Art by Susan Seddon-Boulet

"In the best known version of the Greek myth, Persephone is dragged down into the underworld by Hades, whose title is 'Pluto.' But in earlier, pre-patriarchal tales, she descends there under her own power, actively seeking to graduate from her virginal naïveté by exploring the intriguing land of shadows. 'Pluto' is derived from the Greek word plutus, meaning 'wealth.' Psychologist James Hillman says this refers to the psyche-building riches available in Pluto's domain. Hades, he says, is the 'giver of nourishment to the soul.'" Rob Brezsny

I’m writing this during the month of my mother’s birthday, and when I recently read this quote, it made the tale of Persephone and Demeter become mine, and I wanted to explore this new perspective in the context of my relationship with my mother.

I was never taken into the underworld, so the archetype as it is commonly known never really resonated with me, but that changes drastically if it is understood as a willing and self-powered journey of nourishing discovery! I'll be wanting to ponder this tale in its new light (thanks, Rob Brezsny!)

Read on for a personal exploration of the complexity of these roles of mother and daughter in the context of this ancient myth...

 I know that my mother has mourned my seeming capture by the underworld, and in her view, its dark lord… even though I have no lord. She has done what she could to get me back, and has had her own mother-tale of suffering at the “loss” of her daughter, even though her daughter has been off mastering a second realm, and becoming a queen in her own right.

Unfortunately, much of that suffering comes at the hands of a religion that makes her feel responsible for the eternal souls of all her children. As if the agency and choices of her adult children are her responsibility and could be controlled by just being a good enough parent, and the fault pinned on her if she fails to keep them in the church.

But her religion (Mormonism) is driven by the engine of people trying to be good enough, and always feeling like they’re falling short, so that they just need to submit a little more sincerely, and do as they’re told more perfectly, and rely on their deity’s blood sacrifice to make up for where they will inevitably fall short. I should be sure to tell her if I get a chance that she did everything they said she was supposed to, she was a good parent and taught us well. If the “all-important” part didn’t stick, it was simply because what we were taught (and what she was taught) is not actually true. But she’s not aware of that, and may never be, in this life. I would never have broken away from that church and its truth-claims if I hadn’t found undeniable proof and been certain of that. But she and I will always have a half-relationship with short visits only, due to this split. If anyone was taken away from our natural bond by a dark lord, it was she. I would have her around without hesitation, if the religious (and resultant political) tension could be sloughed off. But it comes from her end, not mine. I can respect religions that aren’t my own, and don’t think they’re wrong and mine is the only right one.

I am the one who has tasted the fruit. My mind has expanded, and I’m comfortable in the underworld as well as the fields of Demeter. My journey was guided only by my own soul, and exploring the intriguing land of shadows was a natural part of the curious consciousness exploring everything, freed from dogmatic limitation, and learning to navigate a beautiful and complex world. Dark and light together are our birthright, and claiming my agency and my part in the “forbidden” realm of the “worldly” world that isn’t sanctioned by the church – that world they are “in” but not “of” which is so rich in knowledge as one learns from living in it and knowing you are integrally part of it –  felt more right than anything ever has. It has been more nourishing than anything the church ever offered.

It’s more like she is the one kidnapped and taken underground, and I climbed out of the allegorical Plato’s Cave (oh look how similar the names!) and saw the daytime world, and want to come back and tell her that her world is a play of shadows, and there’s so much more above and beyond! I have tried, and she just can’t comprehend.

I would say I wish I could offer this fruit to my poor, deprived mother, but I know that despite the mindset they gave her, she is in fact “of the world” – you can’t make that untrue – and has managed to swallow its seeds here and there, and to grow, and to produce fruits of her own that will nourish the world.

Happy birthday, Mama. Love and honor to your sacred motherhood and cherished self. You formed me, body and mind, and taught me to be a good mother, myself. You were my first goddess. Wishing one a better life than is already being lived would not be out of order for either of us to do.