I’m not sure when I heard the story the first time. I know it was in primary school- maybe 2nd grade?
“The reason we have winter is that Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, was taken to the underworld and forced to stay there half a year. While she was gone, her mother wouldn’t make things grow – so they don’t grow in Fall or Winter. Then she would return, and Demeter would be so happy that she would make flowers bloom, and it would be Spring again!”
Such a simple story, a lovely way to explain the seasons to girls and boys - a creation myth.
Recently I heard a different version:
The maiden, Persephone, is dancing in a meadow, celebrating the beauty and bounty of a warm day. The dark god, Hephaestus, kidnaps the maiden and takes her from the world. Above them Demeter is frantic, panicked, inconsolable. She rends her clothes, tears her hair, and madly races from here to there, crying, moaning, screaming for her daughter. Removed from this scene, overlooking the earth from a distance, Demeter’s mother, Hecate, watches as her daughter mourns. She does not interfere with events. She does not try to distract Demeter, nor offer her platitudes and false comfort. Hecate is the wise woman, who knows that life is unfolding as it must, as it will.
In this telling the humanity of the women and the presence of Hecate dominate the plot. This isn’t about Spring; this is the three stages of womanhood. Persephone plays like a child, marries like a queen, and separates from her mother willingly in the end. The Maiden attracts a man and shares his fate and fortune. Demeter nurtures life and loves with an intensity that forces all other concerns into the periphery. The Mother works to feed the world, and sacrifices everything for her offspring. Hecate, the wise Crone, watches the cycle, knowing that life is change until it ends. The Grandmother can care for her children without struggling to keep the world from turning.
This story was told by a woman to a circle of women. She is a mother and a farmer – Demeter personified, which made the experience resonate deeply in my heart and mind. I hope to enter Cronehood knowing it is a blessed time of life, not to be trivialized. Life needs the wisdom of those who know that the cycles come around – even if they do not say it. The silence of Hecate is a sacred space in the universe.
Sage and Crone, Sage and Crone,
Wisdom’s gift shall be our own.
Crone and Sage, Crone and Sage,
Wisdom is the gift of age.