I touched the flower, feeling the silky petal brush against my hand. The wind pushed me forward forcefully. My bag of pomegranate seeds blew over, spilling around the poppy. My dress flapped against my ankles as chills shot across my skin. I heard crackling and spun around to see the ground freezing around the flower.
The frost crept toward me. The branches above me stretched toward my face, ice inching along the branches. I heard a loud snap and a massive branch broke from the tree and hurtled toward my head.
I screamed and stumbled backward. The branch crashed in front of me, scraping my legs. I ran for the parking lot as fast as I could. The frost closed in, surrounding me. I’d never been claustrophobic, but as the frost cut off my escape path with a solid white wall, I panicked.
Fog rolled in, like cold death, cutting off my view of the park. It curled around me, brushing against my face, arms, and legs. I turned back to the tree and ran faster, my dress tangling between my legs as the fog and icy wind blew against my skin.
The parking lot is the other way! my mind screamed. The other way was cut off by a mountain of ice. I felt as if I was being herded. By ice?
I slipped on the icy ground, falling face first into the frost. Ice crept up my toes and along my legs. I thrashed and screamed. I felt the fog becoming a solid mass above me, pinning me to the ground. The ice piled around me. Am I going to be buried alive?
I dug my nails into the frigid snow in front of me and tried to claw my way out of the frosted death trap. I was so panicked I didn’t feel it when my nails broke against the impenetrable wall of ice, leaving red crescents of blood welling up on sensitive skin. An hysterical sob worked its way out of my throat as I gouged red lines into the ice. The ice was above my knees, snaking its way up my thighs. I shivered.
Shivering’s good, I reminded myself. It means your body hasn’t given up…yet. The cold was painful, like a thousand little knives pricking my skin. A violent tremor went up my spine, sending waves of pain through me.
“Help me!” I screamed, knowing it was futile. I was going to die here.
Except I couldn’t die. Could I? Mom said I was immortal, but was that all-inclusive? Did I have a weakness? Was snow my Kryptonite? If I got hurt, would I heal or would I be trapped in an injured body in pain forever?
I suddenly didn’t know if immortality was a good thing or a bad thing. The cold hurt. I was kicking, screaming, and clawing my way out of the frost, but for every inch I gained a mountain piled around me. I thought I heard a man’s laughter on the wind, the sound somehow colder than the ice freezing me into place.
The ground before my outstretched hand trembled. The shaking increased. The earth lurched beneath me. The surface cracked and the sound was so loud that for a moment all I could hear was high-pitched ringing in my ears. The ground split into an impossibly deep crevice. My voice went hoarse from screaming as I peered into the endless abyss, trapped and unable to move away from the vertigo-inducing edge. A midnight black chariot, drawn by four crepuscular horses that looked like they’d been created out of the night sky, surged from the crevice. I ducked my head into the snow with a frightened whimper as they passed over my prone body.
The fog around me dissipated as the ice melted away from my body. Terrified, I sprang to my feet, stopping when I was eye-to-eye with one of the frightening horses pulling the chariot. For a moment I could do nothing but stare into its huge, emotionless eyes. A strangled whimper tore from my throat and the horse snorted at me.
They weren’t black; they weren’t anything. They were an absence of color and of light, a nauseating swirling void. They hurt to look at. My head ached, and my stomach lurched in mutiny. I clenched my fists and turned to the driver.
His electric blue eyes met mine, and he seemed to see everything I’d done and everything I’d ever do. I had the strange sensation I’d been judged and found wanting. No way this guy was human. His skin could have been carved from marble; his hair was the same disorienting black as the horses. A terrifying power emanated from his tall, statuesque frame.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. His ebony cape billowed behind him as he marched toward me. At the grasp of his hand I snapped back to life and jerked away from him.
“We have to get out of here.”
“Let me go!” I yelled, yanking my arm away. He closed in on me, pushing me toward the chariot. I struggled against him, shrieking with rage when he picked me up and slung me over his back like a sack of potatoes.
I punched his back, kicking my legs. “Let me go! Someone help me! Help!”
I recalled the instructor of some self-defense class long lost in memory reminding me dead weight was harder to carry than a thrashing captive. My body rebelled at the idea of going limp so I pushed aside his cape, pulled his shirt up and raked my torn and ragged nails across his bare skin. His hands jerked in surprise and I slid off his back and onto the hard ground.
My breath left my body as I hit the ground with enough force to make me dizzy. With strength I didn’t know I possessed, I scrambled away, clawing at him as he pulled me back.
“Enough!” he shouted. “We don’t have time for this! I have to get you out of here!”
“No!” I yelled. Did he really just expect me to go Okay, strange creepy man, I’ll get in your scary chariot of death. No problem?
His furtive gaze took in the empty park, and he swore in a voice as smooth as silk. “I’m sorry.”
My eyes widened in surprise as his lips pressed against mine. I went wild, hitting and scratching and pushing for all I was worth. He didn’t budge. He exhaled, and I sank lifelessly into his arms.
Kore/Kora as she was called before her rise to Queen of the Underworld, was the Goddess of Spring, and by all accounts gorgeous. Almost every god wanted to court her, but her mother, Demeter, was determined to keep her child sheltered from the corruption of Olympus. Little did Demeter know that Zeus had already negotiated their daughter’s hand in marriage to Hades, Lord of the Underworld.
Technically, as her father, it was Zeus’ right at the time to give away his daughter to whomever he chose. But Demeter was a terrifying goddess when she was angry, so he advised his brother to keep the whole him giving permission to marry Kora thing under the radar.
Hades complies and instead of a long engagement, he waits until Kora wanders off alone/with a nymph friend or two to pick some flowers in a meadow. Then, with some help from Gaia, he breaks open the ground and charges forth with his creepy chariot of death, grabs the startled goddess, and drags her to the Underworld.
The moment Kora is raped/married, her name changes to Persephone. That’s not uncommon in Mythology. Names change to reflect a god’s purpose or role. Most gods had a whole slew of names depending on the occasion. Think of them more like titles.
Naturally, Demeter is furious and terrified for her daughter when she learns of her abduction, but more on her next week. This myth is about Persephone. Actually, part of the reason I wrote Persephone is that every version of the myth I heard growing up focused on Demeter’s anguish at losing her daughter, Hades and Zeus’ backroom deal, and the people suffering through winter. Not a single one of them focused on what Persephone was going through or her perspective of the myth. She’s treated like an item, a prize, by literally every being in the myth and every telling of it. Never as a personified concept like the rest of the gods.
Persephone’s transformation should be a fascinating story in and of itself, but we never get to hear it. In this one fell swoop, she goes from an innocent victim content to pick flowers all day to The Iron Queen. People didn’t fear Hades the way they feared Persephone. He was, by all accounts, a pretty laid back god. Persephone on the other hand was a force to be reckoned with. I wanted to tell that story. And I wasn’t the only one. Persephone has been retold to account for that lack over and over and over again throughout time. But more on that Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Persephone knows that eating the food of the Underworld will bind her to the land and negate any hope of future rescue. Apparently gods don’t actually need to eat to stay alive, because she resists the temptation for months until she’s tricked into eating 3-7 pomegranate seeds (the number varies depending on the myth, as does the flowers she’s picking, the number of nymphs with her, and any other detail. Myths were oral retellings and when they were written down, every author added their own spin. So never assume anyone got the details “wrong.” They’re just telling a different version) by the god Ascalapus, Hades’ gardener.
The pomegranate wasn’t just chosen for its taste. In terms of symbolism, it’s a pretty loaded fruit. It stands for death, fertility, and royalty. All things Persephone.
Ascalapus gets turned into a screech owl in retribution for his crime, and when Persephone is finally rescued from the Underworld, she’s still forced to return to the Underworld for a month every year for each seed she ate. And that, friends, is where Winter comes from.
Myths evolve and change over time with each retelling. Wednesday, I’ll be talking about some Persephone retellings throughout time, but I want to hear your favorite version of the myth? What details changed? Why?