Weed Wanderings herbal eZine with Susun Weed

December 2003
Wise Woman Wisdom...
Persephone’s Choice
by Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D.

She wakes, in an unknown place, in the dark. It is not yet dawn, she thinks, and then she begins to remember. The day before… and the night… the man she met… and then…. She closes her eyes, trying to block the memories, the shame, but she can smell him still on her body. It is as if he is in her body. In her.

Weeks later, she knows it is true. He is in her. In the form of child, growing within, yet not yet visible. She knows now she has to make a choice. And soon….

In the well-known story of Demeter and Persephone, we often see Persephone as the child, the daughter, the one who was abducted, victimized, taken away. We keep her here, as a Maiden, preserving her innocence, her powerlessness, and our sympathy for her plight. But in becoming Goddess of the Underworld, she does not remain simply Maiden, simply Daughter, simply Child. In the Underworld, Persephone moves from Maiden to Mother.

Most women today do not wait until marriage to experience their sexuality. I myself began having sex with my boyfriend during college.

I am responsible; I get a prescription for birth control pills. I am honest; I tell my mother.
She looks at the package, reads the instructions. As a devout Catholic who used the rhythm method during her violent marriage to my father, she’s never seen birth control pills.
“It’s evil,” she says. “See how they have you start on a Sunday? It’s to mock God.”
I say nothing. I take them anyway. I start on Sunday.

I continue to have sex even after this boyfriend and I break up. I also become less responsible. Less honest.

I sometimes do not use birth control. And I no longer tell my mother anything.

“It should be noted that once Persephone, the Maiden, eats of the fruit of the dark world-- the seed-filled symbol of sexual awakening and procreation-- she must live within that world for half of her life, returning to her mother as wife rather than virgin.... Persephone's journey, like Inanna's, can also serve as a metaphor for the individual's assimilation of the fruits of the dark unconscious, the progress beyond the paradisiacal but undifferentiated perfection of innocence."

I no longer tell my mother anything. Until I get pregnant. When I am in graduate school, at the age of twenty-two.

I drive the hour and a half to my mother’s house in a borrowed car, tell her I want to take a walk, and tell her I am pregnant.

And, I say, I want the baby.

She is wonderful. Supportive. Says I should move in with her and her husband, that they will help raise the child.

I cry. I have not felt this close to my mother, ever.

Most contemporary accounts do not mention Persephone's pregnancy or the birth of a child; Barbara Ardinger cites Robert Graves in asserting that "Persephone is faithful to Hades but has no children by Him.” On the other hand, Erich Neumann writes that when Kore/Persephone returns from the underworld, "the cry is heard, 'The noble goddess has borne a sacred child.' " While accounts differ on whether Persephone gave birth to a child, we do know that she was initiated into sexuality (through rape and later, marriage) during her time in the underworld.

Thus women who, like me, like Persephone, have been initiated into sexuality and an unplanned pregnancy in this way, are faced with a choice about whether to become mothers before they are prepared.

The choice of whether or not to become a mother makes a woman step into the place of her mother in a profound way. She may realize for the first time that her own mother may have had deep reservations during pregnancy—and this may bring about questions about her own beginning.
Did my mother imagine her life without me? Could this be the origin of the deep anger she sometimes reveals toward me?

Such searching may lead a woman to keep her child—as a way of making up for the lack she feels from her own mother.

I could keep this baby, mother him, to fill the space left empty by the absence of my own mother, Demeter….

Other women discover a new respect for their mothers when they are pregnant. If her mother was young or in a difficult marriage, if she was unmarried or still in school—all of the external circumstances of a mother’s life are brought into clearer focus now, and a woman may find forgiveness for her mother where before there was only pain.

Such a woman may decide to let her child go, in order to give herself a season of mourning for her own childhood before she takes on the responsibilities of a mother.

No, I will not bring a child into this place…. I will spare him the suffering that comes to those who must live in such an Underworld….

Whatever her decision, a woman who has become pregnant is different from a woman who has not. Because of the insight she gains in her new state, she is now more Mother than Maiden. She now tastes the burden of motherhood—the hard decisions, the guilt, the doubt—without the benefit of encouragement and praise that mothers who carry their babies in their arms receive from strangers as they walk down the street.

That night in my mother’s house, the pain begins. At first I think it is indigestion. Then the pain splits through me so quickly that I am screaming before I know what is happening.

My mother comes to me in my childhood bed, covered with a white eyelet comforter. “What is it?” she asks.

I tell her I do not know.

A week later, I am in this bed again. I have been hospitalized, had emergency surgery for the pregnancy that was ectopic. I will be having no baby. I am still in pain.

My mother walks into the room, in the early morning, already dressed for work. She takes a look at me in bed, groggy, and picks up the pain pills on the desk.

“Get up,” she says. “Call someone and find a ride back to school. You are an adult. It’s time to get back to work.”

She takes the pain killers with her as she walks out the door.

It is this wisdom-- the knowledge of death, the harsh realizations entailed in the move from Maiden to Mother, the new understandings of what it means to be a mother—that Persephone personifies. Women who have faced Persephone’s choice have had the opportunity to touch this aspect of the Feminine—the wise mother within who mourns for our lost girlhood, who reunites us as grown women with our mothers, and who prepares us, through pain and loss, to become mothers ourselves.

Years later, when the day finally comes when I hold my own baby, newly born, and caress the tender skin, I am a better mother for my struggle. I know the thin and painful line between life and death and I hold my baby more firmly in this life, treating the child with greater grace.

And when I am honest with herself as my friend who said after her abortion that things die every day, I know that mothers of living children are capable of many little deaths, too. So I learn to hold my tongue when I am angry, and I pull up patience when I am tired, and I find forgiveness for myself and for my mother so I can focus on the present every day.

I am a mother who appreciates the tedium and delights in the ordinary—because I know how easily it can slip away.


New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 67.
Goddess Meditations, Saint Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1998, p. 120.
The Great Mother , Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1955, 1991, pp. 318.


Mother/Daughter Special
Item Price:$ 27.00 (plus shipping) Two Susun S. Weed herbals, plus a free bonus. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year for the daughter; New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way for the mother, and Moon Days for you to share. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year gathers natural remedies for all aspects of fertility (including avoiding it), pregnancy, birth, and postpartum care of mother and babe. New Menopausal Years, Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90 gives you the information you need to "ace" menopause and become a postmenopausal woman with a healthy heart, strong bones, and great vitality -- without hormones. BONUS: Our gift to you - a hardbound copy of Moon Days, a great collection of women's writings on menstruation, edited by Cassie Premo Steele. This special collection of three insightful books will delight, surprise, and inspire you and your mother and your daughters! Retail value is $54.00, you save 50% - Yours for $27.00 plus shipping.
Order by credit card at http://www.herbalmedicinehealing.com/store/item_view.asp?estore_itemid=1000073

Weed Wanderings herbal ezine is sponsored by
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Susun Weed is one of America's best-known authorities on herbal medicine and natural approaches to women's health. Her four best-selling books--recommended by expert herbalists and well-known physicians--are used and cherished by millions of women globally. Topics include childbearing, breast health, menopause, wellbeing, and more.

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