A childfree reimagining of the myth of Persephone
A childfree pagan’s journey to claiming her mythology
At what point did I decide to remain childfree? As a little girl, like all little girls, I had thought I wanted a family. Sometime in college something changed for me. I realized that I didn’t personally feel a need to bear and raise a child. I didn’t have a desire to be pregnant or to give birth. In college, I began to date the person who has become my life partner. At the start of the relationship, I contemplated what we would do with our futures. Would that future involve children? Because of social pressure, I didn’t have the confidence to tell right away that I wasn’t interested in kids. Occasionally the subject would come up and we would both politely say, “one day we’ll have kids.” Then one day, the discussion changed. He said “I only said I wanted kids because I thought you wanted kids.” And I said, “I only said I wanted kids because I thought you wanted them.” And we laughed and cried and for the first time we realized that we were both on the same path and that really felt good. We could be comfortable being partners to one another because neither of us felt we were holding the other back from something they wanted. That was many years ago, and now in my thirties the choice to remain childfree has never been so public. Once you reach the age where most if not all of your friends have children of their own, the lack of such offspring becomes a topic of conversation. “So when are you having kids?” It is times like these when you politely smile and nod and say something like, “I love kids. I just like them better when the belong to someone else.”
So when did the Goddess decide not to have children? Okay, I understand the stunned silence. The Goddess did not make such a decision. She is, in fact, the eternal mother of all. She is the earth and all it encompasses. She is the very cycle of life, death and rebirth. But the Goddess also chose to make me as well as all the other childfree people and couples on this earth and our decision are not one that goes against Her. It is one that embraces everything she stands for; most importantly, the right to chose for us. She gave us each free will.
Many forms of Paganism are fertility-based religions. The Charge of the Goddess even instructs, “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” Paganism honors the circle of birth and death and many of us celebrate that throughout the year. Beltane celebrates the fertility of the land, the animals and each other while Samhain counters with the honoring of those who have passes and the “death” of the harvest. Birth is all around us all the time in the pagan tradition. The Goddess is our Mother.
But what does this mean to the person, particularly the woman, who has chosen not to procreate? Who specifically chose to remain “child free”? What is the role of a woman in a fertility cult who chooses not to bear children?
As I crossed the threshold of my 30s, all of my friends and women my age, seemed to be having children. I was part of an outside circle. Friends didn’t want to go out at night any given Friday. People had to find a sitter and there was a loss of spontaneity, at least through my perception. However, I noticed something in myself – I didn’t have the desire to lead that kind of life. Many people believe that “child free” is inherently “anti-child” but that couldn’t be further from the truth either. For myself, especially being a part of a fertility religion, Children make up an incredibly important part of the cycle. But I wanted on opt-out for that cycle myself. The question remains, am I missing out on something? Am I losing perspective as a pagan woman? What place does this carve for myself in the pagan tradition?
So this brings me back to the question, “When did the Goddess choose not to have children?” The mythologies of this sort are few and far between. In fact, they seem pretty limited to the Greek and the Roman Mythologies. There is Hestia or Vesta the sacred virgin. There is Artemis, the hunting goddess that is the moon to her twin brother’s sun. And there is Athena, the armor clad goddess of wisdom and war. There is one other goddess who also chose to remain childfree – but this aspect of her myth seems to be glossed over by the rest of her sensational story. Her story sets her apart from the other goddesses as well because she is the only childfree goddess who also has a life long partner. This goddess is Persephone.
Ancient Mythology is an ingrained part of our culture. Even as children, we are taught the stories of Greece and Rome, no matter what our religious upbringing might be. Everyone is familiar with the Odyssey and the adventures of Ulysses. These stories and the stories of all ancient cultures are important to the history of civilization. As pagans, we are able to interpret these mythologies and apply them in our every day practices. We find the moral message or seasonal symbolism and live them on a day-to-day basis. And that is exactly how the story of Persephone speaks to me as an adult, childfree pagan with a life partner.
With so many versions of this myth we are certainly unable to determine just how they began and which aspects are original. Just as most people only regard these stories as myths – ways to explain what was otherwise unexplainable, we can look deeper into the archetypes and determine why our ancestors used these specific symbols to explain the world around them. Thus I discovered my own mythology of the Goddess Persephone as I studied her stories and honored her in ritual. Much of it is creative interpretation and I don’t begin to claim that it is the only or the best Persephone mythology out there, but it was through developing this story that I connected with Persephone on a deeper level. In fact, Greek mythology even contradicts itself at one point or another and there are even some stories that tell of Persephone’s children with one god or another. For me, the core of her myth is more about her story as a daughter and a wife (a Maid and a Queen) than about motherhood in any way.
As I began my path through Paganism, I found myself drawn to Persephone’s story, and yet I always felt there was something missing within it. The stories as I learned them were filled with violence and male domination. These themes are apparent in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter where Persephone is violently abducted by her husband/uncle and spirited away to the underworld and forced to live with him. Other more modern pagan versions eliminated the male aspect of her story all together bringing out the Maiden Mother and Crone aspect of modern Wicca out in the stories focusing on Persephone, her mother, Demeter, and Hekate the wise old crone (which is a discrepancy for another time and place). I found myself wanting to relate to Persephone’s character, but unable to connect to the other players in her story. After studying all of these interpretations I was able to piece together a mythology that spoke to me. As I said, I acknowledge this as my own interpretation with scholarship to back it up. I wanted a myth that justified the actions of the gods and created strong female roll models and positive male characters. Persephone’s journey from Maiden to Queen was my way of understanding my place in this pagan world. Following in her footsteps and living her mythology helps me grow as Pagan, particularly as a childfree pagan woman within a fertility religion paradigm. Eventually, I pledged myself to work for and with Persephone. Her path is one that can empower those who have chosen to remain childfree and honor the Goddess tradition.
Many female oriented pagan traditions follow the pattern of the moon from month to month, but I have always been more oriented to the solar cycle. As an Aries it isn’t hard to imagine that I tend to reflect more on the fiery aspects of the sun’s cycle than that of the moon. The moon’s cycle is a beautiful and essential key to some forms of pagan spirituality, but the solar aspects are often reserved for the male Gods. But that was not true for Persephone and her underworld journey. Seeing her myth as an explanation of the season cycle, it can be interpreted as more of a solar tradition.
What happens when a pagan does moved through the standard cycle of woman hood as laid out in typical Wicca tradition? I was once told by someone with the best of intentions that it didn’t matter whether or not I ever had natural children, that the “mother” represented the Universal Mother and that all women are part of her. While intentions were pure, the truth is that I do not connect with the Mother archetype, whether literal or part of the Universal Mother theme. I accept and honor the Universal Mother, but I do not relate to her. That being said, Carl Jung tells me that there must be an archetype out there for me to embrace. Some childfree pagans or women between maiden and mother often chose to honor the Warrior – often symbolized at the wise Pallas Athena or the great Huntress Artemis.
Not every pagan woman connects with the Warrior archetype either, including myself. And once again I was left empty without a mythology of my very own. That was when Persephone herself smacked me over the head and reminded me that while she begins her journey as the Maiden, she ends it as a proud and powerful Queen. And that was when it struck me – the archetype I was looking for was the Queen. Queen, of course, does not rule out the presence of children in one’s lives – a child-full archetype of a powerful queen is represented as Hera, Queen of Olympos. However, the other side of the coin is Persephone, Queen of the Underworld who rules along side her husband and remains a daughter forever, but never a mother.