As part of our Samhain ritual, we are honouring and inviting in Persephone in Her role as Iron Queen, sovereign of the Underworld and wife of Hades. The myth cycle of Persephone is fairly well known, but there tends to be a focus on Her aspect of spring maiden, and Kore the flower child of Demeter. When the abduction to the Underworld is considered, it often paints Persephone as a victim of the kidnap without due respect for the powerful figure She becomes as a result of these events.
There is a lot written about the abduction of Persephone and it can be quite a controversial topic these days. Without going into this in detail, I tend to view myths as a code to be broken with the hidden knowledge waiting to be found only through deeply engaging with the stories. Abductions are interesting things in myths because they can so often be used as a code for initiation mysteries. The story of Cerridwen chasing Taliesin and the fith fath song are Celtic versions of similar initiatory experiences.
However we engage with this element of Persephone’s story, the most fascinating and rewarding energy of this goddess comes when we look at what happens next. When we look at who Persephone is when She moves beyond being Demeter’s daughter Kore, and the victim of Hades.
This is only the beginning of Persephone, the footnote that is Her origin story and (as with most of us), She becomes so much more than Her beginning. I find it most rewarding to look at what She isn’t – or at least what She isn’t only.
She isn’t only the daughter of Demeter (and Zeus).
She isn’t only the spring flower maiden.
She isn’t only the wife of Hades.
She isn’t only kidnapped and raped and tricked into staying in the Underworld.
Persephone seems on the surface to exist only in terms of Her relationship to others – daughter to Demeter and wife to Hades. To view Her in such simple terms does a terrible disservice to the sovereignty and complexity of this truly powerful Goddess.
Where Hades is an unapproachable, unknowable god, Persephone becomes the queen mortals could appeal to. Hades runs a powerful realm, He is called the “Zeus under the Earth” (Zeus Cthonion) for a reason, and it is this realm that Persephone rules without hesitation.
She is the access point to the Underworld, sufficiently sovereign to rule and make judgements and decisions on the cases and appeals put to Her without falling back on Hades’ authority. Persephone has autonomy and independence. She exists whole and complete unto Herself and she rules in Her own right.
She is Persephone Cthonia (of the Underworld) or as the Romans more aptly named Her, Juno Inferna – the Underworld Queen.
Sisyphus, Orpheus, Alcestis, Heracles, Psyche – all of these stories show us that anyone seeking favours from the cthonic realm appealed to the Iron Queen. Persephone’s authority in the Underworld is such that She is mistress of the Erinyes (Furies) and keeper of the Eleusinian mysteries. This is not simply a victim flower maiden, dragged yearly from Her mother’s loving presence.
This is a powerful Sovereign Goddess, merciless and merciful by turn and inclination, fierce and terrible in Her strength.
Is it any wonder we chose this phenomenal cthonic queen to be our guide and protector as we navigate the Underworld this Samhain?