Of Purple, and of Scarlet: The Mysterious Pomegranate

Of purple (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

“And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof …”
Exodus 28:33-34

Every autumn, just as leaves finally fall from the trees and gardens wilt and squashes go wild with bumps, I pass quickly by the bins of scarlet pomegranates in the grocery store. Their mystery intimidates me, yes, these pomegranates. I yearn for the courage to transcend my book knowledge of this ancient fruit, this rubescent symbol of  fertility and love and death. I long to see for myself what fascinated ancient Persians over 3500 years ago,  why so much poetry – “The Song of Songs” for one – and mythology surround this leathery-skinned fruit plump with succulent seeds.

Does the breast-shaped pomegranate explain winter or a mother’s love or the Earth’s fertility?

Truthfully, the person who first stuck a knife into a pomegranate could probably claim kinship to the first person who opened up an oyster or smashed apart a sea urchin. That first cut reveals scores of juicy seeds, covered with a translucent red membrane, bleeding like a flesh wound. A thin white membrane separates the clusters of seeds from one another, not unlike the flimsy walls of a cheap motel. And this membrane recalls the cells of bee hives, small wombs, dark places where the young snuggle until life propels them out into the world.

There’s something calming about photographing my progress through the pomegranate. To photograph this way demands a slowing down, to see what I might not see if all I needed to do was to squeeze the juice from the little seeds, or arils. It’s a form of mindfulness, I guess.

And the pomegranate reminds me of the eternal human struggle to make sense of the world. As I watch the vermilion-colored juice seeping across my cutting board, I think of the Greek myth of Persephone, about a young virgin condemned to Hell because she ate some pomegranate seeds. Her mother, Demeter, goddess of grain and harvest,  mourned Persephone’s absence by making the Earth infertile for several months out of the year.

I contemplate this myth as I look out my kitchen window at the leafless trees, their bare branches framing the horizon, and the drying herbs languishing in clay pots on the porch.

I feel a slight frisson ripple across the back of my head and down my neck as I continue to scoop out seeds from the pomegranate, its juice staining my hands red like blood, staining my hands with the color of life.The enormity of it all hits me:  In my hands I’m holding a small piece of human history.

Organic pomegranates (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
From smallness comes greatness (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
And there will be blood upon thy hands (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
Seeds foretell the future, even if sometimes they seem to be wrapped in bitterness (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
And rubies shall be yours (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
Sometimes one small thing brings sublime joys (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
And of scarlet (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

For more about the pomegranate in its many permutations, see my previous posts by clicking on the following links:

The Artful Pomegranate

The Archaeology of the Pomegranate

Nightly She Sings on Yon Pomegranate Tree

© 2012 C. Bertelsen



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