One of my favorite and most beloved axioms comes from a professor in college whom I could not stand in the least – which always kind of rankles me, but the axiom is SO GOOD that I still hang on to it anyway:
There has never been a Winter without a Spring.
No matter how bad things get, meteorologically or otherwise, the season of life you’re in right now will CHANGE, even if it doesn’t get “better.” Things move on and progress. Just as the Wheel of the Year does after the shittiest of winters. In the Triple Goddess tradition, Mabon shows us the transition of the Goddess into her last aspect as the Crone – an old, wizened woman who has done her time as a maiden courting fertility and a mother bearing fruit — who at last, reaps what she has sown, putting the land to sleep and signaling its slow but steady descent into the dark half of the year. This process is a natural part of the life cycle – if new things are to grow, old things must die and return to the earth to nourish them.
In mythology, though, things tend to be more dramatic. I’ve been fascinated with the story of Demeter and Persephone (scroll down the article a little for the best synopsis of the story) since I first read it in high school, but even more so now as a Pagan and a mom myself. As the daughter of a very loving and protective mother, and now as a loving and protective mother myself, I identify strongly with both women in this myth.
There are various forms of the myth, but whether Persephone was kidnapped, went willingly with Hades, or grew to love him after her abduction, the point remains that she returns to Hades every Fall, breaking away from her mother to lead a separate life with her husband, no matter how much sorrow that action brings to her mother. The myth specifies that Persephone must return because she ate the seeds of a pomegranate while she was in the underworld: in short, she ingested something other than what she’d been nourished with since birth, which CHANGED her and made her something other than she was before, and therefore she could not return fully to the life she’d once lived. To me, this is an allegory of human marriage or partnership – the child grows up and finds nourishment elsewhere outside of the mother’s care (in this case, the love and companionship of a partner), which fundamentally alters the child (in this case, allows him or her to step into adulthood), and therefore the child must leave the mother’s home to abide with the lifemate he or she has chosen.
On Demeter’s side of things, as the goddess of agriculture, she was literally the fertile mother of the world – when she smiled upon the fields, they produced and the people were nourished and made strong. However, when Persephone left her – or as she saw it, was taken from her – her grief, anger, and sorrow caused her at best to neglect the land and allow it to wither, and at worst to raze the earth in her anger and pain, lashing out in her frustration at her maternal bond being severed. Again, I can see the allegory of mundane partnership – a mother dealing with CHANGE and the trauma of separation from her beloved child, even if the reason is that the child has found a mate and has grown into traditional adulthood.
As I said, my life circumstances allow me to clearly identify with both. I have been married for nearly 17 years, and I still sometimes feel a flicker of my mother’s jealousy and frustration when the needs of my husband and son bump up against hers and I put my boys first. It’s nothing
terminal, but it’s there – and I totally understand it. My mom is one of the “stiffest” people I know, being tremendously and sometimes irrationally opposed to CHANGE of any kind at all. I lived at home until I was 24 years old and have always been close to her. I now live on the same street as my folks, where they still live in the house I grew up in, and I see them at least three times a week. Most of the time, I’m the only person my parents have close contact with, and I am the only close friend my mom has. To her, especially when I was a newlywed, she was Demeter, I was Persephone, my husband was Hades, and my home was now the underworld, where she (usually) could not follow. She doesn’t exactly raze the earth when this happens anymore, but the feelings she makes clearly known are not entirely dissimilar to what we see in the myth.
As a mother now myself, I love my 15-year-old only child fiercely and freely, and we are also very close. Naturally, I also feel pangs of bitter jealousy and frustration when he needs significantly less of my care or has much less time to spend with me. While I am immensely glad that he is not into the dating scene yet (otherwise the RAZING would BEGIN IMMEDIATELY, y’all), the older he gets – and therefore the closer he gets to leaving our nest, either alone or with a partner – the more I realize what a painful wrench his parting from me will be, even for the very best of reasons. And I feel all these feelings even after struggling with my mom’s intense kind of love and working hard to have a looser grip on my kid so he won’t have to struggle the same way I’ve had to. Even with all that – with all the work I’ve done to make it easier for him and for me – my world will still wither to some degree when the time for that inevitable CHANGE comes.
So – yeah. I get Persephone and Demeter on a cosmic level at this point.
In terms of the Sabbat of Mabon, I’m working to incorporate that understanding – of joy and sorrow, delight and misery, pleasure and pain, light and shade – into how I view the Wheel of the Year. Not to delve too deeply into “woe is me” territory, but I straight up dread the winter months because of how utterly shitty I feel during them. My physical issues cause my joints, muscles, and nerves to constantly hurt when the cold weather and changeable barometric pressures settle in for the season, and this pain significantly limits my mobility and motivation during this time of year. I also spend the season in mental pain from anxiety and seasonal depression, caused by the physical pain, the lack of sunlight, and the disconnect from nature that Winter brings. Long story short, I’m a pretty miserable Lady for a good quarter of the year, if not more – and the only cure for it is the return of Spring. Sound familiar in the Persephone/Demeter myth?
But, like Demeter, I have to remember that Spring will come – the seasons will CHANGE once again, and even the worst of times will once again become the best of times – late Spring and Summer, when I can move much more freely and spend the great majority of my days in my garden and out with nature, warming my bones and plying my craft.
This year, as part of my first Mabon celebration, I focused on Demeter in particular while I did a Ritual to Honor the Dark Mother – the aspect of the Goddess that destroys as well as creates, starves as well as nourishes, reaps as well as sows. I used Patti Wigington’s rite from her work at Thoughtco.com, and I performed it on the Dark Moon to honor the dark side of the archetype. It was a very simple affair of reciting a prayer over a couple of candles and drinking some symbolic pomegranate juice to close, but it was very powerful for me to recognize both halves of my maternal self and to recognize and honor it in nature as well.
Will the ritual and my soul work in this arena of thought make this Winter any easier to bear? Only time will tell, but even if the season is a rough one, it’s still comforting to know that I only have to tie a knot at the end of my rope and hang on until Persephone comes back with Spring in tow again. Remember, as that horrible, horrible professor once said, “There has never been a Winter without a Spring.”