myth and poetry

Annual Reflections In Depth Perspectives
Mythopoetry Scholar annual ezine Volume one January, 2010 on Health & Well-Being, publisher
scanner Art by Richard Lance Williams
This Issue: Health & Well-Being

Embodying Persephone’s desire
Authentic movement and underworld transformation

by Elizabeth Eowyn Nelson

As midwife to the creative process for my students and clients, I have observed time and again an idea prevalent in my field, depth psychology: myths choose us, not the other way around (Downing, 1981: 27). Whether the myth first appears in a dream, through active imagination, or shows up in our writing, painting, choreography or sculpture; whether it presents itself in the guise of a contemporary novel, film, or video game that clearly harks back to ancient motifs, the ego is first a spectator. That is, we are treated to a spectacle and something becomes spectacular; we cannot look away. One hallmark of being chosen by a myth is the uncanny need to reencounter it many times over months, years, or even decades. It is as though we are slowly seduced, drawn into the delicious recesses of a deep mystery, our appetite increasing but what it feeds upon, to paraphrase one of Hamlet’s more petulant and precise observations. But if the ego is spectator, then who directs this unfolding drama? In Jungian language, we call it the Self, the imago dei who gracefully integrates ability and entelechy to facilitate the emergence of the individual over time.

A myth that chooses us rumbles through the deep structures of the psyche, like a temblor in earthquake country, breaking apart, breaking down, and unearthing hidden riches. None of this is easy, but it can be meaningful. Perhaps this metaphor owes something to my home ground, California, and the many earthquake faults that marble the terrain. On the other hand, perhaps the two figures, who may be observing me even now as I write, have selected this metaphor: Hades, lord of the underworld, and his powerful queen Persephone. Because there is no doubt that this is one of the myths that have chosen me. Over the last 25 years, I have been worked by and worked with the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which tells the story of Demeter and Persephone and Hades, never once imagining its inexhaustible wealth. Thus when I recently reread James Hillman’s essay An Inquiry Into Image (1977), I felt the deep pleasure of recognition at the following passage:

What makes an image archetypal is that so much wealth can be gotten from it. An archetypal image is a rich image … This subliminal richness is another way of speaking of its invisible depth, like Pluto is another way of speaking about Hades. Our exercise with the image gives us a new appreciation of the unfathomable nature of any image, even the meanest, once it dies to its everyday simple appearance. It becomes bottomlessly more layered, complicatedly more textured. And as we do our image-making, even further implications appear, more suppositions and analogies dawn on us. An image is like an inexhaustible source of insights. (80)

As Hillman points out in The Dream and the Underworld (1979), Pluto, meaning “wealth” or “riches,” is an apt name for Hades. No one who is content with the surface of things will ever understand this because “our main concern is … with the unknown” (Hillman, 1977: 68). Even Hades and Persephone, as beloved as they are, serve us as psychopomps or soul guides, who lead us beyond themselves to even deeper ground.

The Homeric Hymn to Demeter is one of the richest and most profound texts from the classical tradition, the subject of analysis and inspiration to an astonishing variety of scholars, artists and educated readers (Agha-Jaffar, 2006; Bachofen, 1881/1967; Baring & Cashford, 1991; Bernstein, 2004; Downing, 1981, 1994; Edinger, 1994; Foley, 1994; Holtzman & Kulish, 1998; Jung & Kerenyi, 1951; Luke, 1992; Meyer, 1983; Rudhardt, 1994; Spretnak, 1984; Stone, 1990; Vandiver, 1999; Wilkinson, 1996). Clearly, it is a myth that chooses many of us. As a source of psychological insight, the Hymn has become the companion to people whose lives have been irrevocably changed through trauma. To use the imagery of the Hymn, they have been abducted into the underworld, as was Demeter’s nameless daughter Kore. The Hymn to Demeter—along with the Descent of Inanna, a Sumerian myth that predates the Hymn by at least 1,000 years (Wolkstein & Kramer: 1983) and the Greco-Roman tale of Eros and Psyche, recorded in a second century CE novel (Apuleius: 1994)—are examples of the few grand stories of trauma and transformation that dramatize both the genuine strength and abject vulnerability characteristic of such experiences.


Collective blindness or collective neglect?

What I find fascinating is that the Hymn to Demeter gives us so few details about Persephone in the underworld. We know Hades seizes her, and scholars assume for good reason that the abduction includes rape, though it is not certain. (The Hymn to Demeter is a literary text from a clearly patriarchal age in which a bride was property that was passed from the father to the husband (Foley, 1994; Vandiver, 1999; Yalom, 2001.) This included the tradition of bride abduction and may easily have led to rape as a means to claim and degrade the female through physical domination.) We don’t know what the underworld looks or feels like to the young girl and we don’t know what happens between Persephone and Hades. Wilkinson comments, “the rites of passage that might enable one to negotiate a descent without being destroyed are unknown and unpictured to the living” (1996: 213). And, as the Homeric Hymn to Demeter makes plain, the underworld is equally inaccessible to the gods. Demeter rages on earth and Mount Olympus, but cannot descend to rescue her daughter. None of the other Olympians, not even mighty Zeus, travels to the underworld. The exception is Hermes who, as messenger between realms, must go there; but even he does not stay. The sole occupant of the underworld, Hades, is so entrenched that his name is also the name of the place. Lacking perspective, how could he describe the underworld even if he wanted to? He is only able to abduct the maiden after she rips the narcissus up by its roots, opening the crucial gap that allows his momentary passage to the sunlit meadow (Rudhardt: 204). Once he seizes Demeter’s daughter, Hades immediately descends, never to emerge again. To the gods and to us, the underworld is a mysterious and inaccessible place.

Today, in the twenty-first century, our blindness to the underworld appears to have intensified. Our culture’s aggressive denial of death is the complement to our equally aggressive pursuit of instantaneous transformation. Philippe Aries, who studied the evolution of western attitudes towards death, found that it took only 30 years at the beginning of the 20th century to uproot thousands of years of tradition. Death ceased being a commonplace, acceptable and social experience and instead became something "shameful and forbidden" (1974: 85). Baring and Cashford (1991: 159) point out that our attitude towards death had already undergone an enormous change much earlier, around 2500 BCE, when we lost the archetypal feminine perspective that acknowledges death-in-life which makes possible rebirth and transformation. Thus it is that contemporary people regard the slow, arduous journey into and through the underworld not merely as unwelcome, but as abhorrent.

The descent to the underworld can manifest as chaos, depression, illness, and addiction, or simply as a felt sense that a once vital and juicy life is now desiccated. When we feel ourselves spinning down, we often believe something is terribly wrong. We can’t cope, we can’t cut it, we’re not on, or we’ve lost it. If we were good and competent people, we wouldn’t have these horrible experiences. But if we do, we’d better fix it right away because who, in their right mind, would ever define success as falling apart?

In our blindness, contemporary culture seems to have forgotten that descent is archetypal, honorable and visionary. We make no collective ritual space for the experience. Instead, individuals who endure the disorientation and despair of an underworld journey are left to find its meaning mostly on their own and for themselves.

The enigmatic and inviolable queen

Perhaps all underworld journeys are essentially individual, essentially mysterious to the collective. Luce Irigaray alludes to this when she says that “Kore-Persephone escapes perspective. Her depth, in all its dimensions, never offers itself up to the gaze, whatever the point of view may be. She passes beyond all boundaries, withholding herself from appearance, even without Hades” (1991: 115). Foley agrees, calling Persephone “inscrutable” and “never fully known” (1994: 130). Downing nicely sums it up by saying that “the goddess who rules in Hades represents the mystery of the unknown, its fearfulness and its unforgivingness” (1981: 50).

I wonder whether our inability to completely see Persephone is not only characteristic of this goddess, but may, in fact, be an expression of her power. She may refuse to be fully known to remain inviolable. She may choose to preserve herself for herself despite the traumatic abduction, or possibly because of it. Or, her inviolability may symbolize the true nature of an underworld queen, the quintessence of bottomless depth in which arriving is simply not possible because there is no final understanding, only an endless cascade of deeper and deeper understandings.

The only thing we can count on is that our world will never be the same because we are not the same. Descent initiates the individual into a new role and a new relationship to life that is irrevocable. In fact, the individuality of descent might be evidence that humanity is moving beyond what Woodman and Dickson poetically describe as “Mother Mud” and “Father Law”—that miasmic and authoritative body of custom and convention that bind collectivities (1987: 181). Descent is a profound individuation process, which Jung defines as “fidelity to the law of one's own being” rather than the law of the collective, and the realization of our individual and unique wholeness (CW 17: 172, 173). It is a “high act of courage” that feels as inescapable as a law of God (175). Because individuation pits us against the collective, leaving us to sift through inherited values and beliefs to find authentic ones, it wounds. But that is not the end of it. To borrow Sylvia Perera’s lovely phrase, wounding creates “separations across which fresh passions can leap” (1981: 80). Trauma and passion are bedfellows.

The painful and forced separation of Demeter and Persephone is, of course, the trauma which sets the Hymn to Demeter in motion. We can see that Demeter’s hymn is the story of fresh passion created by two deep wounds, abduction and betrayal. Hades abducted the maiden but Zeus and Gaia were complicit in his action, Zeus by giving Persephone to his brother without Demeter’s permission and Gaia by “growing the narcissus as a snare for the young girl—a flower herself, as her mother says—instead of supporting Demeter against him, as might have been expected” (Baring & Cashford, 1991: 383). There is another erotic wound that is implicit in the Hymn, too, one that goes unmentioned:  Hades’ longing for a consort and queen. Eros is a potent force throughout the Hymn; the visible passion of Demeter and the invisible passion of Hades are just two of many examples. Here, though, I will turn my attention to an even more ambiguous and possibly “invisible” force of Eros in the myth:  Persephone’s passion in the underworld, as I first imagined it through reading the text and then as I danced it in a ritualized enactment of her journey.

For the maiden, abduction is the most intimate possible experience. In one shocking moment, everything she has known of the world changes. And over the course of her mysterious sojourn in the Underworld we do know that Persephone is literally wedded to Hades and figuratively wedded to the depths. This is the place of her transformation. Forever after she “is both eternal virgin (Kore) as well as wife of Hades” (Foley, 1994: 110). Furthermore, the abduction and subsequent negotiations among the immortals result in a profound transformation in Persephone’s status and rights. Marriage to Hades, irrespective of the circumstances, grants “the girl a powerful role of her own as queen of the Underworld ... indeed, among the dead Persephone comes to have an awesome power and autonomy that is matched by few other female divinities in the cosmos” (129). In other words, we have the outward facts of Persephone’s transformation, but no clear description of Persephone’s relationship to Hades or how her attitude towards her captor and his realm evolves, if it does, while she is in the underworld. What happens down there?


The crucial question of agency

Attempting to understand the daughter’s fate compels us to decipher the only important and importantly ambiguous action that takes place in the underworld, whether or not Persephone eats the pomegranate voluntarily. If she chooses to eat, she demonstrates what psychologists call agency and consents to the transformation of her identity, her role, her powers, and her life. Kore becomes Persephone; maiden becomes queen. If, on the other hand, Hades forces or tricks her into eating the pomegranate, Persephone continues to be a victim and her bond with Hades is characterized by the fresh trauma of deceit and betrayal.

The answer to this question is crucial to contemporary readers using the Hymn to help negotiate their own Persephone journeys. The text suggests both possibilities and Persephone may not be a reliable narrator. Or, she may have mixed motives for telling her powerful mother the truth. For instance, in lines 371-374, the narrator says:

But he [Hades] gave her to eat
a honey-sweet pomegranate seed, stealthily passing it
around her, lest she once more stay forever
by the side of revered Demeter of the dark robe.

Later, when Demeter asks Persephone if she ate anything in the Underworld, she begins by stating that “I will tell you the whole truth exactly, Mother” then proceeds to embellish the story quite a bit:

He stealthily
put in my mouth a food honey-sweet, a pomegranate seed,
and compelled me against my will and by force to taste it. (406-408)

The narrator is ambiguous, Persephone is emphatic, but can we trust her?  What are her motives for telling the truth in this way?  If we accept Persephone’s own words, then Rudhardt is correct: Persephone is “still enough of a child to remain passive during the entire drama in which her fate is decided” (1994: 204).

Speaking symbolically, this certainly does happen. Many people are abducted into the underworld and experience only abject helplessness. Never, at any point, are they capable of partaking of the fruits of the experience to participate in shaping their own fate. Someone else decides. Perhaps they cannot see, feel, or smell the pomegranate, let alone taste it. Perhaps the fruit was offered, but refused. Terror, confusion, suspicion—any of these can stop a person from moving from the passive role of the victim toward active agency.

We can read Persephone in the Hymn to Demeter this way, too, since the text emphasizes her despair. Her one moment of joy in the underworld occurs when she “leaps up” to return to her mother. Does this mean Persephone wants to return to her mother’s side, that nothing in the underworld stirred her desire? Not necessarily. Persephone leaps up just promised her “rule over all living things on earth, honors among the gods, and vengeance against those who wrong her or fail to propitiate her with sacrifices and gifts” (Foley, 1994: 55). Persephone is overjoyed; that much the text makes clear. But her joy could be attributed to the reunion or to her new powers and position which includes “a social identity independent from that of her mother” (129). Perhaps Persephone is like many of us: she wants it both ways.

The first several times I read the Hymn to Demeter and other versions of the story, Persephone was an enigma. Nonetheless, I continued to feel a niggling doubt that she could remain a victim throughout the story and emerge completely transformed by the experience. What I am confessing is the belief that while descents do expose our vulnerability, returning from the underworld requires agency in some form, such as the will to face reality rather than deny it, the will to persevere through suffering rather than collapse, or the ability to perceive the value in what seems base. Without agency, the transformation simply isn’t complete. For Persephone, the one thing we are certain of is her complete transformation. She became queen of the underworld in name and in practice, so much so, in fact, that Hades “received cult offerings almost exclusively as the husband of Persephone”. (Foley 1994: 89)


Embodying Persephone in authentic movement

How did Persephone’s transformation take place and, more importantly, what role did she play? I can answer these questions only through the experience of re-enactment, when I hosted the story in my own body and ritualized her descent and return through improvisational dance. Here’s how it happened:

A group of us had spent the morning discussing the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries. Part of our education was to re-enact each stage of the mysteries in the afternoon and evening. With scant time for preparation, and a lot of good humor because none of us was a pro, we managed to create a powerful imaginative work. I remember sitting in the circle, strangely uneasy, as one by one my colleagues elected to take part in the first eight stages of the ritual. Then, when our leader announced the final stage of the work, the central mysteries, the stillness was intense. It was as though we were holding our breath already. Without knowing what I was doing or why, I felt my hand creep up. I looked to my left and saw another hand. It belonged to one of the few men in our group, someone who had remained remote and mysterious, someone who would now become my Hades. All thoughts fled.

Nothing more was said until the dinner break, when my partner and I had a few minutes to work out a very loose structure for what we would attempt: to dance the relationship between Hades and Persephone beginning with the abduction and ending… where? Truthfully, we didn’t know, or plan, where it would end. We would let our bodies tell the story that nobody knew: the central mysteries are aptly named.

Later I would come to understand our improvisation as authentic movement, or movement in depth, a powerful form of active imagination in which the body becomes the expressive vehicle for the Self. Mary Starks Whitehouse, who originated movement in depth, describes it as “simple” and “inevitable”, “the flow of unconscious material coming out in physical form” (Frantz, 1999: 23, 20). Authentic movement respects the healthy body as a source of valuable insight. If we allow it, says Joan Chodorow, the unconscious

manifests itself continually and at all times in the way we move. There is a stream of movement impulses available to each person all the time. The impulse to move in this manner comes when one can let go of all conscious control and identify with oneself as perceived through sensations and images. An impulse might lead to movement that takes only a few moments to unfold but a sequence of impulses, or self-directed authentic movement, can go on for a very long time. (1999: 233)

There is little question that I was following an impulse and that I lost all sense of time while moving with my partner. I also discovered something that I haven’t found mentioned in the literature on authentic movement: that the experience of timelessness continued for hours afterward and was profoundly disorienting. (When used in therapy, authentic movement is witnessed by a professional trained specifically in this technique and, like any good therapist, she or he would be careful to contain the experience for the patient. This includes grounding the patient at the end of the session so that they are prepared to safely exit the experience with minimal disorientation.) Authentic movement can reverberate in the deepest parts of one’s being. The insights are utterly convincing and utterly transformative.


Curiosity and desire

What was my insight? I found—or rather, my body found—that the same sensuous curiosity that led the maiden away from her playmates toward the gorgeous narcissus, which she boldly ripped from the ground, led her ultimately to explore Hades. My body discovered that she was ripe for transformation and, though it was traumatic and dislocating, it was also timely. I agree with Bernstein (1998), who sees Persephone’s journey into Hades as the beginning of a profound movement into life. “The dark journey to the realm of death suggests a fateful trajectory away from mother’s care and protection toward adult sexuality … [that] draws her not simply toward penetration, pregnancy, and childbirth but beyond, toward motherhood, menopause, old age, and death. (615). The gloomy underworld could not entirely destroy the one quality that is associated with females and the feminine (for better and for worse, but mostly for the worse) in patriarchal literature: curiosity. (This includes the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), which tells the story of Eve’s curiosity about the apple and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and Hesiod’s Works and Days, which tells the story of the creation of woman, starting with Pandora.) Enacting Persephone’s experience in the underworld helped me see that curiosity is not meddling, naïve, or immature. Curiosity is eros in action.

I would never claim that my insight about Persephone’s desire is universally true for all, or even true for the others in the room that night who witnessed the enactment. In fact, I would be the first person to say that had different people volunteered to enact the central mysteries, the story that showed up that night would have been very different. Nor would I claim that asserting Persephone’s desire is a strong reading of the text. Persephone in the underworld is described as shy and reluctant, and she all but tells her mother that she doesn’t desire Hades. I’ll merely point out that someone can be shy and curious, reluctant and passionate. And as many scholars have pointed out (Agha-Jaffar, 2002; Bernstein, 1998; Downing, 1994; Foley, 1994), how Persephone describes the pomegranate episode may have everything to do with who she’s speaking to in the moment: the dread Demeter. From the viewpoint of scholarship, all of these possibilities may be intensely aggravating. From the viewpoint of imagination, it is intensely exciting. The Hymn to Demeter is big enough to hold many truths, each with its own profound meaning.

Even immediately after the dance, I had no recollection of the enactment as a whole and no idea of what it looked like. Certain moments do stand out for me. For instance, as Persephone I am aware of how enchanted I am with the meadow of flowers, so enchanted that ...

I don’t even hear the laughter and conversation of my girlfriends. The world grows quieter as I move from flower to flower, inhaling the fragrance of each one. And then, the narcissus!  This is the most irresistible of all, but why even contemplate resistance?  I am bold in my sensual curiosity. Much more bold than my playmates who never wander far, nor far from each other.

The opening scene provides us with a key to Persephone’s personality. Though she is naive and unguarded, she is boldly curious and swept up with the sensual. It is just this alluring combination of naiveté, curiosity and sensuality that makes her ripe for this descent. When the earth opens up to reveal Hades, we don’t know that this is the first and only time in his immortal existence that he ventures beyond his realm. It is, which tells us something of the force of his desire. Yes, he takes what he views as rightfully his: the maiden the gods have promised to him. Yes, he drags her down, never loosening his grip until the upperworld is impossibly distant. But when he releases the terrified maiden is it possible that he does not consider the immensity of this breach? I don’t think so.

I curl into a tight ball, my body bruised and battered. I blink my eyes open, feeling the crusty tears that sting and burn, but this place is so dark that I can see nothing, not even the hand in front of my face. I rock to and fro, cradling my own terrible aloneness. A flicker at the edge of my vision. There. A figure, restless. I unwind myself and approach, slowly, but the shade slips away from me. No warmth. Nothing. Another. And another slips away. There is no warmth here. It is cold, so cold. I feel so alone.

Accustomed as the maiden is to light, warmth, and the intoxicating fragrance of spring flowers, how could she not continue to seek life, even among the evanescent shades? She is the principle of life, the new shoot, the tender offspring of mother, Mater, matter. What else would feed her despair if not the continual unmet need for sensuous, bodily life?  And so it is this curiosity, this hunger, which eventually leads her to Hades.

I notice you, for the first time, seated with your back to me. Quiet still. I don’t know what you are, but you seem more substantial than the others. I walk up behind you slowly, not too near, but I want to see!  I back away, then edge around the other side. You don’t look at me. Why not?  Who are you?  What is this place?  Can you tell me these things?  But I’m scared. You are so still, not moving. Nothing. If I get too close will you fade away too, like the others?  I drop to the floor in one sudden movement, pressing my back against yours. It’s hot!  You’re hot! My own racing heart begins to slow down so that I can feel the slow rhythm of your breath. We breathe together this way, back to back. I nestle against you. Ah, heat!  I thought I would never feel heat again!  I let my head fall back into the curve of your neck. Tendrils of your hair tickle my skin.

The pivotal move is Persephone’s. It is her curiosity, her appetite for heat and breath and touch that drives her. Though the myth speaks of her continual despair, in the ritual enactment our bodies seemed to understand Persephone’s irrepressible urge for life. And so it is Persephone who approaches the curiously still figure of Hades. And it is Persephone whose curiosity overrides even the sensuous comfort of his broad, warm back to seek something more. She turns to face her captor. Or tries to. Hades resists. As she turns to him, he turns away. As she turns the other direction, he evades her again. Now who is shyand who bold?

I finally see you. I look deeply into your eyes as we gaze for an infinity of time. It is such a struggle to let myself be seen. By comparison, seeing is so easy. The pain of your loneliness is embedded in your flesh! How long did it take to sharpen the edge of your desire?  How long did it take to gather the courage for one, swift journey to my Mother’s world; a spasm of time, no more?  You are terrified, too, so close to what you most desireand knowing the futility of taking. Your face bears the scars of your brother’s empty promise. The waves of longing wash through your body and pour into the space between us.

I don’t know which is more difficult: to give all of myself, or to hold everything that you would give to me. There is so much here.

The dance between Persephone and Hades continues its long, immeasurable flow that even the messenger of the Gods can only temporarily disturb. Hades agrees to let Persephone go; he must. But he wants Persephone to remember the sweet fecundity of this realm too, and so he offers her the pomegranate. Persephone accepts. And as she willingly bites into the honey-sweet flesh, she feels the rush of life that this single, eventful choice releases. So it is that when Hades guides Persephone back to the upperworld, it is her wisdom, the fruit of this descent, which consoles his sorrow:

Hades, I am yours. Though I return to my mother, I am wedded to the Underworld now. This place of mystery and depth is my native habitat and home. Know that in the upperworld of light and fragrant narcissus, I will often close my eyes to seek you in the darkness. I will let myself spin down into your realm and recall our dance, our union. I will feel again the raw intensity of your power, the depth of your loneliness. I will know that your shy and pensive quest for a bride was ultimately conquered by a greater lustlust for a partner who could match you. I will see the struggle you endured when you knew that I could not be taken, only invited. And I will linger over the memory of  your awe as you watched a curious, unconscious and sensuous girl become a powerful and much-beloved queen.

As the dancer who enacted Persephone, I am not seduced by the hundred fragrant blossoms of the narcissus. I am seduced by the rhizome buried in the dark earth, and the earth that claims it as its own. As Persephone who enacted the dancer, I still feel the texture and heat of the essential mystery. It lingers, and I am glad. We’re meant to hold and treasure the stories that touch us deeply, and to pass them along without trying to hide the faint traces of our own embrace, the impressions we left in the material as we worked it, and as it worked us. In embodying Persephone’s journey, I sense that the veiled one has allowed me to glimpse her, if only for a moment, before letting the veil drift slowly back to its proper place. It is enough.

Forever after her descent to the Underworld, Persephone is associated with Hecate, the crone goddess of the crossroads who symbolizes the deep transformation that has taken place. Having suffered and returned, Persephone’s freedom of movement—a genuine and remarkable kind of power—now exceeds even that of her dread mother Demeter, her formidable husband Hades, and every other god except Hermes the messenger. Persephone can move easily between the worlds, living most of her days in the realm of light and Mater and Mother yet remaining Queen of the Underworld regardless of the season.

Woodman and Dickson describe the feminine in words that seem tailored to my own experience of Persephone’s journey and its result.

True to her process, she comes to know her ever-transforming self in the bedrock of her being…. In her embodiment, she is known. She is recognized by her Beloved. She receives the penetration of the Spirit that will change consciousness forever. (1997: 199)

In embodying Persephone’s journey in the underworld, I felt that Hades did recognize me as the beloved, a welcome and cherished partner worthy to share his domain. That night, his gentleness, restraint, and shy desire were surprisingly consonant with a perceptive observation about the mythic Hades; that he is the least tyrannical male in the Hymn to Demeter with notable feminine attributes. For instance, “by assisting Persephone as she undergoes the difficult experience of giving birth to herself, Hades assumes the role of a midwife” (Agha-Jaffar, 2002: 128). And though the Hymn does not speak of this, it’s my embodied insight that the mutual vulnerability and mutual strength of Hades and Persephone—their willingness to recognize and be recognized, to penetrate and be penetrated—contributes to the fertility of the underworld. I believe it is through Persephone that Hades becomes Pluto, the god of abundance.


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Spretnak, C. Lost goddesses of early Greece. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

Stone, M. Ancient mirrors of womanhood. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.

Vandiver, E. Classical Mythology. Virginia: The Teaching Company, 1999.

Wilkinson, T. Persephone returns. Berkeley: Pagemill Press, 1996.

Wolkstein, Diana & Samuel Noah Kramer. Inanna, queen of heaven and earth.  New York:  Harper & Row, 1983.

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Yalom, M. A history of the wife. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001.

*****************************Mythopoetry Scholar ezine premier issue January, 2010 on Health & Well-Being, publisher*******************************

Elizabeth Nelson

Author Bio

Elizabeth Nelson is core faculty and the Director of the Dissertation Office at Pacifica Graduate Institute. She teaches research methodology and dissertation development, and finds great joy in guiding the creative process of her students. Dr. Nelson has been a professional writer and editor for 25 years, coaching fiction and non-fiction authors. She is coauthor of The Art of Inquiry (2005) and just completed a new book, Psyche's Knife: Love, Power, and the Potent Soul.


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