We kept a copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology on the bookcase in our living room. Compact, slightly musty smelling, its blue cover was cracked and worn, the pages thin, yellowed, and the print punishingly small. Bull. Finch. A cross between an amphibian and a flitty little winged thing. I loved this book so hard when I was a kid. Then again, I was the kind of kid who begged to go the library the way others begged to go to Six Flags. Bullfinch’s belonged to my Dad, back in the day when he had a name and a face that had nothing to do with him being “my Dad.” I’m sure I picked it up half conscious, even at the age of seven or eight, about wanting to know about this guy, this fella who read Bullfinch’s Mythology underneath a tree on some college quad.
Myths, fairy tales, legends, tall tales—I’m in. There is something sacred about weaving meaning about life and the world through these realms that are our own and also not our own. Sometimes I envy the Native Americans who could point to abundant crops as the unequivocal work of Kokopelli. You got questions, the Gods got answers. Neat. Clean. Of course the flip side is true, too: Mo Gods, mo problems.
I tore through Bullfinch even if I didn’t always “get” what I was reading about. It hardly mattered to me, the worlds were so fascinating and colorful, the language beautiful and difficult, and the take-aways endless (murder=bad, lust=pretty bad too and likely to lead to murder). One of my favorite myths was the story of Persephone.
First off: badass name. Hipsters take note. You can keep your Baxters, your Zinnias, your Swingsets or Ikeas. The “Baby Names From Greek Myths” book is the only one you need. Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of agriculture, and Zeus, the God of everything pretty much and a gigantic mimbo; I mean a real slutty slut slut. One day Hades, God of the Underworld and Persephone’s uncle, kidnaps her, drags her below ground, and forces her to marry him. Eww. Demeter is so distraught that she basically does the equivalent of curling up on the couch, stuffing her face with Ben & Jerry’s, and binge watching House of Cards for six months.
I mean, we’ve all been there, right ladies?
As a result of Demeter’s depression, crops die and nature shrivels up. You see where this is going. A bunch of other things happen in the myth (it’s worth the read. Seriously, do it before it becomes a Disney movie with Cameron Diaz and Bruce Willis) as Demeter eventually embarks on a quest to rescue her daughter (women, we really have to do everything ourselves don’t we?) and ends up striking a deal with Hades where he gets to have Persephone in the Underworld for half the year and Demeter gets to have her for the other half. And that explains the rhythms of our seasons. Except if you live in New England, as I do, where we get spring, summer, fall, winter, nuclear winter, mud, random frost, searing heat, spring, summer, fall, winter.
I’m not sure why I love this myth so much other than it makes me feel a little less nutty as fall comes on. I don’t take kindly to the sun sliding off my skin and tucking itself up under corners. I take no pleasure from the chill licking my collar. I stomp my feet and clench my fists like a child when it’s time to button up summer cottages, store swimsuits, and watch the freckles fade from my face. I suppose if I took one of those annoying, trendy quizzes clogging up my Facebook feed, the “Which Greek Goddess Are You?” I’d wind up Demeter. I accept that. Bring on the Ben & Jerry’s (Chocolate Chunk Betrayal Underworld Ripple, please).
But the thing is, I know I that it’s not all doom and darkness. This is the gift that all myths—Greek, Roman, Native American, Christian—give us: there is always light and warmth; there is always hope and the promise of redemption. It might be slumbering just underneath the surface, it might be in the laughter of friends gathered around a dinner table; it might be staring us in the face, this spark of life that let’s us know Persephone’s not done with us yet, that she’s just stepped out for a bit, but she’s not really gone anywhere.
You might run smack dab into this life-energy that you thought was fleeing from the world as fleeces are pulled on and games are brought indoors; if you’re lucky and really paying attention (i.e. put DOWN the Ben & Jerry’s) you might catch it flirting with you so that you cannot help but stop, stare, and let this force spill into your soul, painting it audacious shades of oranges, reds, and golds until you feel, inexplicably, and wonderfully, actually happily full-up with the hopelightlove of fall.