The Talking Forest Runes
The Year's Full Circle
Fieldnotes for November – December 2023
by 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
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, 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.
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
Spring, Maple Flowers (Kay Broome)
Maple in Summer (Kay Broome)
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 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
Talking Forest Maple Rune
You can learn more about Maple and other Talking Forest runes by purchasing my book, available internationally in print or ebook on Amazon.