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
Most women today do not wait until marriage to experience
their sexuality. I myself began having sex with my boyfriend
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.
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
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,
Goddess Meditations, Saint Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1998, p. 120.
The Great Mother , Princeton, Princeton University Press,
1955, 1991, pp. 318.
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