we are made of stories
“Persephone leads us into the dark. And we are wiser for it.” — Karri Ann Allrich
The heroine’s journey is a journey of descent.
It’s a journey into the underground.
I first came to it through the story of Persephone. When I was at a dark low point a few years ago, my friend J. and I went to a workshop on goddess archetypes. I was very wary of anything I considered to be new age woo-woo bullshit, and this seemed dangerously close. I was going only because the woman leading the workshop, Agapi, is a friend (and a deeply charming person).
Then J. and I sat down and leafed through the handout. There was a description of each of the seven goddess archetypes. Right away, J. and I recognized which archetype — which innately patterned groove of human behavior — was currently dominant in each of us:
“You’re Artemis,” I said.
“You’re Persephone,” she said.
Over the next hour I reacquainted myself with the Persephone myth. Naïve and careless young maiden goes frolicking in the field, when the earth opens and Hades shows up in his chariot and supposedly drags her down into the underworld.
(Earlier versions of the myth have Persephone going willingly.)
Persephone becomes a captive. Eventually her mother, Demeter, tracks her down and secures her release. But about five minutes before she leaves, Persephone suddenly decides to eat part of a pomegranate. Once you eat or drink in the underworld, you belong to it forever. So Persephone spends part of the year aboveground, and part of the year below, where she rules as Queen of the Underworld, makes peace with Hades, and helps lost souls find their way.
That evening, at Agapi’s workshop, I decided that Persephone was my girl. (I would even buy two gilded fake pomegranates to keep in a lotus-leaf-shaped bowl on my coffee table.) I understood on a visceral level that this story is about trauma, and working through trauma in order not to escape the darkness, but to integrate it.
Trauma becomes a portal to insight and creative development.
Persephone matures from a child and victim into a queen who can rule a kingdom and be of service to others. She doesn’t conquer Hades or run away from him; she comes to terms with him, and learns to co-exist. The myth spoke to me on some nonverbal, right-brain level: it felt right. By mapping it onto my life, I could better navigate my own experience. I could set up my story in a way that would guide me to triumph.
We often talk about going there as a writer, an artist, a creative. It’s a phrase you don’t need to explain. People have this instinctive understanding of what it means: descent. It means to go beneath the glossy social surfaces of our lives, down through the layers of self, to where the shame is, the secrets, the vulnerability, the soul.
It means to tell the truth, and not just the average everyday kind, but the deep version that leaves you naked.
We are made of stories. click to tweet
We define ourselves by the stories we tell ourselves and others about who we think we are. One of my favorite definitions of trauma refers to it as the material that gets left out of the story. We have no place for it. We split it off. It overwhelms us, or threatens us in some way, so we send it underground.
Healing happens when we reclaim that exiled material. We can show our scars, and know we’re stronger for them.
We gather up our fragments, unite them into a storyline, and in the tellings make ourselves whole. Our world, and our sense of self, expands. We don’t escape the trauma, but deepen and grow into what it has given us. We’re able to share that wisdom with others. We become, like Persephone, capable in light and darkness: the mistress of two worlds.
That’s how we turn our lives into myth.