Posts Tagged ‘God of the Dead’

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Short – Anubis

November 13, 2009

The dead and the dying yield first to
Thanatos, and then to the Jackal Lord.
Anubis warms the shivering shades with
Amber breath; sweet promises fade away.

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Short – Wepwawet

November 12, 2009

Wolves lounge at his feet, letting their hot breath
Slide up through the chill air of the night-world.
Wepwawet lingers here: his breath is the
Smoke of incense lit by his worshippers.

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Read Write Prompt #2

October 8, 2009

Read Write Prompt #2: Eat, Drink, Write a Poem

Hades and Persephone.

It wasn’t hard to find something that she
Would like; little fruit, hiding promises.
She doesn’t take it like I thought she would.
Seeds, kissed away from my fingers. Swallowed.

I follow those seeds, down her throat, soft, white;
I kiss, leave red stains: pomegranate juice
Flows between us; life stirs in this shadowed
Womb-world; we create something new. We live.

I know what will happen; I always know.
I offer her a dance, a kiss, a ring.
She accepts everything; Queen Hera gifts
Our marriage as her mother stirs in rage.

Such a small fruit, but containing so much.
We have the fruit and we have each other.
Reality, life, death; nothing matters
In our private world. Nothing but our love.

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Why Persephone?

October 6, 2009

In my quest to better understand Persephone, I have found myself pausing at this particular point. Why is it that Hades chose Persephone—or Kore—to be his wife? It was not merely her maidenhood, her sexual innocence; and nor was it her gentle, sunlit nature. To boil it down to her as the ‘essence of spring’ does an injustice to this goddess – for she is the embodiment of change, of all of the seasons, of the natural order. But as Kore, she was not such things. She was just Demeter’s daughter, just the maiden accompanied by nymphs. And yet Hades saw something in her, this girl—or rather, this pretty puppet, a flower not yet opened—and he fell in love with her. The heart of one such as Hades was warmed by her and, inflamed by Eros’ eager smiles, he stole her away.

I believe that Hades recognised his equal in Persephone. He did not part the earth and incite Demeter into almost killing gods and humans everywhere just so that he could have a pretty little doll sit on his lap. No: he brought her into the Underworld and helped her become his equal. And she, in return, accepted the pomegranate seeds—Hera’s seeds; the seeds of marriage—and they were wed.

One might wonder how, and why, Hades and Persephone are equals. Prior to his abduction of her, they were not: in spirit they were, but in terms of influence they were all but opposites. Persephone was responsible only for spring growth, for the gentle blossoming of flowers; and Hades was the King of the Underworld. Persephone was also living her immortal life in Demeter’s shadow; she was watched constantly by her, and those that vied for her hand were turned away by her mother, not by her. If Hades had not abducted Persephone she, arguably, might never have reached her full potential: she would have likely lived forever in her mother’s shadow, responsible only for the beginning of spring.

With the help of Zeus and Gaia, according to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hades was able to steal away Persephone, unnoticed by all but Helios and Hekate. There is significance in this: Helios, lord of the sun, sees everything that occurs throughout the day; Hekate, queen of necromancy and ghosts, would know of everything that occurs throughout the night. Thus the transition of Kore to Persephone—girl to woman—is echoed not only in Persephone’s annual return from the Underworld and the awakening of the earth, but also in the time in which she was taken: at dusk or dawn, the in-between times.

In art and myth, Persephone is often described as a “young” goddess. She is a youth; stolen from the sunlight before she can achieve her true form, and yet she is not a child. She is at the in-between stage, the ‘dawn’ of womanhood: she is the quintessential woman-child. In abrupt, modern terms, she is a teenager. She does not yet know the delights and sorrows of being a woman; she is not a matron, and she will never be a crone. She is caught at a stage of hormones, a twist of cool logic and sharp emotions – and thus can be seen in how she behaves as Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone’s relationship with Adonis (which I will discuss in more detail further on) is an echo of this transition. After his death, he spends half of the year in the Underworld with her, and half with in the world above with Aphrodite. To coincide with this, Adonis would spend the autumn winter months with Persephone, and the spring and summer months with Aphrodite: thus their relationship echoes the themes of life-death-rebirth that are so common in the Greek mythologies.

When Persephone is stolen from the world, Demeter proves that she is willing to go to any lengths to get her back. She refuses to let the living things taste fruit and feel warmth—both fruit and heat here symbolising life, as food and energy are required for most, if not all, life-forms. (It is also ironic, then, that the only fruit that can be found in the Underworld—the pomegranate—still grew without Demeter’s influence; if she had killed that, too, Persephone might never have become the Queen of the Underworld.) Thus both Demeter and Persephone are here goddesses of winter; of the hard, cruel, cold months where—and this would have been particularly true in antiquity—jagged, icy death reigns and humanity becomes the prey, rather than the predator.

And then, when Persephone returns from the Underworld, she and her mother bless the earth with life – the flowers begin to grow; the fruits shine; the snows recede. Demeter and Persephone, then, are goddesses of the seasons—for Demeter brings about the changes of summer and winter and Persephone rules spring (as Kore, the maiden, goddess of spring growth) and autumn (as Persephone Karpophoros, the bringer of fruit, goddess of the harvest).

As Queen of the Underworld, Persephone is a much more merciful, benevolent ruler than Hades – and such is shown in how she treats the (would-be) heroes that find their way into the Underworld. When Herakles entered the Underworld, he was ‘welcomed like a brother by Persephone’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History); and according to Apollodorus in his Bibliotheca, Herakles passed up victory in his wrestling competition with the Underworld god Menoites ‘at the request of Persephone.’ When Psykhe reached Persephone’s palace, she ‘declined the soft cushion and the rich food offered by her hostess,’ (Apuleius, The Golden Ass) and when she reported the trial that Aphrodite had tasked her with, Persephone immediately filled the box of beauty for her. Persephone took favour on Sisyphus and released him from the Underworld; and when Orpheus sang of his love for Eurydice, he ‘persuaded her to assist him in his desires and to allow him to bring up his dead wife from Haides’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History).

However, Persephone also proves that she is not a goddess with whom one can trifle with; when Peirithoos plans to kidnap her from the Underworld for his wife, the youth Persephone blossoms into a woman and deals swiftly with him: ‘Peirithoos now decided to seek the hand of Persephone in marriage, and when he asked Theseus to make the journey with him Theseus at first endeavoured to dissuade him and to turn him away from such a deed as being impious; but since Peirithoos firmly insisted upon it Theseus was bound by the oaths to join with him in the deed. And when they had at last made their way below to the regions of Haides, it came to pass that because of the impiety of their act they were both put in chains, and although Theseus was later let go by reason of the favour with which Herakles regarded him, Peirithoos because of the impiety remained in Haides, enduring everlasting punishment; but some writers of myths say that both of them never returned.’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History).

In discussing Persephone and her transition—after her abduction at Hades’ hands—from child to woman, it is inevitable that one must discuss who she has ever taken as a lover. Unlike many of the gods, Persephone did not have numerous lovers – only Hades (to whom she gave birth to the Erinyes, according to the Orphic Hymns 29 and 70), Zeus (to whom she birthed Zagreus, according to the Orphic Hymn 29, Hyginus, Diodorus Siculus, Nonnus and Suidas; and Melinoe, according to the Orphic Hymn 71) and Adonis.

Persephone’s infamous love-affair with Adonis produced no children, and, strangely, did not incite the jealousy or wrath of her husband Hades (though Ares, only the paramour of Aphrodite, was envious enough of Adonis to kill him, according to some classical writers). It could be argued that Persephone’s relationship with Adonis is symbolic of the process of rebirth. Before his death, Adonis spent a third of his year with Persephone—I suggest that this third was the very end of autumn, the whole of winter, and the very beginning of spring. As such, Aphrodite would be cold and in mourning in the months when sex and love would, especially in antiquity, have not been at the forefront of the minds of humankind; and his emergence from the Underworld would coincide with Persephone’s own. Thus the relationship of Adonis, Aphrodite and Persephone would symbolise the entire theme of life-death-rebirth: Aphrodite as the ruler of life, Persephone as the ruler of death, and Adonis as the transition between their realms. Adding to this, both Aphrodite and Persephone share the epithet Despoina—the ruling goddess, or the mistress—and this, I think, lends further credence to the idea proposed.

Persephone’s relationship with Zeus was one of the most devastating of unions: the King of Life and the Queen of Death. As such, perhaps Zagreus was doomed from the very offset – born of trickery and lies, for, according to such authors as Nonnus, Zeus took the shape of a drakon (a dragon; a serpent) and ravished Persephone. Zagreus was a colossal explosion of Fate—for Zeus and Persephone both influence it, and have been influenced by it—as well as the primal stirrings of desire. Thus Zagreus—and, in turn, Dionysos—is a god with influence over life, death and fate, for he commands his followers to take their destinies into their own hands and twist them into oblivion.

In answer to the question proposed by the very title of this essay—Why Persephone?—I give this: Hades chose Persephone because she was his perfect opposite: feminity to his masculinity, warmth to his cold and light to his darkness. Between them, Hades and Persephone are, also, the very embodiment of two principles that rule supreme in the psyche of humans – the notion of life after death, and the promise of rebirth. They are fair rulers of the Underworld and just governors of fate; and in their capable hands, I am assured that the flow of life, death and rebirth will continue as long as the Moirai—the Fates—see fit.

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Winter Wolf

October 3, 2009

The autumn leaves rustle their chill warning
To those who are most affected by the
Change of the seasons; the change from maiden
To wife; from mother to despairing crone:
Demeter and Persephone, the queens
Of the fertile earth and all its fruits.

Winter does not creep up, unnoticed; for
It is not a wolf in sheep’s skin, but a
Wolf with wolf’s eyes, ears, teeth and deadly smile.
The wolf stole away Kore as she lingered
In her mother’s warm, far-reaching shadow,
And claimed her as his own: kin of his blood.

Winter comes, and neither the Mother nor
Daughter can forget what came that first time.
The earth parted beneath Kore’s dainty feet
And the wolf, stinking of death, took her up
In his rough arms, wolf’s arms, and brought her to
The world that no-one ever leaves unchanged.

His world, named for him: that dark, gloomy place
Where only pomegranates grow, bright through
The heavy, eternal darkness of Dis.
Both Mother and Daughter remember those
Pomegranates, and the seeds of which bound
Persephone, Iron Queen, to her realm.

Demeter hides her face in a mourning
That none can shake from her tight eyes and lips.
Even her mother cannot prevent what
Will come, as it always does; the slow creep
Of frost over the earth, settling soon
As thick white snows that forbid any growth.

Persephone stains her lips red with wine
That is based upon her fruit, and she smiles
At her husband, and lets him rest his cold,
Cold head upon her breast, like a young child
Seeking warmth from someone he barely knows,
But for their face, their name and their kindness.

Demeter pounds the earth with an onslaught
Of ice shaped like knives, daggers, swords; she tries
To pierce through the thin skins humans wear
To keep away Demeter’s deadly cold.
She smiles at those who succumb, watching their
Soul flee; and she snarls at those who survive.

Then it is spring; it melts away the ice
With warm, watery sunlight that barely
Takes the chill from Demeter’s cold, cruel face.
She–Mother, Daughter, Wife, Lady and Queen–
Allows the sunlight to begin to warm
The earth; for Kore will return to her soon.

It is not Kore who returns at spring, though:
Demeter has never understood that
Kore died the instant her mother’s ice pierced
Her delicate skin; Persephone is
All that remains now, a Daughter that is
Born again each year, but remains the same.

The summer blazes: over the countries
Wildfires roam, destroying everything
That happens to stand in their path, to stop
Them from taking what is rightfully theirs;
Demeter pities the wildfires, for
She alone knows that feeling all too well.

She alone knows just how much it can tear
You apart; how it can steal the breath from
Your lungs and make you cry out for that which
You have lost to the endless mysteries
Of the world; she lost young Kore to that cruel
World, and she has never forgotten that.

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Fiction: Hekate and Hermes: Crossroads and boundaries

August 22, 2009

He, she thinks, licking her lips, is everything that she loves about herself. No, no, he is not just that. He is everything that she loves and everything that she hates. He is the shadows to cool and comfort her when the light—the bright light that she has grown unaccustomed to in the gloominess of Hades—burns hot-fast-sharp enough to hurt. She bleeds for that light; smoke pours from her mouth and eyes, her own power streaming away from her – from her own imbalance.

And thus, when the light stings and her smoke flees, she turns back to the darkness, back to him. He is always there – not pushing, not demanding, just there. He opens his arms to accept her; she pushes the low rim of his hat aside and kisses the warm skin of his brow. It shouldn’t be possible, not for a god whose very lips are dark with shadow, but he’s always warm, as though fire burns under his skin. She loves that; and maybe she hates it a little, too. Maybe she hates him a little.

But in that moment, with her body nestled against his and stealing the warmth from his skin, she does not think of love and hate. No: she thinks, instead, of another lover – her only other. She is of the night, of gloomy death and prophecies of thus; and so perhaps it was natural that she would fall into Hades’ bed, one Summer night when they were drunk on their own despair. Summer is Aphrodite’s season, after all—her domain does stretch to the Underworld, of course: for she is a goddess of life and, thus, of death—and she had not seen Hermes for almost a month. Time travels differently between the worlds; and although she knew that it had been only a month, it had felt like endless, lonely years. Hades, hungry, kissed her first. She remembers that clearly, despite the fogginess of her mind and of their encounter. Passion fueled them, then, but it did not hide how much Hades repelled her, when their chitons were strewn beneath them and all she could feel was his cold, hard body against hers.

But she does not like to think of such times. She kisses Hermes again—lips to lips, this time—and thinks instead of her seduction at this lovely-awful god’s hands. He was not cold and indifferent like Hades; instead, he brought her cool skin to quivering life with his hands and tongue. She only has to press her fingers to her tongue to feel the echo of her taste and his combined in her mouth – light and shadow, summer and winter, ice and fire. He has never bored her: she is inexperienced and he is not. She chooses to spend her days in Hades with only shades and barely-there nymphai; and he flies through the air, over the earth and through the seas. She envies him that: he is a messenger, bound to them all, and yet he has more freedom than she—lady of the Underworld, minister to Persephone and one-time lover of Hades—will ever have.

Now, though, Hermes pushes the darkness out of her mind with kisses that set her nerves on fire. He does not ask questions, nor comment, nor laugh at her cold, fevered hands that glide over him, awkward and fumbling as ever. He just kisses her, breathing heat into her body, and she responds as she never did for Hades.

Later, she lifts her head from the ground and looks at him. Her skin is flushed, now; and his is cold and pale. The balance has been restored – and when he leaves, he will be warmed by the sun and the kisses of nymphai and his wife, and she will lose her heat to the creeping cold of the Underworld. But such thoughts are not for now: and so when she looks at him she casts all of her thoughts aside. She—Hekate, queen of ghosts and necromancy, lady of blood and life and death—becomes almost mortal with her open expression and too-moist eyes.

I love you, she thinks, as she always does.

And his lips twitch, as they always do; for he is language, he is thought verbalised – and yet he will not answer her unless she speaks the words aloud. He would not do her such an injustice as to act as though she is beneath him, that her body and mind is his alone to read.

But she will not speak the words herself. To do so would be to become truly mortal, to lose her divinity and yield to the pleasures and pains that Aphrodite and her Erotes bring in their laughing, golden wake. She is not ready for that—not yet—but perhaps, one day, she will be.

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Thoughts on Thanatos

August 17, 2009

Death.

He is maggots sliding through empty veins, gnawing at dead flesh. He is the flames that burn to accept the bodies of those no longer in this world. He is the son of black Nyx, and yet his touch—gentle, unassuming, soothing—can strike at any given moment. He was born dead: he has never known warm sunlight or open-mouthed kisses; he does not understand what it means to breathe. He does not know how to live, how to survive.

He is limitless, unstoppable; and yet he tempers his own power. He binds himself to the rules of the Underworld, and to the word of his Lord, Hades. He is the steadfast companion of his drowsing brother, Hypnos; and he rides in his mother’s chariot as she draws her thin mists over the world each night. He lives alone but for his butterflies – magnificent, beating, pulsing, alive. They remind him of his oaths, and they keep him grounded when he would otherwise drift with shadow.

He is not cruel. He does not laugh as he takes the souls of the newly-dead. He inhales their spirits—dead lips to dead lips, cold flesh to cold flesh—and takes them to the mouth of the Underworld. It is not his duty to do this, and yet he does: he cares, though he cannot name such tender feelings, for he does not understand them. He is the brother of the Moirae, the Fates, and he is the minister of Hades. He is a king of kings: neither Hades nor his brothers can control him, try as they might.

He is not violent death: he is the gentle slipping-away of one’s final breath. He is the final blankness that touches the eyes of corpses; he is the carrion, hopping closer to stare at the tantalising flesh of the dead. He is the cycle of life and death, the pulse of mortality. Some say that he is born and he dies with each breath humans take – some say that he was never even born, he simply was, simply is.

He is the everlasting search for truth. He cannot be swayed to leniency, but he is merciful, and he is gentle. He is beyond remorse, beyond guilt; and yet his shoulders are weighed down by the magnitude of his own power. Every death he brings rests heavily upon him, a fresh load for him to carry, and he can barely bring himself to do as he must – but, yes, he must. He cannot control himself any more than Hades, Poseidon and Zeus can: for he is death, and death answers truly to nobody, not even itself. He ignores his screeching, violent sisters and draws his butterflies about him like a cloak. He is a child, a youth, an adult; all of these and none of these. He is what best helps those who look upon him – but he is always dark-eyed, for death is nothing if not the wrapping of shadows around throat and skin.

He is Thanatos. He has a thousand names, truly, but he is who he is, regardless of what he is called. He will visit any who ask, and many who do not: for he is death, death, death.