My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
’til then I walk alone… – Green Day
One of the most amazing books I’ve read is a spin-off of Jungian psychology — Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Goddesses in Every Woman (she also has the requisite text for men). In it, Bolen uses the Greek Goddesses as archetypal beings. She links their personalities, traits, gifts, and challenges to us, showing that we all posses, in various degrees, the traits of these goddesses. There are the virgin goddesses (Athena, Artemis, Hestia); the Vulnerable Goddesses (Hera, Demeter, Persephone); and in a category all her own, Aphrodite. Ironically, as an English major, I had only frustration for Greek mythology. It was because I could not connect the goddesses and gods to anything within my own life. I found them to be fickle and untrustworthy. However, Bolen’s book turned that all around, transforming these once illusive characters into transformative archetypes.
I bring up these goddesses now, specifically Demeter, because of the tough month of January. So many people I know struggle through this barren and overly long month. In fact, we could easily call January the Season of Demeter. Coming down off an already highly stressful/joyful season of Christmas, it doesn’t seem fair to roll into a 31day month of sustained gloom. If you hold true to the idea of the collective unconsciousness, maybe, just maybe, we are experiencing some of the deep sorrow Demeter felt over losing her daughter, Persephone, to Hades. After all, Demeter was so upset that she ceased all growth – plants died, nothing could be harvested, and animals were no longer allowed to procreate, due to her wrath and sorrow. As a matter of fact, Demeter’s myth was the basis for the Eleusinian Mysteries, “the most sacred and important religious rituals of ancient Greece for over two thousand years” (italics mine), (Bolen, 169). In this dark season, we are left to ponder what is lost or missing in our lives, what is hurting, or possibly what is moving away. We are mourning the lack of light, both figuratively and literally. The pain of things not conscious or things being pushed away now rise to the surface, whether we wish for them to or not. If you want, you can also liken the season to the Christian faith, most specifically Ecclesiastes 3, “For everything there is a season… A time to be born and a time to die…” I see it this way: choose your myth. Choose the one that moves you deep inside your core. The messages overlap; it is the medium that shifts. So whether this is the “time to tear” or the time to sit with the darkness that Demeter felt, we are faced with the fact that life is a mix of joy and sorrow. The goal: trudge through the sorrow as best we can –know that even though it feels as if our shadow is the only thing walking beside us, there are really several others by our side. Knowing that we are not alone alleviates a great deal of that existential grief that is toxic and sometimes so intoxicating that we lose ourselves. Hold on. While Demeter may have experienced the greatest of all griefs – losing a daughter – she also was able to reconnect with Persephone and overcome the darkness. We can, too.