'The Tanglewood' by Amber Caspian

'The Tanglewood' by Amber Caspian

Friday 9 March 2012

Persephone - Goddess of the Underworld

Sometimes I find that a certain image, story or archetype stays with me for many years, a thread woven through time and place expressed inwardly and then appearing outside of oneself. Persephone is one such thread...

'Prosepine' by Rossetti

“Be to her, Persephone,

All the things I might not be;
Take her head upon your knee.
She that was so proud and wild,
Flippant, arrogant and free,
She that had no need of me,
Is a little lonely child
Lost in Hell,—Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee;
Say to her, “My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here.”
 Edna St. Vincent Millay
Persephone is a subject that has interested me for a long time, as an image of womanhood and its apparent parallels between her myth and the stories of women the world over. That we are caught in between the light and the dark, that we are stolen from our mothers too early and taken into the depths of lusts we don't understand. That we are pulled between being ‘good’ girls our mothers would be proud of and the ‘bad’ girls (or more accurately ‘wild’ girls) they would be ashamed of, but secretly we both want to be.

She came to me powerfully during one of the most painful times of my life, when I seemed to be in between the worlds and channelling ideas one after another. I was watching a programme about mummies and there was one that was curled in this pose that was so like a young girl asleep and merely dreaming that it captivated me.

I painted Kore (Maiden) at the moment of silent slumber, when she is a spring flower and untouched, in a pose of quiet death.  She dreams of falling in love and the summer to come, all the while someone is plotting to take her away. The dried poppy heads blow soporific seeds into her eyes so she remains unconscious of her fate. But also alongside the poppies are brambles that speak of the dark side of mother love, that mother loves her but is envious. Is aware of how the child’s youth and freshness shows against her own ripened beauty. They are the briars that appear in fairy tales, where loving mothers die young and stepmothers are wicked. The cruel thorns that scratch young skin and spill the rich red blood of womanhood.
 ‘Kore’ By Amber Caspian, 2009

‘Kore... gently curled.  Small figure of quiet Death.  Settled within the age-old Prison of wild briar and sharp thorn. Dormant amidst Soporific poppies. Tell me, of what do you dream?’

From the versions I have read it appears that Persepine is always taken away unwillingly from a mother who doesn't want her to go by a lover she doesn't want. Yet for me I believe there is something in the idea that both mother and daughter are ready for the separation. The girl is yearning to become a woman and experience her sexual self in a way that she cannot within the realm of her mother. Mother is relieved to be able to rest and enter the dark time of hibernation and restoring even if only awhile. And all because Persephone ate those six pomegranate seeds...

A story about choice taken away now appears full of moments where a decision can be made – mother takes her eye off her daughter when she could have never let her go; the child lies alone and unprotected conjuring dreams of subjects she has no experience of; once taken she eats seeds that she knew would hold her to the new life where she is Queen of Souls, her own realm. Those seeds are nourishment, food for the Self and of a kind she will never find in her mother’s summer garden.

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