Demeter and Persephone: Sacred Mother, Beloved Daughter our own processes through the themes of mother-daughter relationship, familial love, loss, grief. Demeter has already been named “mistress mother” (πότνια μήτηρ, 39) in relation to her daughter Persephone. To then be called a daughter herself suggests. In Demeter and Persephone we meet the archetypes of mother and maiden. Theirs is the earliest mother-daughter relationship, which the post Mycenaean.
Third, it gives precedence to the initial mother-daughter intimacy that is broken by the violent intervention of a man, Hades. Fourth, it reunites mother and daughter who, at the end, maintain their closeness but are two different women with distinct identities. Finally, the principal structure of this story is a circle: I hope you see how useful this myth can be for rethinking the mother-daughter relation in our own lives, as well as in fiction.
To give you a sampling of the many frameworks in which critics are currently working, I draw on three thinkers whose ideas I find especially illuminating. Irigaray rejects the traditional psychoanalytic model in which the foundational opposition between the masculine and the feminine — between self and other, between subject and object, between the paternal and the maternal — aligns the absent or passive term of the binary with the feminine.
To put this all another way: For that reason, says Irigaray, it is essential that women express their desire, thereby liberating this repressed voice. By writing and speaking fully as themselves, women will not only recognize maternal power, they will redefine relations between women, and between women and men, as life-affirming. One less well-known critic I would like to mention is the British sociologist Steph Lawler.
To be a daughter? Throughout western history, women have been held responsible for the physical and emotional development of their offspring.
For Lawler, to resist cultural prescriptions cannot be simply to reject current social codes governing female behavior. When read through the prism of these re-visionings of motherhood and daughterhood, these fictions offer models of female strength and efficacy.
In that way, they contest not only the enduring negative myths about women but also the constricting attitudes toward female development of the societies from which they arose. Children were sent away to convents or pensions when young and did not return until the age of marriage.
As a result, intimacy in families was rare. Except for some widows and artistic patrons, women generally did not function in the public realm from which written stories and histories arose.
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All a virtuous woman can do is flee the court, which Mme de Chartres herself had done when she was widowed and which the Princess, too, ultimately does. Since this is a novel, there is, of course, a love story. The princess falls passionately in reciprocated love with the Duke of Nemours.
And, it is here that the mother-daughter bond prevails: The wonderful writer Colette painted many admiring portraits of her mother, Sido, most compellingly in her novel, The Break of Day. Though she has been dead for many years, she bequeaths her reverance for living things to her daughter and remains a creative model for her.
Further, like Persephone, the fictional Colette holds fast to her primary love object, her mother, even while she engages with men. There is one other important parallel: Like Sido, the aging Colette opts to spend her last years in productive solitude. Like her mother, she devotes her energies to observing the creatures around her, writing fiction from her own vision of the world.
In this sense Colette, like Sido, becomes a creative foremother for future generations of women artists. Finally, by writing this novel, the daughter gives life to the mother — Colette closes the circle and gives birth to Sido.
There is a novel from the French-speaking world which, more than any other, pushes against the damaging assumptions of the core western myths of Oedipus and Electra. Written from outside of the European tradition, the story itself takes on the power of a founding Caribbean legend. Meanwhile, Demeter is left on earth, searching desperately for her daughter.
Mothers & Daughters: The Myths We Live By | Mount Holyoke College
She cannot find her anywhere and begins to wander the earth, until she reaches the town of Eleusis. Old and desperate, she is taken in by some parents. She helps to care for their son and to return their favor, she puts the child in the fire each night, to make him immortal. Horrified, the parents ask her to leave and she fiercely threatens them.
To spare their life, they agree to Demeter to build her at temple. From her newly built temple, Demeter hides and allows the beautiful plants and growing things to die. Everything withers in her sorrow and rage for the loss of her daughter. Winter, death, and famine descend upon the land.
The humans are starving, until finally the gods intervene. Hermes is sent to the Underworld to bring Persephone home to her mother. However, upon his arrival to the land of the dead, he is amazed not to find a weepy sorrowful daughter, but instead a radiant and glowing Queen. She loves her new home and is helping the spirits of the dead cross over. Hermes requests her to return and Persephone is torn. Finally, Hades gifts Persephone six pomegranate seeds, the food of the dead.
She eats them and returns to her mother, Demeter. Demeter is so overwhelmed with joy and exuberant love that spring begins to blossom in Persephone's return.
However, because her daughter has eaten the six seeds, she must return to Hades each fall. During this time of lament, Demeter again causes the earth to wither and die and be reborn in Persephone's arrival come spring bringing with her the renewal of hope, harmony, and beauty. When I first heard this story in sixth grade I was immediately intrigued. I loved the explanation of the seasons, and there was something alluring about Persephone's descent. Eating the seeds of the dead and having to return each year made sense to me, in a deep, archetypal way.
Similarly, my own eleven-year-old daughter is fascinated with the story I leave out the rape version and also, with the eating of these seeds; this ingesting of something that connects you to a place this is mysterious, unseen, forbidden even. The word "Hades" means "unseen," as well as "death" and "abode of the dead. Only later in history does Hades become personified as a dark, alluring, handsome, and destructive man who seduces, abducts, or rapes Persephone, depending on the version.
As myths communicate on several levels at once, Hades can also be seen as the dark times in our lives, initiations perhaps when we are dragged into the Underworld against our conscious will. In this way, innocence is lost and we enter the dark night of the soul. This may be in the form of any kind of loss, grief, or deep pain. In the particularly sensitive passage from girlhood to womanhood, when girls enter puberty, this loss of innocence is so often connected to sexuality and exploring that, being subjected to it, or seeking out validation.
In Thomas Moore's examination of the myth he suggests that Hades is the dark subterranean undercurrents that our children, our daughters, are drawn to or fascinated by. Whether we chose to participate or not, certainly we can all remember the strange allure of illegal activities, forbidden films, sexual encounters, drugs, and other mind altering experiences. In more ancient versions of this myth, long before it became the Rape of Persephone, Persephone chooses from her own willingness to enter the Underworld.
According to Charlene Spretnak's research, " In her reclaimed version of the Persephone and Demeter myth, Spretnak offers the new-old perspective in which Persephone willingly and determinedly descends to the Underworld in a yearning to help earth-bound spirits cross over to the light.
Persephone as Dark Mother As we peer even further into the twilight of ancient history, we find the Persephone's role as the Queen of the Underworld is far less the story of a young maiden, and much more a powerful, fierce, fearsome even Goddess of death, dissolution, and rebirth. In this way, Persephone is akin to the dark mother archetype found in other cultures such as Ereshkigal, Inanna's dark sister of the underworld, or Kali, the fearsome yet benevolent goddess archetype of India who both devours flesh and yet also grants boons to her devotees.
Kali spends her time in charnel grounds, intimately connected with the dead. Is it possible that a more ancient version of Persephone was the ruler of the Dead, in equal nature as Demeter?
In Homer's Iliad, Persephone is "grim," and in the Odyssey, she is "dread" or the "awesome one. Persephone is not necessarily such an innocent Maiden after all, but instead a complex feminine archetype.
And her abduction by Hades may have a much deeper meaning, one that indicates a more shamanic story behind the myth. If we are to view Hades not as just a Greek lord, but instead as Death itself, loss of ego, dissolution—the shamanic perspective—we find new ways to relate to this myth and bring it into the contemporary connection in our own lives.
Myths are not only stories, but reflections of societal shifts and changes. As the ancient story of Persephone and Demeter passed down through the ages, Spretnak suggests that "evidence indicates that this twist to the story was added after the societal shift from matrifocal to patriarchal The Grieving of Demeter After Persephone enters the Underworld, whether by force or by choice, the loss of her daughter evokes such profound grief within her mother Demeter's heart.
This depth of experience was central to the Thesamorphia, an ancient woman's grieving ritual inspired by the story of Demeter and Persephone. Later, it is believed that in the memory of her sorrow Demeter herself established the Eleusinian mysteries to bring the central connection to death and life to the initiates. Sorrow is the winter of the heart; the death of something that we love dearly. True loss is both stark in its reality, knowing that a beloved person or time will never return and never happen again.
Professor of religious studies Christine Downing recounts, "All of us who are mothers know After the profound loss of my first daughter, who stopped breathing a few days after birth, I felt completely numb for an entire year. I recall being in Kathamndu, Nepal, in a shell-shocked state, unable to sleep for weeks. I watched a woman next door dressed in complete black slowly chopping down the dead grass with a small scythe.
This repetitive motion was like the song in my heart at that time, forlorn in the wake of death and loss. After a year, there was a natural turning, when the grieving, as if some mysterious time clock ticked over into a new phase and the sorrow made way for beauty and rebirth. In the myth we also see that Demeter attempts to turn her mothering instinct toward the baby boy, tending to him and also putting him in the fire to make him immortal.
Like Mother, Like Daughter: Rhea and Demeter as Models of Subversion in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter
Moore remarks that, "the myth shows us that there is a difference between human mothering and divine mothering.
The latter has a broader perspective and is a deep form of the maternal impulse. In Demeter's loss, she seeks to continue her role as mother. Similarly, women and men too often seek out a way to mother perhaps after a loss or in the sorrow of being unable to have children of one's own.
The connection between human and divine is a constant reflection of our own mundane lives and the grace of divinity that sparks within.
Children are the embodiment of this dance; on the one hand they are so naturally born to us and on the other our love for them is so strong it mirrors our own connection to the divine. Spring and Rebirth At long last, with humans starving, the earth dead and withered, the messenger Hermes is called to retrieve Persephone and bring her back to her sorrowful mother.