In March 2016, before the Equinox, and as the moon opened to fullness, I had an experience that is basically inexpressible because of its power and because of its commonness. I sensed the moment the seasons shifted as the moon rose over a river filling with spring’s ice floes.
To convey a glimpse into the mystery of that moment, I’ll say I encountered Persephone, the Goddess of Greek myth who is kidnapped by Hades to serve as the Queen of the Underworld, welcoming the dead, and mourned by her mother Demeter, whose grief brings winter. Persephone’s seasonal visit to her mother awakens Demeter’s joy and brings the bounty of spring and summer. Most often Persephone is depicted as a beautiful maiden either being kidnapped by her husband or returning to her mother.
But the Persephone I encountered was a weathered woman climbing and clawing her way out of the Underworld through the dirt of earth. She used her Underworld crown as a plough and carried in her pockets letters from the Dead to their beloveds still living. (More about Persephone’s spring work is here.)
Persephone’s secret story is the story of her as Traveler and Messenger, the one who twice yearly, millennia after millennia, begins a journey between the worlds when night and day stand in balance.
Fall Mandala with Persephone from the Dark Goddess Tarot
In each world, she has loves and responsibilities. She must prepare for both departure and arrival at this time of year. She sadly says goodbye to some while anticipating reunion with others.
What calls Persephone from one world to the next? How does she know when to begin her preparations? In 2016 as I stood under the September harvest moon in an orchard watching Goddesses Descending, it came to me. Of course. The moon is Persephone’s signal and guide.
In spring, the days of the growing moons from new to full following the Spring Equinox set her on her journey back to earth. The waning moons after the Fall Equinox invite her to depart. The pace of her journey may vary from year to year or place to place depending on what is happening in the lunar and natural world.
When the Fall Equinox arrives we enter the days Persephone Descending. Then as full moons fade to dark in September and October, Persephone prepares, Persephone descends.
Perhaps you feel the weight of this time as she grows heavy. And if you feel it, too,you might consider your heaviness in another light, a lunar light. This heavy time brings a dark gift of attuning to the Divine, to the eternal cycles. The trees know this as they let down their leaves in fluttering surrender. Perhaps you may take the tree as your spiritual director.
And as our perspective on this descent time shifts, we can open to opportunity, have a more expansive view. Recognize that our loss of Persephone brings a boon for the Dead. She is their Queen and comfort who loves them. She is the Traveler who has been away but now returns with new stories and gifts.
You can help Persephone make her reunion with the Dead. You can send gifts and stories along with Her. You can write letters to the Dead.
It may seem strange. You may doubt your letter can travel such a long distance. But just the act of writing and sending the letter might heal your heart.
I am writing letters in these days and offer these ideas to spark your own letter writing rituals. You might consider:
- Who do you want to write to? Joining in conversation with the boundaryless there is no limited to the possibility. You can write to those you knew in life and those you didn’t. Your beloved dead. The ancestors. A long-dead writer who inspired you. Your departed pets. Make a list.
- How will you send the message? An aerogram. A drug-store card. Leaves of petals to send without words but infused with love. You might match your form to speak most deeply to the one with which you want to communicate.
- When will you send it? You can send your letters along as you write them or wait for the dark moon days after the Equinox. Any of these days as the moon moves from full to dark are the times of Persephone Descending.
- How will you send your letters? Burying your messages in the earth is appropriate. Persephone can gather them up as she makes to the Underworld. But follow your inspiration. Maybe there is another story of life’s cycles that inspires you so you use a method that aligns with that wisdom. If water beckons you, send your notes on streams down to the sea. Light your letter on fire and watch the spark rise to heaven. Let leaves lift it into the all surrounding air. You can’t do this incorrectly.
- How will you thank your messenger? Don’t forget to express your gratitude to Persephone or the One who helps you deliver your letter. You might say a prayer of praise, make an offering, or dedicate a positive action to their name.
Will you receive a reply? Well, the universe is full of echoes and all kinds of communication. I have received messages from the Dead and I’m not the only one. Your letter is unlikely to receive a letter in return so you can tend your openness to different kinds of communication in ways such as these:
- Take time away from the demands of the living. It’s noisy here in the living world so just as you would step with your cell phone out of a crowded room to better hear the person on the other end, step out of the daily. Dedicate some time to ritual, communing with the dark, walking in nature. Sometimes go alone This gives you a better chance of hearing. But remember to walk in balance along this path; you do still belong in the land of the living.
- Remove this waiting for a response from the work of the rational. What you are going to do is not rational and is outside the bounds of all we can assert with certainty here in the earthly world. Don’t try to make your listening fit inside these walls. You don’t have to give up the rational as you live your daily life- we need it – but you don’t apply it to your waiting for a response to your letter.
- Listen slant. The poet Emily Dickinson said “tell it slant,” counseled that messages of Truth if too bright can blinds us. The Dead no longer speak as we do, perhaps are even forgetting the way of language with all its limits. They will reach out to you in unusual ways, in slant ways. Through a song that plays on the radio when you are thinking of them. Through the things they left behind found just at a moment that gives meaning. Through a revelation of hawk or cat or rainbow. From a rational world perspective you can never be sure from where the message comes, but when inspiration moves your heart, always take the gift it brings.
FYI, I have two offerings for the 2019 season of Persephone Descending: an Urban Wisdom Wander in NYC with Yesbelt Fernandez and the annual Threshold of Darkness here in Easthampton, MA with the theme of Love Between the Worlds. You are invited to join us.