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Persephone: An Archetype Profile

Persephone is a goddess of transformation.

She’s an archetype of death and rebirth, and of serious personal growth—the kind of growth that requires you to die to a part of yourself, so another part can be reborn.

She is both a mama’s girl—the fresh-faced maiden of spring—and the Queen of the Underworld.

You can recognize her in some ancient depictions because she’s holding both stalks of wheat and a flaming torch. One signifies new life and abundance. The other signifies her role as the Queen of the Underworld, and the guide for souls who came to visit those dark halls.

She even had two different names. When she was a girl, she was called Kora. When she became a Queen, she was called Persephone.

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Here’s Persephone’s most famous story. It illustrates her two roles beautifully:

Beautiful young Kora was the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and the harvest. Demeter and Kora were very close. Demeter was proud of her daughter, and Kora looked up to her mother and trusted her every word.

So one day, Kora was picking flowers in a meadow and singing little songs to herself. Hades, the Lord of the Underworld, happened to hear them.

Now, Hades had never been much of a ladies’ man, like the other gods. He mostly just kept to himself. But Kora was something else. The dark, stern, forbidding Lord of the Underworld saw the innocent, giggly girl and said to himself, “Yup. I’ll have that one.”

Then he said the same thing to Zeus.

Who said, “Okay, fine by me.”

Neither of them thought to consult Kora on this arrangement.

So when the earth split open where Kora was picking flowers, and Hades appeared and grabbed her, she was understandably dismayed. She understandably screamed and tried to get away. But, understandably, she was unable to escape the Lord of the Underworld. (Nobody gets away from death, right?)

She had also been pretty sheltered by her mother, and was raised to be a compliant good little girl. She couldn’t stand up for herself.

So down she went with Hades into the Underworld.

Demeter lost her freaking mind. She roamed all over trying to find her daughter, and finally learned the truth of what had happened. Then she was no longer just scared—she was scared and seriously pissed off. The goddess of agriculture caused all the plants to die in protest of the entire patriarchal fiasco.

Eventually, the dead plants caught Zeus’s attention, and he decided it wouldn’t be good if all of humanity died. So he told Hades to give Kora back to her mother.

Kora was overjoyed. Or at least, I think she would have been. But something had happened.

Kora had eaten some pomegranate seeds in the Underworld. Nobody who ate food in the Underworld was allowed to return to the regular world. (Okay, the general rule was that nobody who even WENT to the Underworld was allowed to return to the regular world. But this was a special case.) The reason being that when you eat something in the Underworld, it fundamentally changes you.

Once you eat the food of another world—in myths and stories it’s usually the Underworld or Otherworld—that world becomes part of you. You’ve taken in some of its power. (You are what you eat, right?)

This is what had happened to Kora. The pomegranate seeds had changed her, and she had transformed into a serious badass—her time in the big bad Underworld had changed her from a naive girl into the Queen of the Underworld, and the equal and consort of Hades.

She had changed so much that she even took a new name—Persephone.

So because of this change and the pomegranate seeds and all that, she couldn’t leave the Underworld forever. Zeus, however, had an answer for this. Persephone would spend 2/3 of the year with her mother, and 1/3 of the year with her husband—who she actually liked quite a lot now.

Now, every year when Persephone rejoins her mother, the spring comes and the plants spring back to life. When Persephone goes back down to Hades, the crops all die. (Because Demeter is the most obnoxious, codependent mother ever. Seriously, every time Persephone leaves, her mother lets all the crops die. Talk about a guilt trip. No WONDER Persephone was so powerless when she was a little girl.)

So that’s the story.

If you ask me, the whole “pomegranate thing” is a metaphor for sex. Mostly because when Hades abducted her and made her his wife, he didn’t just read pretty love poems to her. It was a very traumatic experience. Read more about that in this article I wrote, and this one too.

Persephone is not one of the “virgin” goddesses—the goddess archetypes who exist independently of their relationships to men. (Artemis would be one of those.)

Instead, she’s what’s known as a “vulnerable” goddess, or relationship-oriented one.

Persephone’s power comes through her transformation, which is wrought by her husband Hades. That is, her power comes from her own sexual transformation. That’s why she’s not a celibate goddess, and her power—while it is completely and utterly hers—could not have come to her without masculine influence.

This transformation of the feminine by the masculine is an archetypal theme.

It doesn’t mean that women are weak. It doesn’t mean that they like to be dominated and controlled by men. It doesn’t mean that women need men to give them power.

It means that for a woman to discover the full thrust of her power (pun totally intended), she needs to access her animus—the yang part of her psyche where all the drive, agency, and ambition live. It’s more about her “inner man” than about some dude coming along and whipping her into shape.

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Persephone is a goddess of opposites.

She’s sweet and innocent, and represents the promise of spring. She also represents the utter necessity of death. She represents the ability to die in order to be reborn.

Theoi describes her this way:

“In the mystical theories of the Orphics, and what are called the Platonists, Cora is described as the all-pervading goddess of nature, who both produces and destroys every thing.”

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Here is another idea about Persephone that adds a layer of dimension to the idea that the feminine is transformed by the masculine.

The idea is that Persephone was actually a triple-goddess who had three forms: the maiden (Kora), mother (Persephone), and crone (Hecate).

Hecate was the crone goddess of the occult, magic, the night, and necromancy. She was the goddess of ghosts and Ouija boards and things.

In some myths, it’s said that Hecate witnessed Kora’s abduction and did nothing about it. It’s said that she carried two torches (Persephone bears one torch, remember), and helped Demeter search the world over to find her daughter. It’s also said that Hecate is Persephone’s companion and friend in the Underworld, and escorts her back to the land of the living every spring.

So it’s very possible that Hecate represents Persephone after yet another transformation.

And I think it’s very possible that Hecate not only knew about the abduction by Hades and kept quiet about it, but even took part in arranging it, or putting the pieces into place by some kind of magic.

Why would she do this?

Because Hecate would know that she started out her life as sweet innocent useless Kora. She would know that the only way she could transform herself from that girl-child she used to be, was to take her through a traumatic transformation. (That is, to take HERSELF through a traumatic transformation.)

I look back on the child I used to be, and I would not hesitate to put her through the same experiences I’ve lived, because those experiences brought me to where I am today. I’m not saying I’ve grown to be an all powerful Hecate, or even a Queen of the Underworld Persephone, but I like where I am.

I bet that Hecate would have done the same thing to (for) Kora. She may have done it with sadness and compassion, but still.

And what does that mean for the theory that Persephone’s feminine was transformed by the masculine?

It means that this goddess’s deep intuition was colluding with the masculine the entire time. It means they had always been partners the entire time.

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Persephone’s Personality

  • Introverted and quiet. None of the goddess’s aspects are especially sociable.

  • Dreamy and whimsical. (Kora)

  • Reflective. Persephone has the ability to go into the Underworld, which symbolizes the unconscious mind.

  • Needs a lot of alone time.

  • A very close relationship with her mother.

  • A yes-girl and a people-pleaser. (Kora)

  • Can’t set her own healthy boundaries. (Kora)

  • Pathological respect for authority. (Kora)

  • Attracted to bad boys.

  • Victim mentality. It always seems like bad things are happening to her. In reality, deep areas of her subconscious mind may be drawing these experiences into her life. (Kora)

  • Emotionally resilient. Persephone can put up with a lot of bull—.

  • Persephone’s journey is to find herself, listen to her own inner authority, and respect her own boundaries. She’s got to find her own power, and integrate her animus.

  • She has a hard time letting go of childhood and being protected, but she must do this to find her strength. Sometimes it takes trauma to force her to let go.

  • Deeply intuitive. (Persephone)

  • Mystical and visionary. (Persephone)

  • Connected with spirit guides and spirit animals. (Persephone)

  • Empathic and compassionate toward the suffering of others, and toward her own suffering without falling into self-pity.

  • Uninterested in the approval of others, or in explaining herself to them. (Persephone)

  • Demands respect in a quiet, unmoving way. (Persephone)

  • Being so familiar with the terrain of the Underworld (the subconscious mind), she can now guide others through the journey. (Persephone)

  • Repressed anger issues. (Hecate)

  • The witch that lures the innocent girl into the woods, where the girl will face trials or death. (Hecate)

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Here are some music videos about Persephone. Because she’s just everywhere these days.

Blue Jeans, Lana Del Rey

Born to Die, Lana Del Rey

Fighter, Christina Aguilera

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L. Marrick is an author, ghostwriter and suitcase entrepreneur, which is a hipster way of saying she travels and works from her laptop. She writes about archetypes, spirituality, and history at Mythraeum.com. Follow her on Twitter @LMarrick, and on Facebook.

© Leslie Hedrick 2015. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author at the above links to request usage.


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