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Exploring Archetypes with Persephone and the Flower Essence Sweet Chestnut

The Greek/Roman goddess Persephone (Greek, also known as Kore) / Proserpina (Latin) is a complex and interesting figure. The name Kore translates to “maiden” in Greek, referencing a major part of her painful story of transition from girl to woman.

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Persephone is commonly known as Queen of the Underworld, the wife of Hades (Pluto in Roman myth). Tragically, her marriage was one she entered into by force when Hades kidnapped her as she was playing in a field of flowers with her Nymph friends. This was very tragic for both Pesephone and her mother, Demeter (the goddess of the Agriculture, Grain, Fertility of the Earth), who searched for her alongside another goddess, Hecate. Demeter was so upset by the disappearance of her daughter that she refused to let plants grow on the Earth until her daughter was returned to her. This was a risk to all humankind, as they could eventually starve if Demeter did not shift this influence, and so Zeus allowed for Persephone and Demeter to see each other. However, when Demeter and Persephone were reunited, it became clear that Persephone had ingested pomegranate seeds that Hades offered her while in the Underworld. Many believe that the pomegranate seeds in this story represent the seed of man, the “fruit” of Hades. In much Greek mythology, swallowing or consuming something has a great impact on one’s situation (for instance, Zeus consumed a woman in order to get the power to create life, despite being male). So, by eating the pomegranate seed, Persephone has partaken in intimate relations with Hades and has entered a different phase of her life, from maiden to woman. As a result, Persephone is bound in some way to Hades and the Underworld and could not be released.

A compromise was reached that allowed Perseophone to return from the Underworld for two thirds of the year, spending one third with Hades. Persephone’s location ultimately became a primary influence and explanation for the seasons of Earth; her presence on Earth and Mt. Olympus brought growth in plant life and the harvest, the start of the season of Spring. When Persephone resided in the Underworld as Queen, nothing on Earth was growing, blossoming, or bearing fruit. Her own existence is the archetypal representation of the cycles of a seed, disappearing in winter below the Earth in the Underworld and then coming back to Earth to sprout along with all the seeds in Spring. As a result, Persephone became a symbol of both vegetation and fertility for both women and the Earth and its reproductivity.

Persephone’s story is deeply connected to the themes of cycles of transitions for women, going from maidenhood to adulthood. For Persephone, these transitions are deeply painful and traumatic. She goes from happily enjoying life as a maiden living with her mother and picking flowers with her friends to being forcibly repositioned to the role of wife in the Underworld. This is a violent and traumatic experience for Persephone, a loss of innocence that was paired with pain, fear, and loneliness. In fact, this shift holds symbolic connections to death, mortality, and immortality. Persephone’s shift into womanhood is experienced as a kind of death. Persephone, despite being immortal, is forced to live in the Underworld, a place where no one goes except Hades and humans who die. In this way, an immortal figure experiences a version of mortality, forcibly dwelling in the experience of life after death. In entering the stage from childhood to fertility and womanhood, Persephone’s is forced to endure a kind of death in both the forcible separation from her mother, kidnapping, and forced marriage. As both Queen of the Underworld and the Goddess of Spring, Persephone’s painful and traumatic experiences come to represent both death and life, barrenness and fertility, transitions from girlhood to womanhood, loss of innocence, and the changing seasons.

Persephone's Archetypal Energy and the Flower Remedy Sweet Chestnut

Considering the Flower Essence Remedy Sweet Chestnut (Castaneasativa) - according to the FES Online Repertory:

"Positive Qualities: Spiritual depth, faith derived from encountering adversity; solitude rooted in spiritual communion

Patterns of Imbalance: Pronounced despair and agony; feeling of aloneness or abandonment due to a 'dark night of the soul'

Sweet Chestnut heals the deepest form of soul anguish and despair – that which is often referred to as the “dark night of the soul.” The conditions which require Sweet Chestnut are extreme, and the individual is often in the most negative and acute form of suffering; however, this remedy is the harbinger of great spiritual transformation. The one who needs Sweet Chestnut is tested literally to the breaking point of endurance. Although the cause of such pain is based on a deeply personal situation, there is nevertheless a profound existential quality related to this state, for the soul feels utterly alone in its suffering. Sweet Chestnut is often indicated in drug addiction or suicide therapy, when the individual feels that he or she has hit “rock bottom.” It can be indicated for many other extreme conditions, such as the death of a loved one or realization that one has a life-threatening illness. Through these forms of intense suffering, the Self surrenders to a Higher Power and is able to be reborn. It is precisely in this way that transformational healing is possible, for when the soul is stretched to its limits it also becomes transcendent. Sweet Chestnut helps the soul surrender and open to a new identity" (Source: Kaminski, P., Katz, R. (n.d.). Flower Essence Repertory. The Flower Essence Society. )

When considering Persephone’s experiences, she could benefit from the support of Sweet Chestnut. Persephone is undergoing a great trauma, perhaps her life’s “rock bottom.” Being kidnapped and forced into marriage in the Underworld and separated from all her family and friends could certainly be thought of as a “dark night of the soul.” Her mother’s protests to try to get her back seemed to be a light of possibility, but it would have been incredibly difficult and potentially re-traumatizing to realize that she was tricked into consuming pomegranate seed that bound her permanently to the Underworld.

This painful situation is deeply personal to Persephone; her transition from girlhood to womanhood was violent and caused her suffering. Like those who benefit from Sweet Chestnut, there was certainly an element of being utterly alone in her suffering; for Persephone, she was literally alienated from everyone except her kidnapper, so this was true on both the physical and the metaphysical levels.

Although no one should have to deal with the circumstances Persephone is facing, the final compromise of spending part of her time in the Underworld and part of her time back with her mother means that she does have to find a way to cope with this new reality. If Persephone worked with Sweet Chestnut flower essence, it could help her to come to terms with her new identity - not just as in her transition into womanhood, but also into her new capacity as Queen of the Underworld. A sense of surrender and openness to a new identity could support Persephone as she finds herself in a role she never imagined, connected to those who worship her both in life and in death. Additionally, Persephone’s return from the Underworld each year can partner energetically with Sweet Chestnut’s quality of rebirth; Persephone, along with all of the plants that finally bloom when she leaves the underworld, may be able to tap into a transcendent sense of being reborn each year as the seasons shift. Because of her dark night of the soul, Persephone ends up occupying a unique space between mortal and immortal as she ventures back and forth from the underworld, where she is one of the only immortals in a dwelling meant for mortals when they meet their deaths, yet can still return to Earth and Mount Olympus to be with her mother and friends.

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