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Persephone Rising, by Carol Pearson.

October 7, 2015

Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within by Carol S. Pearson.  HarperElixir (2015), 400 pages

3 stars

A popularized account of Greek myths and a discussion of how women can incorporate them into their own lives in order to live more fully.

Carol Pearson is a scholar known for her ability to write about myths for the general readers. Her orientation is in Jungian psychology, which she uses to explain personal and social behavior. More substantive than most how-to-do-it books, she seeks to convey ways in which women in particular can understand themselves and live more fully.

Pearson, like other Jungians, believes that we all contain archetypes which are universal but appear in changing historical conditions. She believes that by identifying the archetypes that predominate in ourselves and those which we need to strengthen, we can find purpose and meaning in our lives. In this book, she explores the myths of Persephone and Demeter as well as the male archetypes of Zeus and Diothenes. After explaining her overall framework, she devotes a section to each of these four. For each she explains the archetype, gives several of its qualities and shows its relevance for today. She also includes thought exercises designed to help a reader explore their personal relationship to each of them.

Overall I have to admit that I find works like Pearson both useful and troubling. I share her sense that archetypes and myths can be useful tools for self-understanding and growth. I am also supportive of the directions in which she encourages individuals to develop, especially the encouragement for us all to become more committed to non-violent change and the needs of a range of others beyond our selves. But as I read her book, I often had a nagging feeling that she was pushing her points too far. She was making too many claims that were not coherent or in factual error. While I commend her for putting the myths in the context of scholarship in a variety of fields, she seemed to be “cherry-picking,” rather than showing a real understanding of what others were saying. For example, her attempt to explain prehistoric archaeology with Jungian theory leads her to claim that agriculture was a blessing for women and simply to ignore scholars who claims that it was a period of growing male domination.

In addition, while I have profited personally from exploring the myths of Persephone and Demeter, I have problems with the Jungian approach which takes gender ideals from the upper classes in the later nineteenth century and universalizes them. For me, this process is part of how colonialism often meant imposing western values on other cultures. Such practices make it hard to hear what is valuable about non-western ways of understanding and prone to view others as defective.

Despite my unease, I love Persephone and Demeter. I see the need for women to wrestle with the dangers of Zeus and the tools we need learn from him. I found it harder to understand the connection of Diothenes to the myth although I see her point that he, too, is a valuable archetype.

I recommend this book to readers, especially women, who are looking for conceptual structures for understanding themselves and are drawn to archetypal images. People who have not explored Jungian theory will find this a good introduction. I suggest, however, that what she says is a truth, rather than the universal truth she claims.

For women interested in a Jungian approach, I have found Jean Shinoda Bolan’s numerous books less presumptive.

Thanks to the publishers for sending me a digital copy of this book to review.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2015 6:44 pm

    I recognise what you say about ‘a truth’ rather than ‘a universal truth’ in a few feminist books I’ve read. In their attempt to correct sexism in history or whatever, they overdo it a bit. Which is a pity, because it makes the whole exercise vulnerable to being dismissed…

    • October 12, 2015 10:14 am

      All too true. But even for those who don’t overstate their views, there is the issue of fitting together a variety of truths about whatever happens.

      Please be patient with me as I try to back into my blogging routine.

  2. October 12, 2015 5:06 pm

    You take your time, Marilyn, and enjoy life!

  3. October 13, 2015 7:41 am

    A fine review,as always. 🙂

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