by Beth Boardman
Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman. San Francisco: Conari, 2014
Pearson, Carol S. Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within. New York: HarperElixir, 2015
Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures. New York: Wm. Morrow-HarperCollins, 2016
Heart-rise: The Persephone Path
On the cusp of spring, after months of invisible activity, and without fail, shoots and buds appear, unsung, to the human eye. Small green points sometimes poke up from the brown earth while still covered by a snowy crust; what a surprise when the wind blows the snow away, or one day the sun melts through, and a well-formed sprig springs into view. What an affirmation of our lack of human control!
Cycles define our world, despite humans’ need to understand the world in a linear, more easily predictable fashion. Persephone and her barley-sheaf illustrate the growth cycles of the earth; Artemis the huntress, represented by the waxing moon, illuminates the cyclical nature of the night sky. Reconciled to the fact of life-cycles, one taps into a wisdom, a sort of faith, that offers a respite from the intensity of life’s struggles, a hope and strength during episodes of suffering and fright.
Consider the Greek tale of Persephone–the young girl/woman daughter of earth-goddess Demeter and the wife of Hades, King of the Underworld. A casual scan of the tale (girl picking flowers, surprised and whisked away by King) may leave the impression of Persephone as the Captured Innocent, a Victim of kidnapping and rape, a Pawn in the Games of the Gods. Deeper analysis of the tale reveals much more.
Before Demeter’s daughter vanished into the Underworld, she was known by the name of Kore, which simply means maiden. Persephone took on her adult name, her name of power, only after she found her vocation in the Underworld, as Queen and Comforter of the Dead. When she eventually did return to the surface of the Earth, reuniting with her beloved mother Demeter, she returned not as Kore the innocent, but as Persephone the Queen, brimming with her own new knowledge and power, both inspiring her mother Demeter (and re-starting the growing season) and assisting her in the secret ceremonies of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Whether she went with Hades willingly or not at first is a subject of debate. As a result of her journey, however, Persephone meets Wisdom (a visit from the goddess Hecate). Captured by transformation, Persephone expands into her power, growing in her ability to love, gaining wisdom, and becoming adept at moving between the worlds.
In this way, the tale of Persephone encourages us: she comes and goes from darkness to light, motivated both by her love for her mother and her love for her life in the underworld. We don’t know exactly how she survives/thrives/lives in Hades, we just know that she comes back, every year. Dark times, night-fears, illnesses, tragedies visit every one of us during our lifetimes; Persephone demonstrates that every dark time asks us to reform/reformulate/reflect–and rise again, just like dormant plants continue to change and grow underground.
Rising as Peaceful as well as Artemisian Action
Let’s pause to reflect on the word rise. Balloons rise, suns and stars rise, cream rises.
Breads and cakes and soufflés rise, sap rises in the spring. These images evoke a serenity of action, a gentle surety. Though writers may describe “buds bursting forth,” they really do no such thing: buds and shoots appear gradually, opening and emerging without fanfare. The recent Women’s March on Washington (one of whose graphics appears to the right) used this verb to inspired effect in describing a basic intention of the movement: to become visible without violence. Humans rise from kneeling, rise from sitting. One can rise to the occasion, rise in the mornings; one can rise from indolence to action. While the motivation might be fierce, the love behind the action intense, the verb rising itself is non-ferocious.
When Persephone rises, most of her actions occur in the dark; she assists her mother Demeter in the secrets of Eleusis, and she comforts the dead in the Underworld, invisible to mortal eyes. Artemis the huntress, by contrast, personifies the energy of visible, directed action. Walking in the woods and hills, Artemis actively seeks out her goal; when she finds it, she takes careful aim, then lets fly her arrow of truth. Artemis’s arrows illustrate truth-in-action, backed by prudent intention and indomitable purpose; she provides a discernible counterfoil to Persephone’s more shrouded movements.
Artemis rises with determination and resolve to pursue her objective. She moves with deer-like agility through the lights and shadows of the forest. The organizers of the Women’s March embodied this agility and resolution in negotiating the complex and challenging course of advocating for political change: they encouraged the actions of speaking, writing, standing, but adjured participants to avoid the pitfalls of destroying property or damaging others. Whether motivated by fraternal love, parental love, or compassionate love, marchers responded to their own unique calls, rose up like Persephone from their own darkness, and stepped forth like Artemis with focus and energy.
Seeking a moving target requires patience, as well. Artemis’s association with the moon serves to remind one that energy waxes and wanes, and sometimes seems to disappear. Cultivating the ability to wait, honoring the cycles of growth/harvest, moon-rise/moonset, brilliance and eclipse, confers another kind of strength to someone on a mission: the strength to perceive right timing. When one takes the time to reflect on one’s experiences and listen both to one’s surroundings and to others who have more familiarity with the quixotic nature of life, one gathers the wisdom needed to plan the next action.
The Emergence of Hidden Figures
Combining the ideas of rising, waiting, taking action, and the heavens, the book and movie Hidden Figures came to the public’s attention about the same time as the Women’s March began to come into form. Talk about right timing!
A story of brilliant African-American women mathematicians who work for NASA, Hidden Figures describes how these women worked in the shadows at first – unknown by most of the rest of NASA and the world. Each woman works hard, develops her unique skillset, lends support to one another through painful/difficult times, and encourages the others to reach for further goals. Like Persephone, they develop their power and wisdom unseen by those outside their circles; then like Artemis, they rise to focused action, shooting for innovative opportunities when the chance occurs. Whether taking on advanced mathematical challenges, pursuing a degree in engineering, or self-teaching a new computer-programming language, these women inspire each other, and us, to emerge from the shadows and realize new levels of empowerment.
Encountering one another, Persephone and Artemis might have been fond friends, each goddess’s traits bestowing a valuable gem upon the other. Certainly, anyone experiencing painful and/or challenging events can derive comfort, guidance, hope, and motivation from studying the messages of Persephone, Artemis, and the story of Hidden Figures. Desiring change, one can take advantage of the shadows to learn and hone one’s talents, then rise like Persephone to embrace one’s power in due time. Those who feel propelled to action can find strength, patience, and commitment to truth in Artemis’s arrows. Like the women of Hidden Figures, one can work with others for mutual support, with mutual respect, and ultimately celebrate each other’s rise from anonymity to recognition.
Persephone is the heart-rise behind the current Women’s March; Artemis the “indomitable spirit” that encourages us to rise again, to speak out, to write, to vote, to march, to comfort, to encourage. Like the sheaves of wheat that reappear
every year, like the moon that waxes from the dark every month, like the amazing women of Hidden Figures, so can we commit to developing our latent talents, moving toward our long-term goals, and having faith that our dreams never completely die: we are forming and reforming ourselves, holding the well-being of our allies, friends, and loved ones firmly in our hearts.
Beth Anne Boardman, RN, MA, PhD lives in California and New Hampshire. She travels and lectures on the Mythology of Sport; Women and Myth; and the Alchemy of Adolescence (her dissertation topic), in addition to consulting as a writer to websites. Recently, Beth has served on the board of the Pacifica Graduate Institute Alumni Association and as Regional Coordinator for local alumni. Her career spans work as a registered nurse, the study of world dance and music, and the profound joy of raising two children. Beth’s writings may be found at http://otherworldpoetry.blogspot.com and https://mythmuse.wordpress.com