Maiden of Life. Bringer of Death. Goddess of the Underworld. These labels evoke strong visuals and sensations from within the magical individual. But they only begin to scratch the surface of who Persphone Goddess of Life and Death actually is. Her worship goes beyond Ancient Greece, stretching across bodies of water and continents. Here we meet Persephone, explore her origins and myths, and learn how to work with her in our modern pagan practice.
Like so many other deities of the Greek pantheon, Persephone is believed to have been a transport from a foreign land. Meaning, her worship was not born in Ancient Greece but Thracia. Thracia was a region in the Southeast Balkans in Europe in what is now parts of Macedonia and Bulgaria. Scholars believe this dynamic goddess originated in an agricultural-based cult in the Balkans. And, while she is a symbol of the earth and the life it provides, she is also a symbol of death. Her name Persephone is related to phonon which means to bring death. Persephone has many other names including Kore, Core, and Proserpina.
Persephone is often worshipped alongside her mother, the earth goddess Demeter, and sometimes alongside her husband, Hades God of the Underworld. According to Greek myth, Persephone was born to Demeter and Zeus. But in one myth, she is actually the daughter of Zeus and Styx. Her children are Zagreus and Melinoe (of whom may be a manifestation of the witch goddess Hecate) by her father Zeus. And the Erinyes by her husband Hades.
The Divine Maiden represents sacred polarity in the life and death dynamic. She is Queen of the Underworld for one-third or one-half of the year (depending on the source), and for the other part of the year she returns to the earth and brings Spring. She is the personification of the vegetation that shoots forth from the ground in the Spring and the crop that is harvested before Winter. Why she spends part of her year in the Underworld and the other part on the earth’s surface will be detailed in the story of Persephone and Hades below. Needless to say, the myths illustrate the fact that Persephone has domain over death and can even send a person/soul back from the Underworld…should she feel the person worthy.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were a set of important rituals that took place in Greece annually for at least one thousand years, according to thecollector.com. They happened sometime in September and commemorated the myth of Demeter and Persephone in conjunction with the seasonal changes of the earth (the springing forth of the crop and the harvest, etc.). These rituals were some of the most sacred and therefore the most mysterious to the outside world. But what we do know is this – priestesses and initiates took on a fourteen day ordeal involving purification rituals, sacrifices, fasting, and ending in a procession from Athens to Eleusis.
The myth has it that during Demeter’s (representative of the Earth) nine days of searching for her daughter Persephone (the crop/corn), she stopped in Eleusis where the people offered her aid. Because of this, the people considered Eleusis sacred to the goddess and there was a large temple dedicated to Demeter and Persephone there. The Eleusinian rites are theorized to have been a reenactment of the rape and capture of Persephone, and the agony that Demeter experienced when she searched for her daughter for 9 days. Some scholars propose the actual rape and sacrifice of a maiden in the rites as literal. The issue with this is – we just don’t know what happened in the temple in Eleusis during the rites. That is why they are called “Mysteries”.
“In such natural and obvious comparisons of the breeding plant to a breeding woman, and of the young grain to a young child, is to be sought the origin of the kindred Greek conception of the Corn-mother and the Corn-daughter, Demeter and Persephone.”Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough
Another well-known myth featuring Persephone is the story of her supposed rape and kidnapping by the god of the Underworld, Hades. In our post here, we discuss how there are different perspectives on this ancient myth. And that Persephone might have actually willingly gone with Hades to the Underworld. Looking at an experience like this from a mother’s perspective, as if Demeter were a real mother whose child was taken from her, we can see why the myth of Hades and Persephone paints him to be cruel and violent. But what if Persephone actually loved Hades in return? And wanted to go with him to the Underworld? This puts more power in Persephone’s hands than in her mother Demeter’s or that of Hades, her husband.
“Persephone exercises her power….curses of men upon the souls of the dead, along with her husband.”Homer
The major takeaway from the Persephone mythos demonstrates the beautiful dance of life on this planet. Persephone as a symbol of the vegetation that grows from the earth to feed us every Spring. And then dies and returns to the earth’s womb in Winter. Persephone is nourishment, prosperity, health, and LIFE itself. Yet she is also the opposite side of that – decay, depravity, illness, and DEATH itself. From Demeter we all come, and just like Persephone, to Demeter we will return.
Persephone’s symbols are an important aspect of working with her in your pagan or spiritual practice. You can incorporate them into her altar, offerings, meditations, and magical workings. Among many others. They are:
|Life & Death||Wine||Deer||Pomegranate||Demeter|
If you were to see Persephone walking down the street, what might she look like? First, she is a Maiden goddess, so she would indeed be a young woman in her late teens to twenties. She is depicted as beautiful and is often carrying a torch (representative of her mother’s search for her) and/or sheafs of grain to symbolize the harvest. She might be enthroned next to her husband Hades, as she is Queen of the Underworld. Or manifest beside her mother Demeter. This Maiden goddess might be wearing a pink or white gown upon her return to the earth in Spring and be surrounded or cloaked in flowers. However, in Winter, she may manifest in a gown of black or dark red like the pomegranate. And wear a crown to signify her Queendom.
“When Persephone returns to Earth from Hades, she is accompanied by a procession of dancing Charites, Horae, and Moirae, three groups of three spirits: nine beautiful dancers.”Judika Illes, Encyclopedia of Spirits
When you first hear the call from Persephone Goddess of Life and Death, what might it sound like or look like? Every deity communicates with his/her devotees in their own unique way. But here are a few ways Persephone might call to you:
Develop a relationship with Persephone Goddess of the Underworld in your own way and in your time. There is no need to rush a connection with deity. Consider what entering a spiritual union with a goddess of this magnitude might mean to you AND to her. Then proceed.
Number one will always be to study the myths associated with this deity. Persephone as a goddess of Ancient Greece is actually featured in quite a few myths and legends. So you won’t run out of reading material any time soon. Read the Orphic Hymns, Diodorus Siculus Library of History, the works of Plato and Homer, etc. There are also a few books out there specifically for modern pagans on how to work with Persephone including Pagan Portals’ Persephone by Robin Corak and Walking with Persephone by Molly Remer. She is featured in many fictional novels, as well, if you enjoy a good historical fiction or fantasy read.
Choose colors, images, and items that pertain to Persephone Goddess of Life and Death in order to craft an altar space for her. Dark red, black, and white are great colors for her. Add candles, incense, cups and bowls for offerings. Cleanse and consecrate the space in her name and invite her presence to it.
Give Persephone Goddess of Life and Death offerings and gifts to show her your gratitude. Every goddess appreciates offerings. She particularly enjoys fresh and dried flowers, black crystals and stones, roses, incense, candleflame, perfumes, and fruit. Daily offerings aren’t necessary but regular (weekly or monthly) is a good place to start.
Since Persephone’s presence is felt strongest in Spring, this is a season to honor and work with her energy. It is believed that Persephone returned to her mother Demeter in the month of May, so consider performing ritual, casting spells, and celebrating this myth during the entire month. Extra offerings go over well, too.
Persephone Goddess of life and death will ask you to examine your thoughts and beliefs in death and the afterlife. She is, after all, the Queen of the Underworld. In addition, shadow work is a deep, personal process of identifying and integrating one’s shadows and a process that this goddess enjoys participating in.
According to the Eleusinian Mysteries, Persephone manifests in a horse-drawn carriage and her Mother Demeter is often considered a horse goddess. Knowing this, we also know the horse is a sacred animal to her. Therefore, caring and working with horses in real life honors this goddess and draws us closer to her.
Persephone ate pomegranate seeds, fruit from the Underworld, which decided her fate. It meant that she would have to stay in the Underworld with Hades part of the year. By using pomegranates in your rituals and spellwork, we magically symbolize this aspect of her myth. Eat pomegranates and become closer to this goddess.
The myth of Hades and Persephone is ever-present when working with her spiritually. Some devotees believe Hades did indeed kidnap and force Persephone to marry him. While others believe Persephone chose to go with her lover to the Underworld. It is pertinent to your relationship with her that you explore this particular myth and decide how you feel about it. And what you believe.
Persephone is called on to exorcise pesky ghosts and evil spirits, because she has domain over the dead. If you’ve been haunted before or are sensitive to spirits, it might behoove you to hone your protection magick skills. And call on Persephone to teach you her ways including how to bind and banish ghosts.
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