This is the season for going within– hibernating animals know it, plants that go dormant know it, & we know it, too. Darkness blankets the earth for part of the year, inhibiting what we can do outside so we have the necessary time to go inward. We reflect on where we’ve been & where we’re going, on what to keep & what to release. Sometimes we encourage our season of darkness so we can be introspective & reconsider our priorities. Other times, darkness is thrust upon us through no fault of our own– illness, death, loss of a job or relationship– each plummets us into darkness for a time. There is a time for the darkness & a time to reemerge in the light.
I’m reminded of the Greek tale of Demeter & Persephone. Demeter, known as the Grain Mother or Earth Mother, had a daughter named Persephone. Persephone, also known as the Maiden or Kore, was a beautiful young woman whose father, Zeus, promised her hand in marriage to Hades, God of the Underworld. One warm, suny day, while Persephone frolicked in a meadow with other maidens, Hades rose from the depths of the earth & abducted her. In his golden chariot, he carried her back to the Underworld with him. Demeter was heartbroken, as any mother would be. In her sorrow, she lashed out against mankind by turning the fertile earth into a barren wasteland. All beings could have starved if Zeus hadn’t intervened by sending a representative to the Underworld to convince Hades to release the maiden back into her mother’s care. Hades willingly agreed because he know Persephone had already eaten seeds of a pomegranate, committing her to spend part of every year in the darkness of the Underworld with him. When Persephone is in the Underworld with Hades, the earth is brown & desolate. When Persephone is on the earth with Demeter, rich, green abundance blankets the earth. Thus, the cycles of the seasons continue year after year.
Let’s look at that tale more deeply. Demeter, the mother, & Persephone the maiden are two aspects of our own life cycle. Their regular pattern of darkness & light, sorrow & rejoicing, are reminders that we, too, go through cycles. Our lives are constant circles of despair & happiness, sickness & health, reflection & action. There is a season for everything. One cannot have the winter without the summer, nor the autumn without the spring.
We each descend into our own “underworld” of challenges, pain, & uncertainty. Going into the darkness cannot be avoided but it can be seen as a natural & a necessary time in the cycle of our lives. Depending on our outlook, the darkness can be womblike instead of tomblike, allowing us the sacred space we need to grieve, question, & struggle. It gifts us with the time to feel our authentic emotions & confront the obstacles that impede us. We rightfully grapple with dissatisfaction & doubt that accompany growing pains. We deal with sorrow that comes with loss. While this is most certainly painful at times, we must try to lovingly accept what we are feeling in order to honor our journey & be true to ourselves.
Likewise, we must recognize when we’ve been in the darkness long enough & have the courage to emerge in the light, transformed by what we’ve experienced in the darkest region of our souls. Resurrection must balance the descent into darkness.
How do you know when it’s time to poke through the barrenness of your experience & turn your face to the sun, like the first crocus in the winter snow? When your time in the darkness no longer serves your greatest, highest good, it’s time to emerge. When soul-searching becomes self-pity. When waiting becomes wallowing.
There are times in our lives when we’ll each be Persephone, descending into the Underworld & confronting the darkness. There are times when we’ll each be Demeter, struggling with the emotions that erupt when we have to watch a loved one make that descent into darkness alone.
We can’t rush the process (although I’ve certainly tried!!!). What we can do is gently remind ourselves that both the creative, mysterious & sometimes painful darkness & the illuminating light are necessary experiences for spiritual beings on very human journeys.