Sunday, January 31, 2010

Traveling with Pomegranates

When I saw the book Traveling with Pomegranates on the store shelves, I knew I needed to read it. The black cover features a carved wooden statue of a maiden in a blue dress, a Greek column and half a dozen pomegranates, I was certain this was a story of Persephone. I was not mistaken, though it was also a lot more than that. I recently finished the book by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor and I was very pleased that I had. It showcases several trips, to Greece and France that Kidd and Taylor took together over the course of several years. Each woman felt a deep inner struggle and they were in search of answers. Since their journeys brought them to Greece, it was only natural that they would both find symbolism in the myth of Persephone and Demeter.

I read this review at the Christian Science Monitor that criticized Kidd and Taylor’s propensity to describe exactly what the symbols in the myths meant to them. The reviewer thought maybe they should be allowed to make their own connections:
“Admittedly, it’s an interesting premise. The problems lie in its execution. While both authors draw some genuinely interesting parallels between their experiences and the timeless stories of their host countries (the myth of Demeter and Persephone is particularly apt), neither is willing to let the reader make his or her own interpretations as to what their meaning might be. The result is akin to being beaten with a pillow; repetitious and, in the end, unaffecting.”
I disagree – this is a book specifically about Kidd and Taylor’s own journeys. The deep introspection and their own interpretations are essential to understanding the story. It isn’t about *my* journeys to Greece and France and how the symbols of Demeter, Persephone, Athena and Mary affected me, so I want to know some of the details about Kidd and Taylor’s experiences.

I was most touched by a certain struggle felt by Taylor at the beginning of the book. She had found what she thought was her life’s passion on a trip to Greece while in college. But between that trip and a second trip with her mother, her future appeared to be unraveling. It was how Taylor handled this situation that I could most identify with. When she received a rejection letter from her graduate school of choice, her method of coping was to not tell any one about her inner struggle. She didn’t tell anyone about the letter or about conversations she had with her advisor. She just took these as personal rejections and filed them away, slipping deeply into depression. The truth was it was slightly comforting to me that someone else dealt with their own pain and struggles that way. Not that I advocate sliding deeply into depression, but that I also deal with my own pain this way.

It is certainly a bad habit. I do have a tendency to bottle things up. I remember a time years ago when I needed a minor surgery. I told very few people and just wanted to go in, get out and get it over with. When some friends of our sent flowers I was actually upset, I didn’t even want them to know what was going on much less feel sorry for me in any way. Those flowers symbolized a lot more than “Get Well” for me. It was like an admission of weakness. There are things that have happened in my adult life that I have never even shared with my own mother. Truth is, I am still not ready to share those things and I am currently comfortable with that decision. I don’t know that I will ever be.

Taylor’s story made me think of a part of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. In the end, when Demeter asks her daughter about her ordeal, I have always felt that Persephone was less than truthful to her mother.

“Indeed I will tell you, Mother, the whole truth.” She starts. After a lengthy description of what had happened she adds,
“When I picked [the Narcissus] in delight, the earth gave way from beneath, and the might Lord of the Many Dead sprang out. Hades dragged me most unwillingly under the earth in his golden chariot; I shouted and screamed aloud. In all this, though I grieve, I tell the whole truth.”
In Persephone’s words, I have always felt there was really only half the truth. Like she wasn’t telling her mother about the feelings she really had. I could see her looking down, never meeting Demeter’s eyes during this entire exchange. Knowing full well that she willingly ate the pomegranate that Hades offered her – not just because it was the food of the dead but she knew that it was the symbol of marriage, a gift given by a husband to his new wife. She knew that with the new deal struck by the gods she would now have to spend as much time with her mother, away from her new husband, and that it was just easier to let her mother believe that she too was upset about the situation. Each year, though, she dutifully returns to the underworld where she is revered as Queen. Just like my own experience and like that of Taylor, it isn’t uncommon for daughters to withhold information from their mothers.

The book is a lovely introspective read. It seemed to me to almost be a sequel to The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. However, it was the addition of Ann Kidd Taylor’s voice that really added a depth to the journey for me.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lectio Homerica: The Homeric Hymn to Demeter Part 1

I had forgotten that I had started this project a little while back.  It was based on the contemplative Christian prayer practice called Lectio Divina.  I decided that perhaps I  need to finish this.  However, to start, I thought I would reprint the first several installments from my Livejournal, originally published in January of 2006:

I have always had very personal relationship with Persephone. It has been a lovely and evolving relationship. When I became first involved in paganism (publicly) I was all of 18 years old. I was very much in the "Maiden" phase of life as the Wiccan tradition describes and I related to the innocent "Kore" aspect of the Persephone story. However, as I have grown I have found myself on a similar path as Persephone herself. Having chosen not to have children I don't relate with the wiccan model of "Maiden Mother Crone" any more, but I do relate to the story of Persephone and her journey from Maid to Queen of the underworld.

So, here begins the story of Demeter and her beautiful daughter.

"I begin to sing of rich-haired Demeter, awful goddess -- of her and her trim-ankled daughter whom Aidoneus [Hades] rapt away, given to him by all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer. Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, she was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Oceanus and gathering flowers over a soft meadow, roses and crocuses and beautiful violets, irises also and hyacinths and the narcissus which Earth made to grow at the will of Zeus and to please the Host of Many, to be a snare for the bloom-like girl -- a marvelous, radiant flower. It was a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see: from its root grew a hundred blooms and it smelled most sweetly, so that all wide heaven above and the whole earth and the sea's salt swell laughed for joy. And the girl was amazed and reached out with both hands to take the lovely toy; but the wide-pathed earth yawned there in the plain of Nysa, and the lord, Host of Many, with his immortal horses sprang out upon her -- the Son of Cronos, He who has many names. He caught her up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. Then she cried out shrilly with her voice, calling upon her father, the Son of Cronos, who is most high and excellent. But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave, and the lord Helios, Hyperion's bright son, as she cried to her father, the Son of Cronos. But he was sitting aloof, apart from the gods, in his temple where many pray, and receiving sweet offerings from mortal men. So he, that Son of Cronos, of many names, who is Ruler of Many and Host of Many, was bearing her away by leave of Zeus on his immortal chariot -- his own brother's child and all unwilling."

For those playing along at home, I am reading a translation by Diane Rayor (which the above is not). And I have just read the first section of the hymn here (it is a very long one).

I have never been a huge fan of the abduction part of the myth of Persephone. There is a more feminist version that I learned in college where Hades plays no part at all – that Persephone's journey was entirely her own choice. However, I have in my head a version likely in the middle. One where Persephone chose for herself to marry Hades and go with him into the underworld. This is not, of course, true to the Homeric version. But I like the idea that no only did Persephone have a choice but she chose to leave her Mother for her Husband's home.

And while I still see that choice between the lines of of this Hymn, I know it is self imposed.

What speaks to me of this version is the command of Zeus for Gaia (named Earth in the above version but specifically called the Goddess Gaia in the Rayor version) to grow an irresistible flower for the maiden Persephone to pluck – thus distracting her from Hades' approach and giving him the opportunity to snatch her. What does that flower represent? To me, it shows the choice Persephone made for love and beauty in her life. Zeus may have commanded the earth to grow that flower, but it was Persephone who chose to pluck it.

There are many such temptations in my life – that flower represents all the choices I have made and are they as beautiful and ultimately as fruitful as the choice that Persephone herself made. Are these choices painful at the start, like the author of this Hymn would like us to believe it was for the maiden goddess?

The plucking of this beautiful flower is Persephone's first steps into the underworld over which she will reign as Queen. She doesn't know her fate now, but soon her choice will show her what it is she was destined for.

We have to be more careful about which flowers we do pluck from day to day. At least I do. Some temptations are productive and some are not. Like Zeus commanding Gaia grow that irresistible flower – how are the gods here to guide our choices?

Now - this is NOT a Hymn to Persephone - it is honoring her Mother. So why do I so fixate on Persephone's part in this story? I don't know actually - but based on the first section that is what I see. I suspect my relationship with Demeter will evolve as I continue to reflect on the rest of the Hymn.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Indoor Winter Gardens

It is that time of year where I start to feel restless.  I am aching for Spring, but I'm not quite ready for it.  Like Persephone, I am torn between two seasons right now.  She is still in her underworld kingdom with her one true love, but a small part of her aches to see the green grasses and colorful flowers of the world above.  It is bittersweet. 

My feelings about winter have changed dramatically since I moved south.  When I was in Michigan I wouldn't start getting the restless feelings until about March.  But winter was still in full swing there.  In Georgia, the promise of spring is around every corner, even in January. 

Next week is Groundhog Day.  It is also known as Imbolc or Brigid's Day (Saint or otherwise).  Persephone herself is getting closer to her emergence as well, as she sometimes represents the seed in the earth that will become the green shoot at the Spring Equinox.  There are 6 more weeks of winter now, whether or not a rodent sees his shadow. 

I thought a fun project would be to plant seeds.  Remember in Girl Scouts or Campfire girls when you would plant the seeds in the dixie cup to watch them grow?  How about trying that again. 

In my search for basic instructions (yes, I realize that it is simple - seed, soil, cup, water....) I found this Gardening Science website geared toward pre-school teachers.  One teacher suggested the following:
Plant seeds in small, clear Solo cups. Add Jell-O, in a thick mixture, like Jell-O Jigglers consistency. Push seed down into the Jell-O after it has hardened. The cup should be about half-way filled. Sunflower seeds work best. Once the seed has started to grow, take Jell-O and seed out of cup and plant into the ground. The seed need not be watered while growing in the cup. It draws its moisture from the Jell-O mixture. It is a fun way to watch a seed sprout and grow!

I like the idea of watching the seed grow, each day being reminded of the coming spring.  Then, when spring does finally arrive, as it always seems to, you can replant it into a pot or garden.  Plus - you can pick whatever color of Jell-O that makes you feel happy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Poem of Orpheus

I love the story of Orpheus' decent into the underworld to collect his dead wife, Eurydice.  I wrote this poem a couple of years ago trying to feel what it was that everyone felt when Orpheus played his gut-wrenching music for them.  I don't think I have succeeded. 

There is no song of love greater
Than the one I sing
For the nymph who left me here
All alone mourning for her
I need to find her
I need to crawl to the depths of hell
To bring my love back to me
So I can see her radiant hair
And her bright eyes
And hear her voice again
I walk and I wander and I go
Down to the world of the dead
King Hades the steadfast
And his most beautiful queen
I need to go and beg them
To give my love back to me
All the while I sing to them
The trees that bend to hear
Pointing the way for me
To the valley of the dead
And down, down, down I walked
Down to the valley of the dead
And on the bank of the river Styx
The boatman said to me
You stink of life you can’t come here
And so I sang to him
I sang so long and so deep
I sang of the love that my lady had
And the boatman wept
And he stood aside and let me board
His tears flowed down his colorless cheeks
As he drove me across
And so I sang and I sang
Of a love that I couldn’t live with out
A love for which I would go to hell
And at the gates of their kingdom
I met the Lord and Lady there
They barred my way in
And so I sang and I sang
A song of love and sorrow
Of the lady for whom I would go to hell
The lady I could not live without
And Queen Persephone wept
She wept for her mother who loved her
And for her lover who took her
And for all the love in the world
And King Hades wept
He wept for the longing that stole his wife
And made her eat the seeds that made her stay
And they stepped aside
And I walked into the gates of hell
With only one instruction
Not to look upon the radiant beauty
Of my beloved wife
I found her and begged her to follow me
And out and out and out of hell
We ascended the valley
Up to the inviting light above
And it was then my heart took over
I looked back to sing to her of my love
And she was gone, back to the depths
Where I could no longer go
And so I sang a song of sorrow
And so I wandered on

Friday, January 22, 2010

Another Poem about Persephone by Someone Else (TM)

Proserpine by Rossetti


(For a Picture)

AFAR away the light that brings cold cheer

Unto this wall, -- one instant and no more

Admitted at my distant palace-- door.

Afar the flowers of Enna from this drear

Dire fruit, which, tasted once, must thrall me here.

Afar those skies from this Tartarean grey

That chills me: and afar, how far away,

The nights that shall be from the days that were.

Afar from mine own self I seem, and wing

Strange ways in thought, and listen for a sign:

And still some heart unto some soul doth pine,

(Whose sounds mine inner sense is fain to bring,

Continually together murmuring,) --

"Woe's me for thee, unhappy Proserpine!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Images of Persephone

Today, this image was brought to my attention.  I was startled, to be honest.  I don't know anything about this artist or about this website, but I was struck by the image.  It reminded me, in a way, of the painting by Lord Frederick Leighton, to which I had referred in my post Psychopompos' Lament.  But this new image made feel quite differently.  Repulsed, actually.

The image of Demeter reaching for her Daughter is very sad to me.  Her face appears drawn and empty.  As the classic tale is told, Demeter did withdraw after the loss of her daughter, so this is an appropriate take on her image, I believe.  She looks and feels dead, just like the aftermath of autumn when the world lies in the "death" of winter. 

Persephone reaches up desperately for her mother, but she is held by a horned god.  I assume it is Hades but I do not know why he has horns.  Is he the devil?  At the same time he also appears gentle and potentially even handsome.  She is also being clawed agressively by terrifying underworld demons.  Throngs of demons peer from their empty eyesockets in the halls of Hades.  Yet the artist calls her piece "The Rapture of Persephone".  The handy Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "Rapture" as an expression or manifestation of ecstasy or passion.  Or it could also refer to a  state of being "carried away" by overwhelming emotion, which I suppose is what is happening here.  The terrified face of Persephone, however, does not indicate to me that she is experiencing rapture at all.  I think she could.  In the myth in my head, Persephone is most definitely experiencing passion and ecstasy when she finally comes together with Hades.  The images of this painting do not convey that to me.  Not in a way that would make me call it rapture.   

Clearly, though, the artist has done her job.  She has provoked my thoughts and made me think about what my reaction says about me and the way I view the myth of Persephone. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

For Persephone, Queen of the Underworld

O Dread Queen

Soft shadows in velvet
the only color in a gray space
If ever I have offered gifts to you
If ever I have picked flowers in your name
If ever I have mourned your journey
Hear now my prayer

Persephone, honored one.
Wife of Hades, lady of the Underworld
My heart is your heart
My path is your path
My journey has followed yours
from innocence to wisdom
I began a child with eyes wide open
and I have traveled through the spring and summer
and the Autumn and winter
And back to spring again
following in your footsteps
waxing and waning between the living and the dead
Persephone, I sing of you
I am now a woman, grown as you have grown
I am a lover, I am a wife
I honor you with every day I breathe
O Persephone. Hear now my prayer.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Persephone's Breakfast

There is no specific reason why I am associating this with Persephone except that one of the three ingrediants is pumpkin.  When I think "Pumpkin," I think "Autumn" and so I think "Persephone". 

I am not exactly sure where I saw this - it was on either on Yahoo! or MSN.  With the glut* of on-line articles about how to reign in your weight for New Year, this particularly suggestion sounded very tasty. 

It starts with Vanilla Yogurt.  I couldn't remember the amounts, so I guessed.  I got regular low fat vanilla yogert - just the grocery store brand.  One serving was a cup, but I didn't think I needed that much so I went with half a cup.  Next you add 100% pure pumpkin puree:  I added with a tablespoon which turned out to be plenty.  Mix.  Then add ground cinnamon to taste.  I also added a little dash of cinnamon surgar, but I dont think it really needs the extra sweetness since the yogurt is already.  And Voila! A yummy morning treat or anytime snack.

*No pun intended...?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mary Shelley: Proserpine

So, apparently, Mary Shelley - you know, the author of Frankenstein - wrote some plays. They were lost for a long time, but rediscovered and as part of the public domain they were published by several companies. They are usually published together as Proserpine and Midas: Two Mythological Dramas.

The voice of Proserpine in this play is very much rooted in the Romantic Era. The play takes many of its main points directly from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, but just as Shelley writes Frankenstein from her own personal experiences, so does she twist the character of Proserpine just a little bit.

The play opens with Proserpine and Ceres (Persephone and Demeter) discussing whether or not Ceres has to leave her daughter behind on the Enna Plain in Sicily. Proserpine begs her mother to stay with her, but Ceres insists that she needs to leave to attend to a feast among the Gods and that she has been summoned there by Jove (Zeus) himself. She leaves Proserpine in the care of the Nymphs, Ino and Eunoe.

There are many long and poetic speeches in this play and for a long time Proserpine and the nymphs talk about frolicking in the meadow. As you might expect, the Nymphs fail in their attempt to watch Proserpine, and the story continues as Homer dictates.

Just before Persephone discovers she is alone, she sings:

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
One thine own child Proserpine

It is after this song that she realizes she is alone, and so she wanders off. The nymphs return to discover their charge is nowhere to be found. And Ceres returns just in the moment before they are able to go the pet store and get the replacement goldfish. And the curtain falls.

Act Two plays out just like the Homeric Hymn as Ceres does not know the fate of her daughter and wanders the world lost and alone. And it ends with the reunion of mother and daughter. However, the Proserpine of Shelley's play seems more pleased with her marriage than the Persephone of Homer's hymn. I have to admit that I love that about Shelley's version. "This is not misery," she said, "Tis but a slight change."

There is some debate as to whether Shelley ever intended for this play to be performed, but I would really love to see this drama on stage.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Chapter Four: The Ripening

It had been several months. This particular morning, Demi woke and wondered where exactly she was, remembering she was in Gus's California king bed in his Manhattan penthouse. It is where she had woken up most mornings these days. She saw the sleeping form of her lover next to her tangled in the Egyptian cotton bed sheets. Demi scooted her body closer to him and kissed his honey sweet lips lightly. The red numbers on the digital clock told her it was already 9am, but there was no light coming in through the cracks in the drapes.

Demi slithered out of the bed and wrapped herself in a silk robe. She walked out into the living room where she could see out the picture windows. Just like the day she met Gus, the sky was black and the storm clouds looked ominous. In a penthouse, there was no where to hide and she began to panic. She hurried back into the bedroom and shook Gus's shoulder. He opened his blue eyes and smiled, but changed his expression as soon as he saw her face. "What's wrong?" he asked, sitting up.

"There is another storm." she responded. He snatched the remote control from the bedside table that drew the curtains from the windows. The light in the room didn't change once the windows were drape-free. There was no rain yet where they were, but they could see the lines in the sky in the distance.

Gus furrowed his brows. "I suppose we should get out of here. Or at least get downstairs." He stood up, not bothering to cover himself. He rushed into his house sized closet to pull on jeans and a polo shirt. Demi traded her robe for a sundress and pulled her hair in a pony tail. She had begun keeping clothes at the penthouse. It wasn't something that seemed to be forbidden, and it didn't appear that Hannah Gray was every going to visit her husband in the city. Gus had spent most of the summer in New York, and Demi wasn't sure what fall would bring. Except, possibly, this storm. Perhaps this wasn't a coincidence.

Once dressed, she and Gus hurried down to the ground floor. Without the awkwardness of high heeled shoes, Demi managed to stay upright this time. As they reached the lobby they found they were just in time to see the hail start. She shouted out in surprise when the first hailstone hit the plate glass window in the lobby. "Isn't it August?" She asked in shock.

"I'll admit it is unusual," Gus said with some humor in his voice. "When this lets up a bit, I'll just get you home where you can be safe in case it storms all day." Demi nodded. He kissed the top her head, didn't even worry about the doorman looking on.

They stood in silence watching the storm roll through. Demi remembered reading a story on the internet just after the last big storm, the day she met Gus, about a new cloud type. A woman in Iowa had discovered it and taken photographs back in 2006. The local weather has been comparing that storm to the photos from Iowa. The woman described it as "Armageddon", which seemed appropriate. Demi thought of these clouds as Gus's clouds. At first, she didn't even hate them for the storm. Now she was starting to worry that they were back with some sort of vengeance. Scientists were still skeptical that these were even a new cloud type, but they certainly weren't like anything Demi had seen before. Just like the woman described in the article that Demi had read, this storm and these rolling clouds passed quickly. As the storm passed, Demi felt Gus's hand on the small of her back as he began to steer her toward the door.

Once in the car, as the sun began to glow hot over the city, Demi smiled up at Gus. "I think these storms are something you cause." She said.

He laughed, "How do you suppose that happens?"

"I don't know. Maybe the hand of God. Maybe he is angry at us."

"Would it help if I told you I don't believe in God?"

"I believe you think you are a God," Demi said teasingly. Gus laughed out loud again.

"Well, that may certainly be true."

He pulled the car in front of her office complex. Demi leaned in to kiss him before getting out of the car. "I'll call you later" he said and she shut the door.

Over the months, things had become pretty interesting. She was still working as a temp at Tempest. They didn't communicate in the office at all. But they did go out in public. They had avoided any sort of press, and she didn't actually know if anyone with any level of power had seen them, but she tried to keep a low profile when they weren't together. She stopped trying to socialize with the other temps. She knew they must all know. She knew everyone must all know, but no one was saying a word to her directly. They probably never would. She knew this had happened before. She wasn't going to lie to herself thinking it might be the last time either. But for now, she was having fun.

As she started to settle in, she thought about all the things she needed to do at her own apartment. She hadn't spent many weekends at home this summer. And even some weeknights she spent at Gus's penthouse. So, Demi decided to clean her bathroom. She changed her clothes, got out the cleaning supplies and started working. She didn't know if the storms would be back and she and Gus hadn't made any new plans for the day.

When she opened the medicine cabinet her mouth dropped open. Suddenly the entire summer of spending nights and days with Gus Gray came rushing over her like the storm clouds over the city. Sitting there, on the shelf, was a packet of birth control pills. The prescription was dated for May. She pulled the packet from the sleeve and realized it was completely unopened - unused. "Oh hell," she said to herself. She had been forgetting the pills. By the looks of things she hadn't taken them for more than two months. It wasn't like she had a lot of experience before now with this type of thing and supposed it had just slipped her mind. She sat down on the toilet. "Oh, my god" she repeated over and over again. But maybe she was fine. Maybe she should start taking them now. When was her last period? Dread filled her entire body.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur. With the cleaning products still strewn about her bathroom, she had run to the drug store and bought more than one pregnancy test. She didn't feel pregnant. She didn't know what that even meant, really. It wasn't like she had ever been pregnant before. She wasn't nauseous, she wasn't gaining weight. She remembered watching the show on the Discovery Channel - "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant." She thought every time that there couldn't possibly be any way someone wouldn't know. Before taking the first test, she sat and stared at the instructions for what must have been hours. She didn't read them, she just stared at them. Finally her mind absorbed the process. She took the test and paced the hallway waiting for the results. She started to feel light headed now. She had launched from a great night right into the eye of the storm. Those low rolling clouds that she saw today became just as much an omen for what was happening to her now as the storm had been on the day she had met Gus Gray. The storm might not have brought him into her life, maybe it had been warning her. She had been lying to her mother. People were talking behind her back at work. Thoughts swam in her mind. The confusion of thoughts was interrupted by the buzz of the egg timer in the bathroom. She closed her eyes before picking the stick up of the counter. And there it was - on the supposedly idiot proof stick the word "pregnant".

So she did the only thing she could do. She took the next three tests. Lines, plusses - every possible symbol of the process sat before her.

After hours of torturing herself, she had to come to the same conclusion. She was the stupidest person on the planet. And she was pregnant.

And she didn't know what to do next. The only person she knew she had to talk to was Gus himself.

She picked up her phone and shakily dialed his number. His clear deep voice answered. "Hi, honey" he said. Did he say that to his wife, too? Did he say that to the other women he had slept with over the years?

"I have to talk to you," Demi squeaked. She started to cry.

"Oh no, what's wrong?" His voice became clouded with concern. Or was that something else?

She stuttered on all of her words. She wasn't sure she could get it out. Maybe she should ask for him to meet her. Maybe she should just run away. "Gus, I'm pregnant" she heard herself say.

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Demi kept crying. "Did you hear me?" she finally asked.

It took another few moments for him to respond. "Yes." he said quietly. After another pause he said, "Don't worry, Demetra. We will figure something out."

There wasn't anything more to say. After some silence and quiet goodbyes, Demi curled up on the couch leaving all the work for the day unfinished. She couldn't eat, she couldn't sleep, she just stared. Finally she got up the energy to call the staffing company and leave a message on their voice mail. She wasn't feeling well; she wouldn't be in to work tomorrow. She knew that would put her representatives into a tizzy in the morning and she might get several frantic phone calls that she wouldn't answer. She needed time alone. She needed to process things. Just this morning there had been nothing wrong in the world.

The next afternoon, Demi had still been sitting around in her pajamas watching TV all day. She had ignored calls from the staffing company, figuring she would call them before they left for the day and let them know where she would be tomorrow. And that would probably not be at work. Gus had not called her at all.

There was a knock at her door. She forced herself to answer it, even though she knew she looked like hell. She opened the door. Standing there was an average looking young man, someone she ha never seen before. "Are you Demetra S...?”

"Yes," she responded before he could finish her last name. She always interrupted people before they could even try.

"You have been served," he shoved a large envelope into her hands and walked away.

Demi closed the door and looked down at the envelope. Mercury Partners, LLC. Demi opened it carefully and began to read the letter. It was from Gus Gray's Lawyers, and it appeared to be regarding an agreement to pay for whatever she intended to do next.

Gus had sent his lawyers to end the affair.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Underworld in Recent Fiction

You may recall the basics of The Underworld from Classics classes in High school. You know that souls will cross the river Styx on the ferry run by Charon. The Titans were banished to Tartarus after the war against the Olympians. You may also be familiar with several of it’s most famous residents – Sisyphus, endlessly pushing the rock up the hill only to have it tumble down again, and Tantalus who is always wish for the food and drink just out of his reach. Recently, two very different authors have included amazing descriptions of the Underworld in all of its splendor, or lack there of.

To give you a little refresher, feel free to check out one of my favorite sites on the subject is Myth Man’s Homework Help Center page on The Underworld.

I particular love the map of the underworld there:

In the popular young adult series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, author Rick Riordan provides a very colorful description of The Underworld, and of Persephone herself, in the final book of the series, The Last Olympian.

“We emerged at the base of a cliff, on a plain of black volcanic sand. To our right, the river Styx gushed from the rocks and roared off in a cascade of rapids. To our left, away in the gloom, fires burned on the ramparts of Erebos, the great black walls of Hades’s kingdom.” (pages 116, 117)

About the palace gardens, Riordan writes:

“It was beautiful in a creepy way. Skeletal white trees grew from marble basins. Flower beds overflowed with golden plants and gemstones. A pair of thrones, one bone and one silver, sat on the balcony with a view of the Fields of Asphodel. It would have been a nice place to spend a Saturday morning except for the sulfurous smell and the cries of tortured souls in the distance.” (page 120)
And, I do so love his description of Persephone herself.

“Queen Persephone studied me curiously. I’d seen her once before in the winter, but now in the summer she looked like a totally different goddess. She had lustrous black hair and warm brown eyes. Her dress shimmered with colors. Flower patterns in the fabric changed and blossomed – roses, tulips, honeysuckle.” (page 121)

The Percy Jackson books are a fantastic Young Adult introduction to Greek Mythology. Riordan really does his mythological homework and has woven a delightful tale. I hope that perhaps you might be interested in checking them out for yourself if you haven’t already.

That brings me, however, to my favorite underworld description. This comes from Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad. Written for the Canongate Myth series, it is a tale of the Iliad and Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus’s faithful wife, Penelope. In order to share this description, I have to give a little of the story away: it is told by Penelope after her own death when she is living in the underworld herself.

“It is dark here, as many have remarked: ‘Dark Death’, they used to say. ‘The gloomy halls of Hades’, and so forth. Well, yes, it is dark, but there are advantages – for instance, if you see someone you’d rather not speak to you can always pretend you haven’t recognized them.
"There are of course the fields of asphodel. You can walk around in them if you want. It’s brighter there, and a certain amount of vapid dancing goes on, though the region sounds better than it is – the fields of asphodel has a poetic lilt to it. But just consider. Asphodel, asphodel, asphodel – pretty enough white flowers, but a person gets tired of them after a while. It would have been better to supply some variety – an assortment of colours, a few winding paths and vistas and stone benches and fountains. I would have preferred a few hyacinths, at least and would a sprinkling of crocuses have been too much to expect? Though we never get spring here, or any other season. You do have to wonder who designed the place.” (Pages 15, 16)
If you have not read this story yet, please take the time to do so. And while you’re at it, read everything else Margaret Atwood has ever written – you won’t be disappointed.

A little bit of Persephone can be found in some of the most random places. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

10 Feet Small by Josh Joplin

In the summer of 2006, my partner Matt was invited to play drums for a service at our Unitarian Universalist Church. The theme was “The Gospel of Pop” and a full rock band played several recognizable songs and then the worship leader would speak on the spiritual themes of each piece. The songs included such pieces as “I Still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For” by U2 and “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. The process got me thinking that there were pop songs that I loved that spoke to me about the story of Persephone. Some songs have distant connections, some more obvious ones. But one in particular has my attention right now. It is an old song by Josh Joplin and his first band. It is on a CD called Projectorhead, originally released in 1996, which Matt and I picked up at a Josh Joplin show several years ago. There is one song on it, "10 Feet Small" that really gives me a Persephone-like feeling.

The song starts out with a traditional American folk song called “Shady Grove”. The song comes from the 18th century and in the folk tradition there are countless versions of the song. The version Josh Joplin sings at the beginning of “10 Feet Small” is as follows.

Shady Grove, my little love
Shady Grove I know
Shady Grove my little love
Bound for Shady Grove

Wish I had a piece of thread
As fine as I could sew
I’d sew my true love by my side
And down the road I’d go

Cheeks as red as the bloomin' rose,
eyes of the deepest brown
You are the true love of my life
Stay ‘til the sun goes down

Shady Grove, my little love
Shady Grove I know
Shady Grove my little love
Bound for Shady Grove

Shady Grove, my little love
Shady Grove I say
Shady Grove my little love
And wait for the judgment day

I originally thought that I understood this piece of the song as something Hades would sing to Persephone, but based on the rest of the Lyrics I believe it may just be the other way around. It seems as if the name of the “little love” is, in fact, “Shady Grove” which I could easily see as a pet name that Persephone might call her lover. Many of the versions have different items that the singer wishes they could have. The Jerry Garcia version wishes he could have a banjo string made of golden twine. The Doc Watson version wishes he could have a big fine horse and corn to feed him on. I have not yet found a version where the singer wishes they could have a “Piece of thread as fine as [he] could sew” as Joplin sings. I also love the image of the judgment day. Since Judgement Day has so many mythical connections to the end of the world, or a big death as it were, I think it could refer to the day that Persephone can return to the underworld to be with her lover again. This reference is also something I have not found in any other version of Shady Grove that I have found. With these two images that are so specific in my mind to the myth of Persephone, I simply love the thought of this song being a love song from Persephone to Hades. And I see the remainder of the song a Persephone’s message to her mother, Demeter, upon her return to Olympos.

Looking out my window high above I am 10 feet small
Suddenly I feel and I’m alive and I see me fall
See me fall
Thinking things I never thought before, I will not atone
The sin of knowing I am not wise but I’m not alone
Not Alone

Somewhere between fear and frustration I find myself
And I am someone else
I find myself, and I am someone else

Looking out my window high above wishing you were here
I pretend I understand love but I’m not that clear
Not that Clear
Somewhere between feeling and not feeling I find myself
And I am someone else
I find myself, and I am someone else

Who are you to tell me that you’re sorry?
I find myself, and I am someone else
Who are you to tell me that you’re worried?
I find myself, and I am someone else
I am someone else

Looking out my window high above I am 10 feet small
Suddenly I feel and I’m alive and I see me fall
See me fall

What this song touches in me is the feeling that Persephone must have when she returns year after year to stay with her mother, but be distant from her husband. When Persephone returns each year, she is no longer the innocent maiden she was the first time she played in the fields with the other virgin goddesses. She says "Somewhere between fear and frustration I find myself and I am someone else." I can see her high on the towers of Olympos overlooking the green grasses and the blue sky touched with cottony white clouds. She had become to use to the black and white world of the Halls of Hades where the people and the palaces were simply colorless and she was the only touch of brightness in the kingdom. She feels alive, as she has been in the land of the dead for the last 6 to 9 months, depending on the version of the myth you read. But she recreates her decent in her mind. She has thoughts that are new to her, thoughts she would have never had before she journeyed into the underworld to be with her husband. And she is not willing to think these things are wrong in any way. As she says, “the sin of knowing I am not wise, but I’m not alone”. Does this mean she has come to terms with being less than wise or has come to terms to the fact that she is no longer alone – that Hades is with her even when she is apart from him. She is, in fact, someone else. She is no longer the virgin but the wife and queen.

There on Olympos, though, she wishes Hades could be with her. But this is not his world. She is to spend this time with her Mother alone. I love the ambiguity of the statement that “I pretend I understand love, but I’m not that clear.” The story of Persephone has been traditionally associated with abduction and rape, so Persephone herself might have some mixed feelings. Is this love? Is this Stockholm Syndrome? So what is the place between “feeling and not feeling”? For me this place would be numbness; a place where you could feel only a dull ache where something once left a gaping wound. In that numbness, once again, Persephone knows that she is not the same goddess she had been before her journey to the underworld.

I even seen this accusation aimed at her mother, Demeter: "Who are you to tell me that you’re sorry? I find myself, and I am someone else. Who are you to tell me that you’re worried? I find myself, and I am someone else." How do you explain to your mother that you are no longer the child that she coddled? You have moved on, you are an adult and you will live your own life? Persephone has anxiety about this, but at the same time she is ready to finally stand on her own two feet and not let her mother be in charge of her future. Things have changed, and Persephone knows it in her heart even if Demeter cannot accept it.

The song ends for me with Persephone watching herself fall. Her fall is her return to her husband and her own world. This place is her place now, not the heavenly realm of Olympos. It is only in the Underworld that Persephone is her own person.

Song can be a form of prayer. And when I listen to this particular song, I feel connected to my Goddess in a way I wonder if others can experience. I hope that this glimpse into the world of Josh Joplin and Persephone can help shed light on that feeling.

You can hear the song at the Neos Alexandria Music page here.  Scroll down to the Mix Tape section, look for Persephone and click on the blue dot for the song. 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Persephone in Winter

I was looking for something seasonal, and came across this poem. 

Persephone in Winter

Persephone in winter-time
Lay still, nor gave a thought
To the fierce surging tides of flowers
Her restless youth had brought.
Trapped beyond touch of pain or sorrow,
Gaoled in high walls of aquamarine,
Her blue eyes veiled from any morrow,
She slumbered . . . Pluto’s queen.

The sharp-toothed conies burrowed down
To find the jonquil maiden
Seen dancing through their hillocked town
Her bare arms blossom-laden;
With frightened eyes, the seekers crept
To nibbled grass again,
Telling of how the Ivory slept,
Too still, too chill for men.

Only the snake, whose thought strikes cold
From ancient jewelled eyes,
In rings of mottled green and gold
Slips round her girdle-wise.
Only the stealthy lute-string sound
Of hesitant waters underground,
Only the ice-blue water-drips
Are secret as her lips.

You can learn more about Robyn Hyde here