It happened before she was Persephone, when they still called her Kore, maiden, unclaimed. She was amongst the spring flowers when Pluto, god of the underworld clad in his mineral wealth, spotted her, picked her, snatched her down to the dark realm of the dead.
Demeter, mother and goddess of growth, despaired. She couldn’t bear it and couldn’t bear. The earth suffered with her, parched by the noxious burn of self-interest, drained by her weeping. Greed had wintered the world.
A hunger spread all over, sinking all the way down from Persephone’s tongue. Her pining for lost light turned flesh when she saw the glow of an open pomegranate thrust toward her like a snare by her captor.
Curious, wanting, unsure, she swallowed down six jewel-seeds of the underworld and they took root in her body, knotting her to darkness and he who had taken control. This was the rape of Persephone, and the cycle of consequence began.
By the time her mother arrived to retrieve her, the deed had been done, her punctured daughter changed maiden to mistress forever. To taste eternity disqualifies you from the world of time.
Because nature is tough, adaptive and equilibrious, as far as it can strain, the earth goddess struck a deal with the god of death. Her stolen child would spend half of the year in the dark with her man, and half returned to her mother, green amongst the flowers.
Persephpone, split, shooting forth and retreating back, again and again, always half-out-of-place, became a constant churning Changeling, with knowledge to be feared, condemned by carnality, always lost. Every year her mother wept, and the earth turned dust.
Persephone is the site of conflict between nature and greed. She is fought over, as object, by the actions of mother and man. The female body has long been considered an asset, something to own but also something brittle, breakable, that might lose its value if ruptured. Persephone swallows her captor’s seed and things can never quite go back to the way they were. This myth of the ruinable woman is another historical tool of control. The value of a body, we are more inclined to realise now, cannot be shattered by the action of another, because bodies belong to selves. They are animate, flexible, morphous, independent of binaries, this or that, good or bad, perfect or unfit. They are inclined to reproduction and regeneration, and female bodies are definitively cyclical. But still so often the actions of others refuse to reflect this. So much like Persephone, so much like the vegetative world of nature she represents. Life sprouts from death, but not from eradication. Violence takes its toll.
Persephone’s tale churns with ambiguity. It is the myth of natural cycles, of regeneration after death as she rejoins the living for Springtime. But it is also the story of how violence has the capacity to change things irreparably. Pluto’s violence is traumatising, his capture, rape and implantation. Every year, like a ritual depression, Persephone returns to the darkness, and the earth loses the will to live. It is a story of the environment as much as it is a story about the power dynamic between men and women, adults and children, and a story of adolescence: the traumatic negotiation of sexual maturity, protection and independence, innocence, rebellion and responsibility. It is a story of the complexity of consequence through time. With “climate crisis” the word of 2019 and #metoo cries still resounding all around in a world dominated by political bravura, extended adolescence, awareness of trauma and fear about the future, Persephone’s churning details continue to echo.
Abridged is Supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland