The World Behind the World

Hades and Persephone by Sandara
Hades and Persephone by Sandara

“Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.” ~ Marianne Williamson

The veil between life and death is especially thin at this time of year.

Shedding one skin to reveal another.

Fall is the time when we travel into darkness. In Greek mythology, this time of year is represented by Persephone’s kidnapping to the underworld. An example of the perfect maiden, she is stolen by Hades — the god of the underworld — and taken to be his queen. Light is non-existent. Crops wither and die.

Demeter — Persephone’s mother — is beside herself with grief. She’s responsible for the fecundity and fertility of the planet. She stops doing her job, obsessed by her quest to find her missing daughter. As a result, the world plunges into darkness and starvation.

Eventually, Demeter is told where Persephone’s been taken, and seeks to get her returned to her family. Hades — ever the trickster — promises to return her, but only if she’s eaten no food while she was secreted away. He tricks Persephone into taking a pomegranate seed into her mouth, and some of its juice passes her lips. Because of his duplicity, she cannot leave the underworld permanently. Hades uses this to ensure her return to the underworld every fall. She is released for half the year (spring and summer) and in bondage with him for half the year (fall and winter).

“What the myth found is a double existence between the upper world and the underworld: a dimension of death is introduced into life, and a dimension of life is introduced into death.” ― Walter Burkert, Greek Religion

In a society that is largely disconnected from ritual and symbolism, we tend not to think about preparing ourselves spiritually for handling our own dance with darkness. We might not see the valuable lesson embedded in this myth regarding the balance of life and death, light and darkness, but we should.

Everything is not as it seems.

What I love about this myth is the sense that growth is happening even during times when everything feels dead. The frozen ground may seem fallow, but rain, snow, and the passage of time, work to enliven the soil, so that when it’s time to turn it in the Spring, it is rich, moist, and fecund. Demeter cannot make things grow in soil that never rests. We cannot continue to advance if we never take any down time. This tale speaks directly to our very real need for balance.

At the same time, we tend to overlook whatever aspects of life that we take for granted. When Persephone is snatched away, it is as though all at once we realize that she embodied pure, wild beauty. Without her, the world is a dark place. However, unless we understand the ephemeral nature of beauty, and treat it reverently, the sting of its loss will always surprise us. Everything cycles through birth, aging, sickness and death. Everything. The child becomes a maiden. The maiden becomes a mother. The mother becomes a matriarch. The matriarch becomes a grandparent and the cycle repeats.


The Invisible World Behind the World.

These days I think a lot about the invisible aspects of life. Things I know exist. Atomic particles and single-celled amoeba. Angels and guides. Ethereal beings. Travel at the speed of light. I think about the world behind the world. The one that exists underneath the sheen of this reality. The one that pulses with life and light, unlike the fear-based, terrified, freak show we suppose is the only possible reality.

Persephone’s story regarding the appearance of a disappearance illustrates our energetic reality perfectly. Just because something appears to be gone, doesn’t mean that it is. Death is, in fact, a human construct. So is life, if you really think about it. We are pulsating masses of energy, and energy cannot be destroyed. It can change form, but it cannot disappear. Therefore, death is simply a part of the life cycle that leads, eventually, to a birth or rebirth, depending on your viewpoint.


We are at the precipice of the dark night, right now. Persephone — the energy she represents — has been spirited away. Leaves scatter and gardens rot. The days are shorter making the light harder to find. We long to sleep, but when we do, our dreams are filled with frightening encounters with animal totems, dead relatives, and the steaming skins we’ve only recently shed. We are raw and newly born. We need to hibernate. Our translucent skin glows as we burrow deeply into the cave-like rooms of our unconscious. Before a new world can be born, we must un-tether our souls from the one we’re living in.

Unfortunately, some folks cannot traverse this chasm between these different worlds. Some of those we love ardently, may go. For those of us left behind, this is painful stuff. We are scraped up and bruised and wishing that someone would kiss it and make it better. But, there’s no one who can do that work for us. It is ours. We must own and navigate our own transformation.

Starting Where We Are.

In our grief, in our mourning for what was, we may not feel strong enough to do our spiritual work. However, for the planet to survive, for it to have a chance to green up and bud again, we must prune and clean and harvest and let go of what was. We must sleep and dream and plan. We must savor the darkness of our messy nest.

Spring — with its cherry blossoms and birdsong and fertile sense of promise — is still a distant dream. We’re slumbering in an ashen world, in the muck, in the underbelly now. This is powerful dream work. Work we were born to do.

Let’s get to it.

© 2013  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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