Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Persephone’s Fruit

 

Persephone. When I first came across this tale, it felt both scarily foreign and familiar. I couldn’t tell where the dividing lines were, what about this story made me feel like I had heard it one hundred times and what about it revolted my mind as being strange and weird. The idea of Hell springing onto the world and snatching away beauty, promise, youth- that felt wrong. It was foreign to the younger part of myself, the one in denial over the presence of Death. Death should not play a part in this beautiful story.

The sad truth is, for all of us, Death is here and comes in one thousand ways. Your body need not die for the experience to happen, tragedies kick it off. Whether we like it or not, whether we’re naïve to it not, we must die a thousand little deaths in this lifetime. And sometimes…many times…it feels like during the pain and misery, that we will never live again, we’ll never walk in the sunshine, laugh and smile.

The story of Persephone begins with a happy girl, hanging out with friends, picking flowers, making garlands. The ground rumbles and shakes and out gallops Hades through a crack, god of the Underworld. He snatches the girl for his bride and hurls her down with him, down into the black descent of death. Her mother, Demeter, discovering her daughter kidnapped for a god’s bride, goes on a searching frenzy. The Earth falls barren in Demeter’s sorrow, everything withering and dying from her curse.

After a lot of adventures and lots of people dying through famine, Zeus finally grants Persephone’s return from the Dead. She will spend half the year to her mother. For the other part of the year, she must live in Elysium (the vaguely happier part of the Underworld) with her husband.

Long ago, before the Ancient Greeks told this story, older civilizations also told a Persephone style story. This different Persephone went willingly down to the dead, seeking for her King below. Babylonian stories of Ishtar and Inanna also have a Queen willingly make her descent to the below.

Whichever way it is told, the descent into the Underworld is no easy matter. It’s paved with tragedy and sorrow, a sundering of what once was. Persephone ends up in Elysium or “the apple land” as Robert Graves translates it, an orchard island where good people came after death. She spends half the year there, living among fruit and trees. When she arises from the ground, her mother springs to meet her and Spring bursts forth from the reunion.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, writer of “Women Who Run with Wolves” and a fabulous Jungian analyst, walked me through a retelling of Persephone, fleshing out the inkling I had of Persephone’s desire and willingness to go to the Underworld. Desire and resistance are not incompatible emotions and the Greek Persephone’s resistance and her earlier predecessor’s willingness reflect how the two can twine together.

Persephone holds out the apple of promise- for our terrible times of pain and anguish. Death must come for rebirth. I still have no understanding of why this is but I hang onto the hope that it is true. The natural world cycles this story over and again. Life can be beautiful even in the Underworld and just as Persephone is united with her husband, so are we forcibly united with ourselves as we pass through dark times.

As we walk towards the darkest time of the year, Persephone descends with us. The light will come back, Spring will rupture forth but for now, the darkness and all that it carries comes near. It arrives whether we would have it or not and it’ll do its work whether we would have it or no. Necessary and potent, there is work going on at this grey time. A grasp of this season’s inevitably and a belief that all is not lost, that good work is being done, this is the legacy Persephone grants us.

 

crabapples

Comments (6):

  1. Cindi Eaton

    October 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Wow. Thanks for sharing. Love to read your writing Catherine.

  2. leililaloo (Dana Komjaty)

    October 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    You write so beautiful Catherine, thank you..i am happy to learn about Persephone.. <3

  3. Catherine

    October 28, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Thank you, Dana dear!

  4. Catherine

    October 28, 2013 at 8:54 am

    Thank you, Cindi. It was a fun piece to write.

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Winter Aconite & Snowdrop

Spring is whimsical and wary right now, first appearing in a patch of sunlight and then fleeting away in an ice-cold breeze, only to reappear a little later in the liquid song of a redwing blackbird. I wear my winter coat one day, a hoodie the next, and then it’s back to the winter coat the next morning as a heavy frost sparkles on rooftops. Only recently have I given up my thick scarf, though if there’s a wind tomorrow, I may have to pull it out of the closet and wind myself up in it once more.

None but the bravest flowers are blooming, the winter aconite and snowdrop. Winter aconite is a small yellow flower that’s easy to overlook; it remains shut until the sun has deeply soaked its petals, then pops open like a tiny jewelry box to reveal gold petals centered on delicate pistils and stamens. The snowdrops this spring huddle close to the ground, nearly lost in the mud and dead leaves. As of yet, there are no daffodils blooming—their leaves have come up only an inch or so out the brown ground. They are cautious and since it freezes each night, I cannot blame them.

Beyond the flowers there is the ground itself: a muddle of browns, thick with the rotted tree leaves and the dead foliage of last year. There is nothing lovely to see here, only the form of the land itself. It swells and slopes up from the river, lies low along the horizon, and finally drops into a ditch.

On an unexpected day in early March, once the snow disappeared, city workers came to clean up the young trees and invasive species that have been growing avid and unchecked along the creek near my home. It is the first time I can see the contours of the land clearly in all the years I’ve been living here, and I’m struck by the curves and lines that slope down towards the creek, a rollicking bed of dark brown that makes a strong contrast to the bright blue overhead. The undulating land here is small but it’s a dream, a reason, a mysterious being that wraps through the neighborhood’s mind. Soon enough, this dark and curving space will be clad in green, heavily wreathed by plants, bushes and eager saplings. But for now, it is bare and exposed, revealing the dark space between winter and summer. This is where the wind snaps cold like a knife, but the brilliant sunshine keeps calling everyone out despite the drear.

Tips on Surviving the Never-ending Winter

It’s been a long, hard winter. Now that it’s mid-February, the cold days have started stealing into my bones, urging me to stay in bed and sleep until the warm weather comes. As much as I long to take a three month long nap, there’s stuff to be done and living to do.

I’ve gotten more intentional about warding off the winter blues this year and not let myself, mentally or physically, wander off into a nearby snowbank and fall asleep. I’ve been observing and writing down little notes to myself on what lessens the gloom. These notes have become guideposts of sorts, gently illuminating the path through a difficult winter.

  1. The first guidepost may be the most essential: drinking hot beverages continually and consistently helps to ward off the deep cold. I brew a small pot of my favorite breakfast tea blend in the morning, switch to ginger and lemon herbals mid-day, and then return to caffeinated teas like black or green at night. Other people love coffee and others their tisanes. Find one or many and slurp away happily all day. Hot drinks are so deeply comforting when it’s cold and dark.
  2. I’ve learned to take walks even when the weather is crap. Obviously if everything is sheeted in ice, a walk isn’t going to happen but for the those other days, time willing, I make an effort to head outside. There’s the exercise aspect but more than that, it’s important for my spirit and soul. I walk to de-stress, to come in contact with a bigger world than my own, and to climb out of my circular thinking. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that clears junk out of the mind and soul. Our bodies evolved to walk over this earth and so when we participate in it, the old rhythms occur. Walking is a way to feel freedom. And it’s a way to fight too. I feel incredibly alive upon coming inside after walking through high winds and bad weather.
  3. Reading extensively helps to cast off the smothering feel of an endless winter. Last winter I read Alexander Pushkin and discovered the joy of reading Russian literature during the dead of winter. This month, I read City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, one in a pair of sisters that wrote during the mid-1800’s. City Folk and Country Folk is a delightful satire, ridiculing a variety of “city folk” and everyone else besides. Among the cast of characters is the intellectual Ovcharov, a dead ringer for Austen’s Mr. Collins. The book centers on neighbors visiting each other, eating each other’s food, drinking each other’s tea and generally getting on each other’s nerves until they all decide to stop visiting one another. Needless to say, I adored this plot line.
    And after a three month long wait, I received The Library Book by Susan Orlean from the library with two week checkout period to read it. No way was I going to read part way through, return the book, and then have to go back into that long waiting line. I set up a rough estimate of how many pages I needed to read a day to make the two week goal and then started. To my surprise, I enjoyed having a book reading goal and  diving into Orlean’s generous and easy-flowing prose every evening.
    My last read for this month is Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom. February is Black History Month and the perfect time to read his work. I’m only a few chapters in but his thoughtful and beautiful prose has pulled me in hard into the tragedy of his story and it’s hard to stop reading his eloquent prose.
  4. Spring will come. It feels so far away and even the evergreens and pines are looking haggard but it will come. When the sky is a certain shade of blue, I remember that it will. I remind myself of this daily.