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It's the Peak of the Spooky Season!

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Oct. 30, 2021

So I want to talk about the Dread Persephone!

We are familiar with Persephone as the abducted bride of Hades, the floral, pastel-themed, light-hearted girl that brings about Spring and is the daughter of Demeter, goddess of nature and the harvest.

But is it really who she is?

No. No it isn't. In fact she never was the goddess of Spring before maybe Plutarch. That's Demeter, her mother. When she is her mother. Because in her more terrifying iteration, Persephone is the daughter of Styx (and occasionally Zeus). Yes Styx as in the river that separates the dead from the world of the living.

In the ancient world, Persephone is She Who Must Not Be Named: one of her epithets is “the dread Persephone”. She is referred to as “Despoina” or “Kore” (both of these are honorifics for ‘our Lady’ or “Maiden” respectively) instead. She is depicted veiled, so nobody really knows her face.

What are you talking about? You might say. There are tons of statues and reliefs depicting Persephone next to Hades, seated in her throne as Queen of the Underworld.

Ah, yes. But she's not the dread Persephone then, not exactly. Her veiled, extremely frightening, cthonic iteration as Despoina is that of the Eleusinian mysteries, where she was worshipped in her fully deathly identity. Not as the abducted daughter of Demeter, not even as Hades' wife: she was THE Queen of the Dead. The Queen of Hades (as “Hades” means Underworld in Greek) long before Hades was apparently a god.

I find that fascinating.

Persephone is one of the most powerful goddesses as queen of the Underworld. She is also one of the few that calls the shots instead of her husband in Ancient Greece- he goes along with whatever Persephone decides in more occasions than not. And she is the only goddess that has a near-seamless, harmonious relationship with her husband.

Of course she would. She is his queen.

And yet she is not as frightening when depicted in all her queenly glory. In fact she almost always tempers death for mortals, especially if she is moved by their tragic circumstances or appealed to.

She becomes the dread one only when she is completely veiled, quiet, silent… unknown and absolute. The dread Persephone cannot be avoided, cannot be beaten, cannot be fought. You can only hope you don't draw her attention, which is why you are not to speak her name lest she hears.

The dread Persephone is true terror, and I think it's not only because she is the personification of the grim reaper in a far more visceral way than Thanatos, the actual god of death for Ancient Greeks, is. Thanatos is never veiled, yet she is. She, just like her realm, is unknown. Just as what comes after death is.

Therein lies the true fear that can churn in our hearts- the unknown, coupled by the inevitably absolute.

And I just love that elegant way to terrify folks.

Happy Halloween!

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PaulEberhardt at 2:06AM, Oct. 31, 2021

That's the thing about ancient mythology: there are layers upon layers in there once you really start looking. I've never realised before what depths the story and character of Persephone offer, but it is interesting and inspiring.

hushicho at 5:18PM, Oct. 30, 2021

It's interesting. I don't think that's what I take from it, but there are so many things to take from so many sources and so many different figures, that sooner or later, you will absolutely find the one that fits you just like a glove. Happy wonderful spooky season and magical Halloween!

bravo1102 at 10:53AM, Oct. 30, 2021

Got to love the darker ancient mythology you don't find in your copy of Bulfinch. Oh how authors and D&D have just wantonly stolen your secrets, me among them. This is world building at its most raw looking at the old myth and legend from before Hollywood and brightly illustrated children's books.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 4:34AM, Oct. 30, 2021

Reminds me of the Lady of Pain in the Planescape universe of DnD. She is a nameless all-powerful being who's face is forever hidden behind a mask who has the power to deny all gods passage between the planes of existence, murderously despises anyone who dares to worship her and has no purpose or goal other then simply existing. She is the unknown, she is the absolute and she is the one thing in the universe that will always remain a mystery and a horror to all who becomes aware of her presence.

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