By Rebekah Lovejoy
I have always considered myself a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. I utilized this skill to stay on top of the ever-developing complications of raising three children. I prided myself on taking the extra step to rethink every new life stage. So it came as an embarrassing shock when I realized that my sexual libido had fallen away. I had slipped into a half-life informed by constrictive assumptions of motherhood’s requirements. I am only now seeing, thirteen years into my motherhood adventure, that I have created an opposition, me as mother verses me as a sexual being.
This is not uncommon for a modern American woman in the 21st century. Many women find themselves trading in their sexual expression, their juicy, fertile, personal joy, in exchange for the bountiful, focused nurturing of their children. This had a negative impact on my physical health, my marriage, and my creativity. Needing to shift my self-image toward an integrated experience that includes both—mothering and alive sexuality—I went looking for archetypal images that support me in this new vision. To my surprise, I discovered this image by reimagining the ancient mother goddess Demeter.
Not unlike modern woman’s plight, contemporary analysis of the myth of Demeter usually presents an image of a mother completely child-focused, without a mature developed sexuality—as if the goddess was wholly absorbed by the fruits of creation, and not at all in the process of creating or ripening the seed. By minimizing Demeter’s sexuality, we place her in the same category as the Madonna, as affirmation of the asexual mother. However, the archetype of the goddess of agriculture gives us an opportunity to celebrate an image of a mature sexual mother, one who is balanced in both fecund delight and nurturing motherhood.
Demeter is a sexual goddess, not solely a mother goddess. As the goddess of agriculture, Demeter reigns over the welfare of seeds, plants, and flowering. In this context, she is fecundity, that which manifests ripeness, flowering sexual expression, and the juicy fruits of generativity. Sadly, in the context of our current views of mother, where sexuality is the opposite of motherhood, this aspect of Demeter’s archetypal energy has been set to the side. In many modern interpretations and depictions of her, she becomes only Persephone’s mother. In more humorous depictions, she is primarily a caricature as Hades’ mother-in-law. Frequently she is nagging, neurotic, or depressed—not a fertile being, full of ripe sexuality in her own right.
In ancient texts, great goddess Demeter is described as beautiful, powerful, and fertile. That she must disguise herself and cover her hair in order to be in mourning, and walk the earth unnoticed, is a symptom of her powerful beauty. Her description in Homer: “beauty spread round about her and a lovely fragrance was wafted from her sweet-smelling robes, and from the divine body of the goddess a light shone afar, while golden tresses spread down over her shoulders, so that the strong house was filled with brightness as with lightning.” Then, too, the stories that include Persephone are not the only myths of Demeter. She also is depicted in her love affair with the mortal Iasion, a narrative that is primarily about her sexual partnership; their act of love is described in Hesiod as occurring in “a three-times-plowed field,” a reference to ancient fertility rites. This is not a homely, dried up, mother-in-law type. This is a feminine image, lovely, powerful, and awe-inspiring in her beauty. In ancient Greece, Demeter and Persephone often were depicted as replicas of each other, both mother and daughter equal in loveliness.
Current tales and descriptions of Demeter focus on her depression, her yearning for her daughter, her wandering across the planet in mourning, uprooted. What would cause Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, to become uprooted rather than remain in her instinctive nature, grounded, fertile, and sexual? Modern culture’s foundational mythologies have altered our vision of mother, and our vision of sexuality, moving us away from a sexual, desirable mother image.
In ancient rites honoring the Great Mother Goddess, the soil was prepared with rituals steeped in sexuality, recognizing the fecundity of spring, and also the approval and association of sexuality with the Goddess. Furrowing of the ground, found in descriptions of early rituals from “nature cultures”—rites in which maidens consecrate ground, either in virginal seed planting parties or, as the sexual symbol of the great goddess, in the ruts of the field—acted out the fertility of the Mother, the fertility of the land. The myth of Demeter provided ritual sacredness to the preparations of young girls for sexual union in marriage, in which they would be the furrowed field for their new husbands, as described in Persephone Rising.
Our relationship to fertile soil shifts when the land no longer is associated with the body of the goddess, but instead has become simply mud that “God” breathes into to make life—an inanimate clay from which humans come, and to which they return. How can “The Mother” prepare ground for a generative creative process, enliven the womb of creation, when she is not symbolically attached to the process of life making? In this lesser role, the human mother is now only a vessel, or incubator, rather than the cause of life-nurturing creation. She no longer treats herself as a factor in the process of fertility. She no longer has an intimate relationship with the archetype of an empowered, nurturing mother image.
Many women do not welcome the shape of motherhood, that shape which naturally occurs in mature womanhood. Modern woman doesn’t even allow herself the food that is necessary to support her fertility. Preferring to remain in the shape of a Kore, a young, untried maiden, she starves and binges as children come and go, in order to “keep her figure.”
The shape of motherhood is not seen as fecund and erotic. It no longer is depicted as sexual, and no longer revered. Curves and thick bodies are not considered beautiful when a woman is not “with child.” I have heard women say when they are swelling and pregnant that it is the first time in their lives they have felt “allowed” to love their belly, as though, before the child ¾ when they already were curvaceous and ready to make life, to be a mature woman ¾ that form was loathsome. And then the moment the child no longer is inside the mother, the directive is to lose all traces of motherhood from the body, at any cost.
The ground of motherhood, of fertile creation, is not considered a sexually desirable form. Society, “fashion,” contemporary culture, all wish us to remain, as adult women, visually and emotionally Kore, “Married Maidens” who then somehow, secretly in the dark, make babies. We make these babies that are not ours, not of our goddess bodies, but come from the clay of matter. Ironically, the Latin root “mater,” is the origin of the word “mother,” so hidden deep in the roots of this “clay matter,” we still find the presence of the mother goddess waiting to be recognized.
Here I don’t mean to rewrite or “reimagine” the ancient history toward a romanticized assumption of an honored and sexualized matriarchal mother. We cannot be certain how the ancient mother goddesses were celebrated. However, a current rereading of the myth of Demeter can aid in a new embodied emphasis, a new empowering image of the mother, as both nurturing woman and sexually viable partner.
Returning to the image of Demeter as sexual being, as life giver and fertile, fecund cornucopia, we can claim the bounty of the motherhood phase of life. We can claim the sexual potency that comes with the bounty of motherhood. We can acknowledge this archetypal image of beautiful, fertile womanhood that still brings seed to fruit, as proof of the sexy potency of the mother body, with all of her ample furrows, glorious rolling curves, and juicy cornucopia of harvest delights. It is an opportunity to begin to bring new sexuality, and life giving juice, into the experience of motherhood, and this ripe phase of womanhood—a time when we are truly no longer Persephone/Kore, no longer the fresh blossom newly picked. We are now luscious, full, and fruitful, alive and powerful in our gifts of nurturing and sexual discernment.
This is not a call for an essentialized image of the fertile mother as simply producer of life. This is not a statement that all women must have a particular relationship to this time in life, or this process of birthing. This is a call for the healing of the modern mother through a reflection of the mother archetype, as a whole, sexy, flowing, and bountiful being—a re-visioning of Demeter as healthy and whole in her sexuality, not despite her mothering, or at the cost of her mothering, but in the midst of her mothering. Dare I say, as a result of her mothering?
In my own journey I have begun to rediscover the bounty of sexuality available to me. I find this mothering, mature body to be exciting and expressive, both emotionally and physiologically, in very different ways from my younger body. In reimagining Demeter as the fully embodied sexual mother, I am recognizing a more holistic, alive image of myself. I am celebrating my bounty, and ability to be nurturing and sexual, loving and exciting, simultaneously. I recognize that my aliveness informs my nurturing, and in this way Demeter teaches me to be a better mother by reintroducing the loamy soil of fertile abundance as a source of joy, creative inspiration, and replenishment.
Boer, Charles, trans. The Homeric Hymns. London: Asphodel Press, 2006.
Downing, Christine, ed. The Long Journey Home. Boston: Shambhala, 1994.
Lattimore, Richmond, trans. “Theogony.” Hesiod. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.
Pearson, Carol S. Persephone Rising. New York: HarperElixir, 2015, pp. 252-254.
Rebekah Lovejoy, Ph.D., holds a baccalaureate in Film Studies and Studio Art from the University of California, Santa Barbara and master’s and doctorate degrees in Mythological Studies with an Emphasis in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. She has had a lifelong fascination with the ways in which culture shapes and expresses ontological belief, and has a deep knowledge of Internet technology, human metaphysics, the history of popular culture, and the human creative experience. Following her early training, she worked for nearly a decade architecting content heavy sites for fortune 500 companies and niche creative clients alike, then spent several years raising a family before undertaking graduate studies. Her dissertation comprises an ethnographic study of individuals raised within the American counterculture. It re-contextualizes the language of mythological studies toward an analysis of human strategies of belief in our post-modern world. Currently, she is a painter, writer, workshop leader, and creative collaborator living in Santa Barbara with her three children. Her work is available on her website, rebekahlovejoy.com, with a brand new design coming soon.