from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

the return of the light, Persephone & the Divine Androgyne

The spring equinox takes place here in the northern hemisphere between 20th and 23rd March (while the solstices are 'fixed' at 21st June and December, the equinoxes wander – I've neglected my astro-knowledge the last some years so can't quite remember why, but it's to do with the precession of the equinoxes and I believe the wobble in the tilt of the earth on its axis in its journey round the sun – after a lot of time with little sleep that's about as technical as I can get this morning, sorry! I'll check that and come back to rectify).

This year, the equinox – or 'equilux' – (actually since it's about equal amounts of light and dark, I think we should call it 'equilox' or 'equinux') takes place today, 20th March. This is another of those staging posts, threshold times; a momentary pause where the 'opposites' are held in perfect balance in relation to each other before gliding on into the next phase, the waxing light phase, of the continuing cycling of the Ten Thousand Things.

So I light the candles: three – two for the pair of opposites and all they symbolise, and one for the bigger cycle that holds, contains and resolves them in this spiral journey; and from which the new cycle will emerge.

Every culture has a myth that equates to the abduction of the evolving human, or god, by dark powers, and his (or her) release/redemption/return, which is usually effected or at least witnessed by an Other of the opposite gender. (This sometimes happens at the winter solstice, with a 'birth'; often at this time of year, with a more obvious death and resurrection.) The perspective I take suggests that this is symbolic of the state of wholeness needing a resolution of the opposites in one's one psyche, or heart; then one is healed and fit to offer service to the collective without being permanently constrained by the little needs and niggles of ego.

So of course we have Christ's death and resurrection at Easter. (Prior to that it would have been Eostre, here in pagan Britain, with its obvious etymological connection to the Goddess and fertility.) There are many other examples (eg Osiris, Orpheus etc), but the one I've been thinking a lot about is the myth of Persephone.


Persephone, or Proserpina, is a beautiful maiden, daughter of the corn goddess Demeter (or Ceres – the one is Greek, the other Roman). One day in the full lush heights of summer she is gaily and maidenlikely picking flowers, maybe iris, maybe anemone, in a meadow of soft tall grasses whispering in the light summer breeze. Immersed as she is, she doesn't hear the earth cracking open and the chariot of Pluto/Hades. The first she knows is muscular arms in cold metal snatching her away from the flowers, and in moments she's been rushed into the dark cold Underworld. Here nothing grows, nothing is warm, nothing is comforting; and she lives in darkness, captive. She can't eat or drink; and, too, at the back of her mind she hears her mother's voice speaking of the Underworld: if one is ever abducted it's crucial that one eats nothing in or from that world if one wants to return to the light.

Meanwhile, in the upper world, her mother is demented with fear and despair. Frantically, she journeys the world, from glacial wastes to canyons and deserts; from forest to mountain top. She crosses the seas; but nowhere is Persephone to be found. In the end Demeter falls into a depression and desolation so deep that the earth itself becomes wasteland: nothing flowers, no crops can ripen, no seeds can even germinate. The earth's situation is dire. The gods send Hermes/Mercury to Demeter.  As the god of communication, but also the psychopomp – one who can move so fluidly between the worlds that he's charged with carrying souls between them – Hermes has more hope of tracking Persephone than anyone; and Demeter begs him; and he finds Perspehone, at last.

He does a deal with Hades/Pluto who eventually agrees to Persephone's release. After a winter of imprisonment, Persephone is free to hang onto Hermes' winged-sandalled legs to travel back up to the light and her mother.

But – and this is the interesting bit – just before she leaves, anorexic as she is, Persephone from choice eats the six pomegranate seeds held out to her by the Dark Lord. This effectively seals an agreement that from now on she will spend four months in the Underworld each year, and eight back up in the light.


There's a lot we can learn from this myth. We could say that it is indicative of deep abuse and dysfunction of the worst kind – as, on one level, it is: not only the terror of abduction and the shudder-making captivity in the cold dark earth, but also the fact that, as happens in 'real life' sometimes, she somehow starts to feel a sympathy and identification with her abductor. (There's a name for this syndrome – can anyone remind me?) Some psychologies would say this is adaptive victim behaviour, which is directed towards survival, and no doubt this is entirely true.

But there's another possibility, too, offered by archetypal psychology. This is that conscious experience of the dark is not only a good thing but a necessary thing for wholeness: that is, the virginal innocent Maiden needs to move on to the Woman and Mother and Queen (or Youth to Man and Father and King); and this cannot happen while one refuses to grow. And of course we grow through loss and pain and grief and hard times – and integrating them.

In Jungian thinking all these figures in myth are constellations of energy in the individual (as well as collective) psyche. In connecting with these constellations, and reclaiming their energy (it takes so much energy to hold at bay, or repress, these energies which, so often deeply destructive if let completely loose inappropriately, are frightening forces in the psyche), we become more empowered, wholer, less given to being frightened of things we don't wish to face, less driven by our need to project 'out there' what are actually 'in here' forces. We get to know them, to take their measure, to have some choice in how we relate to and express them.

So we need to face, maybe with help, our dark sides, a little at a time; to integrate the poles within ourselves. Sometimes it is about integrating one's opposite-gender side: the feminine anima for a man, the masculine animus for a woman. We meet it, at first, in its underdeveloped crude persona. As we continue to hold its gaze, it transforms (viz Beauty and the Beast, or the Prince kissing the Loathly Lady). If we don't encounter and incorporate it, it will drive us and/or be unleashed on others (of course this never dissolves completely, but the prescription for wholeness involves meeting it).

So it might be that someone split off from the other pole in him- or herself – be that masculine or feminine, light or dark, rational or imaginal/feeling-based – is more dangerous than someone who's eaten the pomegranate seeds which allow growth of consciousness to happen and appropriate access to the more challenging stuff as well as sweetness and light.

In this myth, a symbolic exchange happens – she brings Pluto/Hades, trapped as he is in his dark insensate world, flowers from the light. He gives her seeds for the next cycle of growth to begin.

It is interesting that, in the myth, it's Hermes/Mercury who is the go-between. Hermes is an androgyne; neither invested in being masculine nor feminine. In Dr Jung's thinking, he or she who has moved beyond being driven by the pairs of opposites, and has integrated them in him/herself, has achieved the wholeness of the Divine Androgyne. (Our word 'hermaphrodite' comes of course from Hermes' union with the goddess Aphrodite/Venus, the Divine Androgyne from the 'feminine' line.)

So I can look at this myth in terms of what of the darkness do I need to work with in myself; what have I sacrificed this winter, or what do I need to let go of on this cusp of spring; what are or were my pomegranate seeds, and have I eaten them or am I still stuck in the Underworld or in some kind of denial of the movement towards wholeness; and what green shoots am I carefully tending now, coming out of the darkness?

Light, now, after this winter, will preside.

© Roselle Angwin March 2012 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive