The Journey Home

presented as part of the closing ritual
at the Renfrew Center's conference on
Maximizing Change in the Treatment of Eating Disorders
November 12, 2006

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The flower, the fruit, the seed, the tree

Persephone, herself the flower of womanhood, is in the meadow picking flowers, according to the old Greek legend.

The story of Persephone's descent and return, her mother Demeter's loss and recovery, tells the story of becoming whole, taking the journey home to oneself.

The story provides a map for us as we move through our own lives. It's a map for us as we guide our clients through their own process of healing — embracing both light and dark, both above and below, both life and death, both what's hidden and what's revealed.

The flower, the fruit, the seed, the tree

Persephone, the flower of womanhood, is picking flowers in the meadow when suddenly — the earth splits open and Hades, god of the underworld, rises up, grabs her, and takes her down to his realm of darkness. He rapes her and keeps her captive.

Persephone's mother Demeter, the Great Goddess, the grain goddess, is the fruitfulness of the earth. Outraged, grieving the loss of her daughter, she allows nothing to grow. The earth is barren.

Eventually, Demeter locates her daughter and negotiates with Zeus (the CEG, chief executive god) for her release. But before Persephone escapes from Hades — and some say he tricked her — she eats six seeds of the pomegranate.

The flower, the fruit, the seed, the tree

Persephone rises and returns to Demeter and the earth is fertile again. But because she ate those pomegranate seeds, Persephone must descend to the underworld again and again, staying there for six months of every year.

Silly Persephone. What a fool. What a victim. If she hadn't eaten those seeds she could have remained a permanent fixture, a perfect figure, in the realm of light and air. Eating those seeds? Big mistake.

That's the version of the story as we usually hear it. I suspect that, before the era of radio and televison, it served as an infomercial for an emerging social order. It was propaganda for subordinating women and appropriating women's creative and sexual energies, putting a lid on women's power.

Let's imagine the original story, the woman-affirming story.

The flower, the fruit, the seed, the tree

Persephone, the flower of womanhood, is picking flowers, when suddenly — she begins to tire of prettiness. She begins to crave more than surface charm. She feels the urge, however vague or well-defined, to go deeper, to find more substance.

Perhaps, with a storm coming on, she takes shelter in a cave. Maybe she stumbles into a sinkhole, or tumbles into a crater. However she enters the underworld, she meets not the god Hades but the goddess Hel.

H-E-L, heard in the name Holly and the words helmet and helm. Hel, the long-forgotten, often disowned aspect of the Sacred Feminine who tends to souls during times of dissolution, renewal, and regeneration. Hers is the realm of fertile darkness, a sanctuary for maximizing change — that is, transformation.

The flower, the fruit, the seed, the tree

Persephone abides with Hel. Yes, she chooses to eat six seeds of the pomegranate. She takes each seed deep into the center of her body. With each seed she eats, she articulates an intention. With each seed she eats, she takes her intention deep into the center of her being. She is seeded. Flower becomes fruit. Maiden becomes woman.

Having eaten the seeds, Persephone leaves Hel and returns to Demeter. She rises up through the earth the way a tree rises. With seeds planted deeply, she stands strong.

The flower, the fruit, the seed, the tree

Eating those pomegranate seeds was not a mistake. Persephone was not a fool, or a victim. Eating those seeds was an act of self-affirmation, self-propulsion: Woman giving birth to herself.

Woman giving birth to her Self.

What seeds are you planting? What are your intentions for the coming year — for your service to your clients, and for yourself?

© Self-Health Education 2006

see also
Eating in the Light of the Moon:
How Women Can Transform their Relationships with Food
through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling
by Anita Johnston, PhD
Gurze 1996


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