Brownie Bites: The Myth of Persephone-The Creative Cycle


Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD. Image retrieved from google images.

In her The Creative Fire audio lectures. Jungian analyst and story teller, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, offers a beautifully metaphorical, and deeply transpersonal, interpretation of the myth of Persephone in regards to the cycle of creativity.  Most of us (including myself) seem to operate under the delusion that creative people produce all the time. Artistic procreation just seems to flow like the fountain of youth from some people, while others  (like myself) are lucky to get a trickle.  We think, “I am supposed to be creative on demand, right?  If not, there must be something wrong with me”. Estes offers us insight into the core process of creativity through this myth. It is particularly insightful and affirming for anyone who creates for a living, or seeks to live a creative life.  Estes, like Joseph Campbell, and Carl Jung, shows us how myths and fairy tales contain powerful medicine from, and for, the mind and soul.  Without further adieu the myth of Persephone:


The Rape of Persephone (1570) Alessandro Allori. Retrieved from google images.

Synopsis: Persephone is the daughter of the Greek Goddess of fertility and harvest, Demeter. Persephone is naively innocent of all “worldly” matters. She is a child, full of wonder, curiosity and play.  In the post-Hellenic version of the myth Hades, the God of the Underworld, abducts Persephone and all the World becomes barren as Demeter searches most desperately for her daughter. There is death and decay everywhere, nothing grows, nothing reproduces, and so the people of Greece appeal to Zeus to do something. Zeus, who conspired with Hades in Persephone’s abduction, now commands that Hades return her to Demeter. However, there is a loop hole for Hades.  If Persephone eats food of the Underworld, then she will be bound to Hades forever. As Hades rises in his chariot to the surface of the Upperworld with Persephone, he slices open a pomegranate and forces the fruit into Persephone’s mouth. She inadvertently swallows six seeds. Because of this, Persephone must spend six month out of the year in the Underworld with Hades, and the other six months out of the year in the Upperworld with Demeter. As Persephone is the apple of Demeter’s eye, and the inspiration for her fertility, when Persephone descends into the Underworld, the world dies, and when Persephone emerges from the Underworld, the world lives.  Persephone is the myth of the seasons and a representation of the life-death-life cycle, both in the physical world, and the metaphorical one.



The Return of Persephone, by Frederic Leighton (1891). Retrieved from google images.

With the beauty of spring upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere, Demeter is fat and fecund with verdant fertility as Persephone ascends from the darkness of the Underworld. It is a most appropriate time to not only celebrate in the reunion of mother and daughter, and of self and creativity, but work with this myth on a transpersonal level.


Estes’ premises that at the center of the psyche lies an ember, duende. It is the source of inspiration. You know it. It is that blissful rush or burst you have felt at times when you have experienced or expressed sudden beauty or joy, or when you have been infused with a sudden creative idea “from out of the blue”: not your own.


Image retrieved from


Duende or tener duende (“having duende”) loosely means having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity, often connected with flamenco.[1] The artistic and especially musical term was derived from the duende, an elf or goblin-like magic creature in Spanish mythology (Wikipedia).

According to Estes, this is the stuff that fuels the creative cycle: that is,  “…a quickening, birth, rising to a zenith, atrophy, decline, and death…incubation… and then it begins again…” (Estes). It is the life-death-life cycle of creativity. Duende blazes, dies and banks, and this is natural. The gift of this is, we can stop beating ourselves up when we are barren, and devoid of inspiration. We learn to trust: it is just part of the process. If we just wait, rest and listen, the birth of creative inspiration will come. We are better off to learn to work with this process rather than against it, or worse, try to force it to work for us.

There is, however, a Shadow component to this natural cycle of creativity. According to the Jungian paradigm, the psyche contains energy that expresses itself through archetypes: the Shadow archetype being the energy of suppressed negative content (and unrealized creative potential) from our personal and collective minds. There is a “natural predator” that lives within our psyches. We are born with it, and its job, like any kind of natural predator, is to kill off the old, the sick, and the diseased. But, it can also manifest as a monster: a complex: especially if we have suffered trauma.  Then, it runs riot, terrorizing our psyches and seeking to destroy life by either attacking us directly, or abducting our joy, our creativity, our Persephone.

Obviously, from a Jungian perspective, this myth has a lot of stuff going on in it.  Estes’ interpretation of the myth is as fecund as Demeter.  In the next few postings, I will break the myth down into its archetypal components by annotating Estes’ interpretations and offering workable outtakes for the writer/artist.

Stay tuned… and thanks for reading.


Duende (art)

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. The Creative Fire. Sounds True. 1991. CD




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