Preface

 

 

 

I am not--and have no aspirations of becoming--a scholar of mythology.
My initial approach to this book was thus not one of attempting to be
accountable in any scholarly way to who and what Persephone, Pluto,
Demeter, Hermes, Hecate, and Gaia might "really represent." Their
traditional mythological significance, and the psychological associations they
carry, served more as a platform for my imagination to leap from.

In other words, I wrote (initially, at least) as a poet--and here claim "poetic
license"--pleased to discover it actually comes in handy sometimes.

What I wrote also sprang originally from a kind of inner necessity. I had
been in love with someone, someone who seemed to be very much identified
with the goddess Persephone, often in uncanny ways. When a number of
autumns in a row she "disappeared," I found myself in grief. And felt
compelled to more fully enter this Underworld myth--in part perhaps to
bring something of her back--or at least to have a channel for my grief, as well
as to better understand where it was she had gone, and what had prompted
her departure. So my original impulse had something of an Orphic flavor.

If in this regard (as Jung suggested) that "to worship a god is to suffer his
fate," then perhaps it is equally true that to love someone identified with a
goddess is to suffer the fate(s) of the mythological figures who also loved or
stood in relationship to that goddess.

It may be that until and unless we understand a person's "mythological
make up" that there are ways we don't understand them at all. And until
and unless we have the beginnings of a mythological vision into each other's
character, there may be ways we don't fully understand ourselves, or the
roles we may find ourselves playing out in our relational lives.

Thus, when we fall in love we should all perhaps not only be tested for
AIDS and other blood-borne communicable diseases, but be tested as well for
Olympian or Underworld proclivities--that each of us have some fair warning
of what we are letting ourselves in for.

*


In the course of working with this material, I found myself over a number
of years living with and inside of Persephone's story--and in such a way that
the gods and goddesses began to come alive for me much in the manner that
the characters in a novel begin to assert their own psychic reality in the
mind of the novelist.

Living inside the myth, while also in my daily life functioning as a
psychotherapist, I began to better recognize Persephone "in her human
form," began to see the mythological reality of the goddess surfacing in a
variety of ways in the lives of certain of my clients. One fairly common
example being women who have had a sense of having been molested or
raped --though no evidence can be found in literal (historical) memory. In
this way, perhaps the archetypal reality of Persephone may give us yet
another way to look at (or "see through") the controversial phenomenon of
"repressed memory syndrome."

Having now other human exemplars of Persephone beyond that of
my original subject, I began to see commonalities, ways that Persephone
might appear as a "psychological type," while I also became more aware of
the gods and goddesses as modes of perception, each with their own unique
vantage, virtues, and foibles.

As I became more aware of the mythic presence and its imprint upon
character, I then found myself writing more and more in the essay form,
seeing some wider implications that Persephone and the other gods and
goddesses in her story might raise for us as a culture--whereas previously I
was writing mostly in the form of the prose poem, with a more personal, and
perhaps lessened sense of scope. There are probably nuances of the myth that
I wouldn't have been able to see into had I confined myself initially to writing
in either the form of the prose poem or that of the essay. And often the prose
poems were like advance scouts finding the images I would later develop in
the essays.

Just as I did not pursue a scholar's angle into the mythological material,
neither have I attempted to give an academic, scholarly, or comprehensive
treatment to the phenomenon of narcissism. I myself confess to an inability
to read most psychological works as a literary form. Unlike poetry, most
psychology as it is currently written seems to rely too much upon intellectual
abstraction and "the word," and is not enough image-based. Thus the
imagination itself often wanders off hungry for a conversation that knows
how to include it.

Where the topic of narcissism is concerned I've tried to just speak of "the basics"
as they display themselves in the consulting room and in the culture, while
attempting to write in a more imagistic style.

Though the series of prose poems which formed the bulk of my first
descent into this material has largely been discarded, the book retains
something of its poetic origin, at least in that it is probably best read as one
might read a book of poems, with the different chapters held together more by
the underlying archetypal constellation itself than by any kind of rational,
rhetorical continuity between chapters.

Allowing the book to come to me over a long period of time, collecting the
various pieces of writing much as one might assemble a poetry collection,
also allowed me to write from many different angles of vision, and their
attendent voices: psychological senex, lover-devotee, spiritual counselor,
fellow sufferer, etc. Thus freed from a kind of psychological "monotheism," I
felt more Hermetically freed to enter the complexity of the material I was
writing about-- and I hope the reader will not be put off by the way the I jump
back and forth between these various parts of my mind.


Just as Milton had his own vision, his own version, of Lucifer, I had my
own "take" on Persephone--as well as on the other mythological figures that
touched her story. So again, don't read this book as mythological "Gospel." I
see it more as a work of mythopoeis --a "re-mythologizing."

With the passage of time its become clearer how much of my original
impulse for writing this book had been that of creating an extended mirroring
interpretation...that might help my beloved to see what she hadn't seen
before...an extended mirroring that might help her to navigate through her
Labyrinth or Underworld...an extended mirroring intervention that might
"bring her to her senses," an extended bit of mirroring (in other words) that
might bring her back to me. I wrote out of loss... hoping that she might find
her way back from "the Realm of the Dead." But unfortunately, even to this
day, I have never been much good at "mirroring interpretations" ...


That we would subsequently rekindle our relationship a number of times,
and that these resumptions had practically nothing to do with my
"mirroring," my writing, my therapy skills...that this eventually became
apparent to me, along with the fact that her disappearances and re-emergings
were simply her being true to the Persephone archetype...


And thus, "being true to the archetype" --or my experience of it--might be
the most I could ask for this writing. But even here let me confess--since "all
psychology is a form of confession" (James Hillman)--of all the times I have
not been certain whether I have just had a visionary glimpse of the goddess,
or sadly, only the backside of my girlfriend departing...


The reader will note that my method of composition was often that of a
series of "takes" --much as a visual artist might do a series of sketches on the
same themes, the same images. So parts of the book have the quality of an
author's sketch pad. But one in which many of the previous "sketches"
remain accessible as an entity and visioning in their own right--versus using
the sketches as " drafts" from which to eventually arrive at some ultimate
version or conclusion.

In this sense, Takes on Persephone is "process work" --something
originally started as a means to channel and better understand a pang of grief,
an experience of loss that happened again and again with each passing Fall.
Over time the process of writing this book took me to places and insights and
a perspective that was different from where I had started out. As is the case
with much of what I write, it was thus helpful to me. If there are insights in
the book that prove helpful to others, then that, as they say, is gravy.