Emerging from the Underworld: a book review by Eline Kieft

Desperately Seeking Persephone: A Shamanic Journey Through the Underworld by Janet Rudolph weaves together a healing journey from abuse and rape, a deep personal connection with the goddesses Inanna and Persephone, and the ups and downs of a long-term shamanic apprenticeship. These strands could have easily filled three separate books, but Janet masterfully crafts an integrated tapestry of personal and mythical strands. She integrates everyday life experiences, liminal space and the archetypal realms until something new emerges that is more than personal story, more than myth, and more than a description of discovering a shamanic path.

Her language flows like a gentle river, even though the emotional content is not always easy to read. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a combination of such poetic depth and stark honesty that gives a visceral understanding of abuse and rape, suffocation, fear, and the abomination of being touched without permission, while at the same time ‘holding’ this experience within a larger awareness of growth and healing. Being able to share the wisdom gifts from a place of integrated healing is perhaps the ultimate gift from an underworld journey, and Janet shines as one who has travelled a path of dismemberment and came out more-than-reintegrated.

The book asks how trauma can be faced and healed when the underworld is ‘residing’ in oneself. It is a study in recognising and overcoming fears, as well as a process of learning to listen to and follow one’s inner wisdom. Journeys to the underworld are a common theme in mythology, yet few pay attention to the return, and the integration afterward.

In her search of healing, Janet turned to Inanna and Persephone as personal guides. She throws a ceremonial pyjama party, inviting them for hot cocoa, chocolate, pomegranate and wine. The goddesses offer practical advice and spiritual insight, but as often when doing this kind of work, there is a reciprocity in the exchange. In inviting them and asking them to tell their story, the goddesses too are seen and witnessed in their suffering. A sister-triad emerges across time and place.

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