Goddesses of Wholeness: An Exploration of Gaia, Demeter-Persephone, and Ariadne through the Lens of Personal Myth and Archetypal Activism

Preview excerpt of my essay published in the Summer 2019 issue of Immanence: The Journal of Applied Myth, Story, and Folklore focused on the theme Earthspeak: Stories for a Planet in Transition


We find ourselves at a critical threshold, a time when grave ecological destruction abounds, while many life forms are under increasing threat by human hands. Hope can be a scarce resource, as grief swells and the meaning behind immanent devastation is unfathomable. Yet, when mundane meaning-making fails, mythology—with its vast archetypal view—can lend symbolic insight. That is, myth-tending through contemplation, active imagination (Jung, “Active Imagination” 1), dreamwork, attention to synchronicity, or cultivating an archetypal eye (Hillman 127) may offer guidance as we strive to find adequate responses to our current crises. The world’s mythological traditions provide illuminating perspectives on our relationship with the Earth at this time.

In this essay, initially inspired by an exploration of personal myth (Jung, “Memories” 3; see also Chalquist)—that is, the depth psychological premise that we can find certain mythic stories and figures that resonate deeply with our life experiences and sense of self—I turned to the goddess figures of the Greek pantheon that intimate wholeness, containing the totality of life and death. Specifically, I was drawn into the myths of Gaia, Persephone-Demeter, and Ariadne in their particular yet interweaving forms. In what follows, I share the ways in which the mythic complexes of these goddesses emerged in my study and imaginal life as inextricable threads of one tapestry. Honoring each in turn, I hope to give voice to some of their unique and intersecting lessons as I experienced them. In so doing, I offer an example of the ways we can discover the mythic dimension of our personal lives and the relevant wisdom this discovery may grant us at the ecological crossroads we face today.

Gaia: Earth, mother, and the cycles of all

I am enwombed. Gestating in the sacred waters of life, preparing for the sudden, death-birth passing through my mother. Breathfully in awe of the way life crosses from the liminal womb space, bursting forth into manifest world. The life force within me churning: all love. Sparkling, luminous, love incarnate—spirit crossing into form.

I realize: as natural as the birth process itself, we are tasked with separation from mother, necessarily individuating from her body and soul in order to become whole ourselves. But inevitably, the return to her beckons. As individuals, we return variously to our physical mothers—to her body or spirit, or to her impression as it resides within. We return, perhaps, to heal the wounds of separation, to forgive, acknowledge gratitude, or tend to her passing. Or, perhaps, we return to her when we cross into parenthood ourselves. Irrespective of our particular return to our human mother, we ultimately all return to our Great Mother Gaia in death.

Likewise, as a collective species we have differentiated—crawled out of Earth—separated ourselves, at times violently, from her, turning against her in deluded attempts to tame her wilds. Like the individual returning to mother, humanity must return to Earth to repair the connection that has been severed and rediscover, or create anew, our role as caretakers and tenders of her cycles. With the compassion of a whole mother, she forgives our offenses, ready, waiting, for our mature return.

—Visionary encounter, February 15th, 2014

For us, on Earth, all is contained in Gaia. All of life springs forth from her and returns to her. She is the very ground and substance of our existence. According to a prominent Olympian Creation myth, Gaia arose from Chaos and gave birth to the mountains, the sea, and the sky. She then birthed Ouranos, “the mountain king” or sky god (Graves 31-33). The two marry—for it was not uncommon for the goddess of origin to engage with the masculine principle as he alternates between lover and son—forging the masculine-feminine partnership of Mother Earth and Father Sky (Guttman and Johnson 53). Together the two were abundantly generative, giving birth to plants, animals, the Titans (the pre-Olympian rulers), as well as many monstrous beings like the Cyclopes. In this wave of ambivalent creativity, we discover that, as Downing emphasizes: “Gaia is not benign: she is generative” (154). So out of the fecundity of Gaia, life in many forms, ranging from the most benefic to utterly frightful, is released into the world. As the story unfolds, Ouranos becomes tyrannical and locks the Cyclopes in the underworld; that is, within Gaia herself. Suffering Ouranos’s cruelty, Gaia, as compassionate mother, provides her children with a sickle to put an end to his reign. Chronus accepts the task, successfully castrating and overthrowing his father, but is destined to suffer a similar fate by the hands of his own son, Zeus (Graves 37-39). And so on, this cycle of masculine power struggle repeats into modern day with Gaia as the active backdrop. Although our focus has shifted to the foreground drama, I believe that Gaia—as both primal Great Mother Goddess and the Earth herself—remains dynamically engaged in the play of life…

Continue reading on pages 57-72