Every Woman’s Dilemma

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Persephone's Choice

Every Woman’s Dilemma: The Mind/Body Dichotomy

Every woman’s dilemma is not what I thought it would be when I began thinking about how I would photographically present parts of the myth of Persephone that I found particularly interesting. Many of the binary oppositions found in the great literature of the world are certainly present, even on the surface, of the Persephone myth: male-female, light-dark, good-bad, under-over, and I could, but won’t, go on and on. I thought that these that I have mentioned would be the over-riding issues in this photo essay. I have long been interested in how in human society there is a curious division of labor by sex not found in other mammals, a division of labor that gives men such power over women. Years ago I published my conclusions about that in the American Anthropologist in two papers, one of which looks at anatomy and one of which looks at physiology. The actions of Hades and Zeus certainly reflect male dominance over females in this myth. At the beginning, I expected that, which really is part of every woman’s dilemma, to be the major focus. The mind-body dichotomy as viewed by a woman and not imposed from the outside was not something I had given much thought prior to this.

From the very first day I began to read about Persephone, I was fascinated by the two major interpretations of how she came to eat pomegranate seeds, an act which required her cyclic return to the Underworld as the wife of Hades, during which time her mother, Demeter, in her grief and rage, caused the Earth to go barren and Winter to fall. In some versions, Hades tricked her into eating the pomegranate seeds, while in other versions she chose to eat them. Even before I gave much thought about how I would photograph that portion of the story, I knew the Persephone in my photographic storytelling would decide, by free will, to consume the seeds. It seemed so simple at the time: I found the truly perfect model to play Persephone, fresh pomegranates were in season in the store, and I had the opportunity to photograph many split pomegranates on my mom’s pomegranate plant.

The simplicity had disintegrated long before the scheduled photo shoot. If Persephone chose to eat the seeds, what, exactly, was her choice? I had already ruled out being tricked into it, so that was not an option. If there was no alternative, then it was not really a choice, at least as I envision choice. That realization somehow brought to mind all the women in the course of human history blamed for many things: Persephone’s eating of the seeds brings the pain of Winter (with apologies to readers who actually like winter), Eve got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden by partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, often represented as an apple. By that time, I had read enough to understand that the pomegranate has had a very close connection throughout the world with fertility and sexuality, across major religions. Eve’s apple certainly has some degree of that, but even just on the face of it, I liked the contrast of fertility and implied sexuality versus knowledge. I realize that myth and literature purists may object to my combining Persephone and Eve in one photographic essay, but to me, it is almost like two faces of a coin, these two women blamed for so much misery in the world.

(Certainly other examples come to mind, such as widely found myths of vagina dentata, teeth in the vagina. I thought I would spare readers a photographic exploration of that one. Or how about the news report out of Kentucky this December, 2015, of a homeless shelter kicking out women and children because of the threat to men of “ungodly sex.” I couldn’t make that one up!!! A very powerful video, #Dear Daddy, begins with “Dear Daddy, I will be born a girl. Please do everything you can so that won’t stay the greatest danger of all.”)

At that point, the photo essay, although stimulated by the Persephone myth, morphed into something beyond that. I don’t apologize for that. That kind of thing happens with reading and thinking. The myth at the beginning grew into further exploration, exploration into what I came to see as every woman’s dilemma.

I did not have to explain anything to my wonderful model, Kelly Angerosa, about what I wanted to do. She saw the pomegranate and the apple on the table, and smiled. She knew instantly what I was asking of her. It was something that was there, an unspoken, unconscious recognition, a shared bond; it did not have to be explained.

It was not until I was well into processing the images and posting them here on the blog that I began to fully realize what I was doing and why I found it so exhausting. This photo essay is about a woman exploring her existence with both a mind and a body, a body not as defined by others (a topic for another time, and one I may never want to try to tackle), but as defined by her while still living in a world defined by others. And those two very important parts are compartmentalized in the myth, with her sexuality more or less confined to the Underworld in Winter in her role as wife of Hades, with her mind and knowledge not really important there. No wonder, really, I kept thinking of Georgia O’Keeffe’s marriage, with part of the time spent with Steiglitz and a great deal of the time spent in New Mexico doing as she pleased.

A question posed in a discussion on FB was, “Can a woman achieve fulfillment under the controlling mind of a dominant man?” The real question, of course, would be, “could anyone achieve fulfillment under the controlling mind of a dominant person?” and asked that way most people I know would answer, “NO! Of course not.” But, since human males feel entitled to be dominant, therein lies every woman’s dilemma. Georgia O’Keeffe found a solution, one which parallels that of Persephone: be with a partner part of the time, and free as a bird part of the time. That was the resolution of the dichotomy for O’Keeffe and Persephone.

It sounds so simple, once stated. But it took me a long time in working with the images to see exactly what I was saying with them, to see every woman’s dilemma as defining herself not only as a female body apart from society’s definition, which seems to be the overriding concern of human society, but also as a mind free to make choices not determined by a man (or, by another woman, for that matter!). That can be very difficult for many women; human society does not make that easy for women. In the end, this photo essay came to be about a woman making choices by her own free will.

I’ve really enjoyed working on what came out of this little segment of the Persephone myth. This post wraps up that segment. I am going to take a break from myth for awhile, and post on some less exhausting subjects. I hope you have enjoyed this photographic essay, my personal interpretation on a small part of the Persephone myth with many more plots and subplots.

Fire of Passion

Persephone
Fire of Passion

Light of Knowledge

every woman's dilemma
Light of Knowledge

I Need Knowledge, Too

every woman's dilemma
I Need Knowledge, Too

Why Must I Choose?

every woman's dilemma
Why Must I Choose?

I Choose Both

every woman's dilemma
I Choose Both!

Free as a Bird

every woman's dilemma
Free as a Bird

Postscript to the Persephone Series and Every Woman’s Dilemma

Although I had four years of Latin in high school, during which time we studied Roman and Greek mythology, among other things, that was a very long time ago and there has been a lot of water under the bridge since. I became aware of the myth of Persephone on September 15 of this year, through a brief mention of it in an email in a comment on the upcoming autumn and winter by friend Jim Stallings (oh, no. Does the annoying woman get killed off in this short story?). Something about Persephone and her cyclic descent into the darkness of the Underworld resonated with me immediately.

Within two weeks I had done a series of images stimulated by the Persephone myth, using some of my favorite subjects, sunflowers and butterflies. For those of you in the Albuquerque area, those images are currently hanging in the 2015 ANMPAS show, which runs through December 27.

Once that photographic series was done, the thought of telling a story with a model began to seep into my brain. I had worked once with a model on someone else’s project. But I had never thought of finding and hiring a model to tell a story as I wanted to tell it. As these things sometime happen, the perfect model appeared almost by chance. I surprised myself by asking her if she would be a photographic model. This is far out of my range of what I comfortably do. Much to my surprise, she said, “Yes.” That was the beginning of my work with the wonderful Kelly Angerosa, the woman you see in these images. We have plans to work together again in the spring.

This series is something I was driven to do. I have many distractions and duties in my life at the moment, but I “had” to do this series. I often stayed up past midnight working on images, and there were times I was up again at 4:00 am because a thought occurred to me that I wanted to add. When the totality of my life at the moment is considered, I have been working as hard and as long as I did when I was a resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology. But this work came from an inner drive; I had to do it. It has been a long time since I felt so passionately about something. It may be the first time I felt so passionately about something. It really became, at least to me, the story of every woman’s dilemma, something I saw visually as a whole for the first time, although I had thought about the issues before as an anthropologist and also as an obstetrician/gynecologist.

This small piece is nearing completion. Within a day or two I will post as a separate page on the blog all of the images used in this series, with very little verbiage, so that they may be seen in totality. We are now in the dark days of winter, with the holidays, cold, and football playoffs 😉 approaching. I need a break. I look forward to the appearance of new things come spring.

I appreciate everyone who has followed along on this journey with me.

I especially thank my amazing model, Kelly Angerosa, who was everything I could have asked for and more, and Jim, who introduced me to Persephone.

Link to the entire set of images in the Persephone Series.

Winter Solstice

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Persephone's Choice

Winter Solstice: Turn, Turn, Turn

Winter solstice, the day with the least daylight hours in the year in the Northern Hemisphere, is December 22 this year. It also marks the “official” beginning of Winter. Even when I was young, it struck me that Solstice should actually mark the middle of Winter, although I will admit that weather-wise for me, the six weeks after Solstice are usually more wintry than the six weeks before. But, even by mid-January the increasing length of daylight is readily apparent. In my view of Light and Seasons, things would be so much more organized if Solstice marked the middle point of Winter.

So, just because I can, I chose to make Winter Solstice the halfway point in Persephone’s stay in the Underworld, whether her stay is 3 months, 4 months, or 6 months (different versions give different lengths of time).

Seasonal change is a major theme in the Persephone myth, the cycle of life, repeated over and over. I have had the opportunity this year to witness and photograph some remarkable celestial events. The Blood Red Total Lunar Eclipse of September 27, 2015 is one such event that I’ll not soon forget. In this image, the cyclic nature of seasonal changes is represented by different stages of that lunar eclipse, with the totality of the eclipse representing Solstice. The images from the eclipse are real and they are mine. The sequence from left to right is real. The way they are used here comes from my imagination.

winter solstice
Turn, Turn, Turn

 

 

In the dark days of Winter, it would not be unusual for thoughts to turn every now and then to a return to Light. That doesn’t mean those thoughts would be constant or overtake over all others. Just little flashes that occasionally cross the mind.

The Persephone of this picture story, at the Solstice, the halfway mark of her visit to the Underworld, has no regrets.

Persephone
No Regrets

Persephone in the Underworld

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Persephone's Choice

Persephone in the Underworld

Persephone in the Underworld – how would you imagine it? I don’t mean when she was initially violently abducted from her beautiful springtime world on Earth by Hades, with the consent of her father, Zeus. I mean more when she returned year after year, as wife of Hades and Queen of the Underworld, at a time that would be Winter on Earth.

So many variations exist regarding that part of the myth that I felt free to pick anything I wanted. Some versions have Persephone despising Hades forever, but those are not the more common versions. Interestingly, many versions note that of the Greek god and goddess couples, they were the “most faithful” to one another, for whatever that is worth.

By most versions, Persephone and Hades did not have children together. Persephone had two, maybe three children, with two generally reported to be the result of rape by her father, Zeus. One more example of violence against women from world literature. It may be that ultimately her time in the Underworld with Hades in Winter, in the role of wife and Queen of the Underworld, was a welcome relief from wondering when and where her father would appear in her life on the beautiful Spring on Earth. Who knows?

Most note that she performed the entire range of her duties as Queen of the Underworld well.

So, was Persephone a beautiful trophy wife for Hades, but one in whom he had little to no interest beyond owning her once he had her? Did Persephone despise him every moment she was in the Underworld, counting every day until she could leave for the cyclic return to Earth? Did they fall into some kind of known routine, like old married couples, where they knew each other and what to expect, with a generally acceptable accommodation toward one another? Given artistic license, I’ve chosen to interpret the relationship through my imagination. And, at least in this post, I am not going to address her first Winter in the Underworld after he abduction by Hades. In this post I am looking more at her subsequent Winters, remembering that in earlier posts she chose to eat the pomegranate seeds, knowing she would be bound to Hades as his wife and required to return in a yearly cycle. The flip side of that coin is that she also knew she would have time each year on her own, as Goddess of Spring, with none of the duties of Queen of the Underworld. I said it in an earlier post, but I’ll say it again – I think of Georgia O’Keeffe’s marriage, and her time away on her own in New Mexico.

I have chosen to represent Persephone, after the first Winter in the Underworld, as in a fulfilling relationship with her husband, in the choice she made. (Call me Pollyanna.) These images are my representation of Persephone in the Underworld.

Persephone in the underworld
My Fate, by Choice
Persephone in the underworld
Fire of Passion
Persephone in the underworld
Persephone, Queen of the Underworld and Wife of Hades

Persephone’s Dilemma

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Persephone's Choice

Persephone’s Dilemma

Persephone’s dilemma: the pomegranate seeds. Many variations are found in different versions of the Persephone myth. All that I have seen so far agree that her father, Zeus, agreed to give her to his brother, Hades, without not just her consent but also without her knowledge. Just another example from the world’s literature of violence against women across time and space. That is how Persephone came to be in the Underworld in the first place: through the collusion of her father and uncle. Even I do not see how a young girl can fight that kind of strength against her. It is what it is, whether I like it or not. I cannot find a way in my mind to reinterpret that part of the myth.

After her mother, Demeter, in her grief and rage caused the Earth to go barren and be covered by Winter, Zeus worked out an agreement for Persephone to be allowed to return from the Underworld to Earth, bringing with her Spring and a return to life on the barren Earth. But, here is the hitch, at least for those of us who do not like Winter. While in the Underworld, Persephone had eaten some seeds of the pomegranate, binding her to her husband, Hades, with the requirement that she return to the Underworld for part of the year, during which time the Earth again experiences Winter. The time varies from three months to six months in different versions of the myth.

A major variation in different versions of the myth is how Persephone came to eat the pomegranate seeds in the first place. In some versions, she was tricked into it. In some versions she chose to eat the seeds, knowing full well the consequences. It was that variant that really got into my brain almost from the first day (September 15, 2015) I began to read the Persephone stories.

In my world, I do not see women as weak creatures who can be easily fooled. Over the years, studying copper miners’ wives as an anthropologist, or working with women as an obstetrican/gynecologist, I have seen women cope creatively and strongly with many different situations in which they found themselves, situations not of their own choosing. So, in my visual reinterpretation of the myth, I simply don’t buy that Persephone was tricked into eating the seeds.

Persephone had no choice initially about being in the Underworld with Hades. But in the various versions of the myth, she is not painted as being unhappy once she is there. Her mother, Demeter, is furious and grieving at the absence of her daughter, but that kind of feeling is not conveyed about Persephone, at least in the versions of the myth I have seen so far. In my visual painting of the myth, she chooses to eat the seeds, knowing she will be tied to Hades as wife, and that she will be required to spend part of her time in the Underworld. In some ways it actually reminds me a bit of Georgia O’Keeffe, who spent part of her time with her husband, and part of her time without him in New Mexico. I’ve always thought one of the better times in a former marriage was when we were commuting and seeing each other three days each month. It was very easy for me to see Persephone making the choice to eat the seeds.

Of course, in doing so, even though Demeter is the one who causes Winter to fall on the Earth, and that would never have happened if Zeus and Hades had not stolen her daughter (why don’t those two guys ever get blamed for Winter, anyway????????), it seems that in the end, Persephone bears much of the blame for Winter because she ate the seeds.

As I was thinking about that, and how I was going to present that visually, I couldn’t help thinking about another woman who brought grief to the world with another fruit, an apple: Eve and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. BOOM! Thinking about those two together certainly got my brain going. Persephone and the pomegranate bring us Winter, and Eve and the apple got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden. I began to see things in terms of Woman, not just Persephone. Woman, blamed for all kinds of grief in the world. I decided to play with that visually.

Persephone weighing whether or not to eat the pomegranate seeds, knowing and accepting that she would be blamed for some human misery at Winter. This is Persephone’s dilemma:

Persephone's Dilemma
No Matter Which, I’ll Be Blamed

Each Fall, she knew the time was approaching for her to return to the Underworld and we again see Persephone’s dilemma:

Persephone's Dilemma
The Time Approaches

Persephone accepts responsibility for her choice. In today’s terminology, “she owns it.”

Persephone's Dilemma
By My Choice

This myth presents such a rich tapestry to explore visually, and more chapters are to come. The next set will explore “what happens in the Underworld…” Stay tuned.

Pomegranate Symbolism and Power

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series Persephone's Choice

Pomegranate Symbolism and Power

pomegranate symbolism
Pomegranate Symbolism

Pomegranate symbolism is found around the world and in many religions. In myth it has a kind of power not found in most fruits. A very nice summary, “Why a Pomegranate?” was published by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. This article was written to explain why the pomegranate was chosen as the logo for the Millennium Festival of Medicine. The article contains a very good list of some of the world’s religions in which the pomegranate has significance:

    Judaism – Pomegranate seeds are said to number 613—one for each of the Bible’s 613 commandments. The pomegranate was revered for the beauty of its shrub, flowers, and fruit—symbolising sanctity, fertility, and abundance. The Song of Solomon compares the cheeks of a bride behind her veil to the two halves of a pomegranate.
    Buddhism – Along with the citrus and the peach, the pomegranate is one of the three blessed fruits. In Buddhist art the fruit represents the essence of favourable influences. In China the pomegranate is widely represented in ceramic art symbolising fertility, abundance, posterity, numerous and virtuous offspring, and a blessed future. A picture of a ripe open pomegranate is a popular wedding present.
    Christianity – A symbol of resurrection and life everlasting in Christian art, the pomegranate is often found in devotional statues and paintings of the Virgin and Child.
    Islam – Legend holds that each pomegranate contains one seed that has come down from paradise. Pomegranates have had a special role as a fertility symbol in weddings among the Bedouins of the Middle East. A fine specimen is secured and split open by the groom as he and his bride open the flap of their tent or enter the door of their house. Abundant seeds ensure that the couple who eat it will have many children.

The pomegranate is integral to the Persephone myth and its explanation of why the world has Winter. While many variations in the details of this myth abound, the referenced article gives a very good one:

In the Greek myth of Persephone’s abduction by Hades, lord of the underworld, the pomegranate represents life, regeneration, and marriage.1 One day while out gathering flowers, Persephone noticed a narcissus of exquisite beauty. As she bent down to pick it, the earth opened and Hades seized her and dragged her down to his kingdom. By eating a few pomegranate seeds, Persephone tied herself to Hades—the pomegranate being a symbol of the indissolubility of marriage. Inconsolable at the loss of her daughter, the corn goddess Demeter prevented the earth from bearing fruit unless she saw her daughter again. Zeus intervened and worked out a compromise: Persephone should live with Hades for one third of the year and the other two thirds with Demeter. Persephone’s return from the underworld each year is marked by the arrival of Spring.

Not only are there many variations in the myth, but it is full of plots and subplots, twists and turns. Some of you who are regular readers here know that my first visual work with the myth was a series involving sunflowers and butterflies.

When I finished that series of three images, I knew I wanted to visually explore many aspects of the myth, a myth in which I came to see Persephone in many ways as a mythic representation of Woman in general. Those were the aspects I especially wanted to explore and which you will see in coming images. Not only am I a woman, but much of my work in anthropology dealt with women, as, of course, did my work as an obstetrician/gynecologist. Photography has given me a means to express so many of my thoughts of life, especially life as a woman, in visual images that can be shared. First, here, I had to explain the symbolism and power of the pomegranate through time and space, so that future images are more meaningful.

I became familiar with the myth of Persephone through casual email correspondence with writer and fellow anthropologist, Jim Stallings. My mom grows pomegranates, and this fall I had the opportunity to photograph a lot of pomegranates! I knew I wanted the perfect model to portray my vision of Persephone, but had no idea how to find that perfect person. Life sometimes has a way of presenting unexpected opportunities, and in late October, the perfect person I had in mind appeared, and was willing to be my model for Persephone. You will see in the coming series of images how perfect and how beautiful she is, and how fortunate I have been to be able to work with her. You will be seeing Kelly Angerosa in the series already photographed, and hopefully in many more photographic projects in the future. Thank you for being such a delight to work with, Kelly.

Now that pomegranate symbolism has been introduced, the next several posts will concern Persephone in the myth and as Woman, presented visually.