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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Flower Shop

The little bell on the front door signaled a grand entrance. I wondered who it would be this time – was it a man who didn’t take out the trash? Maybe it was someone with an anniversary? Perhaps a temporary staffing company getting flowers for a recent hire. The stories were usually all the same.

I stopped the arrangement of roses I was working on for delivery and wiped my hands on the purple towel that was tossed on my work station. I straightened my hair and walked to the front of the store.

It was a tall, older man. He was dressed in a charcoal gray business suit with a light gray striped tie. His hair was salt and pepper gray, and even his eyes were gray. He smiled when he saw me.

“How can I help you,” I said.

He smiled at me. I wondered what he did for a living. Maybe a banker. Maybe a CEO. “I need some flowers,” he said.

“Of course you do,” I responded. “What is the occasion?”

“Well, my wife is coming home. She has been spending her summer with her mother. I am just so happy to have her back; I want to have flowers for her when she gets home.”

“Goodness, all summer?” I said. “I hope her mother isn’t ill.”

“No, not at all. It is just an arrangement we have had. I don’t prefer it, but it keeps peace in the household.”

“I see,” I said, thinking that was very odd. “What kind of flowers are you looking for?”

“Well, her favorites are daffodils.” The man said. "Those are what made her fall in love with me."

I laughed, “sorry, but they aren’t in season in September. Do you have any other choices?”

“Do you have pomegranates?” he said.

I shook my head. “I’m afraid I don’t do fruit arrangements. I would like to help you, but you’ll have to give me some other options.”

He started to look a little uncomfortable shifting his weight awkwardly. “No, no. I certainly understand. Well, can you just do something colorful?” he said. Looking at his all gray exterior I could imagine that his wife could use a little color in her life.”

“I can do that. How big do you want it?”

“As big as you can make it,” he replied. “Money is no option.” Yep, he must be a CEO, or a president for something important.
I stepped behind the counter. I pointed to the carousel of cards and handed him a pen. “Go ahead and write your card out and I’ll get started. How soon does she get home?”

He furrowed his brow as he took the pen from my hand. He looked at the calendar. “She gets home on September 21st,” he said.

“Okay, that gives me a few days. Do you want to pick it up that morning?”

“Yes, please,” he said and then set about writing the card. When he was done, he slipped it into the tiny envelope and handed it to me.

“All right,” I said and smiled. “I’ll have it ready for you on September 21st. Oh, look…that is the Autumn Equinox.”

“Fall is my favorite time of year,” he said. He shook my hand; his skin was cold to the touch.

The bell rang on the door as he walked out. I looked at the little envelop on the counter. The flap wasn’t sealed and I couldn’t resist. I pulled the card from the paper. He had chosen a simple card with daffodils on it. I smiled, because his wife would at least get them on her card.

It read:

Dearest Persephone,
It has been a long summer and I missed you very much. I am glad to have you home.
Love,
Hades

“Really,” I thought to my self. I slid the card back into the envelope. “No…it couldn’t be.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Unicorn and the Pomegranate


Knowing he was resigned to his fate, the unicorn huddled as far away from the fence as he could in this tiny pen. His neck burned under the human-made collar that bound him to this tree.

“We are two sides of the same coin,” a voice said.

The unicorn looked around him, tossing his wild mane about, but saw no one.

“Who is there,” he asked proudly, trying not to show his weakness and fear.

“I’m here. I’m the tree you’re tethered too,” the soft, feminine voice said.

The Unicorn began to think, “How strange, the tree is talking,” but then he remembered that he was a Unicorn so all bets were off in regards to reality. The unicorn looked up at the branches of the tree. He stood and peered closer, the waxy green leaves touching his withers. Hanging from the branches was a leathery red fruit.

“We are both misunderstood,” the tree continued. “Our reputations, that is.”

“How do you mean?” The Unicorn asked.

“Well, they have taken my story and made me a thing of fear. Do you know my story?”

The Unicorn shook his head. “What are you?” he asked.

“I am the pomegranate.” she replied. “Let me begin at the beginning.”

The tree explained, at length, that she was originally a symbol of marriage. Greek men would give the fruit to their new wives as a symbol of their union. As time went on, different myths were told and the story of Persephone was gravely misinterpreted. In the story, Hades gives Persephone a Pomegranate and that is what makes her have to stay in the underworld. Even though her mother wants her back, she can’t return because she had eaten the fruit of Hades’ kingdom.

“But in truth,” the pomegranate concluded, “Hades had simply given her a marriage present. They loved each other, they did.”

“I never knew that,” the unicorn said. “But I do understand what you mean. I was hunted and captured because they think that I am a magic thing when all I really want to do is frolic in fields of flowers.”

“They have made you into a symbol too,” the tree said. “One day your story will be forgotten by humans.”

The Unicorn sighed and lay down next to the tree roots. He felt the strength of the trunk on his back. “I suppose we’ll both just stay here until no one remembers us.” He felt something wet on his hind quarters. He looked back to see bright red juice droplets staining his pearly hair.  He thumped his lion's tail on the grass.

“Are you crying,” he asked.

”Yes,” she said. “I am sad for a day when we will both be forgotten.”

The Unicorn closed his eyes. “I am too,” he said. And he fell asleep.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chapter One: The Storm

The following is the first chapter of a project I have been working on.  I welcome comments.  Please let me know if you like it and I will continue to post chapters.  And, trust me, this is about Persephone...after a fashion. 

The Storm

The sun's fire blazed across the sky; a chariot with six golden horses. Not a cloud in the sky. It was a normal summer day in New York City as Demi walked to work. She hated walking in these heals and wasn't sure she would ever get use to the pace here. It had been her stupid dream, and now she was here and gainfully employed so it was better than going home to her parents and hearing "I Told You So". She came upon the high-rise, a palace of shiny brass and smooth red-veined stone. The gilded sign above the door read "Tempest Enterprises". Acquire Staffing Services placed her in this temporary job. She had only been at Tempest for about a week so far, but it seemed to be going as well as any soul crushing administrative job could go. She pushed her way though the golden revolving door that wasn't at all a metaphor for the company environment and was confronted with an energy she hadn't experienced before. There were more people in the lobby than she had seen in the week she had been working there. The noise was deafening as she tried to make out even individual words that people might be saying. The only one she caught was "President". She walked up to Kieran, the security guy. He was a large jolly man who was always nice to her. Usually he had a big smile on his face as he greeted the people entering the lobby, but today he looked a little stressed. He ran a fat-fingered hand over the dark skin of his bald head. Demi approached him cautiously.

"Kieran?" she said. He looked at her, his brown eyes full of a panic she never expected.

"Oh, hi Miss Demetra. How are you today?" He tried to sound like his usual self, but it wasn't working.

"What is going on?" Demi asked.

"I think you might just want to go up to your desk and pretend like it is a normal day." Kieran responded. "Mr. Gray is coming in this afternoon and everyone is pretty stressed out about it. The good news is he doesn't do it very often. But when he does it is like a hurricane sweeping through."

Of course, people had told her about Gus Gray; the founder, president and CEO of Tempest Enterprises. They said he was a difficult man. She figured it made sense that the president of the company would seek perfection out of his own staff, even if that was a staff of a couple thousand. New York was the corporate office, but the business was nationwide and Mr. Gray apparently traveled frequently. He also spent a lot of time out of the country, but when you are rich and powerful, vacations are a birthright. She had also heard that his wife, Hannah, was very well taken care of but she put up with a lot of philandering to live in her own golden palace. For all the stories, the Grays might as well have been the Trumps. Demi guessed that the truth wasn't quite like the myths, but she would just go up to her desk and do her paperwork. "Thanks, Kieran. And don't worry. Things will be just fine." She smiled warmly at him.

Her heels clicked as she crossed the inlaid marble floor. She had always admired the Greek-key design. She stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the 16th floor. She was part of an administrative pool for Tempest Enterprises. There were about 10 people on her floor; she had met a few of them. She was the newest temp, but there were a mix of temporaries from Acquire as well as permanent Tempest employees. Everyone she had met was really nice. She crossed the green speckled carpet to her small office. The building was pretty traditional and conservative in decoration. The walls were painted a light tan. She was grateful that the desks weren't in cubes. Everyone had their own space, but people rarely closed their doors unless they were on a call. There was a large conference room that took up one entire wall of the 16th floor that looked out over Manhattan. The interior wall was glass as well, so you could see the meetings there as well as the skyline as you walked past. Her office was just down that hallway and also had a nice view of the other skyscrapers in the city. She knew she had a long way to go if she was really going to make it in New York, but when she looked out her window she felt a little better about the decision.

The floor was relatively quiet. It seemed as if only the temps were in their offices working away. For all she knew, the Tempest Employees were in some sort of pre-Gus meeting. Just as she was settling down at her desk, a shadow appeared at her door. It was her boss, Bobbie. Bobbie was a perky little older woman who had been working at Tempest since she was Demi's age. She smiled.

"Hey Demetra," she began. Having only been there a week, no one had picked up on her nickname yet. Demetra had always sounded so formal to her. Plus, it was long, especially with her last name: Spyropoulos. She actually felt she got out of the Greek last name game pretty easy. Demi smiled back at Bobbie. "I need your help," Bobbie continued. "As you may have heard, Mr. Gray is coming in today. The admin pool is hosting a meeting for him this afternoon." Demi swallowed hard. "Can you help by calling the catering and getting the conference room set up?"

Demi was surprised she was being asked, she hadn't done anything like that before. She nodded yes, suddenly feeling the panic that Kieran had displayed. "Good," Bobbie said handing her a list with the phone numbers and materials she needed. The supply room, in the basement, would have everything she needed. After Bobbie's shadow had left her doorstep, Demi sat down to collect herself. She looked at the clock hanging over her door. The roman numerals swam in her vision and it took her a moment to figure out what direction the hands were pointing. It was about twenty minutes past nine. The memo she held said that lunch was at noon. Prompt. She knew when it came to Gus Gray, if someone said prompt they meant prompt. In fact, to cover her own ass she would make sure everything was ready by 11:30. She smoothed the paper out on her desk and sighed heavily as she reached for her phone. She may as well start making the calls.

After spending a very frustrating hour on the phone with the caterer making sure the orders were just right and the timing would work out fine, Demi got up from her desk and walked back to the elevator. This time, the spring in her step was a little less springy and she wasn't sure if it was the heels or her spirits. As she waited for the elevator, she looked out the windows at the New York skyline. The topaz sky was so beautiful she could almost cry. But they would have been tears of pure panic. The sun was still blinding without a blanket of clouds to soften its edges. The ding of the elevator sounded behind her. She stepped on and pushed the button for the basement. A guy named Syd worked in the supply room. He had a couple of assistants but it always seemed dark and gloomy down there. She had to deal with him on her first day while she got all the supplies she needed for her desk and he always sounded like he was miserable. She wasn't looking forward to this encounter either. Syd was, as she expected, depressing when she got there. She asked him for the list of things - plates, cups, plastic forks all the things that you might need for a luncheon. She wondered why someone as powerful as Gus Gray would have a deli lunch with his admin pool, but it wasn't her job to question. If people hadn't been so frazzled about the idea of him even coming into the office, she might be flattered. As she listened to Syd moan on about the dreariness of his day, she stacked the items on her cart to take back up to the 16th floor. She politely thanked him and hurried back to the elevators for the third time today. The elevator stopped at the lobby and a couple more of the admins got on. They gave her half smiles and she nodded at them. Russell, a flamboyant gay man, sighed heavily.

"I guess we have to put on our happy face" he said. "Mr. Gray isn't going to want to see us all freaked when he is around" he waved his hands dramatically at the word "freaked".

"I'm noticing the common theme," Demi said boldly. Russell smirked. "What is it that Mr. Gray does that deserves all of this panic?"

"Oh honey," Russell said, "You'll see for yourself at lunch time. He wants to make sure that his admin pool is up to his very high standards. I'm guessing if we're not it curtains for us". He ran his finger along his throat. Demi gulped.

"Has anything happened recently to make him think we're not?" she asked.

Russell just shook his head. The elevator stopped at our floor and the three admins exited and walked in separate directions. The clock on the wall now read 10:45 and Demi wheeled her cart into the conference room to start packing things up. She squinted out the window expecting to see the same weather as when she had left, but the sky was different. Thick black clouds had rolled in hanging very low in the sky. Demi had never seen anything like it. She stood paralyzed in the door way of the conference room. It looked like a hell of a storm, and she had nowhere to hide. She slowly started setting up the table where the plates and food was going to go. She adjusted the napkins in a jaunty way hoping that might give her some extra style points. She set up the cups so the pitchers of tea and lemonade could be placed near them. And then she saw the flash of lightening out of the corner of her eye. As she started to turn toward the window, the crack of thunder was so loud it made her jump. That had to have hit right next to their building. She heard some of the other employees on the floor squeal and what she guessed had been most of them hurried to the elevators to go downstairs. It was safer and easier to wait out a bad storm in the lobby than in their offices. She heard someone say it was a "pop up" and shouldn't last long. She figured she would get the rest of the plates and things set up before going down there herself. She realized she was alone very quickly. The low rolling clouds did seem to be moving very fast. As she stared in awe at the crazy weather, she saw something she hadn't quite expected. In the distance, as a loud thunderclap echoed in the sky, she saw what looked like a tornado. Or like a finger. A finger of cloud reached out of the sky and touched the ground but only for a split moment. She couldn't see where it touched or if anything had been damaged but it wasn't like any tornado she had ever seen. She suddenly began to feel as though she had missed her window of opportunity to get down to the lobby. Just as she had that though, the lights went out and the emergency lights in the hallway buzzed on. Yep, she thought, it was too late. The elevators wouldn't work now and she would have to take the stairs. Another clap of thunder and another cloud finger reached down, this one just a little closer. Demi ran to the stairway door and pushed it open. The stairs were lit by only the dim emergency lights. Thunder rang in her ears as she started to run down the deserted stairs. She missed the last step with her heel and feel onto the landing. Her palms grated the rough concrete of the landing. They burned. "Great, now what?" she hollered into the darkness. She heard another clap of thunder. She pulled her shoes off. As her brain scrambled with the thoughts of what she should do, she found herself limping back up the stairs to the door she had just passed. She knew it wasn't the right thing to do, but something was pulling her there. She wiped the droplets of blood from her palm onto her black pencil skirt. As she stumbled out into the hallway, thunder sounded again. She looked at the window just to see another finger reaching down to the ground. Her brown eyes widened and she limped as fast as she could to her own office. She did the only thing she could think to do; hide under her own desk. She heard the pelt of heavy rain, start to hit the windows. Another clap of thunder tore through her ears followed by the bells of breaking glass. It wasn't in her office, thank God, she thought. She couldn't see anything from under her desk. She hugged her knees close to her. She started to pray. She counted the time between thunder claps like she did when she was a kid. One, two, three, four….CRACK. She shivered. Her mom use to sing Greek lullabies to her and her brothers and sisters during thunderstorms. She started to sing softly to herself.

The sun sleeps on the mountains
and the partridge in the woods
let also my baby sleep
to get enough of sleep.

Whisper to her
Don’t wake her up.

The sun sleeps on the mountains
and the partridge in the snow
let also my baby sleep
on clean sheets.

She could sing it in Greek too, but didn't. As she sang, she heard the thunder start to taper off and get further away. Just as she was thinking about getting out from under her desk, the lights came back on. She heard a voice from the hallway. "You can come out now," a deep voice said. She figured he had to be talking to her. Demi crawled out from under her desk, straightened her skirt as best she could and stood up. As she turned to her doorway she saw the figure there.

A man, about 6 feet tall, took up most of the door frame. He wasn't fat, just very broad. His body was very well built, in fact. He had curly gray hair that was a little long and a well trimmed gray beard. His eyes were deep blue, the same color as the sky had been before the storm. His features were strong and handsome like he had been carved out of marble. She glance over her shoulder to see the sky completely cloudless again as it had been in the morning. The sun was back right in the place where she had left it, and just as blinding. She looked back at the man. She knew she was a little disheveled. She looked down at her skinned palms that were covered in very tiny scabs. No time like the present, she thought. She stepped around her desk, reached out her damaged hand. "My name is Demetra Spyropoulos." she said.

He took her hand in a very strong grip and smiled warmly. "I'm Gus Gray; it is very nice to meet you."


To Be Continued

Sunday, October 11, 2009

She is There

This is an essay I originally published on Livejournal in 2006.


Persephone chose me, not the other way around. My relationship with her started long before I identified as a pagan. Her imagery and her stories were always in my life, except it wasn't until I understood the concept of polytheism that I really noticed her.

Over the years, Persephone has showed me her many faces. When I was 18, she wore the face of the Maiden. She was the wronged child who was dragged away from her mother and imprisoned in a hell dimension. When I was young too, I followed her into the strawberry fields and plucked blooms to make into crowns and laughed until we had tears in our eyes. We were both innocent in the springtime of my life.

As I matured, I came to the realization that Kore had to return to her husband. She would, as she does every year, journey back to the underworld and take up her mantle as Queen. It was at this point that I knew she wasn't just an innocent victim; Persephone was the very master of her own destiny. And as I entered another phase of my own life, I found myself on the journey with her, delving into the deepest darkest parts of myself and learning my own path through the underworld. I was able to make my own choices. Persephone was only an innocent maiden once. From the moment she entered the underworld that first time she became a powerful and thoughtful woman who knew her goals, her choices and her future. She was in control. Every year she returns to her mother she does so now as a peer, a queen and a Goddess of her own.

I have come a long way as a woman, as a pagan, and as a lover. I have made choices - some have been good ones, some have been not so good - but they have all been mine. Persephone has always been there with me. Sometimes I think the only thing that keeps me identified as a pagan is the turning of the seasons. I experience such indescribable joy each time the wheel of the year turns. I have a strange sense of wonder when each day brings us closer to yet another change of season, and that it keeps happening from year to year. It is almost as though I expect that one day it will stop and we'll be stuck in one season or another for all of eternity. But it doesn't stop. The earth keeps turning. Maybe it isn't the changing of the seasons that keeps me Pagan. Maybe it is Persephone's journey itself. Maybe I am afraid at some turning point of the year she will forget to come back for me. But she never does forget about me.

I have made a lot of decisions in my life, and Persephone is the constant - my conscious, maybe. Maybe not. What would Persephone do? Spiritually I have gone from being a Catholic to a Pagan and now I identify as Unitarian Universalist. I would mostly consider myself agnostic, except for one spark of the divine who I know is there with all my heart.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Khthonic Ritual

The following is a ritual script written to honor the gods of the underworld. First we meet Hermes, the guide of the dead. Then Hekate at the crossroads and the bearer of the torches. Then Hades, the King of the Underworld himself. And finally, Hades' Queen, Persephone. This is written as a call and response. Also, while libations are common for the Olympian gods, they are not recommended for the Khthonic gods. It is considered more appropriate to give them an offering that you would not share. 

Hermes, you are the guide of the Dead,
Hermes, we honor you

Hekate, you are the Goddess of the Crossroads
Hekate, we honor you

Hekate, you are the keeper of the gates
Hekate, we honor you

Hades, you are the host of many
Hades, we honor you

Hades, you are a God of Good Counsel
Hades, we honor you

Hades, you are the giver of wealth
Hades, we honor you

Persephone, you are the earth’s green sprout
Persephone, we honor you

Persephone, you savored the seeds of the pomegranate
Persephone, we honor you

Persephone, you grant justice to all people
Persephone, we honor you

Persephone, you are the Queen of the Dead
Persephone, we honor you

For all that you are,
For all the gifts that you give
For those souls you comfort
We honor you

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Persephone Poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Song of Proserpine
By PB Shelley


Sacred Goddess, Mother Earth,
Thou from whose immortal bosom
Gods and men and beasts have birth,
Leaf and blade, and bud and blossom,
Breathe thine influence most divine
On thine own child, Proserpine.

If with mists of evening dew
Thou dost nourish these young flowers
Till they grow in scent and hue
Fairest children of the Hours,
Breathe thine influence most divine
On thine own child, Proserpine.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Building Persephone's Glade

I could start this story at the beginning, which would take a very long time. Instead, I am going to start in the middle.


There is a 15 acre plot of land in Marshall, North Carolina. My partner and myself own these 15 acres. It is the both the ending and the beginning of a dream we have long held. The closing on the land was in the summer of 2007 and we spent at least one weekend a month up there after that. When we bought the land in the summer of 2007, we were told there had been a spring, but it had been dry for a long time.


Please follow me on a brief tour of the land. When you drive up the winding, pebble-cobbled road, you come to an old barn, which has been established as “home base”. The barn is old chocolate brown with an aluminum colored roof. The back corner of this barn, we have been told, is the original cabin on the land. The cabin was likely built more than a hundred years ago, with timbers wider than a person. It must have taken days and a lot of real horse power, with real horses, to drag to them to the site. They are rough hewn and pocked with axe marks that tell the story of the old wood. From the barn, up the hill, leads an old logging trail lined with eastern hemlocks, tulip trees and rhododendrons. The trail curves around following the contours of the land and brings you to two different clearings; a small one nestled into the mountain and a large one down a very steep path. The logging trail diverges to climb to the top of the ridge where you can see across the Smoky Mountains.

In the spring of 2008, Matt and I had spent a weekend on our land to do some work. We had, over the course of the previous summer and throughout the winter, explored much of the 15 acres. And yet, there were still places we had not yet discovered. We stumbled upon a secret place that surprised us.


As we walked up the path we heard something we had never heard before, and we had walked up this path dozens of time since buying the land. There was the faint music of the trickle of water into a pool. We followed the sound off the path into a dense thicket of plants. The clear mountain spring was running from a black rubber hose into a basin built with ash colored cinder block. We rejoiced in the discovery of water on our land, water we had been told no longer flowed there. As we stood near the spring, we noticed the scenery around us. Before us was a substantial rock formation next to two black and gnarled trees. Beneath the trees was a hollow in to the earth. The area was overgrown with brambles and blackberries, but it was breathtakingly beautiful. There was a specific presence that couldn’t be denied. Matt said to me, “This would be a perfect place for a permanent shrine to Persephone.” It touched me deeply that he could intuit Persephone’s presence in this glade.

I immediately began the plan to erect the shrine to the Goddess. Certainly a big part of the temple keeping would be tending of it and keeping it from overgrowing. As I learned later, the area was a hotbed for Poison Ivy, and at the very least I had to keep it cleared so I could go back there myself. I didn’t want to place too many items back there and detract from the natural beauty, but I knew I wanted a statue near the rocks. In my head, pictured a large garden size statue molded from concrete. I learned quickly that large garden size statues molded from concrete were not inexpensive. Several weeks of searches on eBay for an affordable option resulted in one find that was too good to pass up. It was a statue carved by Alfonzo Ianelli, who had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright on the Midway Sprites, called “Magdalena”. The sculpture was stunning. It was very architectural, as the form of the girl’s dress became a column at the base of the statue. It appealed to me for its sense of Persephone in springtime, the innocent flower maiden before Hades plucked her from the field. It appealed to Matt for its clean lines and Frank Lloyd Wright style design. I had to buy it.

Soon after, we brought some friends with us to spend time in Asheville. They helped us excavate a large flat stone from the area near the old barn and carry it up to the rocks by the black trees. We carefully placed the stone before the rock formation and balanced it to create a space to place the statue.


We placed the base of the statue on that rock. Reading the instructions for the statue, we inserted the metal rod for stability and spread the concrete adhesive. Then we lifted the heavy female form and gently placed her on the base where she belonged. It reminded me of several years prior when I was part of the experience raising two standing stones to mark the winter solstice at a festival site. Raising standing stones was something that my ancestors did and I felt honored to be a part of that - me and 300 other people with ropes and shovels - just like the Celts. Raising the statue of Persephone connected me on some level to the ancient Greeks as they built their temples on their land. It was truly an act of love and devotion.

Now, to honor Persephone in all her aspects I can go to her glade, read her hymns and pour her libations. I built this glade with my own hands.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Rape of Proserpina

Oh, Bernini, I think you may have some things wrong.
I see what you were trying to do, but
          Instead it was a disservice
There was no rape, you see
His strong hand gripping my marble thighs
          Was not violent, but passionate
He touched my virginal body
I kissed his cold, stone lips
I clutched at his back, my fingers tangled in his black hair
The tears so gracefully carved were tears of ecstasy
He was my lover, not my captor
His heart has always been mine alone
                                       Your art is beautiful
                                                 But your storytelling is very poor


Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Open Letter to Margaret Atwood

Dear Ms. Atwood,

I have dearly loved your work for my entire adult life.  I have passionately devoured all the books I can get with your name on the cover.  But there is one that I cannot read.  As a devotee of Persephone, I dream of one day being able to get my hands on Double Persephone.  I want to feel its pages in my fingers and let its words rain in my heart.  I would love to do that without paying $7500.  I know that you wrote it a very long time ago and that you have progressed as an author since you published it on your own.  I know you are probably not interested in revisiting that part of your past.  But I saw you at Emory University here in Atlanta when you came to speak about The Penelopiad.  You mentioned Double Persephone then, and I knew I needed to read it.  If only you could reprint it or publish it again in conjunction with another work. 

Thank you for your consideration. 
Laura