“It is the going underground that gives them
this battered look — dark crescent moons beneath
the eyes, lips swollen and split at the corners.
Dirt in their scalps, at the roots.”
(Stephanie Bolster, “Portrait of Alice with Persephone”)
Mythological examples are a more basic form of the archetype – the goddess or heroine may not have companions or even a particular goal, but she does go “underground” and has an adversary and/or dark lover.
Persephone, or Kore (“maiden”), is the Greek goddess of renewal, and the Queen of the Underworld. While picking flowers with her friends as a young woman, she was kidnapped by Hades and brought to the Underworld. Her mother Demeter petitioned the other gods to intervene and let her go. But because Persephone ate the pomegranate seeds she was offered, she must stay as Hades’ queen for part of the year. When she returns to the earth above each year, fertility returns with her.
Ariadne was the princess in King Minos’ famous Labyrinth on Crete; she essentially lived within the Otherworld. She helped Theseus solve the Labyrinth and kill her monstrous brother the Minotaur, and in turn he took her with him on his ship. However, he abandoned her on an island, where she was found and married by the god Dionysos. Some versions of this legend, though, say that Ariadne already belonged to the god and betrayed him with Theseus, and so he had her killed in the end.
Inanna is a powerful goddess in Sumerian religion. Her most famous myth centers around her journey to the Underworld. First she had to pass through seven gates, leaving jewelry and garments at each until she was naked. Then she faced her sister, the dark goddess Ereshkigal, who killed her and hung her on a hook for three days. She was saved by the god Enki, but could not return to the earth unless someone took her place in death. Finally, she chose her husband Dumuzi, and was freed. While Inanna was in the Underworld, the earth ceased to be fruitful, as in the Persephone myth.
Psyche was a mortal girl so beautiful that she incurred the wrath of the love goddess Aphrodite, who sent her son Eros to use his magical arrows and make Psyche fall in love with a monster – however, he pricked himself instead, and fell in love with Psyche. The girl was eventually sacrificed on a mountaintop, but rescued by the wind and brought to a magical palace where an unseen bridegroom (Eros) came to her each night. Her jealous sisters convinced her he must be a monster, and her act of distrust caused him to leave. She eventually resorts to petitioning Aphrodite, who gives her a series of impossible and dangerous tasks to complete, including venturing into the Underworld to meet with Persephone. At the end, she is reunited with her love. This tale forms the basis for the story of Beauty and the Beast.