, the presents are wrapped and the only thing missing in Atlanta is several feet of snow.  I love Christmastime! 

I began a tradition several years ago with our household holiday decorations: the Olympian tree. I love holiday decorations and I wanted something meaningful to me and my devotional Hellenic path. I selected blown glass ornaments that represented each of the Olympian gods.

I placed them all on a small tinsel tree that we bought several years ago. Even though she isn't an Olympian specifically, I included an ornament for Persephone as my patron - a beautiful blown glass pomegranate. I hang it next to the Rooster, a symbol sacred to her husband, Hades.



While I chose specifically to purchase ornaments for this tree, mainly because I really love the look of blown glass ornaments, I thought that an excellent craft for the holidays might be to make ornaments for your own Yule tree.  This gives each person the freedom to craft any symbol that is important to them. 
 
When I was little, we had a lot of hand made ornaments that we made out of dough.  I believe it was my sister who spearheaded the project.  This link provides a recipe and directions for the project.  Be creative and be meaningful and I believe in the end you will have a tradition that can last a lifetime. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Persephone Unveiled by Charles Stein

I frequently read the blog of my dear friend, Carl McColman.  One of the things I enjoy about his writing is his sheer devotion to the mystical life and how to live it, though his path is a Christian one.  He frequently shares recommendations for books on the subject, including one of his own due out next year

Sometimes I wish there were more books about Hellenic Spirituality that are more mystical in nature and not strictly scholarly.  Then I remember Persephone Unveiled: Seeing the Goddess and Freeing Your Soul by Charles Stein. 


Just like the book by Roberto Calasso that I recommended a few weeks ago, Stein takes the subject of Persephone or Goddess spirituality and breathes passion into it.  The book is a deep mix of scholarship and devotional speculation that made me really think differently about my relationship to Persephone.
 
One source Stein uses is a series of poem fragments by Greek poet Parmenides.   He connects the language of this poem to a way of better understanding, or experiencing, the Goddess. He also includes a translation of the poem fragments as an appendix.  A stunningly modern philosophy appears to be present in Parmenides words.  A message from the Goddess that transcends time and place. 
 
There is only one path left
and that is
"Is."  (page 216)

For anyone interested in the mystical contemplation of the Goddess, this book is a great start.  It can set your mind on paths you never knew existed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter, a Poem

The following poem was written sometime when I was in college, around 1995.  It was for a college poetry class, I believe the subject was to write something about our childhood.  This poem was the result.  To give a little additional background, it was written about, and for, my Grandmother.  When I was 7 years old, in 1982, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.  At the time, the diagnosis was rare even though it is hard to believe that today.  My grandmother was 73 years old.  She passed away about 8 years later, when I was 15.  As you might imagine, this was a difficult time for me, being so young. 

I realize this poem is not Persephone-centric.  However, I wanted to share it here.  Dealing with the loss of a loved one is certainly part of her domain. I imagine that deep in her Queendom, in the coldness of winter, she was listening. 

Winter

My cheeks burned as tears froze,
I huddled deep in my snowsuit shell.
The winter hardly comforted then.
She was sick,
I didn't understand.
The sickness had a name,
but I couldn't pronounce it.
They said it was the forgetting disease.
No wonder she couldn't remember my name.
She was my only Grandma.
She wasn't allowed to be sick.

So I left.  The house frightened me.
The snow seemed safe,
But everything just hurt.  I wished
it would all go away.
I could go nowhere. 

From the yard,
in the window, I saw my Mother.
Why couldn't she make it stop?

I saw her, too.  Blue eyes distant.
She didn't know me,
who knew how long it would last.
I had a million questions,
no vocabulary to voice them,
that must be how she felt. 

The winter yielded no hope.
And I stood, seven years old,
watching my Grandmother
through a window.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Winter

There are a lot of songs that make me think of Persephone and her journey.  This song is probably my all time favorite. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Maid to Queen

A childfree reimagining of the myth of Persephone
Or...
A childfree pagan’s journey to claiming her mythology

At what point did I decide to remain childfree? As a little girl, like all little girls, I had thought I wanted a family. Sometime in college something changed for me. I realized that I didn’t personally feel a need to bear and raise a child. I didn’t have a desire to be pregnant or to give birth. In college, I began to date the person who has become my life partner. At the start of the relationship, I contemplated what we would do with our futures. Would that future involve children? Because of social pressure, I didn’t have the confidence to tell right away that I wasn’t interested in kids. Occasionally the subject would come up and we would both politely say, “one day we’ll have kids.” Then one day, the discussion changed. He said “I only said I wanted kids because I thought you wanted kids.” And I said, “I only said I wanted kids because I thought you wanted them.” And we laughed and cried and for the first time we realized that we were both on the same path and that really felt good. We could be comfortable being partners to one another because neither of us felt we were holding the other back from something they wanted. That was many years ago, and now in my thirties the choice to remain childfree has never been so public. Once you reach the age where most if not all of your friends have children of their own, the lack of such offspring becomes a topic of conversation. “So when are you having kids?” It is times like these when you politely smile and nod and say something like, “I love kids. I just like them better when the belong to someone else.”


So when did the Goddess decide not to have children? Okay, I understand the stunned silence. The Goddess did not make such a decision. She is, in fact, the eternal mother of all. She is the earth and all it encompasses. She is the very cycle of life, death and rebirth. But the Goddess also chose to make me as well as all the other childfree people and couples on this earth and our decision are not one that goes against Her. It is one that embraces everything she stands for; most importantly, the right to chose for us. She gave us each free will.

Many forms of Paganism are fertility-based religions. The Charge of the Goddess even instructs, “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” Paganism honors the circle of birth and death and many of us celebrate that throughout the year. Beltane celebrates the fertility of the land, the animals and each other while Samhain counters with the honoring of those who have passes and the “death” of the harvest. Birth is all around us all the time in the pagan tradition. The Goddess is our Mother.

But what does this mean to the person, particularly the woman, who has chosen not to procreate? Who specifically chose to remain “child free”? What is the role of a woman in a fertility cult who chooses not to bear children?

As I crossed the threshold of my 30s, all of my friends and women my age, seemed to be having children. I was part of an outside circle. Friends didn’t want to go out at night any given Friday. People had to find a sitter and there was a loss of spontaneity, at least through my perception. However, I noticed something in myself – I didn’t have the desire to lead that kind of life. Many people believe that “child free” is inherently “anti-child” but that couldn’t be further from the truth either. For myself, especially being a part of a fertility religion, Children make up an incredibly important part of the cycle. But I wanted on opt-out for that cycle myself. The question remains, am I missing out on something? Am I losing perspective as a pagan woman? What place does this carve for myself in the pagan tradition?

So this brings me back to the question, “When did the Goddess choose not to have children?” The mythologies of this sort are few and far between. In fact, they seem pretty limited to the Greek and the Roman Mythologies. There is Hestia or Vesta the sacred virgin. There is Artemis, the hunting goddess that is the moon to her twin brother’s sun. And there is Athena, the armor clad goddess of wisdom and war. There is one other goddess who also chose to remain childfree – but this aspect of her myth seems to be glossed over by the rest of her sensational story. Her story sets her apart from the other goddesses as well because she is the only childfree goddess who also has a life long partner. This goddess is Persephone.

Ancient Mythology is an ingrained part of our culture. Even as children, we are taught the stories of Greece and Rome, no matter what our religious upbringing might be. Everyone is familiar with the Odyssey and the adventures of Ulysses. These stories and the stories of all ancient cultures are important to the history of civilization. As pagans, we are able to interpret these mythologies and apply them in our every day practices. We find the moral message or seasonal symbolism and live them on a day-to-day basis. And that is exactly how the story of Persephone speaks to me as an adult, childfree pagan with a life partner.

With so many versions of this myth we are certainly unable to determine just how they began and which aspects are original. Just as most people only regard these stories as myths – ways to explain what was otherwise unexplainable, we can look deeper into the archetypes and determine why our ancestors used these specific symbols to explain the world around them. Thus I discovered my own mythology of the Goddess Persephone as I studied her stories and honored her in ritual. Much of it is creative interpretation and I don’t begin to claim that it is the only or the best Persephone mythology out there, but it was through developing this story that I connected with Persephone on a deeper level. In fact, Greek mythology even contradicts itself at one point or another and there are even some stories that tell of Persephone’s children with one god or another. For me, the core of her myth is more about her story as a daughter and a wife (a Maid and a Queen) than about motherhood in any way.

As I began my path through Paganism, I found myself drawn to Persephone’s story, and yet I always felt there was something missing within it. The stories as I learned them were filled with violence and male domination. These themes are apparent in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter where Persephone is violently abducted by her husband/uncle and spirited away to the underworld and forced to live with him. Other more modern pagan versions eliminated the male aspect of her story all together bringing out the Maiden Mother and Crone aspect of modern Wicca out in the stories focusing on Persephone, her mother, Demeter, and Hekate the wise old crone (which is a discrepancy for another time and place). I found myself wanting to relate to Persephone’s character, but unable to connect to the other players in her story. After studying all of these interpretations I was able to piece together a mythology that spoke to me. As I said, I acknowledge this as my own interpretation with scholarship to back it up. I wanted a myth that justified the actions of the gods and created strong female roll models and positive male characters. Persephone’s journey from Maiden to Queen was my way of understanding my place in this pagan world. Following in her footsteps and living her mythology helps me grow as Pagan, particularly as a childfree pagan woman within a fertility religion paradigm. Eventually, I pledged myself to work for and with Persephone. Her path is one that can empower those who have chosen to remain childfree and honor the Goddess tradition.

Many female oriented pagan traditions follow the pattern of the moon from month to month, but I have always been more oriented to the solar cycle. As an Aries it isn’t hard to imagine that I tend to reflect more on the fiery aspects of the sun’s cycle than that of the moon. The moon’s cycle is a beautiful and essential key to some forms of pagan spirituality, but the solar aspects are often reserved for the male Gods. But that was not true for Persephone and her underworld journey. Seeing her myth as an explanation of the season cycle, it can be interpreted as more of a solar tradition.

What happens when a pagan does moved through the standard cycle of woman hood as laid out in typical Wicca tradition? I was once told by someone with the best of intentions that it didn’t matter whether or not I ever had natural children, that the “mother” represented the Universal Mother and that all women are part of her. While intentions were pure, the truth is that I do not connect with the Mother archetype, whether literal or part of the Universal Mother theme. I accept and honor the Universal Mother, but I do not relate to her. That being said, Carl Jung tells me that there must be an archetype out there for me to embrace. Some childfree pagans or women between maiden and mother often chose to honor the Warrior – often symbolized at the wise Pallas Athena or the great Huntress Artemis.

Not every pagan woman connects with the Warrior archetype either, including myself. And once again I was left empty without a mythology of my very own. That was when Persephone herself smacked me over the head and reminded me that while she begins her journey as the Maiden, she ends it as a proud and powerful Queen. And that was when it struck me – the archetype I was looking for was the Queen. Queen, of course, does not rule out the presence of children in one’s lives – a child-full archetype of a powerful queen is represented as Hera, Queen of Olympos. However, the other side of the coin is Persephone, Queen of the Underworld who rules along side her husband and remains a daughter forever, but never a mother.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ode on Melancholy by John Keats

Even more poetry mentioning Persephone that I did not write.  Enjoy.

Ode on Melancholy by Keats


No, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kissed
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Imprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty -Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veiled Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine:
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Demeter's Thanksgiving Feast

Just a day away from American Thanksgiving and I am starting to reflect on what this season means to me.  Each year, I travel from Atlanta to Michigan to visit family and friends and really begin to enjoy all that the holiday season brings to me.  I had thought of it as a reverse of Persephone's journey - that Atlanta was the Underworld and that Detroit was Olympos.  Truth be told, I believe it might be the other way around.  We travel from a place where the weather is pretty nice all year round to a city already deep into winter.  In either case, there is nothing like the winter holidays, starting with Thanksgiving, to reflect on the things that are really important in our lives.  This year I am thankful for many things including my amazing partner, my wonderful and very silly feline companion, the experience of building our own cabin in the woods, and all my friends and family in Atlanta, Asheville, Detroit and all over the country. 

The great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, once said:
If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is "thank you," that would suffice.
No matter what your faith tradition, I believe these are words everyone can live by. 

This holiday I would like to share some recipes that you can make to say "Thank You" to your own friends and family and enjoy the festive harvest feast with Demeter and Persephone.  Kick off the holiday season with a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and start building your own family traditions. 

Whole grains are, as you might imagine, sacred to Demeter as the Goddess of the earth and agriculture.  As an alternative side dish with your Thanksgiving turkey, try this recipe from EatingWell.com

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, or canola oil
1/2 cup broken whole-wheat spaghetti pieces
1/3 cup finely diced onion
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup instant brown rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Preparation:
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add pasta and onion; cook, stirring, until starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add broth, rice, salt and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Fluff with a fork and stir in parsley.

And to compliment all the heavy holiday food, try this Pomegranate Salad from Recipezaar.com.  The pomegranate connects us all to Persephone's journey. 

Ingredients"

1 cup candied pecans
1 large bunch red leaf lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (from 1 pomegranate)
2 cups large dark seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
4 ripe red pears
1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons brown sugar
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh orange zest

Directions:

1.  Make candied pecans.
2.  In a large bowl, toss together the pomegranate seeds, grapes, red onion, and the blue cheese.
3.  Divide torn lettuce leaves among 8 salad plates, and top each salad with the fruit mixture.
4.  Halve and core pears and cut into 1/2-inch slices-- put a pear half, skin side up, in the center of each salad.
5.  Arrange candied pecans around the pears.
6.  Just before serving, heat balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, cooking and stirring until brown sugar dissolves. Off the heat, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
7.  Drizzle warm dressing over each salad, sprinkle with orange zest, and serve right away.

Blessed Thanksgiving.  May you use this season to harvest all the love that you have planted throughout the year. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Demeter and Persephone"

Just wanted to share the classic poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.  He didn't only write about King Arthur. 

Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies
All night across the darkness, and at dawn
Falls on the threshold of her native land,
And can no more, thou camest, O my child,
Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams,
Who laid thee at Eleusis, dazed and dumb,
With passing thro' at once from state to state,
Until I brought thee hither, that the day,
When here thy hands let fall the gather'd flower,
Might break thro' clouded memories once again
On thy lost self. A sudden nightingale
Saw thee, and flash'd into a frolic of song
And welcome; and a gleam as of the moon,
When first she peers along the tremulous deep,
Fled wavering o'er thy face, and chased away
That shadow of a likeness to the king
Of shadows, thy dark mate. Persephone!
Queen of the dead no more -- my child! Thine eyes
Again were human-godlike, and the Sun
Burst from a swimming fleece of winter gray,
And robed thee in his day from head to feet --
"Mother!" and I was folded in thine arms.

Child, those imperial, disimpassion'd eyes
Awed even me at first, thy mother -- eyes
That oft had seen the serpent-wanded power
Draw downward into Hades with his drift
Of fickering spectres, lighted from below
By the red race of fiery Phlegethon;
But when before have Gods or men beheld
The Life that had descended re-arise,
And lighted from above him by the Sun?
So mighty was the mother's childless cry,
A cry that ran thro' Hades, Earth, and Heaven!

So in this pleasant vale we stand again,
The field of Enna, now once more ablaze
With flowers that brighten as thy footstep falls,
All flowers -- but for one black blur of earth
Left by that closing chasm, thro' which the car
Of dark Aidoneus rising rapt thee hence.
And here, my child, tho' folded in thine arms,
I feel the deathless heart of motherhood
Within me shudder, lest the naked glebe
Should yawn once more into the gulf, and thence
The shrilly whinnyings of the team of Hell,
Ascending, pierce the glad and songful air,
And all at once their arch'd necks, midnight-maned,
Jet upward thro' the mid-day blossom. No!
For, see, thy foot has touch'd it; all the space
Of blank earth-baldness clothes itself afresh,
And breaks into the crocus-purple hour
That saw thee vanish.

Child, when thou wert gone,
I envied human wives, and nested birds,
Yea, the cubb'd lioness; went in search of thee
Thro' many a palace, many a cot, and gave
Thy breast to ailing infants in the night,
And set the mother waking in amaze
To find her sick one whole; and forth again
Among the wail of midnight winds, and cried,
"Where is my loved one? Wherefore do ye wail?"
And out from all the night an answer shrill'd,
"We know not, and we know not why we wail."
I climb'd on all the cliffs of all the seas,
And ask'd the waves that moan about the world
"Where? do ye make your moaning for my child?"
And round from all the world the voices came
"We know not, and we know not why we moan."
"Where?" and I stared from every eagle-peak,
I thridded the black heart of all the woods,
I peer'd thro' tomb and cave, and in the storms
Of Autumn swept across the city, and heard
The murmur of their temples chanting me,
Me, me, the desolate Mother! "Where"? -- and turn'd,
And fled by many a waste, forlorn of man,
And grieved for man thro' all my grief for thee, --
The jungle rooted in his shatter'd hearth,
The serpent coil'd about his broken shaft,
The scorpion crawling over naked skulls; --
I saw the tiger in the ruin'd fane
Spring from his fallen God, but trace of thee
I saw not; and far on, and, following out
A league of labyrinthine darkness, came
On three gray heads beneath a gleaming rift.
"Where"? and I heard one voice from all the three
"We know not, for we spin the lives of men,
And not of Gods, and know not why we spin!
There is a Fate beyond us." Nothing knew.

Last as the likeness of a dying man,
Without his knowledge, from him flits to warn
A far-off friendship that he comes no more,
So he, the God of dreams, who heard my cry,
Drew from thyself the likeness of thyself
Without thy knowledge, and thy shadow past
Before me, crying "The Bright one in the highest
Is brother of the Dark one in the lowest,
And Bright and Dark have sworn that I, the child
Of thee, the great Earth-Mother, thee, the Power
That lifts her buried life from loom to bloom,
Should be for ever and for evermore
The Bride of Darkness."

So the Shadow wail'd.
Then I, Earth-Goddess, cursed the Gods of Heaven.
I would not mingle with their feasts; to me
Their nectar smack'd of hemlock on the lips,
Their rich ambrosia tasted aconite.
The man, that only lives and loves an hour,
Seem'd nobler than their hard Eternities.
My quick tears kill'd the flower, my ravings hush'd
The bird, and lost in utter grief I fail'd
To send my life thro' olive-yard and vine
And golden grain, my gift to helpless man.
Rain-rotten died the wheat, the barley-spears
Vere hollow-husk'd, the leaf fell, and the sun,
Pale at my grief, drew down before his time
Sickening, and tna kept her winter snow.
Then He, the brother of this Darkness, He
Who still is highest, glancing from his height
On earth a fruitless fallow, when he miss'd
The wonted steam of sacrifice, the praise
And prayer of men, decreed that thou should'st dwell
For nine white moons of each whole year with me,
Three dark ones in the shadow with thy King.

Once more the reaper in the gleam of dawn
Will see me by the landmark far away,
Blessing his field, or seated in the dusk
Of even, by the lonely threshing-floor,
Rejoicing in the harvest and the grange.
Yet I, Earth-Goddess, am but ill-content
With them, who still are highest. Those gray heads,
What meant they by their "Fate beyond the Fates"
But younger kindlier Gods to bear us down,
As we bore down the Gods before us? Gods,
To quench, not hurl the thunderbolt, to stay,
Not spread the plague, the famine; Gods indeed,
To send the noon into the night and break
The sunless halls of Hades into Heaven?
Till thy dark lord accept and love the Sun,
And all the Shadow die into the Light,
When thou shalt dwell the whole bright year with me,
And souls of men, who grew beyond their race,
And made themselves as Gods against the fear
Of Death and Hell; and thou that hast from men,
As Queen of Death, that worship which is Fear,
Henceforth, as having risen from out the dead,
Shalt ever send thy life along with mine
From buried grain thro' springing blade, and bless
Their garner'd Autumn also, reap with me,
Earth-mother, in the harvest hymns of Earth
The worship which is Love, and see no more
The Stone, the Wheel, the dimly-glimmering lawns
Of that Elysium, all the hateful fires
Of torment, and the shadowy warrior glide
Along the silent field of Asphodel.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso: A Review

“A life in which the gods are not invited isn’t worth living. It will be quieter, but there won’t be any stories. And you could suppose that these dangerous invitations were in fact contrived by the gods themselves, because the gods get bored with men who have no stories.” (Page 387)

If you have ever had an interest in Greek Religion as a form devotional practice, this is the single most important book you’ll ever read. Sure, classics like Homer and Hesiod are a great starting point, but Roberto Colasso is very skilled at taking the classics and telling them in way that really touches your very soul.


Originally written in Italian and published in 1988, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony has been translated to English and many other languages. It begins by retelling and reshaping the story of Europa, but doesn’t take long to ask the reoccurring question; “But how does it all begin?” The question will appear and reappear over and over in multiple forms throughout the book. The telling of another myth, either related in terms of its main characters or theme, follows the telling of each myth. Every story runs seamlessly into the next, always asking the question “But how does it all begin?” The Gods, Goddesses, Heroes and Heroines of ancient Greece are analyzed, and realized, in every way possible and always treated with the highest respect and honor. Each story is told with amazing language and images. It is a book that can easily be read multiple times, and you may learn new things each reading.

So, you ask, how does this relate to Persephone? As you might imagine, Calasso spends a great deal of time on her myth in all its forms. Chapter 7 tells many versions of her story jumping from myth to myth. Sometimes it seems as if he stops in the middle of a tale but don’t worry, he will always get back to it. Calasso weaves both Homeric and Orphic versions of the story together even as they eternally contradict one another. It is as though he is trying to make some sort of order out of them but still allows beautiful chaos permeate his telling. There are so many amazing passages about Persephone that it would be difficult to share them all, which is precisely the reason I am suggesting that you seek this book out and read it from cover to cover several times. To whet your appetite, perhaps, I share the following:

“When the earth split open and Hades’ chariot appeared, draw by four horses abreast, Kore was looking at a narcissus. She was looking at the act of looking. She was about to pick it. And, at that very moment, she herself was plucked away by the invisible toward the invisible.” (Page 209)
I love the phrase “She was looking at the act of looking”. In the same chapter, Calasso makes the comparison between Persephone’s myth and the myth of Narcissus himself, for whom the flower was named. Did she have a similar fatal flaw? Was her abduction by Hades really a dive deeper into her own self? Calasso continues:

“Some early poets suggest that Persephone felt a ‘fatal desire’ to be carried off, that she formed a ‘love pact’ with the king of the night, that she shamelessly and willingly exposed herself to the contagion of Hades. Kore saw herself in Hades pupil. She recognized, in the eye observing herself, the eye of an invisible other. She recognized that she belonged to that other. At that moment she crossed the threshold she had been about to cross while looking at the narcissus.” (Pages 209-210)
In his poetic piece by piece reconstruction of the myth of Persephone, Calasso gives her autonomy over her own fate, her own destiny, and her own future. Hades seems to be just a prop in her one-woman play. He doesn’t stop there, though. He continues to tell her story investigating it over and over again beneath different microscopes. The last story recounted in the chapter is a part of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, probably the most well known version of Persephone’s story. He masterfully tells the story of her reunion with her mother, Demeter, and how she comes to spend her time split between, essentially, this word and the next.

I could not recommend a book more than this one, which is why I chose it for my first blogging book review. I have found it inspirational and devotional. It isn’t a reference book and it isn’t indexed so you can’t pull it off the shelf and turn to page to learn about any particular god or myth. It is a continuous interwoven story, like all of human history, which is worth reading from cover to cover. And you will ask your self repeatedly, “but how did it all begin”. Calasso does, after a fashion, answer just that very question by the end of the book.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Pomegranate



Are you the symbol of death?

Or the symbol of marriage?
With what intention were you given to Persephone?

Don’t eat more than 6 seeds or you may never return.
I have been told that before
But I throw caution to the wind
I feel the sweet juice between my lips
Seed after seed after seed
Given by my lover
And with him I am wed

If you were the symbol of death
Why would you also be held by
Hera and Aphrodite?
Their realms are of marriage and passion
And that is your realm, too.

It wasn’t that he was tricking her into staying
He was giving her a gift
From Husband to Wife.

Pomegranate,
Your history has been distorted
But I hold you gently in my hands
And know your secret.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Meet Me on the Equinox

I love music. I like music of all types, but especially good old fashioned Rock and Roll. I have been trying to avoid the unclassifiable emo-esque song styling of Death Cab For Cutie. It isn't that I don't think they are good, it is that sometimes I can be a music snob and be happier in my love for less commercial artists like Josh Joplin and Mike Doughty. I'm not ashamed to admit my faults.

Death Cab For Cutie has a new song on the radio. And to add insult to injury it is a song from the Twilight Saga: New Moon movie soundtrack. I haven't been a teenage girl for a while...and I mean a long while. I have read the books and I did actually see the first movie. I might actually rent the second one on netflix someday.

All this talk of radio pop and teenage vampire movies is leading to one thing. I can't stop listening to the song "Meet Me On The Equinox". One of the many on-line lyric sites (that bombard you with a ton of pop-ups) has provided me with the lyrics:

Meet me on the Equinox
Meet me half way
When the sun is perched at its highest peek
In the middle of the day

Let me give my love to you
Let me take your hand
As we walk in the dimming light
Or darling understand


That everything, everything ends
That everything, everything ends


Meet me on your best behavior
Meet me at your worst
For there will be no stone unturned
Or bubble left to burst


Let me lay beside you, Darling
Let me be your man
And let our bodies intertwine
But always understand


That everything, everything ends
That everything, everything ends
That everything, everything, everything ends


A window
An opened tomb
The sun crawls
Across your bedroom
A halo
A waiting room
Your last breaths
Moving through you
As everything, everything ends
As everything, everything ends
As everything, everything, everything
Everything, everything, everything ends


Meet me on the Equinox
Meet me half way
When the sun is perched at its highest peek
In the middle of the day


Let me give my love to you
Let me take your hand
As we walk in the dimming light
Or darling understand


That everything, everything ends

In these lyrics, I hear the longing of Hades for his sometimes-bride. He meets her at the Autumn Equinox every year only to part from her in the Spring - the only other time of the year when day and night are equal lengths. She comes and goes like a phantom in to the Open Tomb of the underworld. I can just picture her approaching the entrance to her husband's kingdom. He meets her in the bright sunshine as the autumn leaves are scattering down upon the fields in showers of gold, orange, brown and red. And they both know that she will not see the sun again until Springtime.

The song is as melancholy as the story of Persephone and Hades. It feels as thought it was written for them. If only they had mentioned a pomegranate, then I would know for sure.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chapter Three: Planting the Seeds

In invite you to enjoy the third installment of my fiction project.  Comments and critiques are always welcome. 

Demi stared at the phone in her hand. She couldn't stop staring at it. Mr. Gray...Gus. Was on his way to the park as she sat staring in disbelief. Part of her wanted to run away as fast as possible. Another part of her knew that Mr. Gray had her home address and would find her if he really wanted to see her. She was sure that he just had to call the staffing company directly and ask them. They were supposed to have a personal information policy indicating that they would not provide a candidate' phone number or address to anyone out side of the company without the person's permission. But Demi figured that if the owner and president of their largest client wanted to get that information, it wouldn't take long for it to be provided.

She didn't know exactly where he was coming from, but soon she saw him walking toward her. She froze, unable to move. He was dressed more casually - jeans, a black polo shirt and black shoes. He smiled as he approached the fountain. He would smile and nod at everyone who made eye contact with him as he walked toward Demi. That charm was certainly what made every one fall under his spell. He didn't say a word as he stopped in front of Demi sitting on the edge of the fountain. He reached out his hand. She started to do the same as if to shake it, but instead he took her hand and gently tugged on her arm to get her to stand up. She did.

The day she stood in her office and he in her doorway, she hadn't been nearly this close to him. His form was imposing. He was much older than she was, she wasn't certain exactly how much older. He was in fantastic shape, obviously being able to pay for all the personal training he could want. He was tall, the top of Demi's head came to his chin. She looked up at his blue eyes, and the quickly looked away, hoping he didn't see her blush.

"Did you want to finish your walk" he asked.

"Sure, I wasn't going anywhere in particular. Was just walking around."

"Well, then lets just keep walking and we can talk."

Demi didn't know exactly where they were heading, she let Mr. Gray take the lead. At first their conversation was just small talk - they talked about the weather and about the crazy storm just a few days before. They talked about the flowers that Demi had received and he wanted to know if she liked them. He asked her about living in new york - Had she been here long? Did she like it. She told him about about growing up in Macedon in Western New York. That she had grown up near Lake Eerie and had lived there her whole life. She had wanted to move to New York since she was a little girl. As she kept talking she realized how comfortable he really made her.

They walked for a couple of hours. She noticed that he didn't actually tell her much about himself, just little bits and pieces. But he did ask her a lot of questions. She found that they were very near the street entrance of the park. And he stopped.

"Demetra, I would like to take you to dinner this evening."

She found herself smiling at him. "I would like that," she said.

"Great. Shall I pick you up at," he glanced at his watch, "8:30?" Demi looked at her watch as well, it was nearly 5pm.

"Sure, that would be great. I'll go home and change my clothes and will see you then."

"Then I will see you then." He reached out his hand this time to really shake hers.

Demi nearly bounced all the way home. What the hell was her problem? It would be fun. No strings attached. She was an adult. She had been an adult for a while in spite of her "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" relationship with her family. She was trying to shed that and it was the very reason she had moved to New York. Why the hell not, she thought.

She walked into her apartment, closed the door behind her and leaned against it as though she was unable to hold herself up. The flowers on her counter radiated color at her, reminding her that all this was real. She pushed herself off the door and ran into her bedroom. She opened her closet and the scene that followed was a montage of clips of every chick movie ever made. The lead character needs to find a perfect dress for that perfect date and so she cycle though everything in the closet. Demi knew that Gus Gray was not going to take her just anywhere for dinner. She didn't know where it would be, but it would be expensive and amazing. She vetoed most of the dresses in her closet for one ridiculous reason or another. She pulled out a simple black wrap dress. You could never go wrong with black. At least all the fashion magazines told her that. Although, What Not To Wear would tell her not to be afraid of color. On that note, she grabbed a pair of red heels out of the closet as well. Some accessories, and her hair down and curls fluffed, and she would be ready for a date with a married man.

She called her mother back. She wasn't going to tell her details, but she wanted her not to keep calling all night. She told her she had received flowers from someone she had just met the other day and was going to dinner with him tonight. Mrs. S asked if he was Greek. Demi told her she didn't think so. Her mom snorted. She said she met him at work, which was not a lie. Then her mom asked what his name was. "Chris", she responded. Gus just sounded like an older name, and she panicked. "Well, have fun with this Chris" Mrs. S told her daughter. "I will, ma". Demi hit the end button on her phone and felt reasonably confident that no one would bother her the rest of the day. She was pretty certain that an affair like this wasn't going to last long and she would just tell her mom that she and "Chris" broke up. If Gus left his wife to marry Demi, then she would cross that bridge when she got to it.

It wasn't long before the doorbell rang. Tentatively, Demi opened it. Gus was there in tailored black pants, a button down blue shirt and very shiny shoes. He looked directly inside at the flowers on the counter.


"I see you have my flowers" he said

"Yes, they are very pretty."

"Shall we go?" he asked and held out his arm. Demi placed her hand in the crook of his elbow and smiled. She pulled the door locked behind them. When they got down to the street, she saw his white Lexus parked outside. She wasn't much of a car girl, so she didn't know what kind it was. She was, however, surprised that it didn't come with a driver. Politely, Gus opened the passenger side door for her.

"Where are we going?" she asked

"Some where nice," he grinned. They spent the rest of the ride in silence. With all the twists and turns of the city blocks, Demi wasn't sure where they were at all, but they arrived at a restaurant in just a few minutes. The sign read "Bacchanalia".

"Is it Greek?" she asked. Non greek people always seemed to want to take her to a greek restaurant.

"No, it is just decadent" he responded.

Inside was a contemporary restaurant with several levels. It almost looked like a theatre with some of the tables in individual boxes. Of course, their table was in one such box. The food was out of this world, everything served tapas style, or "small plates" as the menu called it. Demi and Gus ordered all types of food as well as several bottles of wine. Demi didn't even want to know what the cost of this dinner would be.

As they ate, they talked. Gus made Demi feel very comfortable. She leaned close to the table and looked him in the eyes.

"So, I know you don't want to be a temp for the rest of your life. What do you really love."

She shrugged. "I don't know, really. I haven't quite figured it out yet. I love to garden..."

He laughed heartily. "You love to garden but you moved to new York city?"

"I know, it seems strange. I had thought about volunteering with some of the green space projects here in the city." He poured her more wine, which she instantly began to sip. She had lost count, but red wine was making her feel warm and good.

She told him more about plants and he listened very intently. At some point he ordered some dessert and they ate the tiny fancy sweet treats and kept talking.

"I think we need to get out of here," he said. she looked in his eyes. "I really want to kiss you, and this table is in my way."

The bells were going off in Demi's head. Not the good kind of tinkling faery bells, but the alarm bells. "Married Man" she kept thinking. But the truth was, she wanted to kiss him too. And, he had told her, he had a "arrangement" with Hannah Gray. At this very moment Hannah could be on a date with a 30 year old young man in Washington State.

"I would like that" Demi heard herself say. They got up and as they walked out Gus put his hand on the small of her back. They went out to the car and he drove he to his penthouse apartment. She barely had time to find herself in awe of the building as he drew her to his body and kissed her. She had never been kissed like that before, but she knew that countless women before her had been. She didn't care. Right now, she was flushed with wine and ready for anything. She kissed him back. She kissed his neck. She found herself unbuttoning his shirt. And she knew the next place she would be was in his bed.

And all the while she wondered what she was doing, and never thought to stop herself.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A date with Adonis

“You’re thinking about her, aren’t you?”

They sat in the field of asphodel, their red and white checkered picnic blanket laid out beneath their legs. He sat with his perfectly toned and tanned legs crossed. She lay back stretching her white limbs out from her body. He was silent in answer to her question. He fiddled with the hem of his shirt and didn’t look at her.

“I understand,” she said. “I know we’ve run out of things to talk about.”

“Its not you,” He said finally, quietly.

“I know. I know better than anyone else, really. The Olympians are always figuring out ways to divide our time between there and here. I hate being a pawn in their ridiculous games. It is okay if you’re thinking about her. I owe her a debt myself.”

Adonis looked up at her, his dark green eyes inquisitive. She knew he wanted to hear the story. She was certain he had heard it before, but she knew he liked to hear her tell it.

“Yeah. It is all Aphrodite’s fault. My mother had made it quite clear that I was never to be married off like some commoner. She wanted me to be elevated to the very pinnacle of the Greek pantheon – an eternal virgin like Hestia, Athena and Artemis.” Adonis smiled a little and so Persephone responded, “you better believe I’m glad that didn’t happen!

“Anyway, Aphrodite was angry about it, as you might expect. She didn’t want anyone out of her realm of dominance that wasn’t already. She thought hard about another God who might need a partner. Several gods had auditioned for the job, including Hermes who has been Aphrodite’s lover once. But she decided on Hades, my very own uncle. I think she might have been a little jealous of me. Or maybe thought I would be too much of a rival, that by her hand she could banish me to the deepest recesses of hell. And so she bade Eros to shoot Hades with the arrow of love. The rest is history, as they say. I have been here with my husband ever since. And I do love him.”

“Then why did you fight so hard for me?” asked Adonis.

“Maybe to get back at her a bit? I am not angry at her for introducing me to Hades. But I am angry that she started the battle over where I get to spend my time. That is the part of my life in which I had no control. When she brought you here, she was begging for me to help her. She needed to hide you because she knew she couldn’t keep you to herself.” Persephone reached out with her slender fingers and gently traced his jaw line. “You are beautiful, you know.” Adonis smiled and looked away shyly. “Tell me about her.”
His eyes brightened. He looked straight into her violet eyes. “I know she has a bad reputation. And I know she has had a lot of different lovers. But there is something magnificent about her. She has a draw. A magnetism. I love the feeling of her hair in my hands and the weight of her body in my arms. Her hair smells like roses and her skin glows with gold.” Adonis leaned over Persephone’s prone body, his face very close to hers.

She turned her face away from him. He brushed her ear with his lips. She knew they both thought about different lovers, but he was the embodiment of passion so why not make the best of it. “You never describe me like that,” she said.

“You are very different,” he whispered. “Your hair smells like daffodils. Your eyes shine like amethysts. Your skin is like the glorious moonlight.”

Persephone sighed. “I haven’t seen the moon since summer,” she said.

“Me neither.”

She turned her face to him. She knew that when the seasons changed they would be apart again. They might be in someone else’s arms all together. But this night was their night, their longing was a yearning for the springtime.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bavarian Gentians by DH Lawrence

I thought I would share another poem that mentions Persephone from my vast collection of such poems.  If you ever see any Persephone poetry, please feel free to send it my way. 

Bavarian Gentians by D.H. Lawrence


Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto's
gloom,
ribbed and torchlike, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off
light,
lead me then, lead me the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness.
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness was awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on the
lost bride and groom.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jealousy

When I was in college, I was involved in the student pagan group. It was an eclectic group that tended to mix traditions and pantheons. We were planning for an Autumn Equinox ritual and I had suggested that we evoke Persephone along with a God from a different pantheon. “I wouldn’t do that,” someone said. “Hades is a jealous husband”.

I was recently ruminating on that statement when something occurred to me. I realized that it wasn’t Hades who was jealous, but Persephone. The evidence is as follows:

The story I am about to share is referenced most notably in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Minthe was a beautiful nymph. But honestly, have you ever really heard about an ugly nymph? She was so lovely that she caught the eye of Hades himself.

Some versions of the myth say she was enamored with his chariot, admiring the sleek black horses and silver wheels. The solemn king of the underworld had very little color in his life, save for his radiant and terrible queen Persephone. I imagine the story continuing when Persephone was spending the summer with her mother and Hades finds himself tempted by Minthe. He and Minthe made love in the very flower-dappled meadow where Hades had snared his wife. When Persephone learned of Hades’ infidelity, she was enraged. She rushed to the scene of the crime of passion, just as Minthe was leaving Hades behind. Rather than turning her anger to her cheating husband, she found her fury aimed at Minthe herself, just like a classical Greek Jerry Springer episode. Persephone rage transformed Minthe a mint plant. And when the whole ordeal was finished, Hades remained silent.

He remained strangely silent during another situation. Persephone as innocent as her maiden persona would let us believe. Hades did not enact the same form of vengeance when the tables were turned. This story begins when Aphrodite needed hide Adonis from all her above world rivals. She asked Persephone to keep him in safe in the underworld. During his stay, however, Persephone fell madly in love with him. When Aphrodite returned to claim the beautiful youth, Persephone refused to give him back. They fought over him, and eventually it was determined that the year would be split into thirds. Adonis would spend one with Aphrodite, one with Persephone and the last third would be for himself. Adonis chose to spend his final third with Aphrodite. This left Persephone waiting her turn each, just as her mother had to wait for part of the year to see her daughter every year. In this myth both Persephone and Adonis represent the green growing things that return after a long departure. For his part, Hades minded his own business and allowed his wife her plaything for that part of the year.


The stories of Minthe and Adonis give us an interesting insight into the marriage of Persephone and Hades. Though Hades may be dreadful in his business life, his relationship with his wife is very different. It seems Persephone is the jealous partner while Hades is merely grateful for what he has.

"Defiance of Persephone" by Jason Beam at http://jasonbeam.com, used with permission. 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Halloween Dinner for Persephone

The following are recipes for a meal to honor Persephone.  They are perfect for this time of year.

Pork Tenderloin with Pomegranate Glaze from MyRecipes.com

For safety reasons, a portion of the glaze is kept separate to baste the pork while raw and during cooking; the remainder is served with the cooked roast. The glaze will thicken significantly if made ahead; microwave at HIGH for a few seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, until glaze is thinned.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 3 ounces pork and 2 teaspoons glaze mixture)

Ingredients
2 cups pomegranate juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 (3/4-pound) pork tenderloins, trimmed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Preparation
Preheat oven to 450°.
Combine juice and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 8 minutes). Pour half of glaze into a small bowl; set aside.

Sprinkle pork evenly with salt and pepper. Place pork on the rack of a broiler pan coated with cooking spray; place rack in pan. Brush pork with half of glaze in saucepan. Bake at 450° for 15 minutes or until a thermometer registers 145°. Baste pork with remaining glaze in saucepan; cook an additional 5 minutes or until thermometer registers 155°.

Remove pork from oven; baste with half of glaze in bowl. Let pork stand 10 minutes. Cut pork across grain into thin slices. Serve pork with glaze mixture.

Pigs are sacred to Persephone, so Pork is a fitting tribute to her. There is a version of her myth where Pigs fall into the underworld with her when Hades opened the earth to abduct her.  The Pomegranate glaze is representative of the wedding fruit given to her by her husband. Garnish with some parsley as the herb is also sacred to this Goddess. 

Ginger Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail from PomegranateWorld.com

• 1 cup Pomegranate juice
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 1/2 inch-thick slice fresh ginger
• 4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
• 1 teaspoon of orange liqueur like Contreau or Grand Marnier
• 1 750-ml bottle brut Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled

Directions:
Combine pomegranate juice, sugar and ginger in a pan over high heat until mixture is reduced to 1/3 of a cup. Stir constantly. Set aside until cool. In each glass pour 4 tsp of pomegranate syrup, 1 tbsp orange juice, and 1/4 tsp orange liqueur into each of four Champagne flutes. Top off with champagne or sparkling wine

Serves: 4

Pomegranate is, clearly, the most common association with Persephone. The ginger in this recipe gives it a bit of an autumn-like spiciness

Queen of the Dead

Bessed Samhain, everyone. 
The following poem is my favorite Persephone poem.  It is by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  I love the beauty and simplicity. 

Be to her, Persephone,
All the things I might not be:
Take her head upon your knee.
She that was so proud and wild,
Flippant, arrogant and free,
She that had no need of me,
Is a little lonely child
Lost in Hell,—Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee:
Say to her, "My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here."

May our prayers be with all those we have lost this year. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Persephone Laughing

I wrote the following poem sometime just after I graduated from college.  I am guessing sometime between 1997 and 1999. 

Persephone Laughing


Little girl running
Blonde to her autumn mother
Dancing among the daffodils
Embracing butterflies
Little girl laughing
Springtime laughing

Womanhood come little girl
Blossoming to fullness
Breasts and hips and legs
All full, beautiful
Little girl grown
Summer laughing

Then He come up
Man, misunderstood
Not the mother love
Daughter love
And with him is wed
Autumn laughing

The underworld reached
Little girl becomes queen
Queen of darkness
Last face of sweetness
Little girl is the wise one
Winter laughing


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chapter Two: Narcissus

This is the second chapter of my project.  Please feel free to provide feedback. 

"Does this sort of thing always happen when you're around," Demi asked, smiling at him. His demeanor put her immediately at ease. He laughed, his blue eyes dancing.


"Not typically." he said. "What was your name again?"

"Demetra," she repeated. "My friends call me Demi."

"Demetra," he mused. "That is Greek." People said stuff like that to her all the type, as if she didn't know.

"Yes sir. It comes from St. Demetrius, patron saint of farmers."

"I seem to recall that there is a church to him at Eleusis."

"Yes, sir. Have you been there?" Demi could hear herself becoming a little excited that he was taking such an interest.

"I have traveled quite extensively," he replied. "Well, I was just checking to see if you were okay from the storm. I'll need to go check on some other things before the luncheon. It was nice to meet you, Miss Spyropoplous." She cringed at the mispronunciation, but smiled at him. He glanced at his watch and walked off.

It was hard to believe it was still so early in the day. Demi looked down at her scraped up hands and then at the discarded shoes. It was time to put herself back together; there was still a long day ahead. As the day progressed, she noticed how little everyone else noticed her. She had done all the work for the luncheon, but not even Bobbie had given her a thank you. She found herself blending into the background. But every once in a while, she would glance at Gus Gray in his sharp business suit and would catch him looking at her. He never even shifted his gaze; he simply smiled and then went back to his conversation.

That afternoon, Demi got an email from Bobbie. "Thank you for putting together the Luncheon. I think Mr. Gray was pleased." It wasn't even signed, but it made Demi feel a little better about it.

When she was at home that night, she changed into her pajamas, ate leftover Chinese food and found herself thinking of the storm. Her thoughts would wander to an image of Gus Gray's face. His beautiful eyes, his strong jaw line, his smokey gray hair. And she would shake the thoughts from her head. Again and again, her brain would wander back. He had an irresistible charm.

For the rest of the week, there was not much time to have those thoughts again. It was project after project at Tempest. Things continued there as if nothing had ever happened. The only reminder was the work crew in office repairing the broken window.

On Saturday, however, her thoughts were her own again. She still didn't know many people in New York. She would sometimes sit around her apartment all weekend and watch TV. She knew she should get out and thought about getting a dog to walk, but she was a little nervous. She sometimes fantasized about talking to Russell or some of the other admins at Tempest and going out with them on the weekend, but she never had the courage to do it.

It was about 10am on Saturday. Demi sat on her sofa in a pair of gym shorts and a tank top. Her legs were drawn up underneath her. She was on the phone, talking with her mother. Conversations with Mrs. Spyropoulos were strange to the uninitiated. She spoke plenty of English, but she would frequently lapse into Greek. Demi responded almost entirely in English to her. She was telling her mom about work and about the city. She was trying to make it sound exciting. That was somewhat easy to do since her mom had never been to a big city. At that moment, her doorbell rang.

"What is that?" Her mom asked, in Greek.

"The doorbell, ma. Let me answer it." With her mom still on the phone, Demi got up from the sofa and crossed the room to the door. She peered out from the peephole.

"Well, who is it?" in Greek.

"Um, well..." Demi stammered as the sight outside the door was somewhat astonishing to her as well. There was an FTD delivery guy holding one giant bouquet of flowers. "Um. Ma - I think I have to call you back." and, in spite of her mother's protests, Demi clicked the end button. She slipped the phone into her pocket and opened the door.

"Delivery for Demetra..." the delivery guy started to try for her last name, but she cut him off.

"That's me," she said. He handed her the flowers and took off. She went back in the house and set the flowers on the kitchen counter. Her phone was ringing in her pocket, but she ignored it. It was just her mother. She shook her pony tailed head in disbelief; she was still baffled as to who would send her flowers. She pulled the FTD card from its stick and gazed at little purple Hermes on the front of the tiny envelope for a moment not sure she really wanted to open the card. Her fingers shook as she pulled out the card. In very clear and legible handwriting it said:

Demetra,


It was a delight to meet you this week. Your luncheon was one of the highlights. It would be my honor to show you around New York. Please call me.


Gus

It included a telephone number as well. Demetra stared at it. She read it again and again, sometimes out loud. She had to sit down. She tossed her ringing phone next to her, her mother could be persistent. The gravity of what this meant was overwhelming. She had heard the stories, of course. They were hard to avoid. Was the admin pool luncheon a place where Mr. Gray would look for new mistresses? She couldn't. She simply couldn't.

On the other hand. She knew no one in this city. And now the rich and powerful owner of the company where she was just a temporary secretary wanted to go out with her. Wanted to pay attention to her. She never had that kind of attention before. She wasn't a child. Being nearly 30, she had moved to New York for the express purpose of leaving her small town life behind. She wanted to experience excitement. Maybe just one dinner would be okay? Maybe if she set some boundaries?

She picked up her phone. 3 missed calls and two voice mails. All from her mother. She threw the phone down again. It was early. She couldn't possibly call him now. Maybe a shower. And then maybe a walk and then she would realize how dumb she was being.

In the bathroom mirror, she paused to really study herself. It was a new look. One that said "rich and powerful man is interested". She pulled the rubber band out of her hair and let the brown curls spill around her shoulders. She looked at her dark brown eyes. Demetra had never thought of herself as pretty before. In the town where she grew up, she looked a lot like everyone else. She had been very isolated in the Greek Orthodox community. Gus Gray had traveled the world. And now he wanted to go out with her. She couldn't help but be a bit curious about his thoughts. She kept leaning toward calling him.

She took her time in the shower. She loved the feeling of the hot water. Her thoughts were racing and she wasn't able to keep them from coming. After more than enough time passed and she couldn't avoid life any more, she turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. She put her guy shorts and tank top back on and pulled her wet hair back. She slipped on her flip flops and grabbed her little backpack. She left the apartment, locked her door and went for her walk.

As she walked, Demi would hold her phone in her hands. Occasionally she would slip it back into her pocket only to pull it out and look at it again. The FTD card was in her backpack. She put it there on purpose so that she would have to really work for it before making that call.

She strolled through the mall in Central Park, thinking about all the movies that she saw with this scene exactly. Romantic comedies, mostly, that didn't end like real life ended. Even a movie like Enchanted, which just proved to her that New York City was a fairy tale. Or the casual walk down this very mall by Harry and Sally as their relationship evolves. Or the nighttime wintry beauty that was the love story of Jon Cusak and Kate Beckensale in Serendipity. Demi could imagine a love story of her and Gus - he would leave his demanding wife and confess his undying love for Demi right here in this park. There would be an engagement on one knee and a gigantic diamond ring. There would be tears. Demi's parents would be overjoyed at the success of their new son in law - who was, by the way, closer in age to them than to her. But the real world didn't work that way and Demi was not dumb enough to think that it did. She knew if she called Gus Gray back she would likely experience a few weeks of being treated like a princess and then never see him again. If that happened, she would probably no longer have a job at Tempest Enterprises. She may not even have a job with the staffing company. The best she could hope for was to keep it all a secret.

After walking aimlessly, Demi found herself at the Bethesda Fountain. There were people everywhere. Children playing. In spite of the noisy conversations and children laughing, Demi found it a rather peaceful place. She gazed at the statue of the angel gently landing upon the fountain. Chapter five of the gospel of John said that an angel blessed a pool in Bethesda with healing properties. But before that, as Demetra had learned, it has been sacred to Fortuna the roman goddess of luck and even before that for Asclepius, the son of Apollo and the god of healing. Demi sat on the edge of the fountain and turned to look in to the water. The water was clear and reflective and again she saw herself as she had in the mirror. Here her reflection was wavy in the movement of the water. This was it. If she was going to do this thing, now was the time. She dug the FTD envelope out of her back pack. She traced the little Hermes icon with her finger and said, "For a little Luck and a little heath!" She pulled out her phone, flipped it open and began to dial the numbers carefully. She prayed that Mr. Gray was a professional - that he wouldn't give her the phone number of his own home where Hannah Gray might answer the call.

It rang. Her heart began to race. She thought about hanging up. She was about to click the end button when it picked up.

"Hello?" asked his voice. She hesitated for a moment and he repeated it.

"Mr. Gray?" she said.

"Yes," he responded.

"Hi, um...this is Demi. Demetra Spyropoulos. I wanted to call and thank you for the flowers." She felt like a complete idiot.

"I'm glad you got them." he responded. "I hear lots of noise in the back ground. Where are you?"

"Central park. Bethesda Fountain, actually. Why do you ask?"

"I'm in New York for a couple of weeks. I would love to see you. I know you're new in town and don't know you're way around. I can meet you in central park."

Demi knew this might be what happened. Well, not the meeting in central park thing, but the invite. But she said exactly the wrong thing. "Sir, I am flattered. Would your wife want me spending the day with you?" She immediately regretted the words. But to her relief, Mr. Gray laughed.

"She and I have an understanding. Besides, she is at our summer place in Olympia Washington right now. And don't worry, Demetra, there is no pressure. I would just like to spend some time with you."

"Well, I just went out for a walk. I'm not really dressed to go out."

"We can continue your walk and then you can go back to your place and change. I would love to take you for dinner at least."

Demi looked at her reflection again. The water shimmered and she wasn't sure she liked the person looking back as she said these words. "That would be great, Mr. Gray. Would you like to meet me at the Bethesda Fountain?"

"Certainly," he said. "And please, call me Gus."

And that was the end of the phone call. She looked at her phone for a moment watching the "end call" and the call time flash on the screen. "My god," she thought. "What have I done?"

To Be Continued...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Persephone Poetry by Thomas Hood

More poetry about Persephone that I did not write...

Autumn
by Thomas Hood

I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless like Silence, listening
To silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn;—
Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
Pearling his coronet of golden corn.

Where are the songs of Summer?—With the sun,
Oping the dusky eyelids of the south,
Till shade and silence waken up as one,
And Morning sings with a warm odorous mouth.
Where are the merry birds?—Away, away,
On panting wings through the inclement skies,
Lest owls should prey
Undazzled at noonday,
And tear with horny beak their lustrous eyes.

Where are the blooms of Summer?—In the west,
Blushing their last to the last sunny hours,
When the mild Eve by sudden Night is prest
Like tearful Proserpine, snatch’d from her flow’rs
To a most gloomy breast.
Where is the pride of Summer,—the green prime,—
The many, many leaves all twinkling?—Three
On the moss’d elm; three on the naked lime
Trembling,—and one upon the old oak-tree!
Where is the Dryad’s immortality?—
Gone into mournful cypress and dark yew,
Or wearing the long gloomy Winter through
In the smooth holly’s green eternity.

The squirrel gloats on his accomplish’d hoard,
The ants have brimm’d their garners with ripe grain,
And honey bees have stored
The sweets of Summer in their luscious cells;
The swallows all have wing’d across the main;
But here the Autumn melancholy dwells,
And sighs her tearful spells
Amongst the sunless shadows of the plain.
Alone, alone,
Upon a mossy stone,
She sits and reckons up the dead and gone
With the last leaves for a love-rosary,
Whilst all the wither’d world looks drearily,
Like a dim picture of the drown├Ęd past
In the hush’d mind’s mysterious far away,
Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last
Into that distance, gray upon the gray.

O go and sit with her, and be o’ershaded
Under the languid downfall of her hair:
She wears a coronal of flowers faded
Upon her forehead, and a face of care;—
There is enough of wither’d everywhere
To make her bower,—and enough of gloom;
There is enough of sadness to invite,
If only for the rose that died, whose doom
Is Beauty’s,—she that with the living bloom
Of conscious cheeks most beautifies the light:
There is enough of sorrowing, and quite
Enough of bitter fruits the earth doth bear,—
Enough of chilly droppings for her bowl;
Enough of fear and shadowy despair,
To frame her cloudy prison for the soul

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Essay on Persephone

First published in He Epistole Newsletter, August 2007
Available at ww.neokoroi.org


Margaret Atwood referred to her as "Double Persephone".

"The dancing girl's a withered crone;
though her deceptive smile
Lures life from the earth, rain from the sky,
It hides a wicked sickle; while
Those watching sense the red blood curled
Waiting in the center of her eye;

But the stranger from the hill
Sees only the bright gleam
Of a slim woman gathering asphodel,
and lashes his black team."

I have spent half a lifetime in the presence of Persephone and all of her aspects. That is why a conversation about mythology rocked me to the core and sent me on a spiral inward. I wanted to know if what I had felt - what was part of me to the very depths of my soul - was just plain wrong.

And I learned a few things. I suppose that would be the point. However, what I learned is that the Goddess does not choose her devotees lightly and that what I have always known and always felt is in fact the hand of the Goddess.

The conversation pretty much revolved around when Persephone descended into the underworld with her husband and when she ascended back to Olympos with her mother. The conversation involved a lot of talk about the Greek planting and season cycles - clearly different than the ones I had experienced in Suburban Detroit growing up. Very different from the ones that I experience here in Atlanta Georgia now.

Personal experience has always been the very cornerstone of my spiritual practice. I do not believe that the gods exist in the scholarly works from centuries ago. If our tradition is a living and breathing tradition then the Gods exist in the here and now. The ancient Greek texts and modern studies of the Greek texts provide us a map or a guidebook but they do not provide us with spiritual experiences. At least that is what I have come to find over the years.

So when I turned to the bookshelf to teach myself more, I was surprised. And the true epiphany came while reading The Hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretive Essays edited by Helene P. Foley. Frankly, when I started this book I expected it to be dry and boring. However, I found it to be quite the opposite - providing me with much insight.

I was reading Foley's commentary on her translation of the Hymn when I came across this bit regarding lines 401 through 403:

"In the Hymn, Persephone's return does not explicitly cause the spring but precedes it." So I read more. "In the Hymn Demeter specifies that Persephone will return each year with the spring flowers but the season when the abduction took place is uncertain." (Foley, p.58)

Interestingly enough - in the aforementioned conversation I had been informed under no uncertain terms that the Hymn does not give us any contextual clues regarding the abduction or return. Well, maybe not on the abduction - but it appears to be quite specific about the return.

So I flipped back to the translation (Foley provides the English on the left page with the Greek on the right, as well, for the ability to cross reference were someone to choose).

In the Hymn Demeter says to Persephone:

"When the earth blooms in spring with all kinds
of sweet flowers then from the misty dark you will
rise again, a great marvel to gods and mortal men."

So there, right in front of me, were lines I had read a dozen times but it seemed as if they had always escaped me.

I grabbed my other book of Homeric Hymns, a translation that I love by Diane Rayor. I flipped to the same lines in her book:

"When earth sprouts with every kind of fragrant
flowers in spring, out of the misty darkness
you will rise again, a great marvel for gods and mortal folk."

And the Loeb volume 57, translated by H.G. Evelyn-White, reads:

“But when the earth shall bloom with the fragrant flowers of spring in
every kind, then from the realm of darkness and gloom shalt come up
once more to be a wonder for gods and mortal men.”

Foley then continues to point out contextual clues from the mythologies. Ovid's Metamorphoses has Prosperina picking flowers in the spring. And the Orphic Hymn does specifically place the marriage of Persephone and Hades in the fall:

"In spring you rejoice in the meadow breezes
and you show your holy figure in shoots and green fruits.
You were made a kidnapper's bride in the fall,
and you alone are life and death to toiling mortals,
O Persephone, for you always nourish all and kill them, too."
(translation by A. Athanassakis)

The commentary continues to say:

"Later sources, sometime said to be Stoic-influenced, interpret earlier myth as indicating that Persephone is associated with the planted seed and thus absent while it is in the ground (contrary to later interpretation, but it is not clear that these sources use Persephone's appearance and disappearances explicitly to explain the seasons). In Greece the grain continues to grow after being sown in the fall, if slowly, throughout the winter season; growth then quickens in the spring. The winter is thus a time of less food but slow growth. Cornford and Nilsson associated the descent of Persephone with the storing of the seed in the underground pithoi (jars) after the harvest. Her absence then coincided with the dry months of summer (one-third of the year), and she returned in time for the fall plowing (and the fertile two-thirds of the year). Lack of growth coincides in this case with abundance, because the proceeds of the spring harvest are ready at hand. This version corresponds better with the actual growing season in Greece; yet the Hymn, by linking Persephone's return to the spring flowers, appears to deny it."

She goes on to footnote (regarding Cornford and Nilsson) that some scholars reject their view but others, including Burkert are still "sympathetic" to it.

Is Foley the only one who has a correct interpretation? Certainly not. Who can know - it is all conjecture. These are ancient texts and their Author's intentions died with the authors. The texts remain a map but not the bible - the Gods are the source.

Then Carl Kerenyi throws a new monkey wrench into the whole deal. In the book "Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter", he suggests that Persephone never really leaves the underworld at all.

"In the cult of the Queen of the Dead, to whom the dying repair at all seasons, the underworld can scarcely have remained without a queen for two thirds or - according to a later version - half the year. Could the travelers to the underworld - Orpheus, Herakles, Theseus, and Peirithoos - have found the queen's throne empty?" (Kerenyi, p. 148) "Thus her person seems always to have admitted of a duplication." (Kerenyi, p. 149)

And now we are back to Atwood's "Double Persephone". Perhaps the intuitive and poetic author Margaret Atwood understood Persephone in a way that Kerenyi, Foley and the author of the Hymn could not. The real Persephone is ALL of the Persephones. The real Persephone is the one who reveals herself to her devotees as she chooses and to each one differently. Does it really matter when she descends and returns? And maybe there is, as is suggested, a duality to Persephone that really splits the Queen of the Dead from the Kore eternally. But ultimately, if this is a living and breathing tradition the real Persephone is the one who has revealed herself to me and to others in whatever way she feels appropriate for the individual.

I have hesitated sharing all of this with the community. I don't believe that the modern Hellenic tradition should be about proving each other more right or more wrong. It really should be about the Gods and about our individual experiences with the gods than about what it is that Hesiod, Homer or anyone else said about the Gods. Once again, those are guideposts not gospels. There are so many contradictions even in the ancient world that the modern Hellene's mind would easily explode trying to reconcile it all to create one cohesive interpretation.

My relationship with Persephone has evolved quite a bit since the first time I learned of her existence. And I suspect that it will continue to evolve for the rest of my life. That is how it should be, I believe. I practice a Devotional tradition above all. May all the reading and research I do provide a deeper understanding of the Goddess and my relationship with her.