The Autumn Equinox: A Time to Honor our Daughters for their Courage
As the ancient Greeks first told it, Persephone volunteered to go shepherd the dead in the underworld out of her deep compassion for the suffering of those lost souls. A young woman with a passion and a mission is an unstoppable force.
So Demeter, mother of all living beings and of Persephone, herself, relented and said yes, she may go, but only 6 months at a time because she would miss her beloved daughter too much to let her go full time. Persephone promised to take a break from Queen of Death duties for half the year and return, along with Spring and Summer, because Mamma Earth is so happy to have her back that she blooms and flowers and perpetuates all sorts of joy in life.
On the Autumn Equinox though, Persephone, also known as Kore, goes back down and Mamma Demeter loses her vibrant energy and goes inward, to her dreams, where she can keep in touch with Persephone in that other realm.
You may have heard that Persephone was raped and abducted by Hades, the Unseen, the underworld god of Death, also called Pluto, giver of wealth, who forced her to be his sex slave and queen and would have kept her there unhappily forever. In this later myth, Zeus, his older brother and king, is alarmed by the power of Demeter’s wrath over Hades' violation of her daughter. Knowing Mother Earth could destroy all living things with just her basic elements, Wind, Fire, Water and Earth, he bargains with his hairy underworld twin to release Persephone. Hades relented to his brother’s nagging, but tricks Persephone with pomegranate seeds so she has to come back, year after year, for half the year, in the season of death and decay. This version is the patriarchal retelling of the original Greek myth of the seasons; can you spot the patriarchal alterations?
September is a bittersweet turning inward time of year in the northern hemisphere; starting with the Fall Equinox the light of day dims, moon through moon, to All Hallow’s Eve until the Winter Solstice. I like to think of it as the Season of the Witch.
The Witch is an archetypal symbol of woman’s power. Patriarchy has created a charicariture of this ancient archetype, regularly trotted out at Halloween and in fairy tales. She’s ugly, old, scary and evil.
Yet witch burning was a real thing in patriarchal European history for centuries! Somehow, that is one patriarchal genocide that we never learned about in school books. In the history of patriarchal regimes, religious or secular, perhaps millions of women and a smaller percentage of men, were tortured and brutally, cruelly murdered for having their own beliefs. The crime was called heresy; failure to believe what must be believed by law. So, if as a woman, you were raised with wise understanding of herbal healing, passed down through your family, and now some priests, cum doctors, are telling you what you may or may not believe, what you may or may not practice, you might be inclined to tell them to go fornicate themselves. Sanctioned by church and state law, church henchmen retaliated with such cruel devices for torture and murder that it must make Jesus weep, still.
If you took a survey today, in most places around the world, among most populations, few people have any awareness that there was so much death, pain and destruction, wreaked by the church and state, in order to vanquish women’s place and authority in culture. The European witch burnings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance never invoke the horror that the German Holocaust or American Slavery rightly invoke; yet, the male created and male executed persecution of women in all walks of life, based on spurious religious justifications and totalitarian rule, is just as historical, just as monumentally widespread and just as deeply tragic. Why don’t we know about it?
Let’s remember that the young Persephone of the compassionate heart acted of her own accord when she chose to lighten the struggle of the lost dead and help them find the light. It took courage, self-sacrifice and vision to do what she did, and in gratitude the dead called her their Queen.
It took courage for Demeter, her doting mother, to let her go. Her gift to her daughter was to continue to love her, even as she let her go. No guilt, obligation or pressure on her daughter to live out a script she herself might have chosen for her. Instead she grieves her own loss, but support’s her daughter’s mission.
The death of our beloved Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds me that now is the time to support young women, older women, women of color, all women who want to make a difference and help us end this dry, dusty, deadly era of patriarchy.
We are spiritual beings having a physical experience on a tremendously challenging physical plane of existence. As spiritual beings, we live beyond the expiration date of our physical expressions of consciousness. Gender doesn’t matter. Skin color doesn’t matter, neither does ethnicity. Spirit isn’t physical and doesn’t just express itself that way, so why limit ourselves so drastically while we’re in these earth suits?
In my dream of Persephone’s descent, she is the warrior princess who refuses to allow injustice to exist on her watch. Persephone is the patron saint of real women; she doesn’t give a fig or a pomegranate about anything others think. She does what she feels in her heart is right. When she returns from her mission, she reunites with Demeter, her loving and supportive mother. They share the secrets of above and below, life and death. They’re a team.
I see so many strong, wise and brave young women coming into their own in the social justice movement happening now. I see so many mature women taking the challenge to offer better service and better leadership to the American people, from VP to federal and state legislatures. I see so many older women claiming their power, owning the role of Crone and continuing the good fight for women’s rights. Despite all we’ve been through or will go through, women are stronger now than ever.
Think of how much Persephone can teach us.
Shout out to all the incredible young women, moms, sisters and crones who are standing up to power,