Persephone by Patricia Ariel
For many years now, my Circle sisters and I have shared the story of Persephone as a metaphor for the turning of the wheel of the year. Each fall equinox, we gather the young ones around and tell the tale of Persephone: On her maiden’s errand to gather flowers, she was abducted by Hades, king of the Underworld. This event caused Persephone’s mother, Demeter, such grief and despair that she was unwilling to care for the crops, thus leaving the earth barren.

Knowing that eating any food of his realm would seal her fate forever, Persephone refused Hades’ offers until her hunger could no longer be withstood; she ate six seeds of the pomegranate, thus consigning herself to become Queen of the Underworld. With this act, Persephone shed the innocence of her maidenhood, and gained the wisdom of womanhood.

Still holding out hope for the return of her daughter, Demeter enlisted Hermes to strike a deal with Hades. Knowing that Persephone was indeed bound by her choice to eat the pomegranate seeds, Hermes suggested that she rule as Queen of the Underworld for six months out of the year – one month for each seed. Hades agreed to this arrangement, thus freeing Persephone to return to the light from spring equinox until fall equinox. Demeter, full of joy at her daughter’s reprieve, resumed tending the crops during the months of Persephone’s return, and the earth was again bountiful.

The tale of Persephone is a beautiful metaphor for the turning of the year, and also has deep wisdom pertaining to our own monthly rhythm.

As I have become more in tune with my own cycle, I have learned that I desperately crave my time in the Underworld during my bleeding time. Fueled by a deep need to go within, to seek quiet and stillness, I embrace the archetype of Persephone as Queen of the Underworld.  Hungry to leave the outside world, I count the six days – one for each pomegranate seed.

And yes, the land may be fallow for this time. Things may not get done; laundry may pile up, phone calls and emails may go unreturned. But this time of resting is needed, it is necessary. Just as the fields cannot produce in perpetuity without time to restore resources for future crops, our female bodies cannot continue to give . . . to produce . . . to create . . . to nurture . . . unless we too allow time for quiet and rest.

Yet we live in a culture that not only lacks reverence for this time in a woman’s cycle, but in fact has demanded that we detach from and ignore it. We have been taught to see this time as an inconvenience, a burden. A curse.

We have been told to hide it, to suppress it, to chemically eliminate it. To keep going, without rest.

This is an unsustainable and unhealthy way to live. By not granting ourselves the right to slow down and go inward to renew our resources, we begin to manifest symptoms of un-wellness. Our bodies experience pain and disharmony in the face of our unrelenting demands upon them. We feel irritable, short-tempered, exhausted. We lash out in frustration, knowing that our birthright is out of reach – yet so desperately needed and deserved.

But I have begun a shift, these past few years. Subtly, I have begun to honor my Underworld days in a fundamental way. I wear a necklace – a jasper ring, symbolic of an open cervix – during my bleeding week, to let my family know that I am not as physically and emotionally available as during the Earthside portion of my cycle. I honor my limited energy resources by saying no to things, or by choosing to not emotionally engage in everything around me. I move more slowly. I am quiet.

And this shift is not only key to my own physical and emotional well-being, but a fundamental lesson for my 8-year old daughter and 4-year old son as well. By modeling sacred self-care during this time, I am teaching my daughter to honor herself in the same way. By respectfully honoring my own needs and limitations, I am teaching my son to honor all women.

My deep dream is that by the time I reach my crone years, I will witness these visible acts of self-love and reverence among more women during their Persephone period. I imagine a time when all women signify their bleeding time in some way, whether it be by wearing all red, or by wearing a special piece of jewelry. I imagine a time when rather than being faced with dread, we look forward to our days in the Underworld as a time to rest and replenish ourselves. I imagine a time when our community – men, women, and children – see this as a time to honor and nurture us as we honor and nurture ourselves.

But this change will not happen overnight. As with all fundamental shifts in cultural consciousness, the ripples are cast with just one tiny pebble. Or one tiny pomegranate seed, as the case may be.

Once upon a time, there was a woman. Endowed with a heritage, she was born into a culture where women claimed their due space; a time and place when women’s unique ability to create and nurture life was sacred.

She was born into a culture where women wove a tapestry of ritual and identity for and with each other. For and with their mothers. Their sisters. Their daughters.

Within the circle of women in her community, the stages of her life were honored and celebrated.

As a maiden, her childhood was sacred. She was surrounded by women of stature and wisdom in her community, and had role models of all ages and sizes to emulate. She was free to test the abilities and strengths of her mind and body, free to play and discover the world around her without the shadow of sexual objectification. At her mother’s knee, she witness the harmonious rhythm between woman and Nature, and grew to respect and trust her own body’s potential. At the onset of puberty, her circle of women honored this passage with a celebration that welcomed her into womanhood.

Her pregnancy was honored during a blessing ceremony that affirmed her community’s commitment to supporting her not only during pregnancy and birth, but throughout her journey as a mother. Having witnessed the births of her younger brothers and sisters and other children of the community, she trusted birth, and trusted her body. She gave birth among women; worthy guides with a reverence for the birth experience in and of itself. Her circle then mothered the new mother that she had become by caring for her physically and emotionally in the days and weeks after her child was born. She breastfed her child without hesitation, confident in her body’s ability to create the perfect nourishment for her child; comfortable after seeing countless women in her community do the same.

As her mothering years passed and her children began to have their own children, she was honored and respected in her community as a wise woman. Her counsel was sought and her knowledge of the healing arts was revered. She was an indispensable member of her community, having lived through the challenges and experiences of a lifetime.

In this time, there was a balance of feminine and masculine; both aspects were valued for their unique contribution to the whole. Men and women found harmony between creation and destruction, understanding that both powers were necessary for the preservation and perpetuation of the community. In this time, the Earth experienced this balance as well; she provided clean air, clean water, and an abundance of food sources as a matter of course.

But somewhere, somehow, the tapestry began to unravel. Torn and slashed by the unrelenting march of patriarchy and misogyny, the circle began to die. The feminine archetype – once sacred – was defiled and criminalized; the heritage of womanhood was shamed, dismembered, and buried.

And since then, since that once upon a time, there has been a systematic forgetting; a brainwashing so subtle that most of us weren’t even aware that it was happening. So fractured and so intentionally hidden for so long, we women don’t even know what we don’t know.

And now, bereft of the model of the sacred feminine with which to identify, girls emulate princesses and pop stars. Bombarded by a looks-obsessed culture, girls are hypersexualized and robbed of their self-acceptance by the time they are in elementary school. Taught that their self-worth is based strictly on how thin and pretty they are, our daughters wage an unwinnable war upon themselves and each other — losing their identity, hiding their unique gifts, and fracturing their psyche in the process.

Robbed of the value of the whole mother in our culture, women are now divorced from their natural instincts. Conditioned to distrust, deny, and fear the very essence of our bodies, we consign birth to a male medical manager who tells us when, where, and how we will birth. Programmed to deny the very function of our breasts, we buy into the ridiculous notion that breastfeeding is disgusting and shameful – even going so far as to allow nursing our babies in public to become a criminal act. With the constant onslaught of media propaganda, we have been brainwashed into believing that unless our bodies are the object of male sexual attention and approval, we are without value.

Bereft of the reverence of the wise woman, the menopausal and post-menopausal woman in our culture is now disposable. No longer vital role-models, mentors, and wisdom-keepers for the younger generations, the grandmother and great-grandmother are rejected by a society obsessed with youth and sex. Discarded into “senior living” condos and nursing homes, their wisdom and perspective are lost to the generations who need it most.

Bereft of a circle of sisterhood, we lose the ability to listen to our intuition, to value our female-ness, and to truly see ourselves. Instead of relying on other women for strength and support, we compete with each other to reach an impossible goal of perfection in motherhood, career, and appearance. Buying into the illusion that our menstrual cycles – the very means by which new life is given – are a curse rather than a birthright, we have forfeit our prerogative to slow down once a month and nurture ourselves and each other.

This is our real-life, right now. And I’m here to tell you something:

It’s. All. A. Lie.

Ask yourself, Do the images of women I see everyday resonate with me? Do I accept, on a fundamental level, the illusions being passed as truth in our culture? Do I want to perpetuate this illusion, for myself and for my daughter/sister? Is this imbalance of female/male energies healthy for my son/husband?

What IS my reality?

What would our world look like if there were a rebirth of reverence for women, in all stages of life? How would we see ourselves if we were to revive the sacred feminine archetype?

I am passionate about finding the answers to those questions. And I want you to explore with me.

The time has come. For remembering our heritage, and changing paradigms, and challenging the status quo. The time has come for picking up those long-forgotten threads, Sisters. The time has come for rebuilding the circle, and reclaiming our wild wisdom.