The trees are slowly starting to turn, pumpkins are making their appearance around town, and Halloween decor is spookingly-gracing the aisles of all the stores. This cusp period of Mabon and the New Moon is my cue to write a magickal blog on my favorite mythological duo – the Lord and Lady of the Underworld – Hades and Persephone.
I have to say, I am really not a fan of most mythology, nor do I actually believe in any gods of any religion. In my own personal Pagan belief system, I think of the gods as more “symbolic beings” for the earth and seasons, not true entities to worship. Our Mother Earth (Nature) is enough to worship. And frankly, I hate the horrible, messed up, soap opera-like garbage of mythological tales. It’s epic fantasy Dateline NBC – immoral behavior, backstabbing, everyone’s a whore (no one more than Zeus); the difference is on Dateline I get to see their asses thrown in jail.
So I’m very choosy about the deities I want to read about (and picky about everything else in life as well).
Hades and Persephone meet my particular tastes, both character and romance-wise.
It was probably about 10 years ago or so when I bought the book “Autumn Equinox: The Enchantment of Mabon” by Ellen Dugan and fell in love with the story of Hades and Persephone. Now I do realize that the source of a mythological tale is going to affect how likeable and honorable the characters are, but I think Dugan’s version was probably my first (and only) introduction to this God and Goddess; her portrayal of this couple became my idea of them. And I’d like to keep it that way.
Sure, there are some foolish bits to the story – things that don’t make sense, or a much more reasonable arrangement could have been made in the end, but I also understand that the whole purpose is to tie in with the seasons and explain why things change when they do. There’s a method to the madness I guess you could say. I’m not as lenient and acceptable of nonsense with other myths – this one is special to me.
So, without further ado…
by Ellen Dugan
One day, Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, is out gathering wildflowers with her companions, the nymphs. Her mother, who is busy tending and blessing the fields and the crops, stops to admire a lovely little shrine built by a local farmer with poppies planted all around it. Demeter tucks a few flowers into her braided coronet and blesses the farmer’s fields with especially abundant crops this year. She turns to check on her daughter and sees her safely chatting with her attendants. Demeter was like mothers everywhere, extremely protective of her child.
Demeter and Persephone were constant companions. Persephone was Demeter’s only daughter but Persephone was now a young woman, coming into her own power, and she was beginning to feel a bit hemmed in. So Persephone wanders off and walks about on her own. She needs some space away from the chattering nymphs and she relishes the freedom that being alone offers.
Persephone slips off over the next hill, well out of sight of the group, and looks around, wondering why things that once delighted her now seem so dreary. She sits among the flowers and tall, waving grasses and rests her chin in her hand. She sighs deeply as she at last identifies that feeling deep in her heart as restlessness. Why won’t her own mother, incredible goddess though she is, acknowledge that she’s no longer a child? Persephone wonders what it would be like to have a lover; she hears the nymphs talk about it. What she really needs, Persephone decides, is a little intrigue, romance with a dark stranger, and an adventure.
As soon as the thought pops into her head, Persephone notices an unusual flower blooming all by itself over in the field. Intrigued, she rises and goes over to take a closer look at it. The flower is a narcissus. It wafts out an incredible fragrance and glows in a luminous shade of white. Delighted at the unusual flower, Persephone leans over to pluck the blossom when the ground rumbles and suddenly opens up beneath her feet. Persephone screams as she falls and is then caught by a dark man driving a chariot pulled by black horses. As the ground begins to swallow them up, Persephone screams even louder for help. Then there is silence.
Persephone turns to look at her captor and her heart slams into her throat. Here she sees the dark, handsome, and dangerous man she was secretly daydreaming for. She asks for his name and he turns to look down into her face. Her mouth dries up as she recognizes Hades, Lord of the Underworld. His voice is deep and final as he announces that he has taken her to be his bride. This is a statement, not a request, and Persephone begins to argue that she would like to have had some say in the matter.
Hades silences her with a passionate kiss, which Persephone responds to despite herself. A few moments later Hades breaks off the kiss with a grim smile, and the rest of the journey is silent as they rush toward his Underworld kingdom. Rather than struggle, Persephone decides to give him the silent treatment, as if the kiss meant nothing. She waits him out and plots as to what she’ll do when they reach their destination. If he thinks she’s going to make it easy for him, he has quite a surprise coming.
Once they arrive at Hades’ great hall, Persephone begins to realize that she may be well and truly trapped. However, being a goddess herself, she decides to make Hades work for her affections. Hades sets out to woo his reluctant bride and slowly, in time, she falls for the “bad boy.” (What do I mean by bad boy? Well, let’s see. Picture a dark, gothic, prince type. Ooh, he’s dark, he’s tormented, and he suffers; he needs her. A romantic secret fantasy come to life. Yup, she’s a goner.) Here in the Underworld, Persephone is a queen and she has powers of her own. She begins to settle into the very different world that she now rules and time has no meaning for her.
However, Demeter wants her back, and the earth is suffering. When the first messenger, Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow, arrives to ask Hades to release his bride, Persephone overhears them and realizes just how angry her mother has become. If Demeter is withholding her blessings from the earth, then people are starving and the land must be desolate. Persephone wanders off into the shadowy gardens of Hades, overwhelmed with guilt, and admits to herself that she has fallen for her husband. Persephone believes herself to be alone, but Hades’ gardener, Ascalaphus, is silently watching from the shadows of the trees. While she ponders what to do, she plucks a deep red pomegranate from a tree and sits on a bench to think. While she misses the sunlight and would like to see Demeter again, she is torn between staying with the man she has grown to passionately love or returning to the sunlight, never to see him again.
Persephone is faced with a huge decision; one that will break her heart no matter what she decides. How to choose between two people she loves? She focuses on the pomegranate and realizes that she holds the answer within her hands. She splits the fruit open and tastes the ripe, ruby red fruit. She feels the importance of what she has done sink into her like a stone, for no one who eats the food of the Underworld can ever leave. She hides the fruit away and believes herself to be unseen, but the gardener has seen her eat the fruit and keeps this information to himself.
Eventually Zeus gives in to Demeter’s rage and Hermes is sent to retrieve Persephone. Hades looks on his wife with sorrow as she begins to leave with Hermes. Persephone can’t decide what to do and Ascalaphus speaks up that he has seen the queen eating part of a pomegranate. So Hades bids his wife goodbye, knowing full well that she will return to him, and Persephone is reunited with her mother.
When Demeter learns of this development, she still refuses to bless the earth with life. So a compromise is reached. Persephone will spend half of the year with her husband and half of the year with Demeter. This seems to satisfy Demeter, and so life returns to the land. When the time comes for Persephone to return to her husband, Demeter goes into mourning and the nights grow longer, the leaves start to turn and then fall from the trees, and winter begins to set in.
But every year as Persephone returns to the earth, Demeter hears her daughter’s footsteps and, in her joy, she brings life back to the earth again. So Persephone becomes the bringer of the seasons and the Goddess of the Underworld. She no longer has to choose between her loved ones; she shares her time equally among them and is content.
– “Autumn Equinox: The Enchantment of Mabon” by Ellen Dugan
If you’re wondering where I got the above “artwork” or if “Hades and Persephone” by any chance look familiar to you, they are actually photos I took of my mom’s Lord of the Rings Barbie Doll set. My mom has a big Barbie collection and I thought these dolls were the best match to represent the King and Queen of the Underworld. I don’t care for most of the fanart I find online of this couple; I really wanted to create my own images of them for this blog. And although these are still not my true renditions I want or the romantic posing they should really be in (I wasn’t allowed to take them out of the box), I am satisfied enough that they capture the basic idea of Hades and Persephone. I actually thought the Arwen doll’s look was perfect for this – the majority of artwork of Persephone depicts her as a redhead, sometimes a blonde, and rarely a brunette, but according to Ellen Dugan, she has dark brown hair and wears a pale green dress; Arwen happened to have dark brown hair and a pale green dress. And so she and her counterpart became my muses.
I personally think the name “Persephone” does sound like a dark brunette. As the Goddess of the Underworld and symbolism for the death and rebirth of the earth’s vegetation, she represents the changing of the seasons, endings and new beginnings. She is associated with the phase of the New Moon, deep purple, burgundy, dark brown, and black flowers (particularly the Narcissus flower), candles in pale green and black, pomegranates, and other symbols of the season such as stems of wheat and ears of dried ornamental corn.
I never buy pomegranates, have no black or green candles, or a real narcissus flower, but I do have a good collection of faux florals from my period of working at Michael’s Arts & Crafts. For my altar dedicated to Persephone and Hades, I used what I had of dark purple, burgundy and black flowers and I added in some other items I felt a connection to with this compelling partnership. I stuck in some trinkets of pale green. I adorned a candle with a yin-yang (one of my favorite symbols). I also chose to use The Lovers and The Sun from Joseph Vargo’s Gothic Tarot for this display. Persephone and Hades (and the Autumn Equinox itself) represent a balance of light and darkness for me – I see her loving warmth to his dark isolation, perhaps an angel to a demon; the yin-yang is an appropriate symbol in my opinion. The illustration on the Sun card gives the same “duality” vibes of a dark man from the Underworld carrying protectively in his arms a woman of light and innocence.
I’m aware that other accounts of Hades’ capture of Persephone are not the cute, flirty interplay or even unusual love that Dugan describes, but clearly I share the same girlish notions and fantasy idea of romance as she.
What drives me crazy is Demeter and her ridiculous obsession with her daughter. A married woman should not have to leave her husband for half a year to be with her mother. Go for a weekly or monthly visit like the human peons do, my goodness.
Like I said before though, the foolishness has a purpose. It is an interesting way to look at the change of the seasons and also to think of how happy Hades is to have Persephone home with him. It must be nice to be so wanted and needed by a man.
What a fantasy it is to have such a love story.