Persephones' fall from grace


Photo by engin akyurton Unsplash

Once there was a girl who lived by a deep dark forest in an ancient time of long ago. They called her Persephone, and she was the cherished daughter of a Grecian Goddess.

Persephone wanted for nothing. She spent her days wandering the woods, picking flowers and weaving them into her long red hair. She whispered to animals, and swam naked under the warm rays of the sun while tiny sparkling fish tickled her limbs. Although her time was her own, her Mother had strict rules to keep Persephone safe. She did not go to school in the town nearby with the other children; her friends were the woodland creatures of the forest. She was never to talk to strangers. She was free to wander as she pleased, as long as she went no further than the stream in the forest, and was never to climb the mountain with the rocky peaks that punctured the sky like iron spears. Because Persephone was a good girl, she did not question her Mother; she did as she was told, and obeyed the rules imposed upon her. Her Mother had warned her that bad things happen to good girls who did not listen to their parents.

Persephone was content in this sheltered life until one day when she was twenty-one years old a warm breeze blew a storm in from the North. The breeze started calmly enough, but soon it turned to wind, and then galloped across the ground until it became a gale. The trees began to turn the burnt gold of autumn, and shook their leaves to the ground in protest as the wind grew stronger, lashing at their branches and lifting Persephones’ auburn hair from her shoulders, so it danced in the air like flames. The sky was electric, and lightning flashed across the heavens in angry white hot currents. When finally the storm subsided, Persephone felt altogether different. Something deep within her had changed. North winds like these she knew could blow in trouble. Her Mother had warned her of that too. What she failed to notice was that trouble was already there, for in the shadows lingered a dark-eyed stranger, leaning o against a tree smoking a cigarette with all the careless abandon of one who was been to hell and is not afraid of fire. Where the ash hit the foliage on the ground, plants withered and died. But Persephone saw none of this, and the stranger slipped back into the darkness unnoticed.

In the weeks after, as the days and nights worked their way to an easy agreement of equilibrium, Persephone was lost. She could neither eat nor sleep. She was no longer content with her life, and began wandering further and further as if to seek the peace that had somehow turned to dust and been swept away in the storm. One afternoon, when the day and night were in perfect synergy, she stood at the foot of the forbidden mountain. All this time, she had lived here and never had she viewed their kingdom from its ragged top. What harm could come, she thought, of taking just a peek? A road wound around the mountain like a loose thread and Persephone climbed higher and higher, hitching her white dress up and flicking stones from her shoes, until she reached the top. From here, she could view the entire kingdom, and it lay before her in patchwork shades of silken green. The jagged pinnacles of rock she saw from below formed a sort of circle on the mountain top, and in the flat ground in the centre, a black vintage Mustang car was parked, engine running with a deep throaty rumble. The windows were tinted dark, and it was impossible to see if the car was occupied. Persephone knew she shouldn’t go near. But she also knew she couldn’t help herself. Cautiously she edged closer to the vehicle, peering closely to see if she could see anyone behind the tinted windows, when a voice from behind her made her jump.

‘I think’, the voice said, ‘You might like this.’

Persephone turned to see the stranger, and although she had never met him before, she felt drawn to him the way moths are to flames and magnets are to steel. His voice was like whiskey over gravel, and he was dressed entirely in black, with a long oilskin coat that hung slick to his ankles and snake-skin boots as dark as coal dust. In his hand, he held a single yellow flower, a narcissus, and the fragrance of it when she took it and lifted it to her face to breathe its scent left her dizzy.

This stranger, all reckless hair and intense brown eyes took her other hand, and said ‘You are destined to be more than good. Darkness is not always bad, and good is not always light. One cannot exist without the other. Come with me, and I will show you angels and demons, fire and ice, love and war. Whatever it is you are searching for, you will not find it here’.

And because Persephone knew what he said was true, and because she was tired of being good, she slipped into the passenger seat of the black Mustang, the leather seat hot against her back. With the window wound down, Persephone closed her eyes, tilted her head and let the wind once again lift her hair behind her as the stranger drover faster and faster. He lit a cigarette, and the smoke wrapped around her in wisps. The atmosphere split in two and the ground beneath them shattered all at once as the car speed down, down, down through earth and diamonds and gold and rock until at once they were in they reached the blackened gates of the underworld. No one saw her go, except the sun high in the sky, who chose to stay quiet for fear of upsetting the moon, who was partial to darkness.

The car came to an abrupt halt, and the stranger stepped out, opened Persephones’ door and offered her his hand. She took it, allowing him to help her from the vehicle. Her legs were shaking, from fear or excitement or the sheer velocity of her travels, she could not tell.

‘Hades’. Persephone said, surveying the blackened landscape of the underworld and its river of death, realisation settling like stones in her heart. ‘You are Hades’.

‘Indeed’, said the stranger moving to stand in front of a stone table, ‘I am’.

Persephone noticed her gown, once purest white, was now a shimmering satin of the pitchest black. She traced her fingers along the fabric, feeling the slippery coolness beneath her fingertips.Hades took a wine goblet from the table and filled with liquid, all at once velvet red. A plate of Pomegranates, splayed in two layers lay on a plate beside it.

‘I will not bind you, that choice must be yours’, Hades said, offering her the glass. ‘But should you stay, you will be Queen of Darkness. You will rule your own destiny Persephone.’

‘But what of my Mother?’, said Persephone. ‘She will be distraught’.

And indeed she was.

Persephones’ Mother was Demeter, Goddess of Harvest. When she realised her daughter was missing, she searched high and low, but could find her nowhere. She wept and wailed and wondered if she would ever see Persephone again. Eventually, the sun took pity on her, and told her what he had seen, of where Persephone had gone. The sun thought it would give Demeter comfort to know her daughter was safe, but instead, the Goddess went into a state of mourning. Her grief was so deep that the earth was thrown into a deep and unforgiving Winter. The world turned ice-cold, fields once green were bitten by frost and died. Animals starved and rivers froze. She begged Hades to return Persephone to the light. Zeus, God of Olympus, began to fear that all mankind would perish in the baron and relentless cold, and demanded Hades return Persephone so that springtime would be restored.

Persephone, however, found that the dark lands suited her. In her position of Queen, she ruled the underworld, presiding over the dead. The laws of the darkness were her own. Hades did not enforce upon her boundaries, and gave her no governance. Here Persephone was free, and the freedom was intoxicating. So too, was the presence of Hades. The intensity of his gaze upon her left her tingling, his hot touch on her skin left her breathless.

When Persephone learned that Zeus, God of all Gods was demanding her return, Persephone was adamant. She would not go.

‘He is Zeus’, Hades said. ‘ We have no choice’.

‘I won’t!’ said Persephone, knowing of course that he was right.

‘There is something we can do’, said Hades carefully.

From his coat pocket he produced a small bundle wrapped in black satin. Inside was a Pomegranate, split neatly open to reveal the blood-red gem-like seeds inside.

‘You need to be above ground for half the year,’ Hades said ‘They won’t accept any less. But eat six of these seeds, and they have to send you back for the remaining half of every year. Once you eat in the underworld, you are bound here. You have to return’.

‘Half the year away from here? From you?’ , Persephone exclaimed, distraught.

‘It is the only way’, Hades said. ‘ When you are there, when you are away, I will find you. I will be in the North wind. You will see me in the flames of the fire, and feel me the darkness of night. I am everywhere; you only need to look’.

And so it was that Persephone returned, for six months every year, just as she does still. Demeter, elated to have her daughter back once more, ended the relentless cold and returned the world to Spring. When it is Spring and Summer, and the days are warm, and the fields fertile with crops, Persephone wanders the fields under the loving and happy gaze of her Mother. When she returns to Hades and her role as Queen of Darkness, Demeter once again grieves the loss of her daughter, and the seasons change first to Autumn, then Winter.

Persephone now knows not to fear her own darkness; that it is better to be a Queen in Hell, than in chains in paradise; and to be wary of men in dark cars with whiskey voices, for they will steal your heart when you least expect it.

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© 2016 Claire Inkson. All photographs copyright Claire Inkson

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