Into the Depths


October 23, 2018 at 11:22 am UT

picOur central star will soon shift signs, leaving the harmony-loving, cardinal air sign of Libra for Scorpio's deep, fixed water.

Scorpio symbolizes the process of death and rebirth, rules the time of year, here in the Northern Hemisphere, when the wheel is turning toward the darkest days of winter. The leaves are falling, the days are shorter, and the nights are long. It is a time for rest, winter's long slow preparation for a new growing season come spring. All around us are the undeniable signs that life is beating a fast retreat. Hades has burst forth from the Underworld, standing strong in his dark chariot with his smoldering good looks. He's found his love, Persephone, and they are off to their winter timeshare. Mother Demeter will have to wait until spring to see her daughter again.

Contrary to the way in which this myth is told, I don't see Persephone as merely a "kidnap victim" — and reading the myth this way I think muddles the deeper meaning of her story. Rather, I suspect Persephone went willingly, and perhaps the truth of this old tale was lost in translation long ago. The time was ripe to shed her old life. And it was her mother, the Goddess Demeter, who couldn't let go, and suffered for it, not Persephone. Persephone's story seems a distorted fragment of an older myth, a female agricultural figure of death and rebirth. Persephone has to sacrifice her protected life with mother because she has outgrown it. She recognizes that it is time to move on. She releases her past and steps into an unknown future; and for her courage, Persephone is transformed from maid into the Queen of Darkness, co-ruler of the Underworld, certainly not a victim, slave or mere wife.

This is an important distinction because Persephone is such a potent Scorpionic symbol of regenerative power. The painting shown above, by the French artist Charles-Joseph Natoire, depicts Persephone as the empowered, enthroned Queen of the Underworld sitting quite contentedly next to Hades as his equal. She is wise, powerful, and in the painting is giving Psyche l'elixir de beauté. Psyche had been sent by a jealous Venus to the Underworld on what Venus had hoped would be a "wild goose chase" ending in Psyche's death. But that's another story....

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According to the Roman poet Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, it was the nymph Arethusa who first reported to Demeter that Persephone was in the Underworld. Until then, she had been searching the world without pause for her missing daughter. Spring failed to arrive each year and famine had spread throughout the world. Ovid wrote that while traveling in her stream below the earth, Arethusa saw Persephone sitting on her throne as the queen of Hades. On hearing this, Demeter immediately got in her chariot and flew to Mt. Olympus to demand that Zeus return her daughter:

"... That she has been stolen, I will bear, if only he will bring her back; for your daughter does not deserve to have a robber for a husband."

To which Zeus replied:

"... If only we are willing to give right names to things, this is no harm that has been done, but only love ... But if you so greatly desire to separate them, Persephone shall return to heaven, but on one condition only: if in the lower-world no food has as yet touched her lips. For so have the Moerae decreed."

But it was too late, for Persephone had already eaten those pomegranate seeds. Yet Hades generously relinquished Persephone for part of the year — even when he did not have to — for as the Fates decreed, she was stuck there forever. In the Homer's Hymn to Demeter, there is an interesting passage where Hades speaks directly to Persephone, and from this we get a pretty good picture that Persephone was no powerless victim, but indeed a revered Queen:

"... And while you are here, you shall rule all that lives and moves and shall have the greatest rights among the deathless gods: those who defraud you and do not appease your power with offerings, reverently performing rites and paying fit gifts, shall be punished for evermore."

The myth of Persephone's abduction and return is obviously allegorical, she personifies the renewal of life each spring, life that springs from the earth, withdrawing back again after the autumn harvest with the seeds for next spring. Persephone was a vegetation goddess, and along with her mother were the central figures of the Eleusinian mysteries that predated the Olympian pantheon.

The Scorpio solar cycle symbolizes this same "descent" — the time when we are called to do the same, or rather symbolically the same: to face what is rotting in our lives, what is dead and dying and let it go, release it. The Scorpio cycle works much like a composter with the discarded, stale contents of our lives. Under cover of winter, what we release is transformed into gold: rich black earth for the seeds of spring. It's the necessary counterpart to vernal gestation, this Scorpionic creation of a fertile ground that supports new life. picPersephone goes to the Underworld for six months of the year, but reemerges, transformed and renewed as the May Queen, the Goddess of Spring, every year. An annual reminder, Persephone's fruit, the pomegranate, mostly seeds encased in blood-red juice, is ripe and ready for plucking at this Scorpio time of the year.

SCORPIO CYCLES AREN'T LIMITED to intense, life-or-death issues however. For a majority of us, this is the time to simply take out the proverbial trash: Releasing can be as simple as no longer returning the phone call of someone who — if you are "Scorpishly" honest about it — detracts rather than contributes to your life.deal with the clutter and stale air accumulating in your life. Every gardener knows that in order to grow the highest quality fruit, one must prune every winter. Releasing can be as simple as no longer returning the phone call of someone who — if you are "Scorpishly" honest about it — detracts rather than contributes to your life. It can mean facing where you play the victim and thus lose your power in certain relationships, and stopping that nonsense once and for all; or owning up to the fact that you are sometimes sneaky and manipulative rather than direct, clear and honest. It can be delivering a long overdue message of love, or telling someone who has hurt you the painful truth. It can even be something fun like gathering up all the drab, unhappy clothes in your closet, along with that chipped mug, and carting it all off to the Goodwill. It can be having the courage to start therapy in order to face some deep wounds from the past that still haunt you.

All you can learn is what your own inward life is and try to stay loyal to that. We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.

— Joseph Campbell

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picScorpio is the only sign to have three symbols — scorpion, eagle, and phoenix — a trinity of transformation. The phoenix is the mythical bird of Arabia, lost in the fire, yet arose from the ashes shiny and new, an ancient alchemical symbol of rebirth. The flames are purification, the burning of the dross — which can be an awful ordeal, exactly like burning in the fires of Hell. What we give up, though, is the cost of our transformation, and what makes it hard is the degree to which you or someone else in your life — like Persephone's mother — is holding on and cannot let go. We sacrifice to make room for greater things, but it requires sometimes a powerful act of courage and a willingness to step into the unknown.

And this, for me, is the meaning and inspiration of Persephone's story and the Scorpio cycle. After all, the planetary co-ruler of Scorpio, along with courageous Mars, is Pluto, God of the Underworld — or Hades as he was called by the Greeks.

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THE SCORPIO ARCHETYPE closely correlates with the Tarot card, Death, shown here from the Rider-Waite deck. On the card we see Death depicted as a skeleton in armor riding a white horse. picDeath has already trampled a king and approaches a child, young woman, and a bishop begging to be spared — but no one is immune to Death no matter how powerful, pious or young. On Death's banner is the five-petaled white rose, which according to occultist Eden Gray is a symbol for the life-force and Mars, Scorpio's traditional ruler. The rose also carries the meaning of purity and heavenly passion: transmutation and spiritual perfection, it is an ancient symbol for spiritual joy. While most of us today equate the rose with love, it carries all of these meanings. The rose is also an emblem of secrecy. This is where the Latin term sub rosa, literally "under the rose," arose. When secret societies met in medieval times, this flower was hung from the ceiling to remind members that what was being discussed was to be held in strict confidence, it was knowledge for initiates only.

The river in the background of the card flows out to the sea, representing the transmuting nature of life: water evaporates into vapor, condenses into clouds, which then rains down as water once more. Matter is never lost, it only changes its form. In turn, Death is the closing of one door so another can open, putting the past behind us to embrace the new day. In the distance on the Eastern horizon, the Sun is rising. Death symbolizes the renewal that comes from release, its larger meaning. An ending yes, but also a new beginning.

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Scorpio Keywords: Magnetic, Powerful, Deep, Intense, Penetrating, Obsessive

Famous Scorpios (in no particular order): Pablo Picasso, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Björk, K. D. Lang, Kurt Vonnegut, Sojourner Truth, Theodore Roosevelt, Aaron Copland, Anne Tyler, Albert Camus, Carl Sagan, Charles de Gaulle, Charles Manson, Claude Monet, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Gates, Dick Clark, Dylan Thomas, Ezra Pound, Ethan Hawke, Evelyn Waugh, Gerard Butler, Grace Kelly, Goldie Hawn, Howard Dean, Indira Ghandi, John Adams, John Cleese, John Keats, Johnny Mercer, Jonas Salk, Leonardo Dicaprio, Margaret Atwood, Marianne Moore, Marie Curie, Martin Scorsese, Marlene Dietrich, Owen Wilson, Peter Jackson, Richard Burton, Roy Rogers, Sally Field, Scarlett Johansson, Ted Turner, Vivien Leigh, Will Rogers

Gemstones: Topaz, Malachite, Apache Tear, Boji Stone, Emerald, Garnet, Herkimer Diamond, Obsidian, Rhodochrosite, Ruby

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The Serenity Prayer is, I think, particularly helpful at this Scorpio time of year. For letting go of what no longer works in our lives and what we have outgrown can be a supremely difficult and scary task. Fixed, Pluto- and Mars-ruled Scorpio does not give up until it has exhausted its search for the deeper truth and sometimes that search can border on unhealthy obsession. Keeping a detached perspective can be difficult, especially now, and this simple prayer is a helpful reminder of the importance of knowing that place "where angels fear to tread" and those times in life when it is a much wiser to let it go, and release it to a higher power:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.



Important Dates (UT) During the 2018 Scorpio Solar Month


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The illustration of the phoenix is from the Aberdeen Bestiary, a 12th century English illuminated manuscript. The entire bestiary has been digitized, and more information on and images from this interesting manuscript can be found at the Aberdeen Bestiary Project at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

The image of the constellation of Scorpio at the beginning of this article, is from: A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy by Jehoshaphat Aspin (nom de plume) published in 1825. Digital scan of this image was obtained from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, DC. There are no known restrictions on publication.

The Tarot card Death is from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. Authored by A. E. Waite and illustrated by Pamela Coleman, it was originally published in 1909 in England by Rider and Company. This image is a scan from an existing copy of the original deck.