Friday, February 20, 2009

Persephone's Garden

Persephone’s Garden: A Tale of the Spring

Long ago, in the time when they believed the Earth was flat, in the far reaches of the Greek world, there lived a small and humble farming family. The two girl children, Athanasia and Zenobia knew there was nothing but fields of wheat as far as the eye could see in most every direction—save one. Off to the west grew a stand of trees near a stream, and tucked away in these trees was a very special place, a place the girls called their Secret Garden.

During the hottest days of the year, when all growth ceased and the days were lazy and long, the girls would dream of the seasons when the garden was in bloom. This garden was the very first place where the flowers would return as well as the last from which they would depart every year.

One such day, after months of heavy heat, the girls’ mother said to them, “Young ones, your chores are done. Go out now and play. There is naught to do in here but sit around and be food for the bugs. Find yourselves a shady spot and dream of the rains.”

Athanasia, the elder of the two at eleven, smiled freely at the suggestion. She beckoned to her sister with a wink, “Come, Zenobia. Let us see if we can find a suitable place to play.”

So off the girls went, following a winding path of their own creation to their most Sacred place, Their Secret Garden. Though there had been no flowers for three months now, the girls were careful always to check for weeds and keep everything in order. They took great pride in their work, but they also guarded their secret fiercely. Their Father, though he meant well, could be a little over protective, and the girls were fearful that he would disallow their trips to the Garden if he ever found out.

Because they were so careful with their treasured knowledge, the girls were very surprised not only to find their Garden blooming, but also to see a woman standing among the dripping rose bushes with a bloom in her hand. Frozen in their tracks, they barely flinched when the woman locked eyes with them and smiled warmly.

“Excuse me,” Athanasia finally spoke. “We did not mean to disturb you.”

“Nonsense,” the woman replied. “You must be the ones who have been caring for my garden in my absence.”

Zenobia frowned in confusion. “Your Garden?” she asked. “How come I have never seen you here before?”

The woman laughed. “I live very far away, but this is one of my most favorite places in all of Hellenismos.”

“Mine, too!” exclaimed Zenobia.

“What are your names, if I may ask?” inquired the lady.

“I’m Zenobia, and I’m five and a half,” Zenobia declared. “And that’s Athanasia. She’s eleven and thinks she’s a grown up.”

The Lady bowed her head slightly and said, “Please to make your acquaintance. My name is Persephone.”

Both girls gaped at her in astonishment. They were simple country children, but not completely unawares of the religion of the Great City, infused as it was in everything they did. But the girls knew the story of Persephone and Hades. Persephone was the Dark Queen of the Underworld, not a beautiful woman in a garden.

“Judging by your stunned silence, I would wager you have at least heard my name before?” Persephone asked.

“But, Persephone is a dark and scary lady who spends her time bossing dead people around. She doesn’t like flowers!” Zenobia blurted out. Athanasia stayed her sister and waited.

Persephone regarded this for a moment before she answered her. “Child, in your many years here with us, have you not lost one whom you loved?” Persephone asked.

Athanasia answered for them both, for not long ago they lost their grandmother, the dearest in their hearts. “Our Grandmother now resides in your world.”

“I see,” said Persephone. “And she was good to you, wasn’t she?”

“O, yes!” Zenobia smiled at her memory. “She made the best cakes and told us stories. She is the one who told us about you.”

“I am glad to hear of it.” Persephone replied walking closer to the children. “Little one, do you think your grandmother, who was wise and kind, would be someplace bad and scary for the rest of eternity?”

“Well, I…” For the first time, Zenobia was unsure what to say.

Athanasia waited, regarding the Goddess carefully as she stood before them. She found her unnerving. More than a little too quickly she said, “Please, we meant no harm. Let us be on our way, and we will not bother your garden again.”

“Athanasia, the point I am making is this:” Persephone began. “I may be Queen of the Underworld for a portion of the year, but I am still the Maiden of the Spring when the rains come and wake the Earth. My mother, Demeter, cries freely tears of joy each year when I am given to her again. But while I am away, and she is lost in her longing, the world turns dry and hot and no flowers will grow. It is during this time that I am down below, not in a dark and scary place, as you describe it, but in a warm and comfortable place where your grandmother has come to make her eternal home. And, where ever I go, the flowers follow…” Persephone pointed to the path she walked to reach the children’s side, and lo, the way was marked with blooms of every color, as the flowers bloomed at her feet.

Amazement covered the girls’ faces. Zenobia’s mouth gaped in awe, and Athanasius’ eyes were wide with wonder. Persephone continued, “This garden is the last place I see before I go to Hades side, and the first place to which I come when I return. This is why the flowers here are the last as well as the first.

“Now, since you have admitted freely it was you who has been tending my garden, I must give you your due,” said Persephone with a wink. “I know a great deal more than you may think about what goes on in my absence.

“I will be going north soon, but there is magic here that you may use to aid your family. Take you these flowers and make wreaths out of them. Then, take them to your Father’s shed. Whatever tools you hang them on will be fruitful in their work upon the Earth. Gaia knows they are my flowers and will bless the tools they have touched. Your father’s garden will grow and grow, and your faithfulness will be rewarded to your entire village.”

Just then, a chariot drawn by two magnificent horses landed from the sky. They paused long enough for Persephone to gracefully climb into the back, and then off they went, up and away, to carry her to her mother’s waiting arms.

Several minutes passed before the girls were able to tear their eyes away from the place where the horses had disappeared into the skyline. Finally, Athanasia returned to herself and regarded Zenobia. “Come, little one, and I will show you how to weave a wreath.”

Together, the girls made a dozen wreaths, growing more anxious and excited as they worked. On their way home, they decided still to keep the gift from the Goddess to themselves, lest it didn’t work, for they did not wish to lose their garden visits for naught.

They continued to tend the garden whenever they could steal away, and over time, they noticed something very peculiar. All of the seeds their father planted had sprung forth, and much sooner than the neighboring fields. As the season waxed, their father’s fields continued to be larger and fuller than all those surrounding them. The neighbors were all in awe over his newly found luck in farming.

Once the harvest arrived, the girls decided to tell their father of what they had done. As the girls spoke, a single tear ran down his face. When the girls were done telling their tale, he quietly asked them to take him to their garden. Once there, he fell to his knees and began to thank the Goddess for her kindness. After some time spent in this manner, he walked slowly around the garden and with an eye more keen to the keeping of growing things, tending the areas in need of further work.

The next year, and every year after that, the family spent much time caring for the gardens and following Persephone’s instructions. And every year the family farm grew larger and larger. Poverty was no longer a familiar word in their neighborhood, and the children grew up healthy and happy.

Persephone was not seen again, but the evidence of her time in the garden was always there for anyone with the eyes to see the path she walked through the garden, for it was always laced with the largest blooms.

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