Overnight the 31st into the 1st, the new moon arrives to remind us that renewal is possible. First there is darkness—the moon stripped of sun’s reflection—but then the moment (12:46am ET on 1st, time zone converter ) that tips us toward the light—the birth of the next lunar cycle.
In the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve just been through the longer solar cycle’s renwal at Winter Solstice. If you’ve been watching—as we have been in Tending the Returning Light—you might be noticing the sunset inching slowly but surely later each day.
The light is not yet abundant but it is growing and so appropriate that The Star (because of its correspondence with the new moon in Aquarius) is this moonth’s path card to guide us into lengthening days and toward the springtime. In the progression of the Tarot’s Major Arcana, the Star’s peaceful image comes after the upheaval and challenge of Death, the Devil, and the Tower. The gentle light of the Star offers a place to rest and receive the gift of the cosmos’ gentle light.
In Rachel Pollack’s Shining Tribe Tarot, The Star is the Greek Goddess Persephone who with her mother, the Goddess Demeter, initiates seekers into a revelation about how Life and Death are connected to, not separated from, each other.
When Persephone is abducted by Hades, the God of the Underworld, Demeter overcomes obstacles to bring her daughter back to the land of living. Because Persephone has eaten pomegranate seeds in the Underworld, she must return for part of each year to reign as Queen of the Dead. But Persephone’s annual return brings joy to Demeter, which ignites the growth of seeds of grain buried in the ground.
In even this barest retelling of Persephone and Demeter’s story, we see Life and Death flowing in and out and around each other to become the renewal of the seasons, life on earth, and the connection between generations. Entering into the details and deviations that come from a millenia-old myth and the sacred art it has inspired brings new layers of wisdom. This is what I am encountering as I read the beautiful Hymn to Demeter (Apostolos N. Athanassakis’ translation from the 2nd edition of The Homeric Hymns: Johns Hopkins University Press; 2004) as preparation to lead the Global Spiritual Studies Greek Mysteries Tour in September. Its words open my eyes to new wisdom in the Shining Tribe’s Star card.
In the card image Persephone stands in bright light. The door to the Underworld is behind her. She pours out revivifying waters to help her mother’s grain grow. The water represents a literal need for life-giving food, and its two streams also invite meaning-making with our symbolic eyes. Meditating on the image with the words of the Hymn to Demeter in my heart and mind, I find a stream of Hope and a stream of Rage are needed to bring the renewal of the myth—and in our lives today.
The Stream of Hope
Persephone is gathering flowers and as she reaches for a narcissus, Hades springs forth from the Underground in his chariot to capture the young Goddess. She cries out but no one hears her except the ancient Goddess Hekate who lives apart in a cave. No one sees her abduction, but the Sun God Helios who is high in the sky.
Hades’ chariot seems to be moving at such speed that they all rise up into the sky and as she is captured Persephone looks from a new vantage point at her world.
So while [Persephone] looked upon the earth and the starry sky
and upon the swift-flowing sea teeming with fish
and the rays of the sun and still hoped to see
her loving mother and the races of gods immortal,
hope charmed her mind, despite her grief (lines 33-37 from the Hymn to Demeter).
In this terrible moment, Persephone is touched by a vision of earth, sea, and sky; she connects to her mother’s love; and though she grieves, she lets herself be charmed by hope.
She is a model for us in our times of deep distress—and in pandemic resurgences. She shows us that even while we are grieving, we can hold onto visions of possibility. We can find solace in the natural world. We can remember the love that exists in our lives. These inspirations do not displace the grief, but exist alongside it. The light of these inspirations can be quietly working to renew us, even before we are aware of the healing underway.
The Stream of Rage
Although she does not know it during her long days in the Underworld, Persephone’s hope is justified. And her faith in her mother’s love is well placed. Because in the Upperworld, Demeter is determined to rescue her child
Demeter senses immediately that something is wrong, but no one can tell her what has happened to her child. She is distraught, stops eating and bathing. Finally she encounters Hekate who tells her she heard Persephone’s cry and advises her to consult Helios.
Helios tells her the whole story. Not only has Persephone been taken by Hades to the Underworld, but Zeus—Persephone’s own father and Demeter’s brother—gave her to Hades (he’s Demeter’s brother, too!). She confronts Zeus but is rebuffed so with a “pain more awful and savage” Demeter leaves the home of the gods in Olympus to dwell among humans.
At first Demeter is not herself; her divine power is hidden by her grief. Among the humans, she serves as a nursemaid to a royal family. It seems almost as if she has forgotten her true purpose, but, no, we eventually see she is just gathering herself together. A spark of anger when she is thwarted in making the child she cares for immortal returns her to her rescue of Persephone.
The spark of anger seems to be the catalyst for Demeter’s greater rage to emerge. Her betraying brother gods and the other Olympians who did nothing to stop them will be made to suffer.
… (Demeter) is plotting
greatly to destroy the feeble races of earth-born men.
The seed will be hidden under the earth and the immortals will lose
their honors. Her anger is dreadful, and she does not mingle
with the gods, but apart from them in a fragrant temple
she sits, dwelling in the rocky town of Eleusis (lines 351-356 from the Hymn to Demeter).
Humans suffer because of Demeter’s rage but in truth her targets are the gods. If deprived of offerings the humans make to them, their power will wither.
Zeus finally understands the situation is dire and sends the messenger God Hermes to negotiate with Hades for Persephone’s return.
Before we rush along to Persephone’s rescue, let’s pause to contemplate Demeter’s rage and what it can offer us for understanding rage in our own times.
Demeter’s is the rage of a mother against a system that has consigned her child to death. Zeus, both as ruler and as father, has abused his power, conspired with Hades, and decided Persephone’s fate. In some tellings of the tale, he dismisses Demeter’s first approach by ignoring her distress and instead tells her that it is a good match. Really, she should be happy.
Today, we seeth along with the Goddess and as we do can also see in the current rage of those struggling to protect life and against abusive systems in a fuller light.
Activists for justice and the earth are often criticized for being too disruptive, too extreme, too impatient. They are counseled to work within the system, be pragmatic, accept incremental change. But looking through the lens of Demeter’s story we see rage has a role to play in prodding the system that would rather maintain the status quo toward change.
While not all activism has to take the same form—Hermes, the messenger shows us the need for intermediaries who can work with the approaches of different groups—respect for and inclusion at the table of those who are fired by sacred rage is necessary. (The Wiccan teacher and earth activist Starhawk talks about a need for an ecology of activism.) Afterall, it is only Demeter’s rage flowing out from the love of her child that moves Zeus to right his wrong.
Hermes is successful in his task of retrieving Persephone. Together they ride Hades’ horses out of the Underworld. Soon Demeter is embracing her child, but as she does, she senses something is not right; there has been some trickery. She asks Persephone if she has eaten anything. Persephone replies that she ate the pomegranate seeds Hades forced upon her in the Underworld. Demeter knows that her daughter now has an unbreakable connection to the Underworld. In the Homeric Hymn, Persephone must return to spend a third of the year in the Underworld.
In other stories about Persephone, she is said to embrace her role as Queen of the Dead and to introduce compassion and mercy into the Underworld.
Persephone returns but she returns changed. Her and her mother’s life do not go back to “normal.” New awareness and roles must be integrated into both their lives. Persephone does not forget her connection to Death but rather it becomes part of her life.
When contemplation of our pandemic world is guided by Persephone-informed awareness, we remember the 5,678,125 people worldwide (as of January 30th) who have died from COVID19. We open our hearts to the grief of their families. We don’t have to reject life or stop wishing for an end to the pandemic to also acknowledge grief and to remember the dead. In fact our openness to the flow of these Underworld realities, also opens us to the flow of pleasant emotions. We can even learn to tend a loving flow between the living and the dead.
Renewal: The Alchemy of Hope and Rage
As I was contemplating the streams of renewing waters in the Shining Tribe Star card, I hesitated over the rage stream. In the United States as a society, we seem to be enraged about most everything from the redesign of candy packaging to mask wearing to the dismantling of our democracy. All of these issues are not of equal importance, though sometimes it’s hard to tell from the rage that ricochets around social media poisoning public discourse and at times exploding into violence in the real world.
Rage on its own is dangerous. Rage must be mixed with the expansive, love-seeded hope of Persephone.
Persephone’s hope comes from seeing the whole of the cosmos and from feeling a connection to earth, sea, and sky. Persephone shows us hope that is inclusive and that is beyond a singular focus on the self.
Persephone’s hope gives a direction to Demeter’s rage that is oriented toward the whole. Love is then the agent that mixes the two together. Persephone trusts in her mother’s love and Demeter’s love for her daughter is at the root of the rage that moves her to action.
When Persephone’s hope and Demeter’s rage combine to re-unite them their love for each other then spills over into a life-giving force serving more than themselves. Persephone’s return catalyzes Demeter to once again cause the grain to grow and all of the earth to blossom. Demeter then teaches humans to grow the grain on their own. You could see this sharing her power with humanity.
The alchemy of hope and rage renews because it expands power, flows with love, and serves life. The call of the Star path is to become practitioners of this renewal.
Practice for the Moonth: Inspired by the Six of Air/Swords/Bells
Even though we are still being lifted and tossed by energy as wild and uncontrollable as Hades’ horses in our collective and perhaps also personal lives, the decan card of this new moon, the Six of Air, invites us like Persephone to take an expansive view and let ourselves be charmed by hope.
Many Six of Air cards include an image of a boat so a common meaning is going on a journey. With this card as a prompt for practice you might engage in a guided visualization, thought experiment, or series of card pulls to go on an imaginal journey to connect with a hopeful vision.
To begin, imagine yourself above the earth. From that vantage point, what appears to you as most beautiful? Open yourself up to that beauty. What emotions arise in you as you connect with the beauty?
Now let your beauty-attuned emotions open your eyes and heart to what you love here on earth. Bring to mind people, animals, places, the whole of the earth itself. Imagine your love flowing down to your beloveds. Then feel it flowing back to you. How does this flow expand you?
Now let yourself be filled with hope inspired by the beauty and love of the Whole. Let this hope charm you into envisioning that this beauty and love can be preserved—can be expanded even. Imagine yourself contributing to this preservation. What is your contribution?
Then let your hope and vision of your contribution be your guide for moving forward even in times of challenge and despite uncertainty. Combine it with all the emotions that arise within you—both rage and delight—and it will be a beacon seeking its reflection on the shore of the future.
This detail of the Numinous Tarot’s 6 of Bells, shows this kind of hope in movement.
Reading of the Moonth
HOPE: What expansive hope is most beneficial to nurture within me now?
SPARK: What energy is needed to move me toward making this hope real?
RENEWAL: When my hope and spark combine what can be renewed for myself and the Whole?
I do offer this as an e-reading in my collaborative initiative format for $23. Sign up with PayPal or email me about sending a check. When I receive notification, I’ll be in touch to let you know about when to expect to receive your reading by email. I generally have openings to do these readings on Mondays and Saturdays.
Would you like to further explore the wisdom and guidance offered by Persephone and Demeter, the join Rachel Pollack and me on Wednesday, February 2 at 8pm ET (time zone converter) for Invoking the Seeds.