The Queen of the Dead Herself

Tuesday night I went to see my mother perform stories -- some borrowed, some translated, some her own -- it was a wonderful, funny performance. The show was titled, "Those Daring Girls on the Flying Trapeze -- Stories of Risk and Realization. She and her friend Natalie shared the billing and were both wonderful. My mother retold the ancient myth of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest, and her daughter, Goddess of Spring. It was based on me, and my mother, and her version of my journey from birth to this present moment, with a little myth and drama thrown in. But when one you love goes dark, the whole world is winter, no matter what anybody else might see. So, I'd like to share what she told here. It's been on my mind all week.

Demeter and Persephone: a retelling of the Greek Myth: In the traditional myth, Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, of grain, is abducted by Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Perpetual winter grips the earth. Famine and death result. Zeus agrees to get Hades to release Persephone on the condition that she has not eaten anything in the Underworld. She has eaten six pomegranate seeds, so she may stay six months with her mother—her return brings spring, but she must return to Hades as Queen half the year—winter.

Demeter and Persephone
Demeter’s daughter Persephone was a darling child. She was sweetness itself. She sweetened life. She could melt your heart with just one little smile, and when she laughed, sunlight filled the room. She was Spring sunshine, so warm and bright and soft. She’d snuggle in Demeter’s lap curled up like a soft little kitten. Demeter would rock gently, singing tender little songs, or just inhaling the fresh flower scent of the little girl’s gossamer hair. Her hair held the lightest scent of jasmine and rose. Her skin soft as rose petals. Her little mouth, a pink rose.

When Persephone was two Demeter called her Darling. It just came into her mind and her mouth when she thought of her, and it was her name all that year. Darling, Darling, Darling. She was Demeter’s Darling. She wore a copper bracelet, like her mother, and she was darling, darling, darling because Demeter loved her so. Love poured from Demeter to the girl. They would dance together in the sunlight of those early years, Demeter’s heart overflowing with love.

And the girl loved her mother. She clung to her. She loved to be in the safe circle of her mother’s arms. Later, she wrote poems and inscribed books with her love—she wasn’t shy about it—she was open and true and clear. Her words, her thoughts expressed with such beauty and emotion, opened Demeter’s heart like a flower. The girl was a flower opening. Demeter’s eyes and heart always turned toward her darling.

So, how did it happen that Persephone slipped away, that Demeter lost sight of her darling? Well, the girl was growing up, she had friends, other girls, young and innocent too. She went out with them. They went walking often down near the river. One glorious sunny day—still warm, but with a fresh cool breeze—they felt so exuberant, and they were laughing and talking—they went far past the drifts of narcissus where they had so often filled their arms full with those fragrant white flowers. They hiked on boldly toward the setting sun and came into luminous fields of poppies, first pink and golden, then red and black in the grey twilight. Enchanted, euphoric they fell into the poppies, Intoxicated, lethargic, somnambulant, they fell into the darkness.

Thunder rumbled, cresting in a roaring wave of earth shaking, rocks splitting with lightening cracks. Horses’ hooves pounding by her head where she lay among the poppies. Screaming when the iron hands crush her flesh, her bones.

She was gone as if the earth had swallowed her.

(The Search)

The other girls, the friends could hardly tell what had happened. “It was so fast!” ‘There were guns. There were horses, or were they cars?” “Men, or just one man? One Monster!”

It was all the same—kidnapped, abducted, taken, stolen, disappeared.

The police—what could they do. It was beyond their jurisdiction—out of the country, an international incident. But it’s difficult—no diplomatic relationship.

Demeter sees Persephone on television—a video released by the girl’s captors. Her eyes are wild dark circles. Her body shimmering with fear and tension. She seems about to shatter. She knows the blade may slice her head from her body at any moment.

Demeter appeals to top government officials, They cannot, will not negotiate with terrorists. The mask of war reveals its fatal weakness. Where are the peacemakers?

Demeter takes her story to the media. She begs, she rages. She forgets everything but
her loss. Demeter has no eyes for flowers. The flowers have all withered. She doesn’t eat—there’s no food. She doesn’t work—there’s no reason, no order, or beauty, or comfort. No comfort anywhere—only the search. And it’s not just Demeter. This affects everybody. The Earth is becoming a wasteland—nothing growing, everything dying and suffering. Demeter’s heart is frozen. She’s waiting in hospital corridors. She’s entering the darkness of her own soul and calling. Only her soul keeps searching for the life hidden in the darkness. Only her soul keeps searching for her darling Persephone.

Demeter’s feeling blindly for just
One spark of fire. One breath of faith. One truth of love.

Persephone is in the underworld searching for herself.
Persephone is on the other side, yearning for Demeter, yearning for life.
She’s digging herself out from under the shadow, the rock, the grave.
She is called by love into the living world. Her mother calls her. She pushes through into her own being. She opens her eyes, She smiles. The sun shines. Demeter’s heart melts.

Persephone hasn’t forgotten the shadow. It’s changed her—she doesn’t deny it. She even loves it in a way. It drew her soul and fed her and loved her as well as it could. It’s given her the gift of perspective at least. She knows what’s important. She knows how to make choices at those crossroads she keeps running into . Grandmother Hecate with her necklace of skulls, doesn’t scare her anymore, not since she’s been Queen of the Dead herself. She can see Demeter in Hecate’s eyes and Hecate in Demeter’s hair turning white like the old woman’s. Demeter and Hecate stand together at those crossroads watching her choosing her own way. They delight in watching her moving through this life.

But what about those pomegranate seeds? She ate them, luscious, red and vibrant with desire for Life, She took the gift of darkness and brought it into the light. The seed of desire unfolds the flower, The flower transforms into the fruit and the seed. The three of them dance together; Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate dance. They circle, spinning sunlight and shadow, the mystery of life spiraling through time and space. A breath rising and falling. Pulsing like the heart beating.


kelly rae said…
love this ama. the last bit speaks to me.
karen said…
sweetie - so glad you're back to writing. this piece is such a beautiful collaboration with your mother's work. and i love the generations of strong women here.
love and miss you.
Anonymous said…
ciao , bell post! bell blog, io sono paul e se ti va visita il mio sito:pescheriasono sicuro che ti piacer�.pescheria
Anonymous said…
I like your version better than the greek version, because it is just as beautiful...yet I can understand it.
Tonya said…
I love you sooooo much and I miss you. I will be in Atlanta this summer we should meet somewhere.
Anonymous said…
Ama -- I've never been on a blog before, but I discovered your entry on Sept. 21, 2006, about Persephone. I'm wondering if I can use a 9-line quote in a book I am writing about having had breast cancer. you can write me at Thanks, Jo

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