A reading of Burning Silk by Destiny Kinal at Riverrow Bookshop in Owego Sunday January 15th, 2011 morphed into a discussion of the Persephone myth, a natural midwinter theme dealing with the maladies of SADD, depression, and loss of community.
The discussion ranged further into the coming hard times that many are anticipating, not only from the economic downturn, but also from the collapse of our environment as global climate change proceeds: how do we prepare for these changes?
Participants pointed out that hard times are already afflicting those at the bottom of the economy, those who have depended on the underground economy to survive. Two individuals volunteered that they had just lost their jobs because their companies moved to China, a job one of them had held for 16 years.
Persephone, the story goes, the daughter of Mother Earth or Ceres, was abducted and dragged into the underworld by Pluto. The world went into an endless winter as Ceres mourned. The animals sent a delegation to Pluto to negotiate for Persephone’s return. A deal was struck: Persephone could return to the surface of Earth if she ate nothing for an entire year during her stay in the underworld.
At the end of the year, Persephone ate three pomegranate seeds. Thus, a new deal had to be made: Persephone returns to the surface in the spring and summer while in the fall and winter, she remains in the underworld. In this way, not only were the season explained by our ancient forebearers but also death and the consequences of our mortality.
Medicine man of the Lenape Big Horn Band, David Chamberlain, told a myth from his people of horned serpents who live in the underworld, whose ill effects are released when the earth is pierced too deeply. A similar story of an abduction of a human girl by the horned serpents is told by the Lenape as well. Chamberlain, known as Hitakonanulaxk in Lenape, is the author of The Grandfathers Speak: Tales of the Lenape People. The book is available at SRAC on Broad Street in Waverly.
John Doscher of Lockwood, NY, and author of a body of work studying the possibilities of a sustainable society, read three poems on the subject of loss and transformation.
Michael Sean O’Dwyer (Kane) of Waverly and Addison NY read from his recently released book, A Voice in the Wilderness, on his hike from Florida to Canada on the Appalachian Trail, during which time he naturally reflected on the state of the world. O’Dwyer/Kane read passages describing that winter of the soul we call despair as well as thoughts on organizing and strengthening community locally.
The group seemed to agree that the biggest challenge we face now is the disintegration of community, so necessary to organizing to meet hard times prepared. The theme of knowing how to grow your own food and preserve it came up repeatedly.
Destiny Kinal spoke about the metaphor of metamorphosis from a worm to a winged thing, that lies at the heart of Burning Silk, her novel about the alliance between French Huguenot silkmakers and their native American neighbors in southern Pennsylvania in the 1830’s.
Burning Silk, the first novel in the Textile Trilogy, will be followed in 2012-13 by Linen Shroud, which–continuing the story of the Duladier and Montour families in their march toward modernity–takes place during the US Civil War.
Riverrow Bookshop, which is run by John Spencer, one of Owego’s community development entrepreneurs, together with his daughter Laura, features an entire section at the front on regional authors. The basement of the bookstore, organized by subject and genre, is a treasure trove for book collectors.
The organizers of the reading will be meeting to decide whether the Persephone midwinter reading should be an annual event, open to regional writers to read from their work on these themes: the psychological trips to the underworld that afflict us humans at this time of year and the prospect of coming hard times. How can we prepare ourselves for a possible collapse that many scientists and social prognosticators are predicting?
Contact the Reinhabitory Institute online at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to comment on the event and continue the discussion on the importance of community in weathering hard times.