The Talking Forest Runes

The Year's Full Circle

Fieldnotes for November – December 2023


by Kay Broome

Wheat Stooks 2023 - Kay Broome
Maple Leaves (Web photo)


Fifteen months on, this blog arrives again at Samhain, for Pagans, the death of the present year, and beginning of a new one. We discussed previously the return of the maiden, Persephone, in early spring. But now, at the dying of the year, we must mention the other side of that myth, the abduction of Persephone and her mother Demeter’s grief at her loss. Many younger pagans seem not to understand Demeter’s rage at this event, perhaps imagining Hades as some sexy old dude looking for a hot young chick. This is partly due to Hollywood media with films such as Clash of the Titans or Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

But in Greek myth, Hades was the dreaded god of the Underworld realm, also called Hades.  He presided over the souls of the dead and was their guardian, gaoler and judge. Persephone, also known as Kore the maiden, was very close to her mother. Kore symbolized, among other things, the grain itself. Her abduction in autumn, is much like the death of John Barleycorn, of English folklore and signifies the reaping of the grain. Her descent into the Underworld therefore renders her unequivocally dead!

The Lord of the Underworld

Cornucopia clipart from SVG.org
Rape of Proserpina, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Wikimedia Commons)

But while Hades is a god of death, he is also a just judge, and favours no one. He brings rest and forgetfulness to the dead. Unlike most of the other gods, he rarely, if ever, gets involved in the many wars of the Greeks. In fact, as far as Olympians go, Hades appears as the “adult in the room”.  He never leaves the Underworld, except when he abducts Persephone, who had earlier been promised to him by her father, Zeus. (Not surprisingly, Greek myth mirrored patriarchal Hellenic society: a girl was betrothed by her father, and mothers had no say in the matter.)  From this, we can see that it is only natural that Demeter must mourn for Kore. She is a goddess of life and fertility and therefore must never enter the land of the dead. As a result, unless she could somehow free her daughter, she can never see her again. And precisely because she is a force of nature, Demeter mourns harshly, in her deep despair, by neglecting the earth, leaving famine in her wake.


Demeter Mourning Persephone, de Morgan

 

Demeter Mourning Persephone, Evelyn de Morgan (Wikimedia Commons)


Although Hades rules the realm of the dead, he is also a god of riches: precious minerals are found deep in the earth; so also, are the roots of all the plants and fungi that we rely on for food.  And in any event, the earth cannot be fruitful without lying fallow for some time in the fall, else the land would grow depleted of all nutrients necessary for growth.  Thus Persephone must go to the underworld.  But for life to continue, it is imperative that she return to the upper world.

She Changes Everything She Touches

It is interesting to note when studying Demeter in depth, that in earlier pre-Hellenic cultures, she also had an underworld component, Melaina, the Black Demeter. It is also believed by some scholars that Demeter and Persephone were different aspects of the same goddess. Regarding the Eleusinian mysteries, research indicates that the central mystery may have revolved around a belief in reincarnation, as suggested by devotees such as Plato, Cicero and Plutarch.  Looking at the myth of Persephone from this perspective, we could say that Demeter refuses to let her daughter stay with Hades, precisely because the cycle of life, death and rebirth must continue. 

Part of Demeter’s search for Persephone involved her disguising herself as an old woman.  At one point, she came to Queen Metanira of Eleusis.  Demeter took a liking to the young prince, Demophon and became his nurse.  She would secretly bath him in a sacred fire, in order to transform him into a god. On one occasion, Metanira walked in on this rite and afraid for her son’s life, screamed for help.  Angry at this, Demeter revealed herself and castigated the boy’s mother, telling her that her fear would now cause her son to remain mortal.  This was mollified however, by Demeter teaching the science of agriculture to Triptolemus, Demophon’s older brother.  This knowledge was very helpful for humans and while it does not confer immortality, farming certainly has helped our species to develop and evolve and to live longer, more comfortable lives. 

And Everything She Touches, Changes

The myth of Demophon is interesting in that it reinforces the reality that humans are not gods – like all life forms, we change, become older and die. But one is tempted to wonder if the tale is an analogy for reincarnation.  We know that there were yearly games held in Demophon’s honour. Were these games celebrating the immortality of human life through reincarnation?  Are we like Demophon, burning in the flames of life to die but be reborn, perhaps in a higher form? Perhaps Metanira’s fear mirrors the fear of death and the unknown that most of us have.


Oak Tree High Park 2022 - Kay Broome
Persephone, Dante Gabriel Rosetti (Wikimedia Commons)


Nor was Persephone unchanged when she eventually returned to the upper world, for she had eaten a few pomegranate seeds that Hades gave her.  No one can eat the food of the underworld without being forced to stay there, but, in order to save the world from further famine, Zeus made a deal with Demeter. As a result, Persephone comes back each spring to the upper world to live with her mother, and the land becomes fruitful again.  But always, she must always return to Hades for the months of winter.  One intriguing implication of this tale is that if reincarnation is real, as the Eleusinians apparently believed, and as many pagans today espouse, then in effect, we are all immortal, and like Persephone, always returning to the world.

Ever Changing Maple

White Oak Acorns - Famartin - Open Source
Spring, Maple Flowers (Kay Broome)
Red Oak Acorns, Hladac, Open Source
Maple in Summer (Kay Broome)
Bur Oak Acorns, Unknown, leafyplace.com
Fall Maple (Kay Broome)

Of all the trees that grow in North America, none to my mind transform as much as maple.  This tall stately tree of plated grey bark stands stark and dignified in the depths of winter, only to burst forth in spring for a fleeting moment, with tiny chartreuse yellow flowers.  Later come the whimsical keys like a tiny pair of pantaloons on a stem.  The summer brings the large, green, five-pointed leaves, heavy with the promise of cooling shade.  And finally, the leaves, with their various shades of scarlet, pink, orange and yellow creates the world famous beauty of an eastern Canadian autumn. Truly the Maple is the tree that transmutes with every season, symbolizing the fleeting nature of time.

Maple (Acer)

Maple is the 16th rune in the Talking Forest set. It represents change and its kenning is “Seasons”.  This rune reminds us that there can be no life without change and we must accept the passages of time, growing with them, understanding that all seasons are equally transformative and beautiful.

The rune is iconic like a child’s drawing of a tree.  With two straight branches on each side of the central stem and “shade” brackets on the top and both sides, the rune indicates a large tree that gives abundant shade.

Upright, the Maple rune indicates one who is wise and resilient, able to cope with the vicissitudes of life.  Inverted, the rune suggests the querent is going through a personal growth and transformative stage in life. The toppled Maple reveals a difficult transition or an inability to accept upheaval.  Maple comes near the middle of the Talking Forest set, and corresponds with the early prime of life, which often includes profound passages such as marriage and the birth of children. Maple's energies are most apparent in early spring, when the sap begins to run and later with the appearance of the flowers, but most especially in fall, with the changing of the leaves.

Talking Forest Maple Rune

Talking Forest Maple Rune© 2009, Kay Broome

You can learn more about Maple and other Talking Forest runes by purchasing my book, available internationally in print or ebook on Amazon.

Prior Plantings