Persephone Returns!

shamanism story

Its ironic that as I write this, I have just learned another friend from my youth has died an untimely death, a heart attack likely from some of the many miles she put on her body over the years. Its not common for women to die of a heart attack before fifty, not unless they lived and raised hell like Maeve did.
Just two days ago I invoked a number of my deceased friends as part of a ritual performance I had the great honor of performing for the Foundation For Shamanic Studies Council gathering. It was a way of calling out to those who I felt suffered from the lack of any real method of accessing the worlds shamans know so well. Unlike Maeve these were the ones who committed suicide or died directly of a drug overdose. I wrote in more detail about them here – Checking Out Early.
As is so often the case in shamanic work, despite the weight of the subject matter the actual ritual event was filled with delight and even ecstatic states. Not an unlikely outcome given that I was surrounded by dear friends and some of the best shamanic practitioners and teachers our culture has to offer. What an incredible container of good will!

Pomegranate Blossom For Maeve

Working with Persephone made this all even easier, I needed no net. In fact I needed to allow myself to fall. There is much to be harvested from the stories involving Persephone, I focused on the aspect of her presence that held within its divinity the power of the psychopomp. She is the essence of renewal in the darkness. I wish Maeve could have been there, though she likely would have snorted at my sentimentality, asked for something strong to drink and some drumming she could really rock out to.
On the altar in the center of the room I placed a withered pomegranate from our land, baked by the heat and starved by our drought. California has become a dry cracked husk of itself. Swaddled in the death of the land it seemed to me like Persephone’s worlds had been turned upside down. We were living in the underworld while the fecundity of a wet winter was imprisoned someplace dark, hidden from any detection.
Persephone’s seeds, pomegranate seeds, were nestled neatly within me as the evening began. Those are the fruit that, according to some, pulls her back into the land of the dead. I prefer this version of the story, sent by my friend Bridget Bell. In that story those seeds are a love food used to anoint those who’s time has come to pass over. They ignite the radiance within the darkness that creates a transformation in the wandering dead. I was ready, I’ve had so much within me that needs renewal – my seeds felt like stones.
My dear friend and well know storyteller and shamanic practitioner Ann Riley told that story to create the context for the journey that we’d be taking. Into the lower world we journeyed, to meet Persephone at the gates of Elysium through the good graces of a grove of trees (BTW – I never thanked all the tree spirits who made that possible – THANK YOU!).
Though many of us journeyed as a group, moving in a connected line together, we of course had our own unique, personal experiences – which is why my description of the event will end here. Sometimes these experience are precious in a way our culture has now way to really understand. Its best to leave them held in the hands of each who participated, something thats taken me a long time to learn.
I returned from the lower world with something bright lodged deep within me. I was struck the next morning that the feeling had not faded at all. Persephone removed a guilt I’d always carried and in its place left a light so palpable it feels like a radiant stone. Its so important for those of us who do this work to be renewed. Through this journey to Persephone I can feel that renewal is always possible, even in death.
The story of Persephone as Ann told it on Saturday ends with the chant “Persephone Returns!” It signifies Persephone’s return from the Underworld which also heralds the return of spring. Maeve will not return from her journey, unless she returns in another life (something not guaranteed or even preferred from a core shamanic perspective). Persephone affirms that Maeve’s ending does not need to mean the perpetual suffering of the dead. It affirms that as far as shamanic healers are concerned, death is not the end, and in fact can indicate a new, more vital beginning.
Giving in this way, leading a group of beloved healers on a trek to meet Persephone, has given me the chance to let go of those who suffered too much and checked out early. I have not unburdened myself of death, for none of us can, but it does not feel like any sort of burden to be present to death. It is part of my cloak, part of what I wear into the world. It allows me to sink, more deeply into the forest, as I await for Persephone’s return.
In a way the highlight of the evening was standing in circle and holding hands with everyone at the end. I believe we all left with an additional spark of Persephone’s renewal firing within us. Something that will not only warm us, but help us in easing the suffering of others. I can now hold my memories of Maeve in that circle as well. If I cross paths with her spirit, I’ll be sure to introduce her to Persephone if she’s interested. Somehow I feel that in another age Persephone would have been quite the hell-raiser, just like Maeve.

Special thanks to Ann RileyLora Jannson, Chris Mays, Bridget BellAninha Livingstone and of course Susan Mokelke for making last Sat possible.

Many blessings to you in this coming year. I have a feeling, we’re all gonna need it.
Much love and Goddess speed to Maeve on her journey.

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