In the traditional Autumn Equinox ceremony here, it is said: “In our part of Earth, the balance is tipping into the dark. Feel the shift within you, see in your mind’s eye the descent ahead, the darkness growing, remember the coolness of it. This is the time when we give thanks for our harvests – the abundance we have reaped, that we enjoy daily. And we remember too the sorrows, the losses involved. The story of Old tells us that Persephone, Beloved Daughter, receives from Her Mother, the wheat – the Mystery, knowledge of life and death – for this she gives thanks. She receives it graciously. But she sets forth into the darkness – both Mother and Daughter grieve that it is so.”
For millennia, in Greece, this Seasonal Moment has been the holy celebration of Persephone’s descent to the Underworld, and in the earliest Goddess tradition, She descends of Her own volition to comfort the dead: the process is one of gaining of Wisdom and restoring Beauty – She is the Seed planted in the Earth, that will sprout again, mature and carry life into the future.
Autumn Equinox is a time – a sacred moment – for grieving our many losses, as individuals, as a culture, as Earth-Gaia. At this time we may join Demeter – and any other Mother Goddess from around the globe – in Her weeping for all that has been lost. The Mother weeps and rages, the Daughter leaves courageously, the Old One beckons with Her Wisdom and Promise of Transformation.
In the ceremony each participant is given stalks of wheat tied with red ribbon: the wheat represents a harvest of Life that we are given – we are given all that went before us, it is handed to us. We may rejoice in it and give thanks. But like the seed that goes into the Earth, every moment of Life, and all that we enjoy, is lost – it transforms, and is never repeated: and it has had a cost. Every moment in our lives and in the entire history of Gaia-Universe is never repeated – it is lost. That means it is also ever-new. And there is a place on that Edge – of the grief and the joy, where the Universe hums in balance – a creative tension (some may call it the “curvature of space-time”). It is what enables Creativity to go on … in our lives and in the Cosmos. This may be represented by the Seed, the “Persephone” that goes down into the Dark Earth, and will sprout yet again. It is also represented in the red thread/ribbon on the wheat: it represents the sacred Thread of Life that has never faded away (if it had we would not be here). Demeter gives the sheaf of wheat to Her Daughter Persephone – representing the Knowledge of Life, and also the continuity, the unbroken thread of life.
Understanding the Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone has infinite depth, and one of the dimensions is about being able to hold the tension of the grief and the joy of existence, in a creative way – it is the essence of Creativity.
Denise Levertov put it this way in her poem “Stepping Westward”:
If I bear burdens
they begin to be remembered
as gifts, goods, a basket
of bread that hurts
my shoulders but closes me
in fragrance. I can
eat as I go.
Our ceremony concludes with: “We have remembered this evening that we are given the Wheat, the Mystery – the Mother knowledge grows within us. We are the Seed in the Fruit, becoming the Fruit in the Seed. We have remembered and given thanks for our abundant harvests, we have remembered the sorrows involved and we have remembered our hope – the Sacred Balance of the Cosmos – the Thread of Life, the Seed that never fades away: it is the Balance of Grief and Joy, the Care that we may feel in our Hearts. May there be peace within us and between us.”
Persephone is the Seed in the Heart/Core of the Mother – and the Mother is in the Seed. They are in each other.