Demeter, the sister of Zeus, had a beautiful daughter by the name of Persephone, whom she loved above everything else. According to legend, their home was in the vicinity of Etna in Sicily.
One sunny day while Persephone was out with her friends gathering roses, lilies and hyacinths from a blossoming meadow, she suddenly, from a distance, saw the most beautiful flower she’d ever seen. She ran over there to collect it and was thus separated from her companions. Just as she would pick the flower, she heard a loud noise, like that of thunder. The ground split open right before her and from the depths a black chariot pulled by four black horses emerged. In the chariot sat a dark figure, a king of some sort because he wore a crown on his head. His face was shadowy and his gaze gloomy and grave.
Persephone was struck with fear and attempted to run away. But before she managed to escape, the shadowy king hastily approached her with his black chariot and violently grabbed her and placed her by his side. Her cries were so loud that they immediately caught the attention of her companions. She prayed, screamed and cried but to no avail, the shadowy king lashed his horses and they rapidly burst back to the depths whence they came and the earth closed above their heads. The friends of Persephone called and searched for her but she was gone. Demeter was devastated and full of despair. She went everywhere and searched the whole of Sicily but there were no traces of her daughter to be found.
With no more options left, she beseeched the moon goddess Hecate and asked her if she knew where Persephone was. Hecate referred Demeter to the sun god Apollo, who was all-seeing. From Apollo she learnt that it was Hades, the king of the underworld, that had abducted her daughter and that she now lived beside him in the underworld in the dark and deep night.
Demeter’s anger over Hades insidious bridenapping knew no boundaries. She retreated from her duties of caring for the fields and gardens. The grass on the fields withered away and the trees in the gardens dried up and from this emerged distress and poverty in all the countries of the world.
This troubled Zeus, the king of the gods, whom from his all-seeing throne on Mount Olympus decided to send down his messenger Iris to Demeter in order to conciliate and comfort her in her sorrows. But it didn’t work, Demeter wanted nothing but to have her daughter back. Zeus thus sent his other son Hermes to the underworld to meet Hades and order him to send Persephone back to her mother. Hades being subordinate to Zeus did as he was told. However before he handed Persephone over to Hermes, he managed to convince Persephone to eat a pomegranate which grew from the soil of the underworld. After she ate of this fruit, she was granted passage back to the world above, Earth.
Demeter was overjoyed when she saw her daughter and embraced her like never before. But this joy quickly turned into anxiety as she asked her daughter whether she had eaten anything in the underworld. Persephone confessed to her mother that she had eaten a pomegranate and Demeter was stricken with terror once again. She knew that whomever ate from the underworld had closed her own path back to this world.
After those turn of events, the gods of Olympus decided to make a deal with Hades and the gods of the underworld, a deal which meant that Persephone would be allowed to spend a certain part of the year with her mother on Earth, and the other part to live with her consort Hades in the depths of the underworld. When Persephone has to leave her mother to go back to the underworld, Demeter is deeply saddened and withdraws into solitude and isolation. When this happens, all the lands become dark and cold and the vegetation stops growing, but when Persephone returns to her mother, the sun shines its nourishing light once again over the lands of the earth and spring and summer prevail.
Morals in the Myth
- Not all that is appearing as ‘beautiful’ is necessarily good, as the deceiving beauty of the distant flower led Persephone to the depths of the underworld.
- There is a cause to every effect, a reason which explains what is happening around you. Nature is incredibly complex in its incredibly diverse way of expressing itself. This was one of the ways the ancient Greeks explained how and why the seasons came and went. Whether they believed this myth literally is not certain and maybe not all that important, what is important that they explained a natural phenomena with complex imagination, sometimes that is enough.
- Be careful of what you consume and where. Depending on where you find yourself in life sometimes skipping a meal or a snack can be the right thing to do in order to maintain your health and well-being. (Intermittent fasting is great ya’ll!) Oh and while we’re at it the example of the pomegranate from hell doesn’t necessarily have to be something physical either, maybe its a bad habit that you should overcome, it could be whatever. In a nutshell, don’t consume the fruits that bad roots and trees bear.
- Maybe Hades was really, really lonely down there. Who are we to blame the things a man or woman are willing to do for love. I’m not condoning his behaviour but bloody hell (pun intended) it probably sucks down there in the underworld, and you know what they say, misery loves company.
What do you think?
Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish and lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized that he was made of immaculate and timeless consciousness when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realizaton. Daniel currently studies history, philosophy, egyptology and western esotericism at Uppsala Universitet. He’s also currently writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.