CHAPTER FIVE ~ The Art of Retellingv

So far this paper has discussed the ancient Greek origins of the myths that form the basis of Pomegranate Flesh and the notion presented by Jung and his followers that myths are a means of accessing the collective unconscious. It has also introduced the sub-genre of Jungian writers who expound the view that myths can be psychologically useful in every day life and it has looked in detail at the relevance ascribed to the Persephone/Demeter myth by Jungian writer Virginia Beane Rutter.

While I did not read Beane Rutter’s work until after I had completed the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript, I was confident from the outset that the story could be unwound and tied onto to a number of contemporary issues. This confidence was inspired by writers such as Pinkola Estes (1992), Bly (1990) and Johnson (1977 &1977) who, in providing issue by issue analyses of their myths of choice, explained that all major myths could be subjected to similarly detailed investigations. While I didn’t and, at this stage, don’t intend to write a piece-by-piece analysis of Pomegranate Flesh, it was constructed with this type of treatment in mind, prompting careful consideration of most of the elements included in the text.

In this chapter the process of retelling a version of the story in Pomegranate Flesh will be examined in more detail. This will include discussion about the process of selecting various mythic elements for inclusion from the smorgasbord of old data available and the blending of contemporary considerations into the text. Other issues involved in the initiation of the writing process will also be explained.

In the year 2000, Carl Jung’s protégé Robert Johnson (Davies, 2000) planted a seed in my mind with the assertion that it was the responsibility of each generation to retell the old myths, incorporating sensibilities from their own times. This comment echoes descriptions by Graves (1981) and Ashe (1990) about the process by which cultural changes are incorporated into mythology, resulting in story-cycles that grow and change like mirrors that move with their subjects, recording and plotting their growth and maturation.

The challenge of retelling a myth is complicated by the presence of two opposing mandates. In order to be fresh and modern the retelling must contain something new, but if, as Campbell, asserts, we are not so different in our psychological processes from earlier humans (Campbell & Moyers, 1988), there is also a mandate for not changing the map. If a myth is a blueprint for an in-built or neurologically hard-wired human psychological process then changing it in a random manner could render it useless and irrelevant. The process therefore involved careful consideration of the various historic elements and a weighing of them against my own experiences in order to discern which ones fit the psychological patterns associated with mother/daughter maturation. This process involved constant connection with the truism; “What is most personal, is most universal.”

In order to distinguish retrospectively the new creative input from the elements of the old myths, a little needs to be said about the bones from which the story was constructed. Although this version of the tale may be chronologically the most recent, it does not necessarily rest upon our culture’s entire bank of classical mythological knowledge. Like a person, it has a selective geneaology. Clarrissa Pinkola Estes (1992) speaks about the ‘cantadoras’ of the world; the women who travel from place to place telling stories, listening to stories, picking up snippets, odd small dry bones that they take home and reassemble into bodies. Then they sing over the bones, warming them with a ‘once upon a time’, and with ‘this happened to a friend of my aunt’s’ until the bones come together into a new story that lives and breathes.

The bones that made the body of Pomegranate Flesh were collected over many years in many countries and not all of them have references attached. An attempt was made however to test their pedigrees before the singing began. A library search produced a pile of books that gave varying accounts of the Persephone and Narcissus myths. In many cases facts presented in the different accounts collided and contradicted each other giving rise to a necessity for choices to be made between bones from one version and bones from another.

Graves (2001, p. 58) acknowledges the inconsistencies between versions of the myths saying of Zeus that: “He fathered the seasons and the three fates on Themis, the Charites on Eurynome, the three muses on Mnemosyne, with whom he lay for nine nights and some say Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, whom his brother Hades forcibly married, on the nymph Styx.” Later, in his chapter on Demeter, Graves says “she bore Core and the lusty Iacchus to Zeus, her brother, out of wedlock” (2001 p. 91) before proceeding to explain the transformation of Core to Persephone.

Explaining why different versions of myths exist Graves in the introduction to the New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, says: “Primitive peoples remodel old myths to conform with changes produced by revolutions, or invasions and, as a rule, politely disguise their violence” (1982, p. V).

Translation into different languages resulted in a variety of spelling options and colloquialisation saw the emphasis on place names change.

In Pomegranate Flesh some elements, such as the seduction of Demeter by Poseiden during her search for Persephone and the resulting birth of Despoena and Arion (Graves, 2001, p. 66), were rejected because they introduced extra characters who were distracting from the central tale. Other choices were made for a variety of logical reasons, many of which will be explained over the next few pages.

Some decisions, however, were made on more romantic or instinctual grounds, because they simply felt right or pleasing that way. Perhaps this was what Jung called participation mystique ~ the strange way that the book writes itself through the author (1972, p. 187). A Jungian explanation might be that it was the collective unconscious speaking, having been given permission by the author to express itself.

Describing this process as function of the core ~ the place in the psyche where the dreams, stories, poetry and art meet ~ Pinkola Estes writes: “Many artists carry their own ideas and matters born of ego to the edge of the core and drop them in, sensing rightfully that they will be returned newly infused or washed with the core’s remarkable psychic sense of life.” (1992, p. 471)

Pomegranate Flesh was inspired by a desire to move beyond the closed and simplistic representations of the Persephone/Demeter myth as a fable explaining the change of seasons (Crompton, 1999; Lewis, 1987; Oldfield 1988) and to create something new, more keeping with the Jungian notion that mythology can be psychologically useful. The notion that this particular story had the potential to be useful was first inspired by comments by tour guides in Greece (personal communication, October 1989) and later by credible historians such as Graves (1981, 2001) and the Guirand (1982) who reported that the Eleusinian mystery schools had students who spent many years plumbing the depths of the myth.

Another inspiration was the vilification of Narcissus contrasted against the story-bones that state that his only crime was not returning unsolicited affections. I was puzzled by enticingly scant references to a link between Narcissus and Persephone, such as Guirand’s (1982, p.165) note that “Persephone’s attributes were the bat, the narcissus and the pomegranate.” Other texts that included mention of the Persephone-Narcissus flower link include Crompton (1999), Sharman-Burke & Greene (1989) and Ferguson (1996). These connections probably refer back to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter which includes the detail that the earth goddess Gaia had been co-opted by Zeus into planting Narcissus flowers to tempt Core to a particular place where she could be abducted by Hades. Macary (2003) suggests that the Narcissus flower is used in the story because it resembles and therefore represents female genitalia and, by extension, awakening female sexuality. While this is plausible, I was intrigued by the idea that the character Narcissus was therefore also potentially symbolic of awakening sexuality and, that because he was in his own myth transformed into the flower, that he and Kora could have interacted. While I could find no scenes of actual interaction between the two characters in records of the old mythology, I made a creative choice to include him as a person rather than a flower based on my desire to look more deeply into the moment of transition between Kora’s presence on the earth and her appearance in the underworld. From this flowed the idea of interweaving the two myths.

The process of creating the manuscript followed the process outlined by Pinkola Estes (1992). Having researched the two myths, Demeter/Persephone and Narcissus and established the structure of the story, a creative process of breathing flesh onto it and life into the characters was undertaken.

As the aim of the story was to create a useful model for psychological and emotional development, a decision was taken that emotional logic was paramount and that it should be given priority over other literary constraints. It was decided that in order to illustrate the emotional extremes that the characters experienced, magic-realism would at times be allowed to override conventional realism, giving rise to spontaneous blossoms and instant transmissions from one place to another.

Having looked in this chapter at the processes that surrounded the laying of the foundations of the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript, in the next chapter I will show, using as examples the characters’ names, the landscape and the presentation of the issue of life after death, how each element of the story was given careful consideration before being included.

[Chapter Six ~ Deliberate Details]