She is also called Kore [Greek: the girl or maiden]. In Roman myth her equivalent is often cited as Proserpina, with her mother Demeter is Ceres.
Accompanied by a litter of pigs to Hades’ gloomy abode, she is tricked by the dark King into eating pomegranate seeds. Even though she is tricked, Persephone is also punished. She must stay in the land of the dead for, depending on the account, three to eight months each year.
Persephone is not only raped by but also marries Hades. This makes her Queen of the underworld. Homer writes that she mediates between two worlds, the land of the living and the land of the dead. One of her primary duties is to deliver curses to the dead from the living.¹
S. G. F. Brandon, in his Dictionary of Comparative Religion, says Persephone is linked to the Eleusinian Mysteries and figures in Orphism.² And some contemporary writers believe her myth exemplifies the ethos of the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries.
The mythographer Joseph Campbell elaborates on Persephone’s link with the ancient mystery cults. In a somewhat Jungian style, Campbell believes we can gain esoteric knowledge by risking madness within the depths of the collective unconscious. Some do not survive the experience, and like an ocean diver who dives too deep, they do not make it back to the surface.
It seems that some people do, in fact, become gripped by so-called archetypal forces of the unconscious.
Again following Jung, one unfortunate outcome occurs when the ego identifies with a psycho-spiritual presence (numinosity) it has discovered and begins to assume the role of the “holy teacher.” Or perhaps in a more Darth Vader kind of scenario, the “holy ruler.”³
We can usually discern false or immature “teachers,” “leaders” and “rulers” when they do not admit to their mistakes and, perhaps, go to any lengths to cover them up. To be human is to err. And whenever someone cannot admit or tries to hide their human imperfection, it should raise a red flag to any sane, sober observer.
A more down-to-earth view sees Persephone’s yearly rise and fall as coinciding with the ancient grain crops that thrived in the growing season and yet died when stored underground for the off-season. But considering Persephone is also linked to mystery cults, this view only accounts for half the story.
² Dictionary of Comparative Religion (New York: Scribner’s and Sons, 1970, p. 493).
³ I once had a professor who came to Canada from a communist land who was a bit like the latter. Although his abilities seemed impressive at first, in retrospect he doesn’t look so great. More like a backward, third-rate scholar who tries to control others through fear and intimidation.
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