Persephone's Will
& the Developmental Phase
of Individuation-Separation

 

 

 

In a sense, we are all Persephone. And the world has turned out to
be deeper than we knew...

For our whole world can be turned upside down--without our
having had much say in the mattter. As if things--and ourselves--are
being ruled by deeper forces than we had previously fathomed.

Now the Lord of Depth--He with Many Names--seems to want
something from us--and our resistance gets us nowhere. In fact, the
more we resist, the more it feels we are being raped.

Having naively grasped for something, now we find ourselves in
the grasp... of an overwhelming force--which leaves us feeling more
alone, and yet more connected with the Unseen than ever before,
perhaps feeling more crazy and out of control. What's going on
here?


As we begin to sense the presence and force of this invisible Reality
now acting upon us, it causes us to feel the limitations of our own
will and its power, as well as the fragility and flimsiness of who we
have taken ourself to be--a self that had previously seemed on more
solid ground, more adept at manipulating and fending off a world.

But now, that self, that world, begins to crack open, like a fissure in
the earth--that had previously seemed to be made of predictable
bedrock. And through that fissure something that had seemed
unimaginable has begun to come toward us, and we feel ourselves
being carried away, helplessly, by the invisible god.

Now we find ourselves without our normal options, defenses,
without our normal "coping patterns," without even the simplest of
powers we might have previously taken for granted--for we can't
even see That which is doing us, can only feel how the primordial
otherness is moving us, utterly oblivious to our own personal will.

Overpowered, we find ourselves transported from our idyllic
comfort zone of flowers, dragged down beneath our familiar
surroundings and assumptions. A quality of descent, falling, falling
apart. Without intending anything of the sort, we are starting to lose
the assumption of solidity, an assumption based upon a visible world
(as if that's the only one) more or less under our control.

The universe has been pulling the rug out from under us. We have
lost our grip, our playmates, our mommy--no daddy comes to our
rescue--we have lost all sense of "social security." Lost the solidity of
our former world. We are "at a loss."

Now, we are spread open in the Underworld, in the grips of a
Plutonic embrace, and the only orientation that might possibly make
any sense at all doesn't dawn on us at first--and that orientation is
that of surrender --an orientation that under normal circumstances
isn't even listed in the appendix of the ego's operating manual.

Finally we begin to suspect--we are in an initiation, normal guidelines
do not apply
--and what what we might have previously thought of as
being "unreal" is indisputably sensed, at our very core, as actually being
part of reality. Like Godzilla showing up in our backyard--or a god's
hard-on thrust upon us.

 

This whole predicament is shocking. That the world is not as we
had previously thought. That it turns out to be more mysterious than
that, even a little sinister, possessing an under-realm with a Lord
and a will of its own. A will that would take us somewhere new,
beneath the ego's familiar precincts. A will that wants to fuck with
us, marry us, whether we want to or not.


In his great poem "Der Schauende " (which Robert Bly titles "The
Man Watching,"
Rilke says,


"What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselaves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names

When we win it's with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us."


And Rilke concludes the poem by telling us how we grow:


"by being defeated, decisively
by constantly greater beings."

 

*

 

The Underworld is where we begin to become more intimate with
this defeat of our will, our being out of control--while in the grasp of
the greater being that is decisively defeating us.

Like the first men on the moon we begin to tentatively test the
solidity of the new ground we are standing on--an underground, in
which we find ourselves shaken and small, reeling from our losses, in
a vast world of invisible forces that we are somehow connected to in
the most intimate way.

The differing relationship(s) to this quality of helpless,
overwhelming aloneness that is at once an overwhelming
embrace, show us the different stages of Persephone:

At the beginning of her story, Persephone the Maiden (Kore) is
seen playing in the company of her friends, has and relies upon
m(other) to nourish and delight her--and is virginal, naively
unaware of what is about to grab her.

Women in the Kore stage of the archetype seem to have some
vestigial memory of what has already happened in mythological

time. One form the "vestigial memory" might take is the longing to
return to an idealized, idyllic life--possibly an idealized romantic
love--against which standard, real adult love--or "real world life"--
never seems to measure up. And so, Persephone ("she who brings
about destruction") would sacrifice/destroy the real, out of the
attempt to return to the ideal.

But the vestigial memory of what has already happened in
mythological time, has an even more sinister aspect. For women
caught in the Persephone myth seem to be attempting to protect
themselves from something, perhaps the terrors of aloneness and
separation caused by an abduction in the myth. This leads them to
alternatingly surrender their boundaries in real life--or never really
develop them--or develop them in an overly rigid and controlling
way as part of an unconscious strategy to insure that a connection
with a safe and familiar world is maintained.

But in the process of attempting to ward off something that cannot
quite be seen, they become reactive tragedy queens who have lost
awareness of the connection between themselves and the deeper
Mystery. This loss of connection to their origin is ultimately
"spiritual"--but they tend to experience that which they are
disconnected from as emanating from or being caused by their
interpersonal, especially intimate relationships--and it makes real
connection (especially with the opposite sex) untenable, or
sustainable for only a few months, or a few hours at a time. So the
very thing they are trying to avoid--disconnection from others/
emotional abandonment--seems to happen anyhow, as a kind of
fate.

Women in the Kore stage don't seem to have enough of a real self
yet to tolerate sustained erotic intimacy--its as if they're afraid on
some level of being hi-jacked. And so they have trouble fully entering
the relationships they are in.

Some part of them feels like a virgin goddess holding back, and so,
erotic intimacy can be problematic, can feel intrusive and jarring,
with its twin threats being that of disconnection from a still fragile
sense of self--as well as the fear of disconnection, the fear of
abandonment by others. They are acutely sensitive to how they are
not being met, which seems to trigger an earlier wound that may or
may not be accessible in literal
(historical) memory.

In this stage there is also something questionable about the
identity itself--specifically its sense of victimization. And one
wonders, why is she really so easily freaked? Being so easily
spooked leads her to attempt to control and restrict her world in the
attempt to make her feel safe. All of this keeps her in the grips of
some underworld past, or in the orbit of childhood, keeps her small,
too small for who she needs to become, too small for who she really
is
--who we all really are--too small for an ecstatic life, which is really
what she wants.

Thin-skinned, she gets flooded by the needs, the very presence, or
the desires of others--and can't quite locate or speak for her own. In
order for her to better locate her "self," she will need to lose it along
with her virginity, must lose the old self, the old world she's been
clinging to. She will need to face a time of helpless terror, aloneness,
the feeling of being lost--the very thing she's most resisting.

But her aloneness is as paradoxical as her rape. The more she
resists it the more it is always with her. If she could only allow it, let
it fully enter her, it could become a doorway to her deeper home, her
deeper being, a deeper being that is already connected to everyone
and everything.

 

 

The Deflowering of Persephone

 

There was no other way. It had to be rape--which
had a different connotation, then, outside of time...

In fact, when gods have sex we might read between the lines...

That Persephone was abducted, read:
needed to be taken
...from her state of dependency,
her fusion with her mother...

That she was raped by the god, read:
that she was rapt
, overcome by a rapture, whirled
and wrapped in the embrace that "took her away,"
leaving her unclothed and transported, a world away
from her previous self.

Or call it sex if you like.

Either way it was inevitable. Only down there,
in Hades--or between her cornsilk thighs, pulsing
in the invisible dark--could she connect with neural
pathways inconceivable in any other light.

It was inevitable for another reason too:
a different (though resonant) kind of Power
needed to enter her.

As she needed, finally, to feel utterly helpless...

To be alone with a god in that way...

 

*

 

He Who Comes For Us All
takes her
from the field
where the virgin goddesses play

Pluto takes her DOWN

beneath the sentiment

of flowers...

 

But if he abducts her, then he also
leads her Home,
to the moist bud flowering
between her legs...

He takes her
from a mother
He takes the daughter
under
takes her to wife,

He takes her breath away...

 

He takes her farther than far
from the familiar, clung-to
boundaries
of that field where she'd been playing

 

Over and over he nooks
and crannies her, the fulsome Lord
throbbing, fills her
three ways from Sunday

It is far from a garden
where she is "deflowered."

And their jungle
screams
of a Nether-embrace

that's far from
"hearts and flowers"

 

Persephone's rape, her genital embrace with Pluto is her
whirlwind, her pivotal, paradoxical moment when she is most
existentially alone and yet most intimately connected. Here, like
Alice passing through the looking glass, Persephone descends
through a crack in the earth, falling through her old world to a depth
where, perhaps, she first learns to surrender, falling into pleasure's
humid fire, falling falling into herself and away from who she has
been. This is her tantric initiation, fucking a god, that begins to whirl
her--past her old dependencies, and the former self that might cling
to them. Her rape is her marriage and also her coronation. In
Eternity it can all happen so fast.

 

*

 

Now in her next stage, Persephone (as Queen of the Underworld)
can be nourished by her alone-time--aloneness is no longer a
problem, no longer something to be warded off at all costs or
lamented about, in fact, time alone is now recognized as something
vital she needs to give to herself. Her alone-ness, her underworld
time, begins to be seen as nourishing and rich, where she goes to
marry with herself and experience intimacy with the invisible world.
She now has at least the glimmer of the capacity to sustain her own
separateness, and her newly found capacity to be alone in her own
depths makes it more possible for her to actually become a wife and a
sovereign, autonomous being, without the need to hold some part of
herself back, or feeling like such a victim.

 

If the recognition that we are not totally the masters and
mistresses of our own destinies seems at first shocking, and
something to be struggled with, as we deepen we learn that we can
actually surrender to, and even marry that which arises unbidden
and overpoweringly. Here there is the possibilitly that the world
itself--with all its invisible and unpredictable power--can reveal
itself as the beloved.

 

For it is Persephone's underworld task to learn something about
trust--not a trust of anything or anyone she has known in the past--all
that seems gone --but a trust, a surrender, a letting go to what is
invisible and in a sense unknowable-- and that there is a support to be
found in the letting go itself, in fact, a kind of husband.

The relationship to this primal, overwhelming force, helps her to
become less rigid, less identified with her needy, abandoned child, and
to better actualize what she has to give--the kind of welcoming and
empathic "mothering" that in her earlier incarnation she needed to get
from others.

 

*

 

Though I have been writing about two distinct stages of
Persephone (Kore, the naive, virgin maiden--and her later stage in
which she reigns as the married Queen of the Underworld), at the
same time she's a part of a larger archetypal constellation--that of
the Triple Goddess--in which Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate
(corresponding to the maiden, mother, and crone) are three stages of
a single reality.

In her final stage (as Hecate), the goddess's capacity for alone-
ness, and for living on her own, "outside the box" of consensual
reality, reaches its zenith. She's gone beyond a confinement to the
vegetative life which forms the backdrop to our first glimpse of
Persephone. From her cave Hecate stands outside (or beneath) the
world of visible beauty and "flowery innocence," outside the domain
of sex, milk or blood, to needing or providing a tit.

Hecate is far from needing someone else to intuit, "mind read," or
provide for her needs. Unlike Persephone, Hecate would never
become irate or hopeless when needs appear about to be unmet.
Hecate isn't fixated upon a drama of unmet needs, or loss--or
certainly, as that drama might have centered around herself.
Hecate brings the enlightened perspective (--one of Hecate's names,
phosphorus=the light bringer ): ie., that the whole universe has a
shining, fecund, supportive aspect--that we might better learn to
surrender to and align with...

 

When Persephone first disappeared it is Hecate, along with Helios
(and not her mother, Demeter) who knew where she had
disappeared. When Persephone is returned from the underworld
Hecate actually accompanies her. So it's as if what Persephone
experiences in the underworld brings her into closer company
with what Hecate represents.

And Hecate--like Pluto--is a loner by nature. Unlike either
Persephone or Demeter, Hecate is the one part of the triple goddess
that is neither relationally defined, nor relationally dependent. For
Hecate nothing seems "missing." She needs nothing from anyone,
doesn't need to import emotional "supplies" in order to be fulfilled in
herself.

Though these three aspects of the Great Goddess may be thought
of as developmentally progressive and distinct, they may not be
really so separate, and a woman with Persephone strongly
constellated will have, to varying degrees, an affinity to all three.

In her early stage, as Kore, Persephone has a certain kind of
naivete not yet in touch, not yet in the grips of the deeper being that
will transform her. She's the daughter of the Earth Mother. She
may wear Birkenstocks, love wild flowers, natural things, natural
fibers, would save the whales, have a crunchy granola purity--the
food she eats would all come from the healthfood store. She's a
delicate babe, ultra violet, and highly strung.

So of course the guy the Universe puts under her path seems like
he might sell nuclear weapons (Plutonium) to Libya, eat his steaks
barely cooked, and drink Jack Daniels. Each is everything the other
isn't. Perfect!

At the beginning of her story we see her in an idyllic natural
tableau, something that could have been painted by Botticelli, a
goddess world of beauty and flowers. Then, just as her Plutonic
initiation is beginning, just as she is being snatched, I see her
desperately clinging to this purity, this world of flowers she is being
taken from, her fingers clawing the earth, clawing her attacker, a
drowning woman trying to keep her head above water as she is
being pulled down by a shark.

Her struggle and resistence to what is happening--that might
have occurred in a few adrenaline flooded heartbeats in
mythological time--could go on for decades in a human life. And the
early stage of her initiation--where she is still resisting what is
happening to her--has I think to do with her resistance to separating
from her connection to this vegetative, goddess world of virginal
purity and beauty--as much as its a resistence to what Pluto
represents.

And in this light we might explore a clinical fantasy--the fantasy
being Persephone's "resistence to separation," the way she enters a
threshold kicking and screaming, such that even as she is being
embraced (which is one kind of connection), she longs for another,
and wants what isn't happening. Here Persephone might be
emblematic of egoic will in general, how human beings when feeling
disconnected from the flow and direction of the Tao, or "Holy Will,"
feel disconnected precisely because we want it "our way." And it is
just this egoic will, this fussyness in an argument with how things are
-
-that must be defeated if Persephone is to proceed to her next stage
of being a sovereign being, the Queen of the Underworld.

In her stage of resistence to how life is unfolding, how it is
touching her--which as I say, could go on for decades--Persephones
seem to want to return to the world of the Mother, the Mother Earth
world, the mother Demeter world, a world that soothes her,
embryonic fluids, hot tubs, and lotions on her skin. She wants to stay
an innocent, wants more of that, as if she didn't get enough, didn't
get enough of mother's soothing. "Fuck individuation!" Persephone
is saying, "it's not myway."

Her way is to want what isn't here, is to want what seems to be
taken from her. Some part of her wants to stay in the Edenic
garden, wanting Hawaii and balmy breezes, the Sonoma or
Mendocino coast, anywhere where the Great Mother seems
especially present. It's as if she'd prefer to stay in the womb--but life
is adamant, and Pluto her heavy breathing mid-wife.

 

But there's another kind of Mothering energy, one that's
supportive of what we (in the largest sense of ourselves as a
pronoun) need--which may not be what we want. A Mothering
energy that supports our transformation without any sentimentality
involved, a Mothering that can be quite ruthless with us, and not
always grandmotherly kind. A "Mother Nature" whose realm ("red
of fang and claw") includes the fierceness of "eat or be eaten."

This Mother is also a death mother, or perhaps her vantage is of
being beyond the either/or of birth or death. In either case she brings
transformation, and sometimes in the form of flood, fire, or drought.
Ur Mother, dispassionate overseer of not only our growth, but our
old age, sickness, and inevitable decline. Ma Uraboros, a snake
forever swallowing her own tail--each of us in our individuality like
a miniscule scale, a seemingly separate shell, emerging for a moment
on our way to being devoured...

For remember--it is Gaia--an older Earth Mother than even
Demeter--who conspires with Pluto in placing that strange narcissus
in front of Persephone-- thus ushering in the transformation that
might take her beyond the wishes, the pickyness, of her own
narcissistic will....

 

*

If the early stage of Persephone, of a Plutonic initiation, has in part
to do with the resistance to separation, we need to further
understand what "separation" means--and the implications it has
upon development, and upon essential nature.

Think of a two year old child who is first beginning to separate
from mother. The so-called "terrible twos." The aggression that a
child experiences during this stage is also a kind of initiation, and the
aggression is necessary--it's the energy that initiates the new stage,
the capacity to separate, to feel the strength to stand apart from the
mother for the first time--and also, the strength to reach for the
rattle of one's own desires.

Up till two years of age--with the sudden explosion of language
skills--the preceding lack(s) of language on the part of the child
contributed to her dependency upon mom, and upon mom's capacity
to "mind-read" or empathically intuit the child's needs.

Women with a strong Perspehone constellation seem to have
suffered trauma, and gotten fixated here. With the result being that
they have a hard time in speaking their needs, while expecting that
their significant others ought to be able to "mind read" needs--
combined with a great deal of hopelessness about this ever
happening.

And so it is quite common when this old trauma gets triggered for
modern day Persephones to go into a kind of black hole where they
literally can't speak, and feel quite helpless, alone and frustrated. In
a sense, they're in the grips of a regression. In another sense,
they have been grabbed by the myth.

 

For individuation-separation to be optimally navigated would
have required a lot from the mother. Not only would mom have
needed to maintain levels of empathic attunement to make up for
remaining gaps in the child's capacity to speak her needs, but the
mother would have needed to have enough strength to be able to
stand up to a child who is testing boundaries and asserting her
strength--without totally castrating the child's will.

The child would have needed to know that mom is still going to be
there even if the child is saying "no," or pushing against. If mom is
insecure and tries to cling to the child while the child is needing to
separate, the strength essence of the child can be thwarted. If the
mother totally dominates and overpoweringly thwarts the child
while the child is attempting to express the growing sense of self-
will, that too can interfere with the successful initiation trying to take
place.

If the mother is afraid of her own anger or strength, the child's
infantile will will overpower the mother, creating a child lacking in
boundaries, and a mother who in some way abandons the child as a
way of distancing from her own powerlessness. When the mother
moves away or is too self-absorbed (isn't there emotionally) when
the child begins to assert strength, then too the needed initiation can
be thwarted, as the child gets the message that strength is equated
with abandonment.

This stage is so tricky, and requires so much intuitive attunement
(combined with appropriate strength and boundary-setting) from a
mother, it's a wonder any of us ever successfully complete the
developmental challenge. And in fact, much of psychotherapy
centers around the healing and completing of this developmental
stage.

Women who are identified with Persephone generally had a bad
go of it during the phase of individuation-separation. And so there
is a conflict between the need to separate /let go--and the need for
connection. They have a hard time letting go, a hard time giving to
themselves, a hard time staying in connection with self
while also staying in connection with other.

They may fear that someone will hate them, smash them, or go
away --if they begin to reach for what they want, or open fully to
themselves. There's alot of frustration around their needs--a so-
called "negative oral residue"-- an underlying assumption that the
other person will be uncaring, unwilling, or incapable of helping
their needs get met. And the projection of this lack of attunement
then becomes a breeding ground for resentment that can spoil the
continuity of connection in their most intimate relationships.

 

Meanwhile, in the archetypal background we have the vestigial
memory of that rape--causing intimate relationships to be
navigated through an atmosphere that has overtones of violation
and loss. And so women who are either consciously or unconsciously
identified with Persephone find themselves conflicted between the
need for connection and the need for aloneness--you could read the
whole myth in this light.

 

In order to successfully move into individuation/separation, one of
the things we need is the strength essense, the "red energy," the
animal fierceness that could eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. This is
the very energy that kicks in during "the terrible twos," as children
are needing to first separate from their mothers. And it is also a vital
component of a liberated sexuality.

 

We need this positive aggression not only to separate
psychologically from infancy, but we need it to be able to disengage
from unhealthy relationships in general, especially the relationship
to our own superego--which, after all, is primarily the internalized
parent in its nagging, critical form.

And as one might expect, women with Persephone strongly
constellated have an intense inner critic that is always running them
around, and devaluing their capacities. Hence, they are often
exhausted, and feel overwhelmed and inadequate in the face of all
that "must get done." Often they feel like Cinderella, overwhelmed
by chores and responsibilities, and envying their sisters and the rest
of the kingdom who get to go to the ball. They seldom feel like the
Mistress or Queen of their own lives.

 

Instead, they have an angry, rejecting, depressive, critical mother
inside (the worst aspects of Demeter)--and feel cut off from "the
good mother" who could give them a break, and let them relax. This
good mother, paradoxically, they can offer in the most magnificient
way as a gift to others, but have the hardest time in offering it to
themselves.

Without the strength essence, an impairment is brought to later
developmental sequences, as if we go into them already deficient.
And so without access to our strength, we can become quite fixated
and stuck, and can't seem to "get behind ourselves" or realize our
potentials. And oftentimes, without strength, not much can happen
in terms of realizing our other essential facets either.

For example, because the inner critic--which often gets projected
onto the world--keeps saying "no" to any movement that might
begin to develop in the soul, the soul doesn't get to move where it
needs to go, creativity becomes thwarted, and so the personal will
often feels stymied and stuck, in an ongoing impasse. The
hallucination becomes that its not safe to have, express, assert a self-
-the fragility of what is taken to be the self forming one part of an
object-relation whose other half is the strength of the critical self
rejecting it.

The self-rejection knocks out essential will ("Thy will be done").
We can't surrender to what is, can't say "yes" to what's actually
happening because without our strength we feel too fragile and
vulnerable to be able to relax and let go to it--and to ourselves. In
this way the unfolding of reality, and what we take to be ourselves,
becomes more and more divided, more and more conflictual.

Without being able to allow the present moment as it unfolds, we
get stuck in a glitchy relationship to reality, an inability to harmonize
with it. There's no equanimity. The glitch, the rejection of the
present
, makes it impossible for us to experience our own essential
presence --which in turn keeps us in a small, narcissistically sealed-
off identity, an identity where we seldom are porous enough to let
much of the world come in. And so, we don't get to experience how
the unfoldment of reality itself could be experienced as a form of
support.

Similarly, the lack of strength that then throws our will out of
whack, may also short-circuit our compassion--which gets knocked
out when we can't say "yes" to our pain--but instead belittle
ourselves for having it. In this way--like a string of Christmas tree
lights--when one essential aspect short-circuits, all of them may be
knocked out.

Without the "light" of our essential facets, we truly have fallen into
a dark underworld. We have lost our orientation to what is real, lost
orientation to our own nature, our "origin," and true "home." We
need help--but tend to resist that too. We find ourselves lacking our
very essence: no strength, no will, no compassion, joy, or peace.
Even our curiosity--which might have served us as an intelligent
sleuth, the investigative arm of the soul--has grown dim.

And feeling bereft, Persephone (in her youthful form) begins to
want her mommy, or something sweet and soothing (chocolate?) like
a mommy, and begins to cling to some form of security that hopefully
will begin to make up for what she has lost, what she can't seem to
find or give to herself.

 

And it is in part because Persephones have a hard time saying "yes" to
the strength and assertiveness that would help them to separate,
because they have a hard time in letting go and surrendering to
themselves, because they have a hard time living outside the control of
the superego, because they tend to cling to a regressive
identity....because of all of this, the initiation they are finally needing to
enter and complete may need to happen in an involuntary way.

It seems that what they can't do for themselves, the god/or fate must
usher in, and help do for them.

 

 

****************************