The Depression of Demeter
Excerpt from The Road Less Traveled by M.Scott Peck. M.D.
“The Healthiness of Depression”
…the feeling associated with giving up something loved- or at least something that is a part of ourselves and familiar- is depression. Since mentally healthy human beings must grow, and since giving up or loss of the old self is an integral part of the process of mental and spiritual growth, depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon. It becomes abnormal or unhealthy only when something interferes with the giving-up process, with the result that the depression is prolonged and cannot be resolved by completion of the process. (quote retrieved from http://recoveryprincess.com/the-road-less-traveled-by-m-scott-peck-depression/
Persephone is at play, picking daisies, and blackberries the size of your thumb, when all of a sudden, a great rumbling and shaking occurs. A ragged crack appears in the Earth. Out springs Hades and his black chariot. He seizes Persephone and disappears with her beneath the ground. The crack seals up. She is gone without a trace.
If anyone has ever “lost” their child, this kind of panic and anguish can be unbearable. I know. When my daughter was two, she went missing. We were out in the middle of the the forested hills of Vermont. There was a pond nearby. What seemed like an hour of sustained surreal panic: heart pumping, massive constriction in the chest – screaming her name while running blindly through the trees and fields, and scanning the pond for any sign of her drowned body – was probably no more than five minutes. A red-tailed hawk circled over head. My intuitive nature took over and I followed it. And there she was, my precious daughter, sitting in the tall grass, in her royal blue hoodie, one of her Treasure Trolls smeared with crushed wildflowers in her little fist. She was as content as a dreaming bunny, and completely oblivious of the panic she had caused. I was lucky and so was she.
When Demeter discovers that Persephone has “gone missing”, there is nothing to assuage her panic and despair. She searches everywhere, utterly consumed with finding Persephone. But it is no good. She is unable to find any single shred of a clue as to what happened. As she deteriorates from her grief and anguish, so does the world. Everything turns to decay, death, and atrophy. There is no fertility and nothing grows. Life ceases.
Estes interprets this for us in two ways: 1) she points out that within the “normal” creative cycle, our “natural” predator culls the sick out of the healthy, and our creativity must descend and die but 2) when this natural predatory death function within the psyche has become a negative complex- often caused from emotional trauma as a child- our creativity can be “abducted” by this complex out of cycle.
What to do. Demeter is exhausted, ragged and barren. She sits on a rock. Her depression and despair are now absolute. But then, along comes a little being. She has no head. Instead, her face is within her torso, her vulva is her mouth. It is Baubo, the Goddess of Obscenity. “She begins a lewd dance and tells Demeter ribald jokes until Demeter smiles” (Estes). This seemingly superficial – and not just a little odd- exchange is actually quite profound. Not only does it reinforce the “medicine of laughter”, it shows us the more specific medicine of “dirty jokes”. Demeter is infertile. She is frigid. Sexual humor is the exact medicine she needs to “loosen up” and not take things, or herself, so seriously. It breaks her frigidity. Her libido begins to function. There is strength and fortitude returning. She is ready.
Another figure appears before Demeter. It is Hecate, the Goddess of Knowing. Demeter’s grief and frigidity have been lightened by Baubo’s colorful joking, she is now ready to “know” what has happened to Persephone. Hecate, being the more wise and objective function, asks Demeter this simple question: “Who do you think took your daughter?”( Estes).
When we are sick and tired of being sick and tired, the only thing to do is to ask this kind of simple question. When we ask ourselves questions, magic happens. When we stop seeking everywhere outside of ourselves for an answer, we find that the answer is within us. It is a cliche, sure, but it is also the Truth. We are now ready to find out where it has got to, and more importantly, who took it away from us in the first place.
And so it is with depression. Not only does this myth illustrate the natural – and unnatural – loss of creativity, it teaches us what to do when we become suddenly depressed. We ask the question: “Who took it?”-it being anything from our joy, our creative inspiration, our sexual drive, our passion, our energy, our contentment, our productivity, our life: the very thing that is causing our depression. Once we ask the question, Estes affirms that we are ready to find the answer: and more often than not, we are not going to like what we find.
Thanks for reading.
Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. The Creative Fire. Sounds True. 1991. CD
Madison.”The Road Less Traveled by M.Scott Peck Depression”. RP Alcohol Sobriety Blog & Resources, 1 Jan, 2014, http://recoveryprincess.com/the-road-less-traveled-by-m-scott-peck-depression/