Knowing that eating any food of his realm would seal her fate forever, Persephone refused Hades’ offers until her hunger could no longer be withstood; she ate six seeds of the pomegranate, thus consigning herself to become Queen of the Underworld. With this act, Persephone shed the innocence of her maidenhood, and gained the wisdom of womanhood.
Still holding out hope for the return of her daughter, Demeter enlisted Hermes to strike a deal with Hades. Knowing that Persephone was indeed bound by her choice to eat the pomegranate seeds, Hermes suggested that she rule as Queen of the Underworld for six months out of the year: one month for each seed. Hades agreed to this arrangement, thus freeing Persephone to return to the light from spring equinox until fall equinox. Demeter, full of joy at her daughter’s reprieve, resumed tending the crops during the months of Persephone’s return, and the earth was again bountiful.
The tale of Persephone is a beautiful metaphor for the turning of the year, and also has deep wisdom pertaining to our own monthly rhythm.
As I have become more in tune with my own cycle, I have learned that I desperately crave my time in the Underworld during my bleeding time. Fueled by a deep need to go within, to seek quiet and stillness, I embrace the archetype of Persephone as Queen of the Underworld. Hungry to leave the outside world, I count the six days;– one for each pomegranate seed.
And yes, the land may be fallow for this time. Things may not get done; laundry may pile up, phone calls and emails may go unreturned. But this time of resting is needed, it is necessary. Just as the fields cannot produce in perpetuity without time to restore resources for future crops, our female bodies cannot continue to give . . . to produce . . . to create . . . to nurture . . . unless we too allow time for quiet and rest.
Yet we live in a culture that not only lacks reverence for this time in a woman’s cycle, but in fact has demanded that we detach from and ignore it. We have been taught to see this time as an inconvenience, a burden. A curse.
We have been told to hide it, to suppress it, to chemically eliminate it. To keep going, without rest.
This is an unsustainable and unhealthy way to live. By not granting ourselves the right to slow down and go inward to renew our resources, we begin to manifest symptoms of un-wellness. Our bodies experience pain and disharmony in the face of our unrelenting demands upon them. We feel irritable, short-tempered, exhausted. We lash out in frustration, knowing that our birthright is out of reach -- yet so desperately needed and deserved.
But I have begun a shift, these past few years. Subtly, I have begun to honor my Underworld days in a fundamental way. I wear a necklace -- a jasper ring, symbolic of an open cervix -- during my bleeding week, to let my family know that I am not as physically and emotionally available as during the Earthside portion of my cycle. I honor my limited energy resources by saying no to things, or by choosing to not emotionally engage in everything around me. I move more slowly. I am quiet.
And this shift is not only key to my own physical and emotional well-being, but a fundamental lesson for my 9-year old daughter and 6-year old son as well. By modeling sacred self-care during this time, I am teaching my daughter to honor herself in the same way. By respectfully honoring my own needs and limitations, I am teaching my son to honor all women.
My deep dream is that by the time I reach my crone years, I will witness these visible acts of self-love and reverence among more women during their Persephone period. I imagine a time when all women signify their bleeding time in some way, whether it be by wearing all red, or by wearing a special piece of jewelry. I imagine a time when rather than being faced with dread, we look forward to our days in the Underworld as a time to rest and replenish ourselves. I imagine a time when our community -- men, women, and children -- see this as a time to honor and nurture us as we honor and nurture ourselves.
But this change will not happen overnight. As with all fundamental shifts in cultural consciousness, the ripples are cast with just one tiny pebble. Or one tiny pomegranate seed, as the case may be.