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Artemis v Persephone: Body and Soul

Dr. Helen Johnson

22 Nov 2014

On the face of it, Artemis and Persephone have very little in common. So much so that it is hard to see how ...

On the face of it, Artemis and Persephone have very little in common. So much so that it is hard to see how they could work together. Artemis is all about the wilds, nature, and being in her body. She enjoys physical exertion and the freedom of roaming a rugged terrain. Persephone, on the other hand, doesn’t have much to do with her body at all; she is spiritual, ethereal, and connected to the mysteries of life, the unknown, and her intuition. Persephone has her head way beyond even the clouds, whereas Artemis has her feet firmly planted in earth. Artemis is robust both mentally and physically, whereas Persephone is sensitive in nature.  Their wounds are the opposites of one another. Artemis can be unable to connect with other human beings because she is not concerned with matters of the heart and prefers solitude and nature to community and the city. Persephone can be almost too aware of others, tuned into their emotional and spiritual states, suffering alongside them. However, both can be isolated – Artemis actually physically isolates herself whereas Persephone is overwhelmed by things that others may not even see and this leads to an inability to connect in a grounded way.

Interestingly, in Greek mythology both are known as virgins. This does not mean that Artemis and Persephone women are not sexual (but the Artemis and Persephone women out there already knew that!). Instead, this virginity actually represents an inner balance between masculine and feminine and an energy that is independent from others. As such, this virginity represents disconnection but also the gift of inner resources; it says that these goddesses possess something that enables them to be free and independent. For Artemis, it is her strength and survival skills. For Persephone, it is her vulnerability and sensitivity that mean she is brought into to a whole other realm –the underworld – that others cannot visit. In the underworld she suffers a disorienting loss of innocence but ultimately emerges a queen who shines a light of guidance for others.

These goddesses represent aspects of femininity that can easily be lost or denied. Artemis is free and physically expressive, she cannot be constrained by the city, she is not concerned with using her mind, instead she wishes to express herself physically. Persephone represents the loss of this physicality. She is bound up in an emotional world, disconnected from her physical self and ungrounded. This, too, is a dangerous trap that Athena can fall into – too concerned with thoughts and analysis and forgetting the needs of her body. All women (Persephone and Athena women in particular) need to honour their bodies and express their physicality – not in a sensual Aphrodite way (though this has its place) but in a way that connects to their wilder, unfettered and personal experience of their own body and environment.

Persephone has an awareness and understanding of the mysteries of life, in both darkness and light. She is familiar with that which others seek to deny, such as grief and pain. However, this familiarity means that she is ultimately able to conquer it and find pathways through darkness. She is no longer afraid. Artemis has no concern for the emotional terrain that Persephone easily traverses. However, this means that she can become too isolated from both herself and others. The vulnerability that she fears is personified in Persephone, who in fact ultimately ends up a queen. Both Persephone and Demeter make room for vulnerability, knowing its power for transformation and growth. Artemis must learn to be vulnerable so that she is free to embrace her emotional side, form relationships with others, and heal her wound of isolation.

In fact, these goddesses represent two aspects of the self that are deeply connected and impact on one another – the physical and the spiritual. The body and the soul. Our spiritual/emotional wellbeing and our physical wellbeing. This is why activities such as yoga are so nourishing for us as human beings, being both active and meditative. Similarly, walking is both an excellent form of exercise and a way of clearing the mind. Meditation alone will not produce results if your body is under strain, sedentary, or consuming toxins. In contrast, a person who regularly exercises, eats well, but experiences an enormous amount of emotional stress or disengagement, will find that their body absorbs this and physical symptoms will emerge. Artemis and Persephone must work hard not to forget one another and to honour their connectedness. Artemis must find ways to connect with her soul and cultivate emotional wellbeing. Persephone must return to her body and listen to its needs. Their friendship may be unlikely but it is also one that promises to help each goddess to thrive.

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