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.

(Your 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.

Oct 15, 2013

19 comments · Add Yours

So, I received the book “From Girl to Goddess” by Valerie Estelle Frankel for my birthday this year.
And I have to admit, I find myself stopping after several chapters and hating the fact that I was born a female, because I am a terrible one. I’m so much more in-tune with the yang “male” aspects of self than I am the feminine. I want to be in touch with these goddess archetypes but find myself much more willing to wield a sword rather than a chalice.
And yet, this (even though seemingly backward) is also a decent into self through myth and story. Sometimes we get to a point in our lives where one myth we’ve either had told to us or told ourselves no longer works. And we have to go a-viking to find or create the myths that do.


@Melissa I actually put that book down, I got so annoyed with it. I didn’t want to be that kind of ‘feminine’ either, or at least how I saw it. Later I came back to the book and got a lot out of it. Remember it’s not either/or. The hero/heroine journeys are complementary. Women go on hero journeys (more action-oriented, in the world), and men go on heroine journeys (more psychological). It all depends what stage of life you’re at, or what’s calling you. When we talk about feminine and masculine, we’re talking about principles, not actual gender; a fully whole, integrated person contains *both*. (Like the yin-yang symbol: the yin has some yang in it, and vice versa.) As far as goddesses go — Athena is the warrior, Artemis is the hunter, they were complete unto themselves, required no man, no relationship….I’m wondering if you’re dealing from a rather limited perception of the feminine. It’s a lot more interesting than you seem to think. :)


@Melissa Just to add, here’s Valerie Frankel using Katniss from ‘Hunger Games’ as an example of the heroine’s journey. And she’s not exactly running around with a chalice. :)


Keep in mind, too, that your notion of ‘goddess’ is probably the whitewashed patriarchal watered-down version. The love + fertility goddesses (like Aphrodite) used to also be goddesses of *war*. They were complex, powerful, fierce.


@justine musk Not to totally fangirl out on you, but I’m a huge Katniss/hunger games fan. Also without getting too mushy/revealing I have a ton of mommy issues, which no doubt leads me to associate anything ‘motherly’ (be it fertility goddess or otherwise) with a lot of foaming at the mouth.

Great posts as always!


Sure. I used those examples to stress that even fertility wasn’t soft and ‘nice’; there is a fierceness to it….I think ‘mother’, in the context of what Valerie is talking about, can mean ‘all=powerful transformative leader’ as well as ‘ruler of destruction and creation’ (like Kali). Forget the yummy mommy crap.


At the end, she says Penelope instead of Persephone.


Artemis, here. Pleased to meet you Persephone. :-)

As I see it, the next step after thoroughly knowing your stories, is to thoroughly live it. Here are some words I found and adapted slightly from Deena Metger on that.

“There is in each of us an ongoing story. It contains our meaning and our destiny. It goes on inevitably whether we pay attention to it or not. This is our “soul story.” This story is an ongoing drama that we do not control and into which we are drawn. And our deepest meaning is to stay with that story. Though we do not know its final outcome, nor even what will come tomorrow, there is nevertheless a great joy and a peace in knowing we are with the story. This is our soul’s journey. This is what it means to “live one’s soul”

We are always at the edge of our lives. Telling our story to each other, to ourselves, writing it down can be the safety net into which we leap when we are jumping off the cliff into the unknown. But there comes a time when we must remove the net. This is the moment when we jump, not into the page of our story, but into our own lives. Not only to tell about it, but to live it. Writing our story and living our story become one action, as one practice. To live it, is ultimately our life, and is the only art that matters.

To live our story is to claim it, no matter what it is is. Not to fix it, not to alter it, not to make it something else or someone else’s story. We live our story again and again to explore it, to come to know it, to be trusted to enter into its secret recesses, and then to live it whole, wholeheartedly, from the heart.

That’s all there is, really.”

Adapted from Deena Metzger. (Her Epilog from _Writing for Your Life_)


@Amara Graps Amara, I love that. I’m going to check out that book. Thank you!


Justine: Deena Metzger is an amazing women. One of her early expressions of healing and creativity was her wonderful masectomy art poster: http://www.marybaures.com/usingcreativity.htm


Check out the Descent of Inanna, the primordial descent and reascention story, written by Enheduanna, Sumerian high priestess, long before the Greeks. She is not abducted, not a victim, but curious and on a quest. Anyone interested in Demeter and Persephone needs to read this, earlier version! Much more empowering.


I know Inanna very well (she’s possibly my favorite character of all time. She rocked it). I don’t believe Persephone was abducted either; I think she went on her own accord; there are a number of descent, ‘girl underground’ stories, and the heroine always goes willingly. (The idea that Persephone was there voluntarily explains why she would eat the fruit of the underworld right before she’s about to be free. Like she didn’t know the rules? She refrained from eating and drinking all that time, and then suddenly had a craving for a pomegranate? Ha.) I believe that patriarchy revised the myth because good girls don’t go running off with hot sexy lords of the underworld. In any case, I find both myths empowering in different ways. Sometimes women *are* victims of rape, abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, accidents, etc. A story of how to come back from that, to use that experience to become wiser, deeper, stronger than before, and then to use that wisdom to help others — what’s more empowering than that? Pain to power — is powerful.


I think Persephone was definitely abducted, but certainly, survival stories are very important– So many of us are living those stories ourselves! But the myths of Inanna are in an entirely different class, where she has agency and power and choice and curiosity. It was very important for me to learn about her, the adventures of a Great, unified Goddess, long before the Greek fragmentation. I’ll stop strangers on the street to tell them about her… o.k., not really, but I do teach her in my classes :o). I like what you do with Persephone’s descent metaphorically a lot. What do we drive underground and why is it so important to reclaim it? Oh, yes.


Going from victim to powerful queen (in other myths Persephone as queen of the underworld is a formidable figure) is more than just a survival story. :)

I agree with you about Inanna. Learning about her was eye-opening for me — that this idea of powerful complex worldly knowledgeable sexual womanhood is *not* a modern-day invention. That we don’t have to reinvent femininity so much as just remember it.


Inanna is my favourite heroine’s journey. Just a little darker than Kore/Persephone ;)


I never did like the story of Persephone, but I think it does have some truth to it.


I don’t have a glossy, social surface. When I was younger I was desperate to obtain one, so I could fit in. Nothing glossy about Dungeons and Dragons. At some point in my 20’s I became glad I never got one.

The only time I still kinda sorta want one is when my bank account goes empty, but then I remember that I could not keep it glossy. It would dull. Because it’s dull. Just like everything else that’s glossy.


Another lovely, interesting, and useful framework for understanding female archetypes is Sally Kempton’s “Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga.” http://www.amazon.com/Awakening-Shakti-Transformative-Goddesses-ebook/dp/B00B883W1M/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=


@Sara Winge I’ve actually got that book on my Kindle, but haven’t read it yet. (Am about to.)

@Gordon Your comment made me smile.


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