Persephone Calling

Persephone by Patricia Ariel

I awoke early this morning, feeling as if someone had performed a mini lobotomy over night. I had the strangest sense that the right part of my brain just wasn’t working, or was on ‘sleep’ mode; everything in there waiting to fire up but not getting the signal. The progestin seems to be the likely culprit. I am now on the lowest dose of Utovlan, my aim to get to down to absolutely no synthetic progesterone in my system at all. My moods swings are still acute. Laurie has been on the front line of my progestin journey; it has been such a help for him to keep me informed about my behaviour, and to reassure me that this has only been happening since taking the progestin. I know that I don’t feel at all myself but it can be difficult to judge from the inside. It’s so important to have that objective voice; it serves to remind me that I am not going quietly mad, that these symptoms have a very real and obvious cause.

The right part of the brain is of course linked to our imaginative faculties, the part that help us to engage with our inner lives; in lowering the dose, I have had glimpses of this place; I am dreaming more certainly but I am aware that this faculty currently feels as if its battery is near flat. For someone who has previously enjoyed a strong relationship with their inner life, this new state feels like purgatory; its impact leaves me feeling not a complete part of any world, inner or outer. Ladies beware! Synthetic progesterone can make you depressed and kill off your creativity!

I have been thinking a lot about the Goddess Persephone during the last week. The Persephone Myth has been an important one for me throughout my life – as is it for many modern Pagans. I got interested in it first through the work of the Jungian Astrologer Liz Greene, long before my Pagan journey started in earnest. She believed that because of the universal, archetypal nature of myth, each of our lives would express a resonance with specific myths, our personal experiences echoing their themes and lessons. When I first read the Persephone Myth, I was struck at the uncanny resemblance to my teenage life experiences: as a thirteen year old girl I was undoubtedly Kore’s ignorance and innocence. The death of my mother coinciding with the beginning of an abusive sexual relationship with someone older also seemed to mirror quite starkly Kore’s abduction into the Underworld by Hades, resulting in her mother Demeter being lost to her. Also, although my grandparents had all died and some uncles too at that point, my mother’s death was definitely the one encounter with Hades I’d had so far that illustrated to me the shock of my own mortality, the utterly visceral nature of death.

Choosing to approach the Persephone Myth as one of my own life myths was enormously healing; it gave me the opportunity to see my life journey not as a pointless and meaningless set of events but as a story rich with meaning and full of wisdom and potential learning. It gave me a route through the pain and confusion to find depth and understanding.

It is no wonder that this myth was central to one of the most successful Mystery Schools in the Mediterranean: Eleusis. Its power resides in the truth that this myth’s themes are ones that we will all encounter at some point in our lives. We are each Kore’s ignorance of life’s darker lessons; we are also her need to grow. In meeting Hades we confront not only our own mortality and loss but our potential for transformation and change.

We have or will know Demeter’s grief, anguish and depression. The Goddess Demeter’s fruitfulness shrivels into barrenness; loss for us can also mean that the world becomes a place devoid of life. We can become Demeter’s joyless search, her aimless wandering to regain what is lost.

I have found that when innocence is lost; when love and nurturance and protection seem to have abandoned us, this is when Persephone comes into her own in our lives. The transformation from the powerless and terrified Kore to the wisdom of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, is a saving grace for us all. Kore’s violent awakening to the reality of death and loss is the beginning of her transformation:

I am Persephone and in my suffering I have seen the cold, pitiless face of Death transform into peace and compassion. I have felt the violence of his grip turn to a protective embrace. I have touched his hand in understanding. I have eaten of the dark, red seeds, full of the potential for new life. I have planted them within me.

In eating the pomegranate seeds, Kore becomes Persephone and her fate is sealed to live both in the upper and the underworld but then this was always inevitable; we cannot undo what has been done; we cannot escape death or the wisdom of experience and nor should we try.

The Goddess Hecate’s role in this story teaches this point beautifully. When we recognise it is time to release Kore’s innocence and inexperience and Demeter’s grief and tenacious grip on the past, we – as Persephone – come to the heart of Hecate, to the place of making sense and letting go:

I am Hecate. I am both the moonless dark and the brilliance of my torch. I am the devouring night and the path made clear. I am the web of wisdom that connects; I make sense of every lesson: seed-time and harvest; death and life. I am the perfect love and trust of release; I am the midwife of renewal.

Going through the processes of loss, making sense, seeing the connections, are all part of us eventually returning to the surface of our lives; however, our experience means that we will now always be aware that we also inhabit that inner, sometimes shadowy space –something we may not have been aware of before – and more than this, we come to understand that we can draw nourishment and guidance from it too.

I have felt Persephone calling in these last few months. I have lived long enough to know that the most challenging of our life experiences have the potential to lead us to greater wisdom, no matter how much we rail against the journey. The last few months has had me feeling at times both Kore’s fear and Demeter’s grief, and yet, you come to a point when you have to place your trust in the Queen of the Dead, feel her moving into view at the heart of the struggle. The wisdom of Persephone teaches us that in returning from the dark realm of Hades, lit by Hecate’s torch; upheld by Demeter’s love; carried forth by Persephone’s wisdom and compassion, we come to find that we are once again Kore, a new shoot, our old life – broken down in the soil – feeding our new growth. Through Persephone’s journey we find our greater wholeness.

And so, I offer up a prayer to that Goddess of the Land of the Shades –she who seems to have walked so closely by for so much of my life. Through her presence –with compassion and acceptance – I patiently wait for that moment, that shift, when the darkness brightens and the way is made clear.

Persephone, guide me safely into the darkness.

May I know that for every journey there, you are at my side;

for every moment of fear and hopelessness,

you are there to comfort me.

Great Goddess of life’s deepest mysteries

plant me; enfold me in your still darkness, and with compassion

help me grow towards the light of a new understanding, a new wisdom.

In you I await my new beginnings; in you I find my deepest strength and wisdom;

because of you I will never be the same.

With you I walk the light and the dark

and fear neither; 

With you, I journey to the depths, I endure and I survive, transformed and reborn by the experience.

I give thanks that I travel now with a foot in each place,

nourished by both my inner and outer worlds.

I am a bat at home in the darkest cave;

I am a blossom unfurled in the warmth of the sun.

I embrace all that I am and honour all that I have experienced;

in the depth of your compassion may I find grace.

Arta the Bear Goddess – Mother Honey Paw

'Sweet Bear Hug' by Denise Kester

Finding courage and inner resilience seems to be the order of the day for so many people around me at the moment, myself included. The Goddess as She-Bear has always held great attraction for me. In modern Paganism some have come to call her Arta or Artio. As Goddess, the She-Bear is our primal mother – ‘Mother Honey Paw’ – fiercely protective, birthing us in the dark stillness of the winter cave; nourishing us from her own body and giving life and growing strength to our potential. She embodies courage. In the darkest and coldest of times, it is the warmth of her deep fur that we cling to, her vast body encircling us gently, her rich milk nourishing our spirits. It is in the black stillness of Arta’s cave that we learn to let go of the old, envision the new, grounding and centring ourselves to contact that deep peace and inner knowing. In this part of the world, in the spring she leads us out of our winter caves, blessing us with the courage to move forward into life.

We have in the past performed ceremonies calling in Arta to bless us with her invaluable gifts in times of struggle, or when venturing out into the unknown and the new; each of the quarters offering us something of Arta’s all-encompassing love and protection. Arta equips us for battle – for life – supplying us with the courage and energy when we are required to go that extra mile, despite feeling weary and worn. In the south of the circle she fills us with courage and fiercely protects our path, animating us with renewed energy, enthusiasm and trust. In the West she enfolds us in her secure embrace, nurturing and nourishing us with a profound love. In the North, we tap into her immense physical strength and endurance, the clarity of her inner vision and wisdom guiding us. In the East she reminds us of the sweetness in life, that all challenges bring the potential of new beginnings, a whole new journey. Through her, we seek to integrate these qualities into our beings, expressing them in our lives both in our relationship with ourselves and others.

In dark and fearful times, all we need do is gaze up into the night sky to see her ever present starry form stretched across the heavens. In the spring, the paws of the Great Bear constellation are up high, walking the spiral galaxy, the bowl of her ‘Big Dipper’ inverted, pouring the love of Arta upon the awakening earth. The Great She-Bear of the night sky points us to the pole star; with Arta we are never lost; she is the star fire that guides us.

May Arta’s immense strength and courage go with you on your journey; may she protect your path, inspiring you with the energy to move onward; may you be upheld by the power of her love and guided by her infinite wisdom – may the sweetness of Mother Honey Paw be yours always.

Beltane, St Teresa and the Greening.

A Yoni Tree - a very tall and beauitful Douglas Fir in the New Forest

I am often struck how in the depths of winter there is a point when the trees have been bare so long it’s hard to imagine them with leaves. Equally, in the midst of summer, it becomes difficult to imagine them ever being naked again. We adapt remarkably well to the change. However, this time of year brings that incredible, pivotal point between those two extremes and everywhere this extraordinary explosion of life is played out in the colour green; not just any green – this green is the green of pure joy. It is one of those particular shades that impacts upon the emotions with such immediacy and power, it is hard not be lifted, impossible to resist the catching of our breath. The whole world is a sleepy face and that spring green a handful of cool water; Mother Nature wakes our beleaguered winter spirits with it and as if the year had never grown old and tired, we are in one glance renewed.

Looking out over the Island at present, across the downs, fields and woodlands, it is the dominant colour. There is always a point in the year when that brightness mellows into the gold of summer crops and hedgerows but for now that irrepressible shade hums happily, the purples and pinks of bluebell and red campion; the whites and yellows of stitchwort, wild garlic, celandine and late primroses set beautifully against it.

My neighbour’s apple trees have blossomed, that wonderful, delicate, pinkish white peaking over the tops of the high fence. I love apples trees; orchards are mysterious and intriguing places. There is something very moving about gnarled and aged apple trees blossoming; I find the same with hawthorn too. There are some incredibly old hawthorns up on the downs here, their branches ribbed, twisted and snake-like. These ancient, bony old ladies blossom with all the beauty of young maidens at this time of year. As I grow older, the sight of these extraordinary trees so stunningly dressed helps me to remember that the joys of Beltane are not just for the young; love and desire burn as strongly in all of us, no matter what our age. Getting older offers us the gift of the realisation that this passion and desire for union can be felt not only with a lover but with the entire world around us; it also drives our relationship with the Divine. Even in religions such as Christianity – where sexual desire might sadly be seen as less than holy – those links between the ecstasies of the flesh and the spirit can still be found. If you don’t believe me then check out the extraordinary devotions of St Teresa of Avila:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…

Beltane is so much about the urge to connect, to blend and merge; to feel a part of something extraordinary; to at once lose one’s sense of self in that merging but also to paradoxically feel more absolutely and truly oneself because of it. In the desire to penetrate life’s mysteries, we need also to open ourselves to them, surrendering to the power of love that it may have the opportunity to transform us. Great things are born in us at such moments of union; this place of merging is where the tap root of our creativity feeds, without it we feel dry and disconnected. If that magical, alchemical moment of connection and merging were a colour, I suspect it might be perceived as many beautiful, vibrant shades but it foundation, I feel sure, would be the green of spring: ecstatically joyful – the irrepressible life and desire that leads us to love. As St Teresa once wrote:

 It is love alone that gives worth to all things.

The Yoni opening even had tree resin dripping out of it!

Goodbye Implanon; Hello life!

My poor Blog has been suffering from some severe neglect of late. Since having the implant fitted back in December, I have found it so difficult to write, my thoughts scattered and unfocused, my mental and physical energy depleted. Last week I made the important decision to have the implant removed. On Tuesday, a small incision was made in my arm and within seconds that tiny little rod of progesterone was deftly extracted from my life. For such a small thing it has made a massive impact. If I hadn’t been able to use Utovlan to control the flow, I would have bled heavily for the full five months of it being in my body. Every time I lowered the dose of Utovlan to test if the implant had ‘settled’ (the euphemistic term that my doctors constantly used to persuade me to hang on in there), sure enough I would start bleeding again. This would have been bad enough in itself but what has been far more alarming has been the implant’s impact on my mental and emotional health. In short I have felt dreadful. There were mornings when I sincerely regretted being awake, when I just couldn’t see the point of my existing. I have never felt like that ever before, not even at the lowest moments of my life. It was frightening. Since the removal of the implant my whole mental and emotional state has completely changed; within a day of its removal I could feel the lifting and brightening in my head; each day since then I have felt more and more like my old self; my energy increasing, my engagement with life deepening.

Many of the search engine terms coming into this Blog have been questions about both Utovlan and Implanon. Like me, lots of women are obviously struggling to cope, so to place a line beneath this, I just want to summarise my own experience in the hope that it might be helpful to others.

For some women, Implanon obviously works. For those women who have it fitted in order to help menstrual problems, you need to be aware that there is a good chance that these will be made far worse. The bleeding that I personally experienced on the implant was extremely heavy, to the point that I found it difficult to leave the house. Without the use of Utovlan – synthetic progesterone used to stem abnormal menstrual bleeding – life would have been pretty impossible to negotiate, not to mention exhausting. Also be aware that you might start to suffer from depression or moods swings. For me, these were severe. Judging by the many internet sites of women discussing their symptoms, I have not been alone in my experience. I also found that my sleeping patterns were disturbed. I don’t think I slept normally for the entire five months, waking many times in the night. Usually I have very vivid dreams but these stopped. Amazingly, this week of being implant free, I have started dreaming again and sleeping far better.

For women with dysfunctional uterine bleeding, I believe Utovlan to be really helpful, although I think it also has its difficult side-effects. For a while, I was blaming most of my symptoms on Utovlan, but over time, and having taken the pills last week without the implant, I have discovered that, for me, Implanon was the main culprit in making me feel poorly; Utovlan makes me a little manic but has been far more manageable than Implanon with regards to my emotional state. I would certainly use it again, for instance in delaying a period for going away on holiday (can’t tell you how many holidays have been ruined by my menstrual problems!) or for getting through unavoidable situations. I am viewing it as a temporary but useful ally.

I think that far too often, women with menstrual problems are shunted down the contraceptive route without first exploring more deeply the causes of their symptoms. As a form of contraception, Implanon is extremely good and if a woman is having no problems on it, that’s great. It might be added that if you are bleeding constantly and feeling very depressed, sex is truly the last thing on your mind, so it’s little wonder it works so well as a contraceptive device!!

In the week prior to removal, I started bleeding, even with the assistance of Utovlan. I haven’t actually stopped yet, yesterday being particularly difficult. I am hoping that eventually my body will settle back into its own natural cycle. I have finally been told by my doctor that I have a retroverted uterus (tipped backwards); this might certainly explain the severe menstrual pain I have suffered my entire life. It has also meant that my doctors now feel it important to check if the retrovertion is natural – i.e. the way I am built – or being caused by something else. At last, I might actually get some answers. It strikes me as rather depressing that despite the severity of my symptoms I have never been referred to a gynaecologist and have never been tested for endometriosis. I think after the misadventure of the last few months, it’s now about time that I was.

My advice to women who are suffering from negative symptoms since having Implanon fitted is to not be afraid to ask to have it removed, particularly if it is affecting your mental health and well-being. The makers of the implant themselves recommend that it is not fitted in women who have had a previous history of depression. I have been alarmed at how quickly my emotional well-being crumbled once the implant had been inserted. I have also found that since its removal, despite the heavy bleeding of the last few days, I have at least felt like I can cope psychologically. This alone is so vital if you are dealing with health issues; if both your body and mind become fragile, it is so much harder to retain one’s resilience.

The other point to remember is that devices that are fitted within the body like Implanon inevitably mean that your control is taken out of your hands if things go wrong; you are dependant on others to remove it, unlike taking a pill which you can simply stop. It’s important to think about this. Many doctors seem to want women to persist with the implant in the hope that symptoms will settle. If it hadn’t been for this, I would have asked for it to be removed long before it was. It’s important to remember that it is your body and if you truly feel the implant is making you unwell, you have every right to have it removed.

I had also been feeling a spiritual crisis over these last months. This I now put down to the implant too. It severed my connection to the world around me. I found it very hard to feel anything, as if my ability to be stimulated and moved by my environment had closed down. In the last week, I have been noticing how beautiful everything is, being touched and moved by what I am seeing. How awful that something that I was given to help me, actually cut me off from myself, my world and my sense of spiritual belonging.

I don’t write any of this to frighten or alarm. I think that things probably have to be tried and that each individual response will be different. And yet, I also think it is important to understand that there are very real risks. Despite the uncertainty I face at present, I feel so grateful to be implant free, to be liberated from the emotional and mental fog that has engulfed me for weeks.