Demeter, the goddess of fertility and the harvest, had a daughter with Zeus. Her name was Persephone. She was very much her mother’s daughter, enjoying the flowers and beauty of abundance in the eternal summer where they lived. The Gods were struck by her beauty and grace and began to call her Cora (Kore) which means “the maiden.” Demeter was protective of her young daughter and took her to live in the remote countryside with companions who would help protect her.
One day, Persephone wandered far out into the meadow, chasing butterflies from flower to flower. She heard a loud rumbling and the earth shook furiously before opening into a deep crevice. A great thundering chariot burst out of the ground and the driver grabbed the stunned Persephone before anyone could see what was happening. Persephone’s disappearance was as surprising as it was sudden. She had vanished without a trace.
Demeter’s despair for the inexplicable loss of her daughter is indescribable. She grieved with each passing day, growing angry, then hopeless, and angry again. Finally, she vowed to find her daughter if it took the entirety of her immortal lifespan. Demeter called upon many gods to help her in the quest, all had failed. After several months, the cries of the people rang in the ears of Zeus. Demeter had become so distressed by the loss of her daughter that no crops would grow. No seeds would sprout. The people were starving.
Zeus soon discovered that it was Hades god of the underworld, who had taken Persephone. He immediately went down into the underworld to fetch Persephone. He was met by Hades, his older brother, who resisted his request. Zeus vowed to never deliver another soul to Hades unless he released Persephone. Hades begrudgingly promised to return Persephone but asked for one more day.
Later that evening, Hades knocked on the door of Persephone’s chamber. You see, he did not wish to harm Persephone, he was in love with her. In all of those months they spent together, they developed a bond. Persephone, at first, felt pity for him. He was no more than a lonely god, but as time passed, she grew fond of him. He was strong and gentle, ugly and beautiful, all at the same time.
Hades told Persephone of Zeus’ request and asked meekly for her forgiveness. “Share some pomegranate seeds with me to show their is now ill-feeling?” He asked. Persephone knew that she must not eat the fruit of the underworld and had not done so. Swept up in the moment, she took six pomegranate seeds from his outstretched hand and ate them with naive pleasure.
The next day, Hermes arrived to take Persephone and Hades replied, “Persephone has eaten the fruit from my kingdom. It is ordained that all who have tasted the food of hell must return. She has tasted six pomegranate seeds so she must come back to me for six months of every year.” Hermes bowed, he knew that it was so.
Demeter was overjoyed with the return of her daughter and the world began to bloom again. But it was a joy that only lasted half of the year, for in accordance with ineluctable divine law, Persephone must return to Hades for six months every year. Demeter’s distress at this parting caused the trees to shed their leaves and for death to creep over the world. Each year when Persephone returns, Demeter’s joy brings life and abundance to the natural world. The world had found a new rhythm.
Persephone grew to love her time in the underworld as much as her time above. For six months she reigns, not as a prisoner of Hades but as Queen of the Underworld. Persephone is the midwife of death. She rules as the counterpart to the hideous destruction of her King, in perfect balance. And yet each time she leaves one world for another, there is change, transition, and chaos.
It seems as if the equinox represents Persephone’s time of passing between the worlds. One world mourns the other when she departs. She is now entering the underworld, just as we enter the darker part of the year. The days feel cooler, nights grow longer, and the leaves begin to fall as we witness Demeter’s grief, so palpable in the evening air.