I saw it from a distance: lavender buds shimmering in the misty Seattle rain. My heart felt warm, and light. How eager we are to emerge from the grey! Our longing for Spring is as ancient as humankind.
The Greeks conceived a myth to explain the reunion of soul that comes with new life bursting out of the soil. Persephone, maiden goddess of the Spring, is abducted by Hades, Lord of the Underworld. He carries her down to his dark realm, a prisoner-bride. Her mother, Demeter, goddess of the earth, is thrown into the depths of mourning. So epic is her despair, all plants on earth die as she withdraws her nourishment from the land. Famine takes the lives of thousands of mortals. Zeus, locked away in his sanctuary on Olympus, takes note of this suffering at last, and appeals to his brother, Hades, to release Persephone. Hades reluctantly agrees, but in his cunning, begs his reluctant bride to eat a pomegranite seed. She has been holding out, sensing the symbolism in taking the seed into her body, but the promise of freedom loosens her resolve. She eats the seed, consummating her marriage to the Dark Lord, and is fated to spend four months of each year with her husband in the Underworld.
The parallels to our modern day abound. One could argue that Georgetown law student, Susan Fluke, was “carried to the Underworld” by the slanderous comments of Rush Limbaugh. And we only have to glance at the photos of war-ravaged Africa, to see the ancient violence against women in full horrific form. This time, it is not a grieving Demeter that brings starvation to the land, but the ancient tribal violence of a patriarcal lords.
We rage at what some have called, “The New Assault on Women”. We are hungry for meaning and wholeness in our relationships, and in or world.
The myth points the way. When Persephone is released from Hell, she rejoices to put her feet upon the earth, and run to her mother. But she is no longer a child. Her story echoes the journey we all must take, from the innocence and entitlement of youth, to the Underworld of loss, and, ultimately, a confrontation with the dark aspect of our nature. Hades is not only the Lord of the dead. He protects and honors the Unconscious, the part of us that lives in Shadow. We are called to descend the shallow perch of the unexamined ego, down into our fears, frailties, and the host of nasty qualities flesh is heir to. The question for every mother and daughter – indeed for every relationship – is whether or not each person can own, tend, and transform shadow into a new state of being. If not, the split off shadow will be projected into the other person.
What would this look like in a non-mythic scenario? Imagine a modern Demeter who is an alcoholic. Persephone goes off to college, struggles to adjust to all the new pressures, joins a support group, has a painful love affair, does some therapy: sees patterns universal to a child of an alcoholic. She returns home in the Spring, having confronted her demons.
What if her mom used these same precious months to enter treatment, join AA, embrace sobriety? She can now greet her daughter and explain how she has wronged her, abused her, and abandoned her emotionally. Then Persephone can express her pain and anger, knowing how important this is for her own healing. She could also own the times when she withheld her love from her mom, the only way she knew to express her rage, as she watched her mother slip further into addiction.
Shadow exists in many subtle and devious forms. I can only speculate about Rush Limbaugh’s shadow. What must his mother be like, for him to attack Susan Fluke with such venom? Mary Poppins might have been less wooden if she could have owned the down side of being “practically perfect in every way”. Shadow can emerge when a loved one is ill and you cannot summon the courage to visit or call. It can emerge when you unconsciously work too much, ignore your needs too much. It can emerge any time you act from a false self.
This Spring, the beauty of the earth is calling to each of us to descend into the rich soil of our own Underworld. Like Demeter and Persephone, we must return again and again to our psychological winters. Only then can we greet the Spring, seeing ourselves, and all human creatures as fragile wonders in a world ever in need of transformation.