Seasonal sadness—the slow sinking into darkness—is not a new phenomenon; the low light of winter has been bringing people down since the Greeks inked the myth of Persephone.
It goes like this:
Persephone was walking on a hillside with her friends when she came across the most beautiful flower. She was captivated by its bloom and its sweet smell, and she paused to be with it, her heart full of joy.
The flower was a narcissus, grown by the Goddess Gaia, at the request of her son Hades, who was in love with Persephone.
As Persephone paused to smell its sweet blooms, the earth opened in front of her and Hades, God of the Underworld, swept up through the chasm in his golden chariot.
He abducted Persephone and returned with her to his home in the roots of the earth… I do wonder sometimes about this abduction. Perhaps he simply charmed her and she made the choice many fool-hearted teenagers make and ran off with her latest crush. But either way, Persephone’s mother, the Goddess Demeter who reigned over the green and growing things of the earth, reacted in the way of mothers who are angry and terrified. Demeter searched for Persephone but she was not to be found.
So Demeter wept, her tears salting the earth, ’til nothing grew and the bleakness of winter rolled in.
The Gods on Olympus became concerned. And Hades was called to task and told to return Persephone.
But Persephone had broken a cardinal rule: she had eaten the fruits of the Underworld. And so a compromise was reached: Persephone would spend half the year with her mother and half the year with Hades in the Underworld.
When Persephone is with Demeter the world is green and lush but when she descends to the Underworld for her time with Hades, the green world dies and we slide into winter.
There is so much to learn about our own nature and seasonal depression from the myth of Persephone’s descent.
Persephone became entranced by a narcissus, a flower whose name springs from the same root as the word narcissist. In other words she became entranced with herself. The descent into the Underworld was a descent into her own being, her own soul. And because of the compromise struck between Hades and Demeter, this was a journey that Persephone would take cyclically, year over year, journeying deep into her being for the winter months and returning to the world above through the summer. This is the cosmic yin/yang, the slow breath in and the long exhale.
Interestingly, when shamans journey to gather information from the spirit realm, they journey down into the underworld. This is true of shamans from various continents, from lineages not known to each other until modern times. This construct of going down, returning to roots, is universal in tribal practices. Similarly in ancient Greece, the oracle at Delphi sat on a tripod, over a chasm deep in the earth, offering divination for the future. Our ancestors knew that to know yourself you needed regularly-scheduled time in the underworld.
We are in the time of the descent. The plants are sending their energy down, into their roots, and we too are sending our energy down, into the core of our being. It is a time of self-reflection and sometimes sadness as we mourn, like Demeter, the loss of summer.
Our culture has forgotten what the Greeks knew of cycles of seasonal sadness. In today’s America we ask ourselves to be steady and stable and not give in to the descent. We call it depression.
From a seasonal point of view, it’s appropriate to descend at this time of year. It becomes a problem only if you don’t also rise as the energy of the sun returns (or, of course, if you’re more than just a bit down and are considering doing harm to yourself or others).
Allow yourself space to ease down into winter.
Some of us respond more strongly to this season’s lack of light than others, which can make the descent a rocky and uncomfortable journey.
The plant world has comfort to offer:
- Try a combination of Lemon Balm and St. John’s Wort* to ward off winter blues.
I love this combo! St. John’s Wort blooms at the Summer Solstice, capturing the sun’s light in her petals and making it energetically available to us as we descend toward the winter solstice and need a hit of sunlight to brighten our mood.
* St. John’s wort will interact with SSRIs, so be mindful if you are on anti-depressants or seizure meds.
- Be sure you’re also getting enough Vitamin D3 (found in Cod Liver Oil as well as in pill form) to supplement what you don’t get from the sun in the winter.
Your doctor can do a blood test for you if you want to know your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D’s co-factor (what you need for proper assimilation) is Vitamin A. Both are in Cod Liver oil but if you are taking your D in another form, be sure to get your A as well.
- A full-spectrum light can also help to ward of the winter blahs. Be sure to keep it where you will use it often (like on your desk).
Want my Late Autumn Self-care Shopping list for more suggestions? Get it here!
Choosing to descend, purposefully stepping into the darkness, lets you take back your power as we enter the time of the longest nights.
Let me know how you are doing with the seasonal changes in the comments below.