Six seeds, and the sound of an armored door swinging shut for six months.
Is this what the pomegranates resembled? Glistening, labyrinthine, brimming with promise and secrets. They must have appeared as edible rubies, the most precious in the world, for Hades to convince Persephone to eat them. Little gems aglow on the tabletop, the scarlet harbingers of an unwanted fate. An eternity of winding passageways. A slow and steady descent, her every step filled with the despair of being torn away from the sunlight and her mother's love. An eternity of traveling down, down to the door of the underworld once a year, into the lonely obsidian halls of Hades' palace, echoing and empty. There is nothing but time during an endless sentence. Time enough to find the pomegranate grove. A garden with soil, rich and nourishing, even in the barren Underworld. If Hades could manage to cultivate a tree to grow the fruit that ensnared Persephone, perhaps anything could survive in this wasteland. She could survive here too and grow in the darkness like a seed buried in the dirt, waiting to reach for the sun.
Each winter in hell would be easier than the last, more familiar. Persephone would someday be sure of her footing; her head held high as she took each remembered turn, alone in the gloom, out to her secret garden. Amid Hades’ wicked grove, she would hold her hands to the ground and grow flowers in the underworld, spinning her pain into something beautiful. Of course, there are many versions of the story of Hades and Persephone, but I have never cared for romantic retellings. They always seemed like wishful thinking or delusion after I had read the original. In the version I grew up with, Hades becomes smitten with an unwitting Persephone and bursts from the earth engulfed in flame, spiriting her away to the underworld against her will. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, was heartbroken. What mother would not be bereft after their child has been ripped away? Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, becomes lost in her all-consuming grief. She permits nothing to grow while Persephone is gone. The starving humans cry out for food, and Zeus eventually forces Hades to return her.
However, as Hades had already coerced her into eating pomegranate seeds, food from the underworld, she became bound to return to him each year. Six months for the six seeds she consumed. Her descent ushered in the winter months, and her arrival at the surface signaled spring. In other versions, it is one seed, a symbol representing one-third of the year. I have felt a lifelong pull to the figure of Persephone, as I, too, have been in a forced relationship with darkness my whole life. When I was seven, my father died. I experienced the theft of my joy, my light, my spring. Death stole from me my childhood and whisked me fast underground into the endless caverns of grief. The older I grew, the wider the hole in the earth became. The easier it was to be snatched away, plummeting into the abyss. Eventually, I learned to avoid the earthquake and simply take the stairs.
As I read the myth, I could always picture myself in her place, descending the winding earthen path to the underworld. The sunlight fades with every step, flowers wilting in my hair, butterflies turning back towards the surface. I saw how Persephone must have lamented her fate as she sat on her cold, sharp throne—looking over her unwanted kingdom. I am sure she never envisioned a life in the dark before it became a reality. In revisiting the story of Hades and Persephone, I am reminded of the comforting story I tell myself. A tale of an impossible garden in a pomegranate grove, borne of grief & perseverance in the darkest place of all. We are all Persephone in a way. In the wake of tragedy, hope will always remain. Flowers can survive anywhere if we care for them. We can survive where we are cared for, too.