Death Goddesses I

When I was a kid, my Grandma gave me a big, beautifully illustrated book of Greek myths.  As any decent Greek mythology book should, it had the story of Persephone in it, alongside a picture of a clearly distressed maiden being carried off to the Underworld in Hades’ chariot.

When I was older, I got hold of some Ovid.  There are some bits in there that got left out of the kids’ version, let me tell you.

I assume everyone knows the story: Persephone’s the daughter of this Earth Mother sort of Goddess, so she has this brilliantly happy childhood among flowers and fruits and happy wee forest creatures and there is much rejoicing.  Hades is the King of The Underworld, so he’s all grim and brooding but for some reason when he decides he wants a bride this cheerful innocent young thing frolicking about in a sunny meadow is his first choice.  So he steals her away (with much ravishment, if you’re reading Ovid’s version) and she gets to be Queen of the Underworld, but she misses her Mum and the sunlight and all those pretty flowers and wee forest creatures.  Finally, her husband allows her to return, but while she was sitting around in the Underworld she listlessly ate three pomegranate seeds.  Those seeds bind her to Hades forever, so although she’s allowed to return to her old life she has to go back down into all the darkness and death for three months out of each year to pay for them.  When Persephone gets back to the world of the living, her Earthy Mummy is all happy again and celebrates by making springtime happen.  But she always has to go back to her husband, the King, and then for three months she’s gone and nothing above can grow of blossom so we have winter again.  Always.

Although I had a happy childhood spent mostly outdoors, and my Mum is perfectly maternal and good at gardening and nurturing things, I can’t say I identify with the innocent maiden part of this story.  I was pretty well born dark, and it’s natural to me.  What I can identify with at times is being a reluctant Death Goddess, and having a connection I don’t want but cannot sever to someone who pulled me deeper into the Underworld than I expected.

Today, I’m having a lot of minor issues and pains that have built into what would have been a much more angst-ridden post had I not decided to frame it in mythology.  It’s a coping mechanism, so bear with me.  I have a whole list of Goddesses I find fascinating, so this could be another regular feature.

My angst is a mosaic of little things from my day.  Dealing with the Ex, trying and failing to deal with my lingering old jealousy issues, trying to get things done that I just can’t work on and have to complete later, reading something that I purposely used to force myself into confronting said issues, and even a tired old joke meant in a lighthearted way.  And then poking at those jealousy issues again, just because I’m the kind of person who does that no matter how tired I may be.

Using myth as a frame, I can press all these little things out and hang them up so I can get a better look.  I’d rather do that than approach it any other way.  Also, I’ve been trying to get through a series of posts about Trauma, and haven’t been able to do it yet.  I’m introducing that topic here, and it is easier this way.  Some day, I’ll write about hospitals and the police and all that, but this is a good approach to it.  Ready?

Jealousy.  That could be another series of examinations, but I have a frame to use today.  The frame is the basic story of a God King making this girl his Queen.  Ovid doesn’t go into the jealousy thing much since he’s so busy with the ravishing and all, so I’m moving on to the personal part.  I was a girl (eighteen years old) when I met this man.  Plenty had gone on before that, which I’m not talking about right now.  Suffice to say, I was at a point where I was somehow both full of death and innocent.  Yes, that combination is possible.  That potent combination must have caught his eye, or maybe my hair just looked better in those days.  I had noticed him in my Astronomy class over and over.  Even though it was held in a big lecture hall, this tall man with harsh features drew my eye every time I was in that class.  Eventually, we met in the dining hall.  It was the middle of winter, of course, and since we both smoked we’d end up bundled up in long black coats on the hall’s balcony.  One cold night, smoking after dinner, he finally spoke to me.  We had one of those meandering conversations until the dining hall was closing and I was out of cigarettes.  He had more cigarettes, and wanted coffee, which he didn’t have but I did – back in my dorm room of course.

That’s how we met.  Normal college student flirtation.  We ended up back in my room smoking and drinking coffee for hours, and who cares if I have to be in a writing workshop in the morning?  It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with him.  It didn’t take much longer for me to completely freak out over being in love with a man.  I had been introduced to men as sexual partners in a way that left me wanting nothing to do with them.  I could still have boyfriends, and I could still fuck them, to be honest, but only if my mind was far away from what was happening to my body.  No one noticed.  Until I met him.

This could be a longer story, but the important parts are short enough to list here without the details.

He taught me how to feel every part of my body.  He showed me parts I’d never dared imagine existed.  He taught me to see myself as he saw me, and that does deserve details.

One night, it was clear to him that I wasn’t feeling myself as deeply as I could.  We were in my dorm room (I had a single room that semester.  Convenient.) and when he came over I was fretting about not being pretty enough for him.  I had been told over and over that I wasn’t pretty enough to deserve love, so I had already internalised it.  He stripped me naked and led me to a certain spot on the floor, then pushed me down onto my knees.  I was expecting the obvious, but instead he pushed me away so that I was crawling backwards toward the door.  Once I was in the position he wanted, he told me sternly to stay there, and went to my dresser to retrieve the large mirror I had propped on top of it.  He held it in front of me and told me to look.  The door I was backed up against had a full-length mirror on it.  I had never seen myself from behind before that night, so my first reaction was curiosity.  He pressed down on my head and told me to raise my ass up and spread my legs.  As I obeyed, he told me to look. To keep looking.  I had already known for ages that I was turned on by other women, so watching the reflection of myself in my usual position of desire and submission excited me as if I were watching another woman more beautiful than I was.  The curve of my hips and the view of my cunt were new enough to me that it was like seeing a new lover for the first time.  He stared down at me with his usual intensity and said, “This is how I see you.  This is what I see when I put you in this position.  You are beautiful.”

That is an example.  The way he spoke to me, the way he tied me down, and the way he constructed worlds for us to inhabit were all a new land for me to explore.  He was the first man to show me how good an orgasm could be with a man, and when we got married we built a ceremony together that was an analogue to Persephone eating those seeds, only it was what it might have been like had she wanted to be Queen and had eaten the seeds knowing that they would be the best thing she’d ever tasted.  Had she been aware and ready to bind herself to Hades.

Because this all happened in real life, and not in myth, it did go bad.  As a wife, and as a young and inexperienced one, I could not be what he wanted.  Everything he taught me made me stronger.  I was writing more, I wanted more friends and better clothes, and a job that would earn more money.  But he didn’t want me strong.  He wanted me strong enough to take everything he had – to be his Queen, but not a Queen in my own right.  Just as Persephone is only Queen of the Underworld during those three months of winter, I could only be strong when I followed his orders and lived properly in his world.  As soon as I began to write and draw things he didn’t like, as soon as I began wearing clothes he didn’t approve of, as soon as he decided my friends might want to fuck me, and as soon as I tried to get jobs waitressing in bars where men might look at me a bit too much, it all went Very Bad Indeed.  His jealousy and possession was expressed more often as beatings that put me in the emergency room, and less as a way of teaching a poor sweet girl that she can be healed through some sort of dark Christ figure who can teach her how to feel love.

Not only do I have this as a model of jealousy (which was my original topic), but I also have the girl that replaced me.  I was too easily concussed, too quick to try and hide during his rages, and too quick to call my Mum crying after a bad fight.  The new girl was so much dirtier and kinkier than me, and so much prettier!  Before I had gotten up the courage to leave, I answered a knock at our apartment door at least once to find her there all dressed up in better clothes and jewelry than I could afford, nonchalantly asking if he was in.

I learned two thing from this marriage, in addition to the obvious lessons of “if he acts like an abuser, he is an abuser”.  Firstly, I do enjoy taking the queenly position I deserve.  All those good parts – the ones that filled me with power and passion – are things I need.  Learning that I do in fact deserve them has taken over a decade and another bad marriage to get to.  Secondly, this man is still the only one that has made me the focal point of all his desires while I was able to live in those desires totally.  I hate him for that.  Every time I think I’m over it and it’s done with, something reminds me of him or of how he made me feel.  He follows me, like he did today as I was walking to the store. For all outward appearances, a slightly homely girl crossing the street, but if you know where to look there’s this shadow right behind her.  This shadow that will unbind her hair and alter her face in passion until she turns into a beautiful goddess figure.  I hate it because I can forget about the whole thing for months at a time, and then some misplaced comment reminds me of it.  Some weak-minded jealousy that I can never be as good as that girl standing in my doorway asking for my husband will spur me to think, what if I could have been that?  Why can’t I ever be the beloved Queen and stay there? 

So, not only did he hurt me then, but he still hurts me now.  I hate the memory of it, and I hate the suspicion that that’s all there is.  I hate being reminded of it, and I hate the suggestions that creep into me that since I failed there I’ll always fail if I want to feel that way again.  I hate that I’ve done so much work to be done with it, but then I still want to write about it now.  I hate knowing that someone else can always replace me, because I bleed and cry and bruise when someone tougher can take it.  I hate it, and I hate him, but remembering all the things he showed me still makes me wet if I think of them.  And then I hate him even more, because I’d rather be able to push the whole thing into the Bad Experience – Get Over It corner, when what I really want is all the good and none of the bad.  And that cannot exist, because I know that even if I can get into that space I cannot be anyone’s perfect wife.  That prettier girl with better clothes and better jewelry who is better at handling whatever is pushed upon her is always in the doorway wishing I wasn’t home.

And that is the real crux of the jealousy.  I cannot be a cold Persephone, unmindful of what she is eating.  As much as I love all the sunshine and flowers and cute animals and time with my Mum, I am already an Underworld creature.  I can’t pretend that these memories are just a thing that was done to me – I live there, and I like it there.  I just want to be able to live there as the Queen, and not have anger at these other visitors who are better than me and can take away my throne.  I don’t want them to exist, but they always do.

The one bit of good news is that if this is an ongoing mythology series, there are other Goddesses to talk about.  I had to delve into this one, since she matches what I’m feeling right now, but it gets better.  If it didn’t, or couldn’t, get better I’d already have turned cold enough to have the bones in my hand broken and  accept it without rage.  Since I still have the rage, I can still hate the man who broke those bones and keep hoping that someday there will be one better than him.

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One Response to “Death Goddesses I”

  1. J. Wilson Says:

    There are many of us, sitting upon our own thrones. Waiting for the stories of the others who climbed or delved. But you are one of those who don’t keep a throne, but a fire. I’m drinking too much. wow

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