This February 9th the new moon arrives to remind us that renewal is possible (exact at 5:59pm ET, time zone converter ). In the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve just been through the longer solar cycle’s renewal at Winter Solstice. The later arrival of sunset is more and more noticeable 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 encountered in 2022 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 for the Greek pilgrimage we did that year. The words of the Hymn opened 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. 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. 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 (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 seethe along with the Goddess and as we do can also see in the current rage of those struggling to protect life and against war, famine, sickness, and violence 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. Demeter might well be the first non-violent direct activist.
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.
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 Death becomes part of her life.
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. She shares 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.
Seven of Swords Passage and Practice
On the Star path we are passing through the days of the 7 of Swords. In the iconic Rider Waite Smith deck, we seem a figure tip toeing away with hands full of Swords and watching their back. Their strategy has worked and they seem to be getting away with the goods.
This card of the trickster may remind us of the tale told above of Hades keeping a hold of Persephone by feeding her the pomegranate seeds. As such, this card reminds us that there are people who will attempt to trick us to get what they want. As Swords is in the realm of air connecting us to the mind and communication, we might be on the look out during this moonth for those people who are saying one thing but are doing or believing another.
But Hades is not the only possible figure represented in this card. We might find this image represents Persephone herself.
In some versions of Persephone’s story—my understanding is that they are modern versions—the Goddess either leaves willing with Hades or chooses on her own to spend time in the Underworld. She sees that the dead need someone to comfort them. She elects to be their Queen. She knows she can not just return to life with her mother as it was before. She is no longer innocent.
Perhaps then She knows something is up when offered the seeds and eats them to be able to give this reason to her mother for going back and forth between the worlds. Perhaps She knows it would break her mother’s already grieving heart to know that her daugther is moving away from her.
This possible trickery on the part of Persephone then leads to her attentions being divided between the worlds of the Living and the Dead. This division, however, becomes expansive rather than limiting. Persephone’s love for her mother calls he back to the living world. While those she serves in the Underworld connect her to Death. She invites us, too, to practice tending a loving flow between the living and the dead.
Be a Knight of Cups on The Star Path
Our model this moonth for walking the path of the Star is the Knight of Cups.
Knight of Cups from the Massachusetts Tarot Society Deck
All Knights are on a quest to serve the Greater Than themselves. How the Knights serve is inspired by their elemental association. The Knights of Cups’ association with Water calls them to lead with their heart. They care for those they love and they also care for those they don’t know because water flows all over the earth ignoring boundaries.
They use tools of the heart on their quest. Knights of Cups are the ones who nurture and show compassion in groups, offer hospitality to all, and create openings for feelings to be felt and expressed. They might even use poetry as way to lobby their congresspeople.
Yes, they dare to care and believe that their caring can make a difference for creating the world we want to live in.
Reading of the Moonth
HOPE: What expansive hope is most beneficial to nurture within me now?
RAGE: How can I work with my grief/anger so that its energy moves me toward making my hope real?
ALCHEMY: When my hope and rage combine what can be renewed for myself and the Whole?
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