The myth of Persephone has a lot to offer us as it is a myth about the transformative power of cycles of creation and destruction. The myth of Persephone is a myth of spiritual maturation through separation and an encounter with the dark or the underworld.
Persephone is captured from the upperworld and taken into the underworld by the God Pluto who rapes her. Whilst in the Underworld Persephone eats of the fruit of the pomegranate which binds her to the underground realm of the unconscious, symbolising the power of dark experiences to change us irrevocably.
The bond with her Mother, is severed through the shattering of her virginal innocence that comes with Pluto’s capture. The rage of Demeter at the loss of her daughter causes her to set up a pestulance on the earth, which results in the killing of all crops and life forms. the God Zeus appeased Demeter offering a solution from which the cycle of the seasons takes its inception, for half of the year during autumn and winter Persephone will remain in the realm of Pluto or Hades. For the other half, during the months of spring and autumn she will be allowed to join her mother in the Upper world.
The myth of Persephone is a myth for those of us upon whom a wound has been enacted, for those of us who have lost through suffering and for those of us whose innocent youth has been ruptured by a violent intrusion of the darker face of love and encounter with the harsher facts of life. Persephone’s rape speaks of a powerful penetration by an underground force…(which) effects a maturing against her will.
Often life takes us somewhere we don’t want to go. Perhaps this is not the journey for all of us, but for many of us what we choose often doesn’t end up the way we imagined. The people we entrust our hearts to, don’t always care for them or treat them kindly and perhaps we too at times hurt others or our journey or way of being interferes with others ideas and plans for their own lives forcing them to another place they would rather not visit. In many ways when we undergo these kinds of experiences we are undergoing the mythological journey of Persephone and Demeter.
I have been considering this mythology today after being approached by someone who has written a book which involves her story of narcissistic abuse and trauma seeking permission to use a poem I wrote at the height of my own relationship with a narcissist. The book is soon to be published and will be called Rise From the Ashes. I haven’t read the book but I thought how appropriate the title was with its Plutonian theme of being burned in the ashes of a painful relationship, undergoing a transformative experience which forever changes us and due to this I have felt the urge to write this blog..
As someone who has always been interested in mythological symbolism and most especially as it relates to astrological archetypes we meet and embody on our journey through life, I thought of how the relationship with a narcissist is a lot like the journey of Persephone, which astrologically and mythologically is related to the planetary archetypes of Pluto and Plutonian experiences in psychological astrology.
An innocent naïve young woman when she starts out on her journey, while walking in the field one day with her mother, Persephone stoops to pick a narcissus flower and a huge tear appears in the ground of the earth as Persephone is taken captive by the Underworld God, Pluto or Hades.
This could be a symbolic expression of what happens for those of us who get ‘captured’ by someone’s narcissism. By relationship our own narcissistic wounds are the magnet, or it could just be our innocent naivete or trust in a world where things are as they seem at first sight, rather than the complicated tangle of confusion and pain that unfolds as we experience our journey with the narcissist who strips us away from all known reference points, calling into question our own reality and sense of self.
Our vulnerability or innocent trust is sensed by the narcissist energetically and we may be more vulnerable to them after we come out of experiences which left us alone and isolated longing for love and connection that at first seems to be offered by the narcissist. The kind of rape that happens for us is of a psychological nature in that our boundaries are often invaded against our will and conscious awareness and our journey of discovery in the aftermath will involve learning more about healthy psychological boundaries about our own wounds, vulnerabilities and psychological deficits. It will be an experience of deep pain that leads to a psychological maturing, often undertaken entirely against our will.
I remember when I met my last partner who was a narcissist. The first things he told me were about his traumatic childhood and of the last love affair with a woman who had psychotic episodes during their relationship. These stories of his suffering pierced my compassionate side although in time I heard warning bells.
Later it was clear that these episodes had been triggered in some way by him, as an encounter with one of his ex partner (first wife) and her second husband revealed a few years down the track that he spread lies about this ex wife, including that she had hidden lesbian tendencies. This was revealed as an out and out fabrication by her second husband who I became close to after the narcissist discarded me and left me traumatised and emotionally broken down.
When my ex narcissist sensed my vulnerability early on in the relationship he told me his instinct was to withdraw. “You are too vulnerable, I could destroy you”, he said to me. This occurred some hours after I had fallen over and he picked me up and said “I will always take care of you, I’ll never leave you”???
A few years later a therapist reminded me that the capacity to be vulnerable with someone is part of emotional intimacy, but not for a narcissist who fears exposing a vulnerability which due to past intensely painful experiences had to be defended against and masked at any cost.
Like Persephone our early encounters with the narcissist entrap us in their domain. Their early attention and overpowering of us may tap into a wound we carried from childhood in being emotionally unseen and longing for attention. As the relationship progresses and they begin to devalue us and withdraw, old childhood patterns of deep abandonment trauma and pain may be tapped which reflect the narcissists own deeply unconscious painful emotional abandonment history.
In many ways those of us attracted to these kind of relationships are shadow figures for the narcissist. We carry the shadow of their wounded vulnerability which is then projected. Idealised at the outset, later on in the relationship we are demeaned and discarded for the very things that attracted the narcissist in the first place. This is a call to awaken our own repressed healthy narcissism and strength.
If our ego is not strong (one of the painful legacies of a difficulty childhood) we don’t have a lot of protection or resistance to projections that can be placed on us. If we were the family scapegoat we may have been used to being dismissed or demeaned for “over-sensitivity” or expressing emotions not allowed in the family home.
The relationship with the narcissist sets us upon a painful journey to understand how we are vulnerable to projection, where we loose our power, where our weaker ego allows us to be undermined or heaped with critical judgements. It is a painful call to mature and shatters our former innocence and trust. In many cases it can and does end in massive disorientation and often launches us on a healing quest which takes us into the personal unconscious, our own personal Underworld.
On this journey we are like Persephone dragged away to a place filled with emotional turmoil that no one would consciously choose to visit and yet this experience when fully navigated and integrated leads to transformation, a burning clean in fires of suffering and emotional pain which have important lessons for us.
It seems that at this time, many of us are going on that journey of transformation. We are learning that our suffering is not only personal but collective. We can share about our experiences with others and find those who resonate deeply with that underworld experience. Our visit to the Underworld transforms us and we can return with experiences to share which connect us with others and others with us, in a way we could never have hoped to connect with the narcissist.
In time Persephone returns to normal life. In mythology she still spends part of the year in that Underworld kingdom. For those of us marked by narcissistic injuries in time we do heal and transform but a little of the fruit we taste through that bitter experience (it is due to eating of the fruit of the Underworld, that Persephone is unable to return to the upper world for some time) remains with us. The pomegranate is a fruit with many seeds, in reflecting on the symbolism of this last night it occurred to me these are the painful seeds which we can transform through paying psychic attention and learning lessons of relationships, boundaries, narcissistic vulnerability and investigating wounds that may have left us vulnerable to psychological invasion.
Through undertaking our own journey we learn too essential lessons of empathy we may not have learned had we not gone through the experience of being demeaned or invalidated by the narcissist.
Owning our power is part of the transformation that takes place through being burned to ashes on a metaphorical level. We may have lessons to learn about self love with require some kind of painful separation in order that we can work on ourselves.
In contemplating the myth this morning it occurred to me that both Persephone and Demeter are two parts of us in this experience. Demeter remains above ground and grieves for her daughter while her daughter undergoes capture. She is the mother part of us that we must develop within ourselves in order to psychologically mature. It is through feeling our grief that we transform and become stronger. It is in letting go of outmoded ways of being that we grow and rise from the ashes.