Persephone was a legendary Greek maiden who picked an enchanted Narsissus flower from the fields of Nysia, whereupon the earth split open and from it emerged the Lord of the Underworld, riding a chariot drawn by four black horses. Hades then took Persephone, willingly or otherwise, on a tour of the world and a journey to find her destiny, which included her becoming his queen, among other things.
The character of Persephone is one of three archtypes that appear in this myth, and which together represent the cycle of human development. She is the youth who is compelled, by curiosity and divine force, to begin a journey of completion. The other two archtypes are The Giver of Life, represented by her mother Demeter, and The Seer of Wisdom, represented by the crone Hecate.
The ancient Greek ceremony and cult built around Persephone played a central, spiritual role in Greek society. Greeks of any social rank could be initiated into these mysteries, but it required a year or more of preparation and an oath of secrecy. Divulging the Greater Secrets of Persephone — the Rites of Transformation as it were — was punishable by death. Socrates revealed the Secrets to some extent, though nothing was recorded, and as a result the authorities compelled Socrates to kill himself. The Secrets were ultimately lost with the coming of Christianity in 400 AD, and remain unknown to this day.
This myth is debased in its modern telling partly because it was distorted by Homer, when it was chronicled around 700 BC. Homer, who was basically The Walt Disney Company of his day, did not convey the central teaching of the myth, which came from the story of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess who preceded the Greeks by 4,000 years.
Persephone's story is an icon for The Learning Project because it represents the most mysterious of the three processes of learning. These three processes are acquisition, reconstruction, and transformation. Acquisition means the growth of knowledge through learning new things, such as facts or skills. Reconstruction — which could also be called "discovery" — means the appreciation and remediation of flawed knowledge through insight and reconception. Transformation refers to accomplishing a change in oneself that admits new levels of perception and understanding. Transformation gives a person a new understanding, not of things, but of knowledge itself.
The interviews in The Learning Project reflect all three forms of learning to varying degrees. A useful oversimplification is that the young people, like Persephone, face transformation; middle-aged people, like Demeter, are busy acquiring; and old people, like Hecate, seek to discover meaning. But don't take my word for it, read the interviews yourself.
"Persephone Unveiled: Seeing the Goddess and Freeing Your Soul,"
by Charles Stein. North Atlantic Books, 2006.
"The Body of the Goddess,"
by Rachel Pollock. Vega, 2003.
"The Goddess Within: A Guide to the Eternal Myths That Shape Women's Lives,"
by Jennifer Barker Woolger and Roger J Woolger. Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1989.
"Inanna, Lady of the Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna,"
by Betty De Shong Meador. Univ. of Texas, 2000.
"Descent to the Goddess, A Way of Initiation for Women,"
by Sylvia Brinton Perera. Inner City Books, 1981.
Inanna, Lady of the Largest Heart. ACLS Humanities E-Book (by subscription)
Copyright © 2008, Tenger Research, LLC
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