Sunday, November 28, 2010

Persephone's Winter

This is an interesting time for the story of Persephone.  It is the part of the story where we don't hear from her at all.  This is the season that feels ultimately introspective.  Persephone is in the underworld and while there, even though she is spending time with her husband, she is also forced to spend time with just herself. 

I'll admit, spending time with just myself is one of the hardest things that I do.  Not that I am not capable of it, but I don't prefer it.  I would rather be around other people.  When I am alone, I feel the constant need for background noise.  This winter, one of the things I want to work on is being more contemplative.  Letting myself be in silence with just my own thoughts.  I'm not sure what I am afraid of hearing, but I have a feeling if I just listen I will be surprised by what I find. 

Here, however, is a lovely resource for a winter meditation.  

Contemplative Persephone

Monday, November 22, 2010

Prayer for Demeter at Thanksgiving

I wanted to share this alternate prayer that you might offer before your Thanksgiving dinner.  

Deo, Bringer of the Seasons,
You who gave us the gift of the harvest,
taught us how to work the land and gather the fruits of our labors.
You who gave us your daughter so that we
may not fear death.
We honor you in your veil of sadness
As you walk the earth in mourning.
Know that we are grateful for your sacrifice.
We honor you with the foods we have made,
We honor you with the family and friends who have gathered.
Demeter, Giver of Gifts,
We give you great thanks on this feast day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lectio Homerica: Homeric Hymn to Demeter Part Eight

You may recall from my last Lectio Homerica entry that I left you with a cliffhanger of sorts.  Demeter, upon being reunited with her daughter, demanded to know just what the King of the Dead did to seduce her.  And so, I bring you Persephone's answer with the final installment of this exploration.

Then beautiful Persephone answered her thus: "Mother, I will tell you all without error. When luck-bringing Hermes came, swift messenger from my father the Son of Cronos and the other Sons of Heaven, bidding me come back from Erebus that you might see me with your eyes and so cease from your anger and fearful wrath against the gods, I sprang up at once for joy; but he secretly put in my mouth sweet food, a pomegranate seed, and forced me to taste against my will. Also I will tell how he rapt me away by the deep plan of my father the Son of Cronos and carried me off beneath the depths of the earth, and will relate the whole matter as you ask. All we were playing in a lovely meadow, Leucippe and Phaeno and Electra and Ianthe, Melita also and Iache with Rhodea and Callirhoe and Melobosis and Tyche and Ocyrhoe, fair as a flower, Chryseis, Ianeira, Acaste and Admete and Rhodope and Pluto and charming Calypso; Styx too was there and Urania and lovely Galaxaura with Pallas who rouses battles and Artemis delighting in arrows. We were playing and gathering sweet flowers in our hands, soft crocuses mingled with irises and hyacinths, and rose-blooms and lilies, marvelous to see, and the narcissus which the wide earth caused to grow yellow as a crocus. That I plucked in my joy; but the earth parted beneath, and there the strong lord, the Host of Many, sprang forth and in his golden chariot he bore me away, all unwilling, beneath the earth: then I cried with a shrill cry. All this is true, sore though it grieves me to tell the tale."

So did they then, with hearts at one, greatly cheer each the other's soul and spirit with many an embrace: their hearts had relief from their griefs while each took and gave back joyousness.

Then bright-coiffed Hecate came near to them, and often did she embrace the daughter of holy Demeter: and from that time the lady Hecate was minister and companion to Persephone.

And all-seeing Zeus sent a messenger to them, rich-haired Rhea, to bring dark-cloaked Demeter to join the families of the gods: and he promised to give her what rights she should choose among the deathless gods and agreed that her daughter should go down for the third part of the circling year to darkness and gloom, but for the two parts should live with her mother and the other deathless gods. Thus he commanded. And the goddess did not disobey the message of Zeus; swiftly she rushed down from the peaks of Olympus and came to the plain of Rharus, rich, fertile corn-land once, but then in nowise fruitful, for it lay idle and utterly leafless, because the white grain was hidden by design of trim-ankled Demeter. But afterwards, as spring-time waxed, it was soon to be waving with long ears of corn, and its rich furrows to be loaded with grain upon the ground, while others would already be bound in sheaves. There first she landed from the fruitless upper air: and glad were the goddesses to see each other and cheered in heart. Then bright-coiffed Rhea said to Demeter:

"Come, my daughter; for far-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer calls you to join the families of the gods, and has promised to give you what rights you please among the deathless gods, and has agreed that for a third part of the circling year your daughter shall go down to darkness and gloom, but for the two parts shall be with you and the other deathless gods: so has he declared it shall be and has bowed his head in token. But come, my child, obey, and be not too angry unrelentingly with the dark-clouded Son of Cronos; but rather increase forthwith for men the fruit that gives them life."

So spake Rhea. And rich-crowned Demeter did not refuse but straightway made fruit to spring up from the rich lands, so that the whole wide earth was laden with leaves and flowers. Then she went, and to the kings who deal justice, Triptolemus and Diocles, the horse-driver, and to doughty Eumolpus and Celeus, leader of the people, she showed the conduct of her rites and taught them all her mysteries, to Triptolemus and Polyxeinus and Diocles also, -- awful mysteries which no one may in any way transgress or pry into or utter, for deep awe of the gods checks the voice. Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiate and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom.

But when the bright goddess had taught them all, they went to Olympus to the gathering of the other gods. And there they dwell beside Zeus who delights in thunder, awful and reverend goddesses. Right blessed is he among men on earth whom they freely love: soon they do send Plutus as guest to his great house, Plutus who gives wealth to mortal men.

And now, queen of the land of sweet Eleusis and sea-girt Paros and rocky Antron, lady, giver of good gifts, bringer of seasons, queen Deo, be gracious, you and your daughter all beauteous Persephone, and for my song grant me heart-cheering substance. And now I will remember you and another song also.
This begins the section where I read a very different attitude into Persephone's retelling of the tale than most scholars seem to suggest.  Nothing I am about to say comes from any sort of research but from my reading of the hymn and how I let it permeate my entire soul.

I see a young woman flat out lying to her mother.  Not because she has something to hide specifically but because she wants to spare her mother's feelings.  Persephone wasn't kidnapped, she ran away.  And after she learns of Demeter's sorrow and how it causes the earth to die, she doesn't want her mother to feel like she did anything wrong in this situation.  So she exaggerates.  She saw a beautiful flower.  A flower to magnificent that she was unable to resist plucking it from the earth.  When she did that, she found herself face to face with a man she felt the same way about and she joined her hand to his and followed him down to his kingdom. 

Also, in this section of the Hymn we see a small walk on role by Hecate who then is given the job of the new Queen's handmaiden. 

The news is given.  Zeus decrees that Persephone will spend some portion of the year with her Mother and another with her Husband.  Here the hymn tells us the year will be spit in thirds.  I don't doubt that it was for the ancients.  I feel much more drawn to Persephone's story as a cyclical solar cycle following the seasons as I experience them.  It may not be traditional, but it feels right for me. 

At this time, Demeter is so overjoyed that she brings back the spring but also travels to teach her "mysteries" to the kings all over the world.  These "mysteries" are presumably the Eleusinian rites.  There is just the tiniest hint of what they could be about with the phrase, "Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiate and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom." 

The end of the very long hymn ends like all hymns.  This entire story, in fact, was to gain the favor of Demeter and thus it is common for the poet to give great thanks to her this way.  "And now, queen of the land of sweet Eleusis and sea-girt Paros and rocky Antron, lady, giver of good gifts, bringer of seasons, queen Deo, be gracious, you and your daughter all beauteous Persephone, and for my song grant me heart-cheering substance. And now I will remember you and another song also."  It is so fitting to me that I finish this series so close to the American Thanksgiving holiday.  I view that celebration as a day to give thanks to Demeter for teaching us about the harvest but also giving us the great gift of her Daughter - a daughter who, in a way, died so that we could be saved, to use the phrasing from other religious traditions.  Because Demeter has allowed this sacrifice, we all are able to face the Queen when it is our time to pass into the underworld. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Online Temple for Persephone

This website was just brought to my attention.  It is part of a website for a business in California, but I love the photos and stories that have been posted on this on-line temple.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

from North to South

I have said often that I associate Persephone's trip into the underworld with my own journey from the Midwest to the Southeast United States.  Music that speaks to the journey is also very important to me, as you might imagine.  One of my favorite songs of this type is Wagon Wheel by a band called Old Crow Medicine Show

Plus, the trippy showgirls/carnival theme is cool.