Monday, January 10, 2011

Goddesses in the Dirt

It's the New Year, and Travels with Persephone is debuting a new feature: Goddesses in the Dirt. 

As an archaeologist who has worked in Greece for over two decades, I look forward to sharing my personal interest in ancient mystery cults, religions, and goddesses of mythology worldwide. This regular column will focus on the mythological and archetypal figures that conjure the Divine Feminine, often exploring unique or unusual facts about the archaeological or historical contexts associated with them. In many cases I will share tales of my own experience from excavating or visiting sites, starting in Greece, my area of speciality. 

I hope you will enjoy this new feature, where my work as an archaeologist and the archetype of Persephone - Queen of the Underworld - intersect. As I get up and running, I will aim towards a twice-monthly schedule; but when Goddesses does appear it will always be a Monday - the day of the week dedicated to the feminine orb of the Moon. Not surprisingly, Issue #1 will focus on a goddess and archetype close to my heart: Persephone.

Join me as we travel into the Underworld to unearth the Divine Feminine, and go in search of what treasures lie hidden in the dirt.........

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Issue #1 

Persephone: Queen of the Underworld








 A young woman wanders the fields, picking flowers, unaware that her life is about to change forever. Bending to grasp a handful of blossoms, she suddenly hears the thunder of hooves. Before her, the earth splits into a crevasse from which a chariot erupts, driven by a shadowy figure. Before she can run, she feels his grip around her waist. She calls out to her mother, but it is too late: the flowers drop to the ground, she sees the sky spinning above and the light dimming......slowly at first, then with rapidly increasing speed, the chariot dives back down into the abyss. The light grows more distant the deeper they go, eventually disappearing altogether as the earth swallows her whole.



MOST PEOPLE ASSOCIATE PERSEPHONE, the tale of a maiden goddess, with her mother, Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. While out picking flowers, Persephone wanders away from her mother and is abducted by the god of the Underworld, Hades. Distraught over the loss of her daughter, Demeter wanders the earth above, and vows to not let anything grow until she is returned to her. Eventually Zeus convinces Hades to let Persephone return to her mother, but not before Hades offers Persephone three pomegranate seeds - the food of the dead. Upon reuniting with her mother, Demeter is overjoyed to see her daughter once again, but when she finds her daughter has eaten the seeds, her heart sinks - she knows Persephone must return to the Underworld. A compromise is reached; Persephone must return to Hades to live for 3 months of the year - one for each pomegranate seed - and during this time, which we recognize as winter, Demeter mourns her daughter, and nothing on earth grows. 

There exist multiple variations on the number of seeds Persephone eats: 3, 4 or 6 - but all signify the season when growing things go dormant and the earth rests as it awaits renewal. The version of the story I like recounts how Persephone becomes accustomed to her life during those months spent with Hades, becoming Queen of the Underworld. It is in this capacity that she has transformed from a passive, helpless goddess to an active force responsible for helping mortals make important life transitions; specifically the ultimate one between the life and death states, becoming a true 'seer' or one who can see in the dark. 

This is Eleusis, the sanctuary dedicated to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. It is named after the Eleusinian Mysteries, an annual rite that was performed in their honor and one of the world's most famous mystery cults. In antiquity the area was a sacred grove, located on the Saronic Gulf, not far from Athens. Sadly, today the site is surrounded by oil refineries and the encroaching buildings of the modern town. However, if you ever have a chance to visit this sacred site, go find a quiet corner to sit, close your eyes, and you will be transported back in time. It won't be difficult to imagine a magnificent temple and torches blazing in the night sky as initiates reenacted Demeter's search for her daughter in a powerful ritual.

My connection to Persephone seems fated: as a child, I experienced a series of nightmares in which I was pulled through a hole in the earth; many years later, a revelation in an Athenian restaurant basement led me on the path to my career as an archaeologist. In recent years, I have pursued my interest in the archetype of the Divine Feminine, which Persephone represents, and seek to expand awareness of this  powerful, often misunderstood, and desperately needed force to restore balance in our world. 

I will write about the Eleusinian mysteries in a future issue of Goddesses in the Dirt.....but for now, Eleusis is as close to the real Underworld of Persephone one can get. 

Image: The Return of Persephone, Frederic Leighton, 1891

27 comments:

  1. The story of Persephone always intrigued me. As a child and teenager I was an avid reader of the old Grecian myths. I still love them. Greece itself I have not yet visited. But I know that I will, when the time it right.

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  2. I read both your stories, also the one of your getting your call- fabulous. Your words just pull me in, I feel like being there with you! As for the three seeds, here in Northern Germany Persephone sleeps at least five months! But we are already in the middle of hibernating time. Soon she`ll rub her eyes!

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  3. Ah, my cup of tea! I look forward to the next issue. Meanwhile, I do hope you're back and enjoying the home front.

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  4. I wanna know why some keep kicking Hestia out of the list of Olympians.

    The jerks.

    And, oh, yeah... a friend of mine is studying to be an archaeologist, and I mentioned your blog, and he asked me to ask you some questions concerning careers in the field, and... I've totally forgotten what they were.

    I'll send an email when I remember.

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  5. In Maine Persephone would have eaten 6 seeds. Sigh. I like this new feature on your blog. The only problem is I’m now craving a pomegranate.

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  6. It's been awhile since I've read these wonderful myths! How fascinating that you relate to Persephone first through the nightmares and then as an archaeologist.

    This post makes me want to read these stories again.

    And thanks for stopping by my blog! I always like to see your "face." I love coming over here to see your awesome photographs and read your fascinating posts. How sad that the "modern town" encroaches on the splendor of the past. But it's wonderful what our minds can do to resurrect the best of the past.

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  7. Interesting how your nightmares changed into professional job:) Thank you for commenting on this story. Greetings!

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  8. Excellent! I love the title "Goddesses in the Dirt": I look forward to more tales in this series.

    P.S. Thanks for tracking me down.I actually had your name on a piece of paper to alert you to my new home this morning. I've put you on my blogroll; I see my blog has slithered to the very end of yours!

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  9. Ah, silly me - I've left a comment with my old blog, not the one here. This wordpress thing is taking time to master.

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  10. Bring on the goddess stories sister. It takes one to know one.
    I'm ready and waiting to see how the masculine rewrote the feminine truth, through myth. Be honest and bring light to the darkness.

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  11. I always hang onto the words in your stories, Amanda, and this one is no exception. I look forward to reading more in this series...

    Bisous,
    Genie

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  12. What a treat to run across today...every bit as good as chocolate!

    I look forward eagerly to devouring more. Thank you!

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  13. I've always been - and still am - fascinated by Persephone.

    Have you read "Gods behaving badly"? silly fun

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  14. Your relationship with Persephone is fascinating. I'm looking forward to more Goddesses in the Dirt posts!

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  15. This is an exceptional brilliant choice of the new feature. It goes without saying that I look forward to read all your stories which I always enjoy so much. Hugs

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  16. I've always identified with Persephone so this series will definitely interest the Goddess in me :)

    And thanks for stopping by and commenting at my new blog. It means a lot to me!

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  17. I love to read your stories, Amanda. The words tug me right in.
    Looking forward to more narrative in the Goddess in the Dirt series!

    big Italian goddess hugs
    E xx

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  18. Of great interest to be read ! Thank you for teaching me something I did not know before.

    Please have you all a wonderful Sunday. Hope to see you soon again.

    daily athens

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  19. This is wonderful news... :)

    I haven't been over in a while and it is lovely to be back here.

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  20. utterly rivetting - what a wonderful idea - i shall be glued to this series (as i am to your blog anyhow)Vx

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  21. loree - i hope you get a chance to travel to greece soon. and i agree - the draw of greek myths is eternal..

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    geli - i think the reason for the different seed counts is exactly that! each region has its own length of winter -- for me, growing up in minnesota it often seemed like a 7 seed winter!!


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    rosaria, i am back -- have been for a couple months. greece seems far away at this point.......!

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    jeff -- poor old hestia. i guess she doesn't rate top billing because the powers that be don't think the hearth is sexy enough ;-)

    btw i'm happy to answer your friend's questions if i can

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  22. sarah, luckily they are in season right now!! i like nigella lawson's recipe where she whacks a pomegranate half with a wooden spoon and 'rains' the seeds down on a platter of roast lamb.....the best!

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    ann, what a lovely thought --- we do count on our minds a lot to reconstruct that faded past, don't we?

    many thanks for your kind thoughts and for visiting!

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    ola - sometimes dreams lead us to our careers and sometimes so do persistent nightmares, masquerading as archetypes waiting to be unearthed...

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    dd - i love your new blog -- but unfortunately i can't control the fact that it has slithered to the bottom of my blogroll - something about your blog won't allow it to update like your old one.........rats....oh well. sigh

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  23. sister -- i will do my best......i like what you said about the masculine rewriting the feminine truth. don't we know it, having been raised in the catholic church ;-)

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    dear genie -- many thanks mon amie.....i do appreciate your kind words, always♡

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    jo - as good as chocolate?? even 85% dark chocolate? (hehe -- my fave) many thanks~~!

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    mim -- gods behaving badly? will put it on my 'to read' list immediately!

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  24. thanks, sara -- persephone and i have a strange relationship indeed, but it becomes more clear as the years progress....

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    philip,

    many thanks. i always appreciate your kind words and your visits --- yeia hara fili mou~

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    ah, miss kim - so you identify with persephone as well!!

    so happy to see you back in the bloggieworld once again - i love to follow your latest travels!

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    dear lola, you are the original italian goddess. hands down.

    xx

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  25. robert -- thank you for stopping by -- it's lovely to meet a fellow hellenophile (now say that 3 times fast! hehe)

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    robyn -- lovely to see you -- and appropriate, like persephone, you are visiting from 'down under'!!

    xx

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    ah val, thanks.....you always say the nicest things.

    makes my day♡

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  26. Hey, I'm a newcomer to this blog thing so I hope you dont mind me commenting. I used to love this story and just wanted to say thank you for reminding me of it.

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  27. sorsha,

    glad you decided to join the blogworld! thanks so much for visiting - drop by anytime ;-)

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Thank you for visiting♡