When I was at school, and at home, I was shamed and scolded constantly about being a “daydreamer”. But when I learned to read for my own pleasure around the age of 11, I was swept away by my vivid imagination and daydreaming . I failed math class because I would read stories in (and out of ) school rather than doing my math work, or even attending math class. I knew I wanted to write stories, but the deeply ingrained belief that using my imagination was inherently bad kept me from recognizing, acknowledging, and actively pursuing my true “calling”. And so I became a “closet writer” . Over the decades I wrote from a place of intense longing and joy, but always with a guilty conscience. I was so deeply afraid of being shamed for my “daydreaming” and told to “get a real job” and do something “useful”. I have stacks and stacks of stories filling up notebooks and hundreds of typed pages. My hard drive is a chaotic disarray of folders and word documents of my “nonsensical writing”. The discovery of myths, fairy tales and depth psychology have been my pathway to coming out of the closet. The Myth of Persephone has been especially powerful for me.
The gift of myths, fairy, and folk tales is that there is no one “right” interpretation. They are loaded with the treasure of “meaning” which is why they are timeless and repeat themselves in various incarnations. When working with this stuff, the more we dig the better. I like to call it working a myth or fairy tale from the inside out. It’s the intrinsic – rather than extrinsic – approach. Unfortunately, pop genre is filled with the extrinsic approach.
And so it goes with Persephone. Her archetype is often filled with the motif of the desire to rebel against being the “good girl”. In this archetypal form, she represents the masochistic sexual desire to be seduced, dominated, and devoured by a (usually well-meaning) sadistic “bad-boy” male. There is nothing particularly wrong with this archetypal motif of dark eroticism so long as it comes from a place of depth, knowledge, and truth on the part of the writer. And when done well, it can express the natural innocent exploration and curiosity of young feminine sexuality and how this can be the catalyst to the acquisition of deeper knowledge and personal power. Or, it can express the tragic side of this particular coin: the total loss and destruction of one’s self to the “dark side”. But, there is way more going on in this myth than Persephone’s desire for forbidden fruit( so to speak).
In returning to Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ interpretation of the myth of Persephone, Demeter is at the center of the story, not Persephone. Estes emphasizes that Demeter represents the artist: “anyone who seeks to live a creative life” (Estes). Demeter’s job, like the artist’s, is to manifest physical creation in the World. Persephone is Demeter’s child, but more significantly, she is the creative force that inspires Demeter’s work. Persephone’s job, as the source of intuitive, creative, and unconscious inspiration, is to play: something Demeter cannot do for herself because she is too busy doing the work of creation in the World. Demeter loves and nurtures her Persephone who is “the apple of her eye” (Estes), and all the World is in bloom: lush and flowing, like a song or a sunrise without end.
We discover the best ideas and freshest inspirations when we are engaged in some kind of unfocused and completely random play. Duende, the wild ember, is Persephone’s playmate. And, so are the bunnies and froggies, but also the the fauns, naiads, dryads, and wangdoodles. When we are able to approach a creative project with play, magic happens. We are uninhibited. We are curious. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and we want to explore every nook and cranny, every pathway and possibility. And like Demeter hooking into the absolute joy of her child at play, the urge to create is overwhelming. It bursts out of us like streamers of wildflowers and butterflies. In Estes’ Creative Cycle this is birth and rising to an infinite zenith.
My deepest urgings to write have always come from the little girl who loves to “daydream” and “use her imagination”. It is a warm and fuzzy place where I feel safe and completely at home and whole. Curiosity, exploration and nonsensical play and daydreaming, all the things we can be shamed out of, are not only allowed, they are something to be cultivated, encouraged, and treasured. It is the harmonious union, flow, and birth between mother and daughter: between the conscious creative mind and the unconscious creative nature. The World is perfect and knows no death. There is no chaos. Then along comes Hades, and all Hell (yes, literally) breaks loose.
Thanks for reading.
Figure 1. “Persephone and Hades” by JanainaArt. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=persephone&client=firefox-b-1&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwipw9iS_uvaAhXwlOAKHXKoBsEQ_AUoAXoECAAQAw&biw=1316&bih=647#imgrc=Sy68st-nQZFoqM:
Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. The Creative Fire. Sounds True. 1995. CD