Persephone’s Descent and Return

Bear with me..I am typing this from a mobile phone heh.

There is a fairly widely supported theory that Persephone’s time in the underworld is concurrent with the summer during which the heat reaches its heights during which, supposedly the earth would have lain fallow until planting resumed in the autumn. In this theory then Persephone is rising in the autumn. However there are several problems with this idea, and reasons why I don’t accept it into my own worship.

1. There is no festival anywhere near the beginning of summer which would indicate the descent of Persephone. There are those who suggest that the Lesser Eleusinian Mystery in the spring is the descent of the Persephone however this falls out of alignment with other festivals. For instance it is so closely placed to the Anthesteria, a festival of flowers, that it generally conflicts with the nature of Anthesteria. Likewise this disregards that Thargelia in May was celebrated with green unripened wheat in Athens, and that Rhodes had festivals for Apollon and Dionysos Smintheus in which they killed rats that would eat the plants, as well as a festival to Apollon to prevent “rust” from attacking wheat. It also startlingly conflicts with other ideas that scholars have that Apollon brings the wealthy of grains from Hyperborea in the summer.

2. This theory of wheat harvest in spring assumes that the ripening of wheat occurs in a period with rain. This is not true. Wheat needs considerably amount of rain to begin growing but they also need a dry period in which to ripen. Festivals to prevent “rust” (a micoorganism which attaches itself to grain plants) occurs in unseasonably wet environments. We see this is in the above mentioned festival to Apollon, and in Rome there was a similar festival in the summer for Mars who likewise protects the grains. Wheat has a fairly long growing cycle, but like most vegetation one that is thankfully sped up in northern climates due to longer hours of sunlight that the north has in comparison to more southern climates, so that grain can be grown anywhere.

3. This idea also assumes that harvest and planting does not occur, more or less, side by side…which is rather daft. One can harvest, and in some instances burn the reminants of the feilds (such as seems to occur with sugarcane harvest), and then go back over a couple weeks later and start planting. In many subtropical climates there is a very fine line between harvesting and sowing seasons. I once had a friend from Nola who said that her figs, and other trees, she would shake in the autumn to help speed along the dropping of the old leaves and within a very short period there would be new leaves emerging.

4. This idea also ignores that the symbolism involved in autumn planting…the seed is going into the earth…the grains from the harvested/sacrificed ear of wheat is going into the earth where it may be fertilized by the rains of Zeus and bring blessed prosperity upon us all. Whether this sprouting occurs in winter or spring in cooler climates matters not. We set the seed into the earth (just as the flowers and trees let loose their seeds naturally to lie dormant in the earth until the appropriate season comes) with the hope for growth and a new harvest.

So here we have celebrated the return of flowers with Anthesteria (not ignoring the fact that there are hardy plants that may have blooms in winter such as violets..and even the crocus was said to bloom in the winter) in which all the beautiful flowers of spring have colored the world. We see the poppy blossom in opposite of the wheat ear. The tender young growth of wheat is growing for certain, drinking having drunk and still drinking the rains of winter and those of the approaching spring.

So whereas some will hold to the idea of Persephone’s time in the underworld during a fallow summer, I see no reason to adopt this idea.


3 thoughts on “Persephone’s Descent and Return

    • That is the general view (and one that I hold too), but there have been scholars, and a few hellenics who tend to follow the ideas of these scholars, who set it for the summer. It is a matter that causes some disagreement and a question recently arose about it which inspired me to write in support of the autumn descent of Persephone 🙂

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