CHAPTER FOUR ~ Persephone Lives On

Virginia Beane Rutter is a Jungian analyst on the faculty of the C.G. Jung Institute in San Francisco. She has written a number of books about mythology and female psychology, including Embracing Persephone: Positive Parenting for the Teenage Years (Beane Rutter, 2000).

This book is a close cousin to Pomegranate Flesh. While it takes only half a page to relate the Persephone/Demeter myth, (referenced to Charles Boer’s translation of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 1980), it posits that the myth relates to the universal process of mother/teenage daughter maturation ~ a theme that is central to the story as it is told in the novel.

The bulk of Embracing Persephone is made up of counselling case studies of problems experienced by mothers and daughters, related back to points in the myth followed by possible resolutions to current problems based on an understanding of the story. Because both Embracing Persephone and Pomegranate Flesh are based on a fundamental belief in the relevance of this myth to modern women, this chapter is devoted to a chapter-by-chapter comparison of the two texts. (In doing this it is important to note that I deliberately did not read Embracing Persephone until after the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript was completed.)

Chapter One of Embracing Persephone is called “You don’t understand Anything”, the resonance is clear between this and Pomegranate Flesh’s opening line: “Kora, like most young women ~ at that age when one’s legs are at their longest, brownest and thinnest ~ knew deeply and passionately that no-one understood her, especially her mother.” In her opening chapter, Beane Rutter speaks about the natural rebelliousness and indignant behaviour common in adolescent girls.

Chapter Two of Beane Rutter’s book is about body language, food, piercings and clothes. In it she speaks about the need for tact in giving a daughter advice. (Tact that Demeter in Pomegranate Flesh failed to use in advising Kora not to visit Narcissus). It also speaks about the shift in the role of food in the mother/daughter relationship. Beane Rutter says that mothers need to relinquish the role of being providers of food for the child-daughters and to begin respecting the food choices made by the adult-daughters. When we first meet Demeter in Pomegranate Flesh she is still providing food for Kora in a mother to child/daughter manner.

While Beane Rutter’s second chapter also covers areas of current concern such as tattoos, piercings and eating disorders that Pomegranate Flesh doesn’t tackle, she closes the chapter with the words by “mirroring who she is, not who you want her to be…there’s a better chance of her accepting the limits that are important, although she won’t give you credit for your wisdom until she is older.” This sentiment resonates with the idea that every mother/daughter pair has to run through the stages of the story. Misunderstanding and mistrust are natural and normal parts of the process.

Beane Rutter’s Chapter Three is called “He’s Hot” and it speaks about the impulsive behaviour triggered by awakening female sexuality. In Pomegranate Flesh Kora is at first cautious and confused about her feelings for Narcissus and she is not sure whether the feelings she has about him are feelings of love or sexual attraction. When she sees Hades, though, her instinctual feelings are stronger and she acts impulsively, jumping into the pool. This style of behaviour is consistent with Beane Rutter’s assertion that “girls claim their sexuality as they claim their bodies”. Beane Rutter also speaks about the separation that occurs between a young girl’s sexual life and her home/family life. She says: “Adolescent girls in counselling say over and over again: ‘I know there’s nothing wrong with being sexual but please don’t tell my mother.’” Unless work is done to maintain open and relaxed communication between mother and daughter through this process the girl will become sexually active anyway but in a secretive way. As Beane Rutter says: “Underneath your daughter’s co-operative, cheerful exterior hidden fires may be burning. Your straight A-student could be smoking marijuana every weekend and exploring sexuality without using any protection.” In Pomegranate Flesh Kora physically goes to another place to have her first sexual experience with Hades. This distance is symbolic of the inner distancing that occurs at this phase of the mother/daughter relationship. Demeter’s reaction of feeling bereft mirrors parents’ reactions to the emotional distance usually felt when the daughter is undertaking this developmental step.

Beane Rutter’s Chapter Four is about mothers and daughters being girlfriends. She says “whatever you envy about her life, acknowledge it and ask yourself: ‘What can I change in my life now?’.” In saying this she is speaking about the need for the mother to shift and change as Demeter did towards the end of Pomegranate Flesh in her wandering away from the village. Beane Rutter instructs mothers to model relaxed and happy living for their daughters and to develop lives outside of the parenting role in order to be able to establish an adult-to-adult relationship.

In her fifth chapter Beane Rutter discusses teenage parties. This issue is covered in Pomegranate Flesh via the character of Echo. Beane Rutter speaks about maintaining a strong link with daughters so that they can be advised about dangerous behaviours. Echo is motherless and drifts easily into a high-risk lifestyle. Kora, with her mother’s warning rolling through her mind is more cautious and chooses not to follow Echo. She does make her own risky decisions though; such as visiting Narcissus, jumping into the pool towards Hades and later following the stream down towards Charon. Beane Rutter urges parents to consider that their daughters may be making wise decisions and to discuss things with them, as Hecate discussed Kora’s decisions with her. Beane Rutter supports this process, advising mothers that if their own relationships with their daughters are too embattled it is wise to enlist the help of a trusted older woman (such as Hecate) to talk issues through and assist with important decisions. In Pomegranate Flesh however Demeter at first loses faith in Hecate, illustrating one of the dangers inherant in the advocated approach.

Beane Rutter called her seventh chapter “Daddy’s Little Girl” and in it she speaks about the realignment of the father/daughter relationship. To do this she draws again on the myth, pointing to the role of Zeus, who by not acting early in the piece, essentially endorsed Hades’ relationship (or seduction) of Kora. According to Beane Rutter’s reading of the Homeric version of the myth: “Hades represents the instinctual side of man that simply takes what he wants, while a father (Zeus) struggles with these opposites in himself as he meets his daughter in her adolescence.” She reiterates the perspective presented in Pomegranate Flesh saying “by standing her ground and refusing to let the land be fruitful, refusing to relinquish Persephone, Demeter gets Zeus’s attention and reclaims her daughter.”

These issues were crammed together and their order was altered in Pomegranate Flesh in order for emotional actions of the characters to make more sense. In Pomegranate Flesh Zeus is a largely unexplained character. His psychological state falls beyond the boundaries drawn around the story. He is ambivalent about Kora’s departure, perhaps for the reasons posited by Beane Rutter. He also however plays an important role in his questioning of Kora. He does not assume that because she is young and beautiful she must have been seduced. He asks her if she was and he believes her answer. In this respect he is already relating to her in an adult-to-adult way, as opposed to Demeter’s adult-child mode, which is emphasised on the ‘Visiting Zeus’ day by Demeter’s act of dressing Kora for the occasion.

While Beane Rutter says that Demeter celebrates Persephone’s return by giving humans the gift of agriculture, in Pomegranate Flesh the giving of agriculture is not a gift of celebration. It is part of Demeter’s process of freeing herself from her other responsibilities. The process is outlined in similar terms by Beane Rutter in Chapter Four. It is also a provocative act on Demeter’s part, aimed at further goading Zeus into taking action. Until Demeter teaches people how to grow their own food she will never be truly free. The act is therefore part of her own quest for freedom. In Pomegranate Flesh the giving of agriculture parallels the giving of fire by Prometheus which, while being a boon for humanity, enraged Zeus.

Beane Rutter’s Chapter Eight is called “Days of Reckoning: Crossroads and Crises” and it speaks about fate, understanding of the dark side of life and the concept of initiation. In it she urges mothers to mark the changes in their daughters’ lives, such as first periods, school dances and passing driving tests, with pomp and glamour, so that they serve psychologically as initiations or rites of passage. The motif of the crossroad features in Pomegranate Flesh in relation to Hecate. Narcissus’ entry to the village followed a meeting with Hecate at a crossroad and Kora and Demeter are brought to life-changing crossroads by the old woman’s sly conversational style. Unless one is travelling somewhere one never reaches a crossroad and unless one chooses one way or another, one goes no further. As such it is worth celebrating arrival at a crossroad in life.

Beane Rutter’s ninth chapter is called: “Get a life, Mum” and it strongly resonates with the concept that the process not only involves maturation of the daughter, it is also about changes within the mother. In this chapter Beane Rutter speaks about empty nest syndrome and she gives strategies for dealing with it. Her prescription includes rediscovery of a sense of individuality, that resonates with Demeter’s decision in Pomegranate Flesh to wander off and rediscover her own rhythms and curiosities that eventually leads her to shed her other major responsibility, the maintenance of the fruitfulness of the planet. This process sees Demeter regain the ability to laugh and rediscover many of the simple joys of living.

In her final chapter Beane Rutter reiterates the happy ending of the story and urges mothers to have faith that just as surely as their daughters will leave, they will also return. She closes saying:

The love between Demeter and Persephone shows the way for mothers and daughters to find vitality in each other once again. Both are transformed while Persephone is in the underworld. When they reunite, they renew themselves in each other. Trust this pattern of loss and return. She will go, you will wait. You will go, she will wait. But if you have stayed true to your love, you will find each other, embrace and renew yourselves again and again.
(2000, p.306)

This ‘again and again’ sense is emphasised in Pomegranate Flesh with Kora’s repeated departures. While the idea of having Kora leave for the Underworld more than once is a creative addition to the story, it was incorporated in order to mark the milestones in her maturation process.

At first she jumps unconsciously, following what is essentially a whim with no clear idea of why and without awareness of, or regard for, the repercussions. The second time she descends it is consciously, with a clear sense that she is making her own decisions. While she is taking responsibility for herself she is not yet ready to assume a more globally responsible role. The third time she descends it is in order to take on the globally responsible role that she has chosen, and was perhaps destined for.

By marking her progress in this way the story recognises that maturation is not a simple process achieved in a day or linked with a sole event. It takes a number of years, sometimes a lifetime, and each time both parties have to make adjustments. As Sharman-Burke and Green (1989, p.11) say: “This myth is not only about teenage maturation, it is also an image of a psychological experience which can occur whenever we have been clinging to naïve maiden-like views on life.”

[Chapter Five ~ The Art of Retelling]