Basement room. Black room.
Black berth in the bowels of the steamship,
The inside of the mountain;
I fell to its bottom,
A reverse of birth,
But not a death.
Persephone did not die, and does not;
She just dwells among the dead,
Lives in the Land of Shades under the earth,
With Hades for her husband,
Landlord there, the dark force,
Alchemical nigredo, Shadow, chthonic dark
Chaos: this self-destruction,
I have always identified with Persephone (Greek Proserpine), the Corn or Spring Maiden who is also the Queen of the Shades: she was kidnapped by Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and made his bride; but she ascends to the surface, again and again each year. She blooms and blossoms and she puts forth plants and crops for food, and she withers and descends again and again and again, after harvest.
This is, of course, an age-old vegetation and agriculture myth, found in all cultures over all the–at least, temperate-zoned– earth under various names and faces; it is the cycle of earthly seasons.
The full mythical story is that Hades (Pluto) kidnapped the maiden who was in a meadow picking flowers, and her mother, Demeter (Ceres) mourned; she looked for her daughter everywhere, and was so sorrowful that no crops or plants would grow and there was a great famine in the world. The people prayed until Zeus (Jupiter) arranged that Persephone would live with her husband for about a third of the year, and above the ground for the rest, with her mother.
She is unusual among the vegetation gods, not only for being a second female, the daughter of the Mother rather than Lover/Son, but because she does not die. Osiris, Attis, Adonis, and even Dionysus die; the Old King of the land is sacrificed, killed, and the power/spirit of fertility of fields and animals and peoples, passes to a New King, a reborn Dionysus. Persephone descends, but does not die. Her mother is stalk and cereal and fruit with seeds, and she is the seed that breaks open and grows up, a shoot breaking to the surface .
In this Mother-Daughter myth we have the cycle of all living things, in life, during a life. We grow from a single cell to infancy, through puberty to fertile adulthood, age — and women cease menstruation– die, and within that, we sleep and wake, we are sick and healthy, we are depressed and manic, and we continue. We go around and around each day-night cycle, each yearly turn of seasons, each orbit and revolution until we have fulfilled our days.
Persephone provides the perfect myth for my bipolarity, with its bright bubbling hypomanias and grave depressions, those deep despairs like falling down the inside of the mountain to the bowels of the earth where no light reaches and you feel forgotten by God.
This is not how I was intending to begin this entry, but I opened Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and was caught up…
Creation myths and origin stories are what I wanted to look at, and mythical histories. Persephone and Demeter by way of James G. Frazer does offer a lead, which can hook on Jung and archetypes and the Bible…None of this is more strange than quarks and anti-quarks, quarks with up and down spins or anti-up and anti-down quarks I was reading about the day before: we and all the planets and their creatures and the plants the earth puts forth for food are made of the same stuff, sharing old stars’ molecules and atoms, atoms composed of nuclei of electrons buzzing around protons made up of combinations of these quarks.
Frazer points out that the detailed Demeter-Proserpine (to be correct) myth is a late development of antiquity; whenever the gods or spirits of the earth, or cereals, trees or rivers or oceans, have Proper Names and definite characteristics, have human emotions and human forms in art– are anthropomorphized — they have been separated from the realms they rule, set apart in Valhallas, Olympus: Demeter is not the spirit of the corn, but a goddess who has power over the corn crops. This makes the corn mere matter, spiritless itself. The goddess must be propitiated, prayed and sacrificed to; offerings are made to her, and the success or failure of the crop is up to her. Which makes Proserpine/Persephone seem oddly redundant, perhaps indeed merely a type for the manic-depressive except that–
Nature does not tolerate a void, nor does human nature. Before the more “advanced” thinkers separated the spirit from the tree/plant/cereal crop and set it above and outside and gave her and him appearances like beautiful humans or like half-animal half-humans (also a perfect type of humans themselves, no?), most humans believed that the woods and fields and animals and vegetables had spirits which housed themselves in this and that tree (field, stalk), but could move from one to another, and were the Life and Spirit of the living things. The most ancient rites and ceremonies were not to propitiate gods but to participate, to influence them by enacting the burying and returning, through sympathetic magic. Pounding the ground and shaking the tree might bring rain, for one simple example. (The Golden Bough is a survey and study of ceremonies and rites of antiquity and still performed among peoples the world over even late in the 19th century, and the 20th and ours– Maypoles and (spring-cleaning?) May Queens, Straw Man festivals– and Yule logs and evergreen trees brought into houses in the winter…). When the Corn Mother was removed from the corn to Olympus, the people “created” or recognized, or the earth put forth, a new form of her spirit, which in turn became the Corn Maiden or daughter– but her time underground keeps her nearer to the natural world which some of us still sense as alive and having spirit, agency, and life.
The Old Testament Genesis even posits this: “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit…’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation..” [Gen 1:11-12]. “And God said,’ Let the earth bring fourth living creatures according to their kinds–livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so.” [ Gen. 1:24] And throughout the Psalms and Prophets the mountains and plains and trees tremble and rejoice, and “all that has life and breath” praises. “For the creation waits with eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” [Rom. 8:19].
Verbs imply agency, nouns capable of acting.
There is bread, and there are trees and trees and trees throughout the Bible, trees for food, trees for the moving temple, trees or healing of the nations in Revelation, Cedars of Lebanon and fig trees, olive gardens, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life, and the “tree” that the Son was hung on.
Odin was hung on a tree and was given wisdom and the Runes for writing, trees and groves were sacred the world over, and effigies and dolls hung in them for the fertility of the crops and people and cattle. Trees provide air, food, shelter, water, protection; there is the Norse World Ash and the Celtic Tree of Life, and even 21st century science has shown that trees do indeed talk to each other, they share information and nutrients through their root systems.
As humans “advanced” their religions to the propitiating worship of frightening and powerful gods, they fell, at the same time, farther from the (albeit imagined, but how could every culture and generation imagine such a Golden Age if it was not an idealized archetype or memory ?) Edenic state of living in communion with the plants and animals, walking with God, honoring the spirits of all living things. They began to fashion thrones and images of gods and goddesses, giving them names, assigning powers, and making sacrifices to them– not just of firstfruits but of firstborns, of animals and of people, captives from wars or, in the case of Baal-worship, of children, when the sacrifice of the King or son of the King was not enough. These were inventions, gods made in man’s image, and, too, “projections” of the collective unconscious of each culture.
The more “sophisticated” and “advanced” we become, even unto decoding DNA strands, mapping stars, reconsidering gender, and colliding particles, the more archaic, infantile are our unconscious projections, our mass eruptions and neurotic crises. In nations, we see signs of ego-inflation and narcissism and the demonization of the convenient “other.” Patriotic people Idealize and Despise the same things, in normal times of prosperity and peace, and must Idolize and Demonize the same heroes and enemies when gearing up for declarations of war.
We project ideals and also enemies, what we desire and what we fear. We become more whole by acknowledging these things within ourselves, addressing, “assimilating”– by owning and by shining light into the dark places, naming things and accepting our many levels and facets; we become more fully, roundly, Selves. The Self is not the ego or identity or conscious self called I or me, but includes that. To some, Self is the Image of God, to some the Self is God within man, to some the Self is the Archetype of God and to some, Self is God, all that there is, all differentiation being illusion.
I have been known to wordlessly scream, to slam objects across rooms, to tear open my own flesh with my fingernails in eruptions of outrage, although I’m a pacifist. I have met my Shadow, my husband Hades, and I have heard and sensed with terror his Mother, the Dragon, the serpent which is not Satan but which is the prima materia of myself and mother earth, the chthonic dark that does not care about my identity, my intellect, but is Biology. I am “one of the guys” and have theories about everything and am a weak, easily-seduced- by -flattery, “foolish woman” such as Paul warned Timothy to watch out for ( this the anima of my animus as Jung would say-?). Examining and writing my own history, I use third person point of view, past tense, and call myself “Jane,” or “Mary” or “Anna” or “Pam” and give eras titles: Autobiographies of Ann Onn is my favorite, or Jane’s Book of Love and Ammunition. “Anna” and “Mary” are the polar opposites, the Spring Maiden and the Queen of the Underworld.
Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox, bringing in Spring here in the northern hemisphere, which is celebrated still with rabbits and eggs as pagan as May Kings and Queens and the making of puppets, dolls, and effigies, hanging them in trees, and variously sacrificing, burning, drowning, burying them to transfer the powers of tree spirits from the old to the new.
Beginning next week is the Jewish Passover and the Christian remembrance of Good Friday leading to Easter.
The Passover remembers and celebrates the release of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and the beginning of the exodus to the land promised to their ancestor Abraham. In the time of his Abraham’s grandson Jacob, famine had sent them to Egypt where Jacob’s son Joseph was a high official, responsible for having stored up grain enough in bountiful years to distribute in these hungry years, and the twelve sons of Jacob settled there in Goshen in Egypt and flourished for 400 years, multiplying until Pharaoh feared the power of their numbers and “did not know Joseph” [Ex.1:8 ] and made them slave laborers, and ordered the midwives to kill the boys they birthed. Moses was an infant who had been hidden and found by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised by her, who was swept up in ethnic loyalty and fervor when he found out his heritage, killed an Egyptian overseer, and fled. YHWH, I AM, appeared to him and instructed him to return and demand of Pharaoh that the Israelites be released to return to their promised land– this is an extremely crude, quick sketch of all of this, of course.
YHWH, the LORD, “hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” [ eight times in Exodus, from 7:13 to 11:10 inclusive. ] against the release of the slaves, and the LORD sent ten plagues until the last one convinced him. The last plague was that: the Angel of death swept through Egypt, killing the first born son of every person and every animal except those households where a lamb was killed and its blood smeared on the door frames, marking them: death had already been there.
Jesus of Nazareth was born a Jew in Bethlehem to a mason/ carpenter; he read the Torah and went to the synagogues in Judea, and the Temple at Jerusalem; the Last Supper with his inner circle of twelve disciples was the Passover seder ( and “the Twelve” were by no means his only disciples, but paralleled, balanced, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which could lead discussion back to atomic elements with up- and down- spins, but not here).
After the dinner, Jesus and his friends went to Gethsemane where he prayed for some other way to fulfill his purpose, if that was possible, if God would, but “Thy will be done,” not his very human wish in his human dread and fear of the coming human death. He was arrested that same night, tried by the Jewish high priests and convicted by them of blasphemy for the claim that he was the Son of God, of Elohim, YHWH, I AM. The only begotten son, the Firstborn. Under Roman law they could not execute a criminal, so Jesus was taken to the Roman consul, Pontius Pilate, and at the Jews’ insistence he was crucified like a common criminal, on a cross between two thieves, and there, in the afternoon of the Friday, Jesus died.
On the Sunday, considered the third day, his tomb was found empty and he appeared to the women who went to it to wash and anoint his body, and to disciples– different, not recognizable at first, but him, risen from death.
Jesus’ suffering and death fulfilled over 300 prophecies from the Old Testament, or Hebrew scriptures.
Throughout the gospel records of his life, Jesus told his Jewish disciples to remember their Jewish scriptures, which spoke about him, and he quoted from Psalms and Prophets, and showed them, after his crucifixion, the passages about him.
I think it is entirely possible that God lived and walked and talked in other incarnations on earth, among other peoples, and I believe that wherever in the universe living beings are, he would live among and love them also. I believe that Jesus was a man who was formed in a womb like the rest of us, born and grew from infancy through puberty to adulthood, and died, and that he was God. That he sacrificed his Jesus life to God to be the Christ, and to send the Holy Spirit of God (the Creator, the Light, the Life) to all who would accept it. Eating his body, which is bread, and drinking his blood, which is wine (or juice of the grape), is a sacrament of participation: eating the god, one takes the power and spirit of the god into, onto, oneself.
He was called the Lamb of God by John the Baptist, (who was also his cousin and a child conceived miraculously by parents who were old, a mother past child-bearing which itself echoes the birth of Isaac to Abraham and to Sarah who was too old to bear and laughed at the idea), before Jesus began his ministry. Lambs were sacrificed to atone for the year’s sins. From the beginning, in Genesis, when sin got Adam and Eve exiled from Eden, animals died to cover their wage-of-sin deaths, for “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” [Gen. 3:21].
The blood of lambs on the houses covered or protected the Israelites from the Angel of death in Egypt. Jesus as the Lamb covers sin and death with his blood, and balances, in a sense, the deaths of the firstborn sons, dying as the firstborn Son.
The Gospels and the epistles were written in a relatively modern era, of written books and letters, translated documents, international travel and trade, aqueducts and advanced mathematics, and are as true as probably any biographies written then or since. He was never on a throne. The Old Testament histories were transmitted orally for centuries before they were written, and are, like most or all creation and origin stories, some truth and a lot of poetry and legend and myth. There is no external historical verification of the exodus. There is some archaeological evidence of a king which might have been David. The Jerusalem Temple was built and was destroyed when the city was besieged and destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D. (The Ark of the Covenant has so far only been found by Indiana Jones.) I do not know if Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Essau, Joseph, really lived or not, but the scriptures and stories, which Christ said showed him, provide a richly detailed, cross-referenced underpinning of signs and symbols of Himself, His death, of the nature of God and of nature and of humans; I do not think these symbols and signs are only in the Jewish texts; the God which creates all life is evident in creation and with all Its/Their children on this planet and all planets that bear life.
How then, should we read Genesis, Exodus, Judges, Chronicles, Kings?
In the 1943 preface to his translation of The Bhagavad Gita, Swami Nikhilananda says that intellectual understanding of religious texts is only part of worthwhile reading; Scriptures are keys to the stores of knowledge we possess within our own souls, that reading them opens our eyes that we might see Truth, to realize Truth directly, to experience it.
The Bible is called a living word; the Living God, the Spirit, the Word, acts upon and in the reader. Words are inspiring, incendiary, healing, up-building , down-tearing, revealing.
Poems and stories bear truths of the peoples and histories they relate. Myths tell truths about ourselves and our world.
The Psalms– songs and poems, and prophetic poems and books, especially of Isaiah, tell about Jesus hundreds of years before Jesus, and his cousin John called him the Lamb of God and his friend and disciple John called him The Word, (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” [John 1:1]) and the true light (“And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light” [Gen. 1: 3]) and that he became flesh and dwelt among us [1:14].
Adam and Eve are mythical parents– in Genesis 1 after the other animals, the humans were created, male and female and told to be fruitful and multiply and steward the earth; Adam and Eve are a second creation-of-people story placed in a Garden which is given an earthly location like the later, “advanced” (remember) religions of antiquity, and are the mythical ancestors of the Semitic people from whom Abraham and Sarah Isaac and Jacob and Judah and David and Mary and Jesus descended; the story nonetheless has truths to teach within its poetic, artistic details. The man was made of earth– the atoms and molecules that our ground and carbon-based life and stars are made of, (and the woman “made from his rib” may be the anima projection, the archetypal female “soul” of a man, the lover/wife/mother/earth; Anima Mundi is the world soul and this came into the story when God had breathed spirit into the man of clay and brought him to life). The fruit trees and green plants the earth produced were for food for all the animals, and the humans were told to eat any but the one, which was the one of knowledge of good and evil; the crafty serpent may have been the helper God decided “the man” should have; the serpent tempted the woman Eve, not Adam, with the wisdom that the fruit would bring (and was, in this, the animus of the woman, which is inflated intellect, stubborn opinion, like that of “weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” [2 Timothy 3:6b-7]). The eating to inflate humanity to godhood and the shame and separation of goodness and spirit from the body led to the expulsion, and need for reconciliation. This was probably necessary for humanity to grow up from its spiritual and intellectual infancy to adulthood, whatever that might be.
Humankind fell away and advanced at the same time, and from walking with God made idols, thought the spirits out of the living plants and creatures into the sky; they made gods in their own images in their pride, and fashioned statues and worshiped them, forgetting that there was spirit, except for necromancers, soothsayers, prophets and shamans and seers; and they had to be brought back; salvation and enlightenment through another reversal, God as a human, and the religion of Laws, Priests, Temples with the innermost Holy of Holies where God on his Olympian Throne could be addressed by the High Priest only, the hundreds of laws and taboos was upended by Jesus who spoke to and touched, fed, and healed, bleeding women, Samaritan women, sinful and unmarried women, crippled and demon-possessed women and men, lepers and dead bodies– the unclean and unsuitable and taboo, and he proclaimed the equality and adoption as children of God of women and men and children, Jews and Gentiles, slaves, masters, mistresses, barren women and eunuchs and sinners and doctors; he showed that God could be worshiped anywhere, in the Temple courts, in houses, on stream banks; He whose body as bread (the wheat) was eaten by all and any, whose blood as wine (the vine) could be drunk by all and any, whose Spirit will dwell in any and all people who will die in this dirt-made, carbon-based, stardust body, yet will live, reborn in spirit– however that is.
Words or letters, knowledge, and trees have age-old associations throughout the world. One of the most fascinating, far less famous elements of the Eve and the tree in the garden story is: there was another tree. God didn’t say a word about it to the human couple, and the serpent didn’t either:
“Then the Lord God said,’Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever–‘ therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” [Gen. 3:22-24].