Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Story for Winter Solstice

Once there was a time when always it was spring, with the singing of birds, beautiful flowers, and lush greenness all the year through. In this world lived a young girl named Persephone who loved to dance and play in the sunny meadow as her mother, Demeter, Goddess of Growth and Grain, looked on, and her father, none other than Zeus himself, the sky god, watched from Mount Olympus. As Persephone would dance and sing, she gathered beautiful flowers. She could never decide if the hyacinth or the narcissus was her favorite.

Many of the gods on Olympus courted Persephone—Hermes, the fleet-footed messenger of the gods; Ares, the fearsome god of wars; Hephaestus, the marvelous blacksmith; and even Apollo, most handsome and most accomplished of the gods. But despite all their courting, Persephone went on dancing in the green and eternal spring days.

One day when Persephone was out dancing among the flowers, she heard a very strange sound. Then she heard it again. And again. Persephone looked and looked for the sound, and eventually she came to a very deep and dark hole in the ground. The strange sound was coming from somewhere deep inside the earth. Persephone listened and listened and—because she leaned so far to hear the sound—she fell into the hole.

Persephone fell and fell in the darkness.

Finally, she felt a stone floor, and who should be there, as surprised as she was, but Hades, the fearsome god of the underworld. He immediately fell deeply and hopelessly in love with Persephone.

Meanwhile, up above, on the earth, Persephone’s mother Demeter, Goddess of Growth and Grain, was looking for her daughter. Demeter called and called and searched and searched everywhere, but it was as if Persephone had simply vanished. In her grief, Demeter forgot about the flowers and trees and grasses and grains, and as she mourned, all green things died. Thus it was that winter came upon the world for the first time.

Meanwhile, in the underworld, Hades said to Persephone: “You don’t appear to be dead!”

“No, I don’t think I am,” said Persephone. “I was listening to a very odd sound, and I fell into a deep hole. So this is the Underworld?”

“Yes, welcome,” Hades said, “Most likely, it was the beating of the oars on Charon’s boat. He brings the dead here across a river.”

“I like it here,” Persephone said, “even if I’m not dead.”

“I’m very pleased,” said Hades. “Why don’t you stay? You can be wife and the queen of my realm.”

Persephone thought that was a very good idea.

Meanwhile, up on the earth’s surface, Demeter searched and searched, weeping all the while, and, instead of being healthy and full of life, as the eternal gods always are, Demeter had in her grief aged and withered as had all the living things on the face of the earth. Soon, Demeter could barely walk, and so she despaired of ever finding her dear daughter, and so as a last resort she went to Olympus, home of the gods, to see if Zeus could find Persephone.

When Demeter arrived on Olympus, she immediately caught wind of the rumors that her dear daughter was alive and well and living in the Underworld. And so, off she went to Zeus, insisting that Persephone be returned to her at once.

Zeus was by this time quite concerned that every living thing upon the earth would perish if Demeter did not return to her job of caring for growth and the grains, and so Zeus dispatched the swift-footed Hermes to the underworld with a stern warning to Hades to send Persephone home at once.

But what should Hermes find upon his arrival in the underworld but a radiant, laughing Persephone who was having a marvelous time in her role of Queen of All the Dead. Persephone loved greeting the newly arrived dead; she enjoyed chatting with them about their lives; and she enjoyed helping everyone to get comfortable in their new abode in the Underworld.

The startled Hermes rushed to Persephone and said, “Your mother is worried sick about you!”

“Oh!” said Persephone, “I had forgotten all about that other world!”

“But you must return!” said Hermes. “The world above is in a terrible state.”

“But I love it here!” Persephone said. “I love my work and I love my husband Hades!”

“But all the earth is dying because of the sadness of Demeter!” Hermes protested.

And so it was that Persephone reluctantly returned to the Upperworld to visit her mother. When she appeared, immediately, the sun began to glow again, and the earth grew warm and green, and the flowers bloomed beautifully.

Yet, just as the Upperworld had grown warm and fruitful again, Hades and all those who lived in his kingdom had grown sad without Persephone.

So it was that Zeus had a problem. And he thought and thought and finally found a solution. A compromise that we live with to this day. So it is that every year, at the Summer Solstice, Persephone packs her bags and heads for the Underworld to visit her husband Hades. And the days grow short and the light grows dim and the flowers fade and soon it becomes winter. But Hades and all the dead are very happy.

Then, at the Winter Solstice, Persephone packs her bags and leaves the Underworld. And when she does, the days grow longer and longer and the light begins to return to this world and once again the flowers prepare to return. And her mother Demeter is very happy.

adapted by David Breeden

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