Hades and Persephone: A Complex Story of Love and Divinity
There are few love stories that stand the test of time. There are also few that have been severely twisted or misconstrued over the centuries. Was Persephone kidnapped or forced to leave everything she knows behind and accompany a stranger to the Greek Underworld? Did the god of the underworld force Persephone to marry him, against her will? Was she assaulted OR was the story misinterpreted or misconstrued over the centuries? Perhaps Persephone went willingly? Here we explore the different versions of the myth of Hades and Persephone. And maybe we’ll finally answer the question – were they truly in love?
First, Who is Persephone?
Persephone is a beloved Greek goddess in her maiden years in most versions of the Hades and Persephone story. She’s a daughter to the Mother Goddess Demeter and the king of the gods Zeus. When she manifests, she appears as a beautiful young woman, often depicted with long golden hair similar to the color of grain (a crop to which she is inextricably linked). Persephone is a dual goddess: a chthonic deity (presiding over the dead) and a goddess of fertility (life).
Interestingly, the goddess is frequently depicted as the “helpless, pure maiden” in various versions of the Hades and Persephone myth. Yet modern Hellenic pagans and magical practitioners claim she’s not as naïve and innocent as she’s been portrayed over the years. In fact, this aspect of Persephone could have changed with Greece’s conversion to Christianity. Some believe the maiden of the grain knew what she was doing in the garden that day Hades came to claim her. But more on that later…
Next, Who is Hades?
Hades, whose name translates to “unseen” or “sightless”, is the god of the Greek Underworld. It’s said he has another name, one that’s more sacred and dangerous, and it’s rarely ever used lest his presence be immediately invoked. Upon invocation, the individual would be brought to Hades’ house of death. Hades is the son of the Greek Titans Cronus and Rhea, and he is brother to Zeus, Demeter, Hera, Hestia and Poseidon. Hades’ father tried to swallow him whole and destroy him forever. But he escaped and waged war against his father Cronus and the other Titans. He, Hades, was the victor…the god who brought an end to the destructive, cannibalistic Cronus.
Hades had grown accustomed to the darkness while inside his father’s belly. He also was a proponent for justice, and so when Zeus gave Hades domain over the Underworld, he rejoiced. Here he would look after the wicked, including his evil father Cronus. But eventually Hades realized he was lonely…which brings us to the complex story of Hades and Persephone.
The Complex Love Story of Hades and Persephone
We are going to tell two different versions (or perspectives) of the love story of Hades and Persephone. The first version is the one that’s told by the majority of sources – a story of a young maiden being kidnapped and forced to marry against her will. The second version is one that we’ve taken a little liberty with – a story that puts Hades and Persephone in control of their own destinies. And of their own love story. Whichever you choose to believe…well, that is up to you.
Hades and Persephone: A Madman Kidnaps the Maiden
One fine day a long long time ago, a beautiful, divine maiden craved adventure. She yearned to be among the flowers and birds, away from her mother’s doting glare. So she took a walk through a wide, open meadow, stopping to smell the wild blossoms every other step. Frolicking with the nymphs. But you and I know what happens when we step out of the forest and into the fields – we become vulnerable. Predators can spot us from a mile away. And, unfortunately for Persephone, the Maiden Goddess of the Grain, someone was watching her…wanting her all to himself.
Hades, god of the Underworld, had seen Persephone before. He’d wanted her the moment he saw her. And now was his opportunity to have her once and for all. Demeter, her protective mother, was nowhere to be seen. The meadow was open and Persephone was ripe for the taking. Hades knew he had to have the gods’ approval, even if that excluded Demeter. So he went to Zeus and received his permission. Then Gaia, Mother Earth, allowed a flower to bloom that was so radiant, so extraordinary, that Persephone was lured to it like a moth to the flame.
As soon as the maiden bent to inhale the flower’s otherworldly aroma, the Earth opened up. And Hades snatched Persephone and dragged her down, down, down and into his kingdom – leaving nothing but a mourning mother behind. Demeter searched for her daughter far and wide. She even shifted into a bird so as to survey the entire earth…her tears falling like rain on the ground below. The distraught mother, like any mother, couldn’t eat, sleep or drink she was so filled with grief. She had to find Persephone.
There was one goddess who took pity on Demeter, her name was Hecate. She told Demeter what had happened to her daughter – that Hades had kidnapped her and taken her to the Underworld. Demeter begged Zeus to allow her entry to the Underworld, to find her daughter and bring her home. But he refused. Not until the earth was plagued with a famine did he finally consent and sent Hermes to bring Persephone home. But, sadly, their efforts were thwarted. Hades had tricked Persephone into eating a pomegranate seed. And everyone knows you’re NEVER to eat anything given to you in the Underworld (or Otherworld, for that matter), lest you be kept there forever.
And because Persephone ate of Hades’ fruit, she was bound to spend at least one-third of every year in the Underworld as his queen. Leaving her weeping mother behind. Leaving the earth barren and cold.
“that fair field
Of Enna, where Proserpine gathering flowers,
Herself a fairer flower, by gloomy Dis
Was gathered–which cost Seres all that pain
To seek her through the world.”
For the flowers now, that, affrighted, thou letst fall
From Dis’s waggon.” ~ Shakespeare
And Our Version: A Primordial Persephone Presides Over the Underworld
One day in ancient times, a beautiful divine maiden was on a mission: to rule the earth AND the realm of the dead. She’d been given domain over the land, over the seasons, and over the harvest. But she longed for something more. Her name was Persephone.
The Divine Maiden knew her mother, Demeter wouldn’t allow her to leave the earth. To go to the Underworld. So she devised a plan. She would seduce and lure the god of the Underworld – Hades.
What Persephone didn’t know is that Hades was already madly in love with her. He had seen her frolicking through the fields with the nymphs. Watched her play in the river, wild and carefree. Full of life. She was the exact opposite of him. And he craved for her to fill that empty void in his heart. So when the maiden proposed a marriage to him, well, he didn’t spare a single moment’s time. He went to her father, Zeus, and asked for permission to marry Persephone. Zeus agreed. As did Gaia who sent a bouquet of flowers to Persephone as a wedding gift, which also was a doorway to the Underworld.
Persephone didn’t expect to fall so madly in love with the god of the Underworld, but that’s exactly what happened. But, unfortunately, after only being in the other realm for a few days, Persephone’s mother sent Hermes to fetch her. She knew she couldn’t outrun the doting grasp of her protective mother for too long. So before she was whisked back to earth, Hades placed a piece of Underworldly fruit in her mouth – a pomegranate. This fruit ensured that, even though Persephone would live on earth for two-thirds of the year, the other third she would spend with him. And rule as Queen of the Underworld.
Symbolism and Lessons Within the Myth
We may choose to see Persephone as the victim, the naïve girl who was kidnapped and forced to marry Hades against her will. OR we may choose to see her in charge of her own destiny. And ruler of the earth and Underworld. Either way, the symbolism of the story of Hades and Persephone remains the same. The Ancient Greeks used myth to explain the changing of the seasons. And this story is the ultimate myth that explains how the earth springs forth new life in the Spring (upon Persephone’s return to earth), blooms in the Summer, and is harvested in the Fall. Then in the Winter, when everything goes cold and dies, this is because Persephone returns to the Underworld.
I’d also like to point out the balance in the Hades and Persephone story – we have light and dark. Persephone is the light, while Hades is the darkness. This balance is an integral part of the sun tilting away from the earth in the Winter, as well. We have a man who seeks justice and presides over the dead falling in love with a young divine maiden, who seeks out the beauty in life and in the blossoming earth. It reminds us, without the darkness we wouldn’t know the light. Without the Winter, we wouldn’t fully appreciate the Spring.
In addition to viewing the balance and seasonal changes in this myth, we also see the concept of reincarnation. Persephone, full of life (life), is taken to the realm of the dead (death). Then she’s reborn in the Spring (rebirth). This is a clear representation of the life/death/rebirth cycle, a belief many ancient cultures held. Many of us still do. It’s interesting to note that sometimes Persephone is seen as part of a triple goddess form along with her mother Demeter. She is the young maiden, also the mother, and the crone (Queen of the Underworld). And being that three is the sacred number here, there’s an indelible connection to the life-death-rebirth cycle (3).