Wednesday, December 9, 2009


The myths concerning Persephone have some interesting applications to the way we look at ourselves and our place in the world.

Persephone provides an archetype of a goddess who stands for birth and rebirth, travels to the Underworld yearly, and returns from her place beside Hades each spring for another, roughly, two thirds of the year. Potent symbolism lies in Persephone’s journey. She travels to the Underworld where she stays through the winter with her husband and lover, Hades, the god of the dead and Underworld. Then, Persephone returns from the land of the dead to live among the other gods and goddesses each spring. Obviously, one of the main symbols is of death and rebirth. Another symbolic representation presents itself through one the principle motifs in her story: that is, the cyclical nature of planting season and the sprouting of new crops arising in the spring after laying dormant over winter’s period of infertility. However, that portion of the symbolism falls more prevalently on her mother Demeter, who it is said willed that no crops would grow and the land would not be fertile again until her daughter, Persephone, was returned to her. For those who believe in the theory of the transmigration of souls (reincarnation), this period of dormant infertility is also akin to the period after death before rebirth. Reincarnation was a belief which was widely held in antiquity.

However, the image of Persephone, a virgin before being abducted by Hades and taken to his realm, in the embrace of the god of death, blending her youth, her vitality and her purity with his cold severity in the world of shadows calls forth a very different symbolic meaning. She redeems death and the god of eternal oblivion. She brings life to ends, suggesting that ends are merely another illusion. She transforms oblivion into transition, hinting at timelessness (meaning time is just one more illusion) and converting the finality of death into a medium for change and renewal. Persephone blesses death with the vitality and vigor of new life, promising that around every corner, even seemingly permanent and eternal oblivion, awaits the opportunity for redemption and new beginnings.

In Christian mythology, Jesus made one brief 3 day visit to Lucifer’s domain in Hell (translated as Hell in English, and taught as such by contemporary Christianity, but the Greek word Hades was used to indicate the Underworld, or the realm and domain of the Greek god Hades). Then, he is said to have risen from the dead before ascending into heaven. Christian dogma essentially claims that Jesus’ death is confirmed by his travels to the Underworld or netherworld or land of the dead, and at the same time, his death offered redemption to souls held there since Adam and Eve (including Adam and Eve) whose sins were washed away by Jesus as his suffering redeemed their souls. Thus, they could then ascend to heaven.

There is a significant difference in the meaning of the two myths which is relayed in the symbolism and revealed by the details. Persephone transforms and redeems death, itself, bringing new life back to the world out from the bowels of Hades’ realm. Jesus redeemed the souls held in the netherworld who awaited his coming to release them to their final reward. Persephone offers hope for continued existence and reveals the interrelationship of death (transition) with renewal – every death places matter back into the ground which feeds plants and gives form to new life. Christianity is more concerned with finality and ends. By asserting a soul’s ends (or all souls’ ends as, according to Christianity’s dogmatic intention, a demand that everyone accept its truth as the only truth) are only justified through worship of Jesus and receiving his redemption, Christians foster a belief in the illusion of ends.
In a universe that is nearly eternal within the boundaries of human ability to contemplate it, ends can never be known. Each end quickly ebbs like a wave of the tide, giving way to the surge of another wave lapping across the shores of experience, bringing with it a new beginning, as well as a continuation of the unraveling of the long thread off the spool of eternal activity. Each moment that dies is an end, but it is also a seed, because a new moment arises from it. This is the lesson the myth of Persephone teaches. The lesson is a cautionary tale, too. Consider what seeds one wishes to sow before acting, because from one’s seeds one will reap the harvest of one’s deeds. This is also the true lesson of Karma.


Elizabeth M Rimmer said...

I think the story of the "harrowing of Hell" which is by the way, only the Nordic name for the goddess of the underworld, (with the punitive stuff being tacked on later), shows that Christians believe that salvation comes from a personal encounter with Jesus, (much more flexible than 'believe/do what you're told and shut up) and hold out the possibility that this may even happen after death. Of course many Christians don't behave as if they thought this was true ---

Shoreline Driftwood said...

Elizabeth, I didn't talk about why people choose to believe in Jesus. I talked about my interpretation of the meaning of the symbolism in Christian dogma and the essence of the dogma. You, or anyone can choose to believe in anything you want for any reason you want. It's like, a used car salesman can be selling you on a car as being economical, but you may buy it because you like how it looks.

The original dogma for salvation was that Jesus died on a cross to wash away human sins (especially original sin). Until Jesus came along, original sin prevented all those who had lived from getting into heaven. After his sacrifice, original sin was washed away for all those baptized.

Now, after baptism people would still sin. However, the original dogma was that by asking forgiveness and by avowing as belief in the holy trinity, one could still be absolved of sins and be admitted into a state of grace which would potentially entitle the person into entry into heaven. The original dogma didn't say anything about establishing a personal relationship with Jesus.

I'd like to know, what do you call a personal relationship? For me, no relationship exists (especially a personal one) that is not two-way. A one way relationship qualifies in my book as puppy love and/or unrequited love. I do not know how Jesus responds to someone to engagge in a two-way relationship, being, at best, a discarnate being without the ability to interact with or in the physical world.

Elizabeth M Rimmer said...

Nor did I! Though perhaps if I'd put believe in the past tense my intention might have been clearer. The point is not what you believe, or I believe, or what the dogma says you should believe, but that the evidence of the art (and the Harrowing of Hell is a story, because the creed only says Christ 'descended') is that Christians haven't always taken what you might think from the dogma, nor responded as you might expect. Coming from a tradition which is really big on authority, I find this not only interesting, but immensely reassuring.

Shoreline Driftwood said...

Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Elizabeth, and for engaging me in discussion. I have never read Harrowing of the Hell, so I shall have to do that. I enjoy your comments!

Elizabeth M Rimmer said...

It comes up in medieval mystery plays, also contemporary preacher stories and in carvings. I particularly like the bit where Jesus meets Adam and embraces him, and welcomes him into heaven. I like the personal takes on old stories - for that reason I'm very much enjoyimg yours

Shoreline Driftwood said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, that's very kind of you. I'm grateful for what you said. It fuels the fires to read comments like yours. I'm humbled.