Posts Tagged ‘Seasons’

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Persephone

December 1, 2009

I sing of thee,
Night Queen,
fervent lover of the darkest lord;
Iron Queen,
unbending ruler of the dead;
Bright Queen,
removed from a mother’s shadow;
Winter Queen,
ethereal, smoke-born maiden;
Infernal Queen,
keeper of the natural balance;
Motherly Queen,
defender of the dying and forsaken;
Summer Queen,
bringer of life and fertile love;
Young Queen,
champion of the lovelorn;
Vengeful Queen,
mistress of the fair Eumenides;
Lovely Queen,
bringer of moonlit magic;
Shadow Queen,
saviour of the broken;
Child Queen,
keeper of the earthly fruits;
Patient Queen,
unmovable in justice and honour;
Ghastly Queen,
lady of the shades of the dead;
Eternal Queen,
existing in the shadow-world;
Persephone,
bringer of light to dusky Dis.

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Hymn to Persephone

November 30, 2009

I sing of Persephone,
With spring dancing in her skin
And the taste of summer upon her lips.

I sing of Persephone,
With sun-kissed skin gleaming gold,
Still hot and lovely from the morning light.

I sing of Persephone,
With lovely, rich hair that falls
In a shimmering curtain, bright as shadows.

I song of Persephone,
With fair Eumenides waiting at her feet
And snakes rippling through their smoky hair.

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Twin Gods

November 30, 2009

Crisp autumn leaves drift down, flowing through the
Winter-tinted streams of silvery air.
Hares, lovers’ gifts, lift their heads and dart out
Across fields, leaving the lightest snow-tracks.

The twin gods, life and death, walk hand-in-hand.

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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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Summer Light, Winter Frost

October 3, 2009

Queen Demeter and Queen Persephone,
Ruled by none, but the rulers of many;
Wild queens, within whose domains come the beasts
Of both the animal and human worlds,
The monsters of the days and of the nights.

I approach you now, most beautiful queens
Of fruits both above and below the earth,
To appear unto me; please bless me with
Your most radiant selves, and let me see
The truth in the questions I ask myself.

Fickle queens; I ask only that you are
Constant in your aid of one such as me;
I hope never to incur the wrath of
Either of you, blessed queens: Demeter
And Persephone, Mother and Daughter.

To you, Demeter, Mother of the Earth,
I offer my living body, and
Every single breath this body takes
To keep itself alive; I recognise
That life is a Mother’s gift to Her child.

To Persephone, Daughter of the Earth,
I offer that which remains after death
Has torn apart my body and soul;
All that I am I give to you, Maiden;
And I hope that this is pleasing to you.

Theoi, Theoi: I ask that you
Look favourably upon me as I
Light incense and mediate, in your name;
Offer libations and dance, in your name;
And I offer my body, in your name.

Infernal Queens, Ladies of summer light
And the slow-creeping chill of winter frost:
I offer hymns, praises and devotions;
I write for you, dance for you, smile for you:
And I hope you find this pleasing, my queens.

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Fiction: Aphrodite: Winter

September 28, 2009

She isn’t there in the winter. They – men leaning on staffs and breathing heat into the air – discuss it among themselves. She isn’t there, and they ask why. They invent stories amongst themselves, tales of her with Persephone, threading the pale flowers of the Underworld through her fellow’s hair – but no, no. That is not true, because then she would be somewhere, not here but still there, and she is not.

The truth doesn’t make sense to her. Winter, the chill nipping along throats and shoulders, destroys her. It tears her apart with curved nails and makes her scream – pleasure pain pleasure pain; she’s not sure, it’s hard to distinguish the two when she rules such a vast domain. But winter: still it destroys her, still it kisses her until her eyes stream with tears and she forgets herself.

If she forgets herself, she doesn’t exist. That much is true and that is honest, and yet if the men knew, they would ask: then how does she return? Where does she go?

She laughs at them when she hears their words in the summer, and slaps them with pulsing waves of desire, need. She speaks, without the need for oracles or sacrifice to appease her, for she laughs often and without restraint: “I am everywhere.”

That is the truth. She exists not at all, and yet she does, really: she exists in the occasional kiss, mostly chaste now, just a brush of lips over a brow, or else in the tentative touch of icy fingers.

She has to wonder, though: where does she go? She’s not certain – not to the Underworld, though, and that is all she knows. Not even to the Kharites, with their red-red, ever-smiling mouths – even they succumb to silence in the all but endless winters. To her, they are endless: and yet they are incredibly finite, for she never remembers anything of them.

Once, she asked Zeus where it is that she goes, and he laughed at her, as though she were nothing more than the humans that she herself mocked. “You? You are not of winter, and so you do not live there.”

His answer terrified her, and it still does now. She hides: she wraps herself in Ares’ warmth; she is hot beneath her skin, and flames blaze in her summer-girl veins. She thinks, thinks, thinks, and she dreams, but she can’t find an answer better—or equal—to that Zeus gave, and she doesn’t like that. She doesn’t like to think herself an outcast, but, in the winter, that is what she is.

Nothing grows through the snow that settles over the earth, or even in the chill that creeps in the autumn days and makes her mind hazy and her pleasures harder to find. Not love, or plants, or fruits: not even hate can blossom here. Yes, yes, even Eris fades in the winter – a cooling of the words at first, the sharpness edged with something softer, and then even she goes.

Aphrodite does not stay, cannot stay, when winter sets in. She has tried before – fighting back with teeth and nails, snarling and screaming – but it never works. Ice blazes against her, pulsing like a fire that she can’t control, and it pulls her under. She drowns in the ice like a child, struggling to press her face up through the jagged hole to breathe: and it does not work.

She blames not Demeter, nor Persephone—and from the tales whispered among women with loose-hanging breasts and thin, cruel mouths, she knows this to be strange—but Athene. She is Aphrodite’s undoing: thus the chill winter months must be of her. She curses Athene and flies at her, screams, attacks: and cold, hard Athene simply ignores her.

That, though, is the way of things.

It is only when she looks, finally, to herself that she realises what she knew all along. She looks past the image that the humans set upon her, trying to define who she—she!—is, and she understands. Winter takes her from the scope of humanity and places her back among the kosmos, as Ananke once again: for it is inevitable that the kosmos need her influence, too, in order to remain as they are. In the winter, she realises, she wraps herself with Khronos, and melts, fluid and snakelike, into him. He remains with her when she returns: she understands that. He keeps her heart beating—hers, hers; the only heart of all the gods that truly beats—as she dances with mortals and exchanges kisses with her lovers.

Winter does not seem so harsh, now. She thinks of him in the spring, summer and autumn, and that makes her disappearance easier. She shares kisses with Persephone at the solstice and then waits: but she does not wait long. Winter sears through her, tearing her apart – she feels no agony, not really, but only the bliss of knowledge.

The pulse of ichor, of life, in her veins is kept there by her yearly embrace with Khronos. She melts into him, and he into her, and she becomes new once more. She is refreshed; she shines among the Olympian gods and puts even the Titanes to shame. Her heart beats and her eyes flutter, ichor pulses and need claws at her belly, and she understands that this is her own blessing. She smiles to the sky in the dead silence of a summer night, and looks on with bright eyes to the coming winter months.