Demeter’s Lament

Then Sunrise kissed my Chrysalis-
And I stood up-and lived-
-Emily Dickinson
900_At the first touch of Winter Summer fades away

At the First Touch of Winter Summer Fades by Valentine Cameron Prinsep

In the Eleusinian Mysteries, the myth of Persephone and Demeter holds the primordial vibration of feminine grounding, the feminine mysteries and initiation. There are many possible teachings that may be transmitted from the heart of this myth to us in our modern context, though essentially it is a rite of passage.

Erich Neumann speaks of the return of Persephone as a return to the Self after being wrenched from the ouroboric connection with The Mother, or matriarchal consciousness. From this perspective we may imagine that somewhere on the inner planes of mythology, Demeter the Earth Mother still wanders the earth lamenting the loss of her daughter- the manifold eruptions and imbalances of Gaia may be viewed as a cry of pain at the loss of the full feminine expression in the world soul. It seems that in our solar world of modernity we are in danger of ripping ourselves from the matrix (related to the Latin word for Mother) of life, and, in severing the organic umbilical cord, we are fashioning an artificial valve of science and technology to fill the void.

The lament of ‘The Mother’ ripples and wails through the land as in our our inner landscapes.

Myths whisper to us from a place of truth beyond our usual human perceptions and offer us a gateway through which we become channels between spirit and the material worlds. They offer us the possibility of transcending cultural conditioning to tap into the roots of who we are, and glimpse our original face in the cosmic mirror.

Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter, so great and deep is her pain that while she grieves no life can flourish, everything withers and dies in the bitter cry of a broken heart. For modern women exploring this myth as a way to wholeness, we can view the story of Demeter and Persephone as both the lament of the Great Mother, and the fracture through the mother-line expressed in relationships between mother and daughter where the connection has become damaged. It may also be viewed as a loss of our own maiden whose essence may be trapped in the unconscious.

Demeter Mourning Persephone

Persephone Lamenting Demeter by Evelyn de Morgan –

And what of the young woman whose mother cannot lament or grieve her loss because of her own ungrieved or unacknowledged lost maiden? In her book Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women, Sylvia Brinton Perera points to this condition when she says,

“Unfortunately, all too many modern women have not been nurtured by the mother in the firs place. Instead, they have grown up in a difficult home of abstract, collective authority- “cut off at the ankles from earth”.

In the instances where the mother-line has been damaged or severed, how do modern women connect or reconnect with their feminine essence, and how can the myth of Persephone guide us in this? For the woman without feminine grounding, a descent to her unconscious and a confrontation with her animus may produce a woman who is overly identified with masculine values and betrays her feminine wisdom, or else a man-pleasing woman who rejects her instinctual feminine needs. On another level, it may be the woman who falls prey to and becomes victim of the dark animus projected out into the world as the abusive or controlling lover.

Kore the maiden, from our contemporary perspective, then, is not always the innocent, undifferentiated daughter still bound by the loving strings of the ouroboric Mother’s apron. She may well be the vulnerable daughter who, without a sense of Self, is more acutely vulnerable to abduction. At puberty this lack of grounding can be particularly dangerous for then she is susceptible to powerful forces outside of herself that seek to claim her…  these forces can be seen in the endless stimulation of technological and media seduction- or in the increasing number of girls who are being diagnosed and labelled with a mental health condition- in this case they are taken by the obscuring effects of  medication.

Kore’s abduction by Hades can be read in many ways- a classic interpretation is that of a rape but from a symbolic perspective it speaks of the first encounter of the young feminine with the animus- her inner man- this is reflected in her outer experience and her first conscious contact with the structures of patriarchy. Whether the maiden is a well loved, well attached daughter of her mother or not, it appears this confrontation with the masculine is inevitable and necessary for psychic growth. But for the girl who never developed a solid foundation, how does she navigate the labyrinth of the unconscious in the grip of a dark animus?

The relationship we have with our own mother and female-line will directly influence our capacity to create and maintain a strong feminine foundation. If our mother is not present to her own feminine nature she is unable to initiate it in us. When this sacred bond is broken the young feminine, left unprotected and vulnerable may be abducted well before puberty, before she has the psychic structures to even make sense of her experiences. How can we heal from these injuries to the feminine nature?  Perera says,

“The process requires both a sacrifice of our identity as spiritual daughters of the patriarchy and a descent into the spirit of the goddess, because so much power and passion of the feminine has been dormant in the underworld- in exile for five thousand years.”

How can we make a conscious descent to reclaim the repressed parts of ourselves towards a state of wholeness?

Drawing on myth, symbolism and archetype and using techniques such as shamanic journeying, dance, breathwork and other embodied practices… by paying attention to dreams and opening to the imaginal realms we can initiate or deepen a process of Self reclamation. If you are called to explore feminine consciousness, women’s initiation and ritual, contact me to find out about up-and-coming events and workshops.

What Would Persephone Say Today?

animus father

” Beyond memory, there are all the stories yet to come.”

                                                                                                                         Claude Mettra

Myths are fluid and organic, they are in effect living entities that accompany and work with our collective soul throughout time. They lead us to the essence of ourselves and help us to understand our place in the cosmos- they bring meaning to our life. They are continually being reborn, reinventing themselves to fit our cultural condition and our need for sacred connection- they adapt to our collective psyche to penetrate the thinking mind that sometimes loses the ability for sacred connection and dulls our experience.

Myths are like our spiritual teachers from beyond time and space, able to don any suitable guise that we may recognize as a wink or a nod from the other side, and yet tangible and familiar enough to relate to. Myths are also tricksters, they can lull us into a false sense of security- just when think we know them, they turn on us, presenting new and possibly dangerous insights.

What gift can the Eleusinian Mysteries offer us in our contemporary culture that seems largely bereft of spiritual significance and has long since seen the last flicker of a distant past when ceremony, ritual and initiation were accepted as necessary for healthy individuals and communities?

What of Kore, fair and innocent maiden playing in the fields with care-free abandon when suddenly the earth opens beneath her and she is taken into the kingdom of Hades against her will?

What can this mean in a modern context?

And of Demeter, the lamenting mother who can neither rest nor give the gift of life to anything whilst her beloved daughter remains captive by the Dark Lord?

What happens to Kore during her time beneath the earth- she is gone for 6 months – and why can she never return to the earth indefinitely but must remain 6 months of the year in the underworld with her husband? And why, upon her return, is the change so astonishing that forevermore she is known as Persephone, Queen of the Underworld?

What does this myth have to teach us about feminine consciousness today? Is the myth of Persephone an abduction story, a rape, or is it a profound confrontation with the unconscious that leads to self-actualization and an inner marriage with the animus? Jungian Erich Neumann says, “Woman wants to be gripped and moved. At a spiritual and emotional level this means realization, actualization.” The story of Persephone contains all the hallmarks of a descent into the unconscious to bring to light and integrate previously hidden material. It is also a puberty rite of passage and a menstrual myth.

You might meet Persephone in the supermarket, the woman at the check-out returning to work after a bout of post-natal depression, or the woman who has finally got herself off of medication that for years masked childhood wounds that she was never able to bear, and who is now ready to reclaim herself. She could be the woman who finally finds what it takes to get the career that she has always wanted and yet never had the confidence to go after, or the artist who has sold her first painting. We all have a Persephone story.

In joining together dark and light, conscious and unconscious, the feminine is no longer the unconscious principle merged with the matriarchal ouroboric but is a differentiated self-sovereign being.

For modern women who are often cut off from their instinctual selves, a descent into the dark realms, Hades, or the unconscious provides an initiatory experience in which she can reclaim the lost or unacknowledged parts of herself to become whole. This could translate as a shamanic soul retrieval to find and integrate parts of the self that became dissociated- a rescuing of the Lost Maiden archetype. It could also be rite a passage- a stepping over the threshold into womanhood, releasing any infantile or arrested attachments that keep us stuck in a loop of dependency and approval form others. In effect, the myth of Persephone may be adapted to serve any psychic integration that the soul is ready to receive.

It could also herald a confrontation with the animus, the inner male that lays dormant in the psyche of women and is her collective experience of the masculine beginning with her father and subsequent male authority figures, teachers, lovers, brothers, and friends. She may have a positive or negative animus but until she integrates her own sovereign male principle, she will continue to project it onto the men whom she encounters in her life not realizing that what she seeks is within.

A radical confrontation with the inner man, acceptance of his presence, and ownership of his gifts and qualities can affect deep transformation in a woman where she is no longer dependent on an outer man to take care of traditionally masculine roles. As an integrated woman, she may now consciously welcome the masculine into her life as an equal enjoying the essential differences and creative potential of an outer marriage, or hieros gamos– but only when she has acknowledged and accepted her own masculine, or solar power.

You see, the myth of Persephone has many possible meanings for the modern woman, how a woman chooses to let the myth move in her may change over time. With shamanic journeying and tapping into altered, or non-ordinary states of consciousness, a woman may discover the gift of the myth waiting to be received.

Why We Need Ritual

Ritual

We are the stars which sing
We sing with our light
We are the birds of fire
We fly over the sky
Our light is a voice
We make a road for the spirit to pass over

                                                                                                    Dead Can Dance- Song of the Stars

In the modern West the split between culture, nature, and spirituality has been well documented and explored, however the pervasive lack of integral spirituality and ritualistic context continues to create a vacuum in our human experiences both individually and communally. The transitions and events of life which can be overwhelming are left unmarked and unwitnessed often creating problems ranging for mild anxiety to full psychosis. In tribal and many non-Western cultures, rites of passage and initiation provides the crucible for transformation. In our non- ritualized and spiritually bereft modern Western culture, behaviors that are not easily accommodated within socially accepted forms are feared, rejected and pathologized. Mental health diagnosis rises as does suicide rates, and yet conditions and experiences that would be recognized in many non-Western or tribal contexts as call to initiation, or an attempt to restructure the ego, are medicated and stigmatized. This leads to social and spiritual isolation- or what we have come to refer to as ‘the dark night of the soul’.

Araya-Cassildas-Song

Painting by Araya-Cassildas

Initiation and ritual provide a container for transition, that is, moving from one state to another and that crossing being acknowledged and accepted within the community. A three-fold process of separation from daily life, transition and transformation experienced through a death of the old, and reintegration back into the community with a new identity is the basic format of initiation. The Latin term ‘transitio’ means the act of going across; the most common rite of passage is that of child to man or woman and is marked in puberty rites in many indigenous communities. The importance of this transition is crucial for the well-being of the community… on return from the death/rebirth journey, the young man or woman is expected to take responsibility for their role in the cohesion and harmony of the tribe. In Western society, the lack of puberty rites herald two things

1.Children will self-initiate to be accepted as an adult. They will do this by any number of damaging and dangerous behaviors which will not elicit the desired response and in fact will inspire the opposite response.

2.Individuals will continue to exist in a child state into adulthood never taking full responsibility for themselves or contributing to their society in meaningful ways.

Acting out behaviors, addictions, promiscuity, self- harm and other symptoms of destruction to self and others are labelled mental illness. In the history of psychopathology women outnumber men 3.1, while the risk of suicide is more prevalent in men by about the same odds. In tribal cultures, confrontation with death is a prerequisite of transformation and is experienced to varying degrees of symbolism or actuality.  Alternatively, Western consciousness is death denying and any attempt to approach death willingly is indicative of mental illness. Modern near-death experiences from addiction, dangerous behavior or self mutilation are viewed as a cry for help, however on another level it could be viewed as the soul’s need for wholeness through dissolution and restructuring of the ego. If handled with insight, awareness and compassion, these experiences could provide the possibility of growth and integration.

Christina and Stanislav Groff espoused the need for a transpersonal psychology that recognizes the manifestations of what they call ‘spiritual emergence’. In a culture that lacks awareness of these transpersonal states, it is more likely that what occurs is ‘spiritual emergency’ as the troubled soul attempts to make a meaningful spiritual connection that appears to be pathology.

Ritual, myth and initiation could be the missing link in providing a bridge to not only the spiritual world, but to our communities, and the earth which in the end, it may be argued, there is no real difference. The existentialist psychologist Rollo Reese May believes that suicide attempts and personality disorders are caused by the lack of meaningful and sacred myths: “Without myths he says, we are without soul.” Many people working in the field of psychotherapy have written about the effects of the lack of the sacred in our culture and yet by and large people undergoing this kind of  soul transformation are still doing so in isolation and stigma.

Western culture places little or no value on transpersonal and transformative experiences and therefore cannot hold them. Instead what is valued in Western culture is a matrix of economic wealth, civilized and non-troublesome behavior, and a general acceptance of the contemporary features such as technology, medication and consumerism, leading to a well controlled and fragmented society.

aboriginal-passage

Clip from the 1971 film Walkabout

Rites of passage is not just about a transcendent experience with a spiritual intelligence, it is also about communing with others and feeling a sense of belonging in one’s community. During rites of passage, an existential state with the sacred is shared with others who also recognize this state and/ or participate in the experience. This ‘communitas’ is undefined and unstructured existing beyond all hierarchies and categories (See Turner, 1966). A common humanity exists within the group and the desire to merge is acknowledged and accepted. The group dynamic is a cohesive whole where each one is united with his or her community and is imbued with a profound sense of belonging and acceptance- very different to the sense of alienation and isolation that many people face during times of transition in the modern West.

I had a further insight about this need to merge…

If as children we are not educated in transcendental experiences or spiritual connection, and if the experience of unconditional love and acceptance was not provided by our family, community and caregivers our basic human need for connection was unmet. With the absence of spiritual experience or feelings of belonging, this need was projected onto others whom we came in contact with as we moved through life. But the split that was created in the soul is a wound that can only be healed exogenously when we receive the unconditional love and acceptance of our community. Instead we attempted to find that solace through the love of one person in romantic relationship but if we have an unstable sense of self or else have not healed those early wounds of invalidation and isolation, chances are these distortions will be reflected in our relationships.

Given that it is predominantly women who are diagnosed as suffering from a personality disorder, and that very often a signature of that disorder is co- dependency, or emotional dependency, this raises further questions about spiritual availability for young girls in our culture. The Christian-Judeo paradigm of religion in is itself invalidating of the feminine. We have the father and the son but no feminine in the holy trinity; the story the feminine is divided, and until the assumption of Mary in 1950, the feminine was not divinely assumed into heaven. When divinity is not reflected through a self-referential image, the experience is further invalidating.

I know there is so much to say about the young masculine experience in a culture that does not provide any rites of passage initiation- the consequences of this are all too clear and there is much to be done.

According to Mircea Eliade, reality and identity are established for ‘primitive peoples’ through “participation” and “repetitions” of the mythological paradigms. We know who we are and what our role is through contacting a sacred mythos that places our individual life in a collective sphere and provides a sense of belonging. There is no sacred myth in Western culture save for the crumbling skeleton of the church, no cohesive glue that binds us in a shared humanity. A corporate global consciousness married to an increasingly pixilated technological culture separates us from each other, spiritual connection, earth connection and ourselves. In this we become soulless. Malidoma Patrice Some, a West African writer and spiritual workshop leader says,

“We need ritual because it is an expression of the fact that we recognize the difficulty in creating a different and special kind of community. A community that doesn’t have a ritual cannot exist. A corporate community is not a community, it is a conglomeration of individuals in service of an insatiable soulless entity.”

Through stories, myths, ritual, and the sacred we bring meaning to our existence and to the world, we breathe life back into the world soul and allow the possibility for a broader spectrum of experience, a more integrated, creative weaving of self, earth and spirit and all the possibilities that holds. The Freudian model of ego, id, and superego, and the primacy of Western psychology that was born of that is but a pale model of the beautiful mystery.

I love this song by Dead Can Dance- Song of the Stars, it communicates so much about our sacred nature.

Dead Can Dance- Song of the Stars