An Old, Old Story

gator

About a week ago, I had an extremely unsettling dream, which is not uncommon during stressful times and times of seasonal change. I wrote about it the following morning:

In the dream, we decide that our car is amphibious, so we drive it through the pond. Surprisingly, it works, and only starts to sputter when we get to the other side. On the way, we see a phainopepla, a shining blue bird with a little red on its crest. It’s sitting on the water in a short of moon shape, break in the air. It’s very thin. As we approach the other side of the pond, we see an alligator in the shallows! This is exciting!

We start to climb the hill on the other side and the alligator follows us. The hill is steep and rocky and the alligator is FAST. We’re not really worried. Ellis sort of jumps down toward the alligator to see which way it will take. Ellis is on a sort of a sled. Suddenly the alligator leaps up and catches Ellis and they zoom down into a rocky hole.

Just like that, they’re gone. I can’t believe it. I try to rewind the dream. I try to make a different thing happen. I try to make him come shooting out of a hole at the base of the hill, but my dream won’t let me take over. He’s just gone. I throw rocks into the hole to try to kill the alligator so it can’t hurt Ellis, but then I realize that the rocks will hurt Ellis. We cannot find him. He’s just gone.

I’m weeping in my dream. People want to talk to me, to comfort me, but I won’t look at them. I keep trying to rewind, to go back, to make it be different, to hold him, to warn him, to know the danger before it happens, but nothing works. As a last resort, I wake myself up, and lie there waiting for the dawn.

Friends offered so much wisdom. My son is growing up. At every single stage of his development, my pride in his developing independence has wrestled with my anxiety about letting him go. This has some obvious connections in the story.

Another friend simply wrote to me, “Demeter. This is the time Persephone descends.” This hit me like an arrow. The thing that rode on my back all day after the dream was the sense of un-comfort-able grief. I refused to be comforted. I felt like I was living in Demeter’s heart.

Grateful that I can feel myself so connected to the goddess of the season, and grateful that I have images for my anxiety about my own child growing up, I began to look at other layers. In the days before my dream, we had first begun to hear of allegations of sexual assault against a man running for one of the most ethically-based jobs in our country, an assault that occurred when they were both teenagers. In my daytime world, as a teacher in a high school, I have hundreds of daughters: young women who are wide awake and speaking their minds; young women who are sleeping, unaware, lulled by cultural signals about who they “should” be; young women who are actively trying to stay in the relative “safety” of their cages; young women who are dawning, awakening, bursting forth. I cannot protect them all.

And this story we are living in the US today, it’s as ancient as the oldest myths and stories, isn’t it? You know the story? In brief, Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnaps and rapes Persephone, the teenaged daughter of Demeter, goddess of cereal grains and fields and farms and the earth’s abundance. Demeter cannot be comforted. She is distraught. She wanders the world in her anguish, seeking her daughter, but her daughter cannot be found. Finally she approaches Zeus, god of the sky, leader of the Olympians, to ask for justice for her daughter. But Hades is Zeus’ brother, and Zeus is hesitant to upset his brother. Finally, he acquiesces, but only after Demeter refuses to make things grow, and the people start to die. Unfortunately, because Persephone has eaten six pomegranate seeds in the underworld, she must stay with Hades for half of every year, and can only rise to the upper world with her mother for half of each year.

Here is how it happens: A man who lives according to his shadows, according to the instinct of his reptilian brain, attacks a young woman. He has taken something essential of her Self captive, claimed it as his own. She may walk again in the sunlight, but part of her will always reside in the halls of shadow. Her mother (the women) wander the world in grief and rage, demanding justice, but the one to whom they can go for justice in a patriarchy is a brother to the attacker, and he’s more interested in preserving his power and his relationship to his brother than in meting out real justice for the woman. Hades continues as a powerful god. Demeter grieves and rages in her cycles. Persephone continues to be held captive by her memories and the trauma that now resides in her body.

Are we strong enough to break the cycle?

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