Persephone is the ancient Greek Goddess of Rebirth and Queen of the Underworld.
She spends the unfruitful time of the year in the Underworld with her husband Hades and ascends to return to the side of her mother Demeter, the Earthmother and Goddess of Abundant Harvests to preside over the sprouting of seeds and the blooming of flowers when the Earth returns to fruitfulness.
Her name means something like “destroyer” or “murderer”.
Names and Titles for Persephone
Persephone is known in various ancient Greek writings as Persephoneia, Persephatta, Pherepapha, Periphona and Phersephassa.
Persephone was dread Queen of the Underworld and thus given many euphemistic names including Kore (the Maiden), Kore Soteira (Savior Maiden), Neotera (Younger), Despoina (Mistress), Hagne (Pure one), Praxidike (Bringer of Justice), Aristi cthonia (the best thing under the Earth), Nestis (Fasting),
Her Roman equivalent is Proserpina
(As described by Hesiod in his Theogony, paraphrased) Persephone was the daughter of Demeter (Apollodorus says Styx) and Zeus and Demeter was very fond of her.
One day, Hades, the God of the Underworld, decided that it was time to look for a wife. Some accounts say he consulted Zeus at this point who recommended Persephone, and some accounts say that Hades spotted Persephone at her usual pastime picking flowers with her usual retinue of Artemis, Aphrodite and Athene, and various nymphs.
Either way, Hades was enchanted with her the moment he saw her. So he approached Zeus, the King of the Gods and her father, and asked for her hand in marriage. Zeus agreed that it would be a good match and gave his permission, but warned Hades that Demeter wasn’t going to like it and that some subterfuge would be required to get the girl alone.
So, Hades went to their Grandmother, Gaia and asked if she would help. Gaia agreed. On the appointed day, Gaia made a flower of incomparable beauty appear some distance from where Persephone was playing with her friends and Persephone spotted it and left the group to investigate.
Just as she grasped it, Gaia, the Earth, Opened up a great chasm and Hades grabbed Persephone and took off in his chariot. Persephone let out a scream, and then they were gone.
So Hades snatched Persephone away from Demeter and took her to the Underworld to be his wife and Queen of the Underworld at his side. And, judging from the lack of drama compared to other divine couples, they seemed to have an okay marriage.
Demeter had heard Persephone’s scream, and come running, but there was no sign of her daughter. The nymphs and Goddesses she had been with had seen nothing.
Demeter began to wander the Earth searching for Persephone. As night fell, she came to a cave and met Hecate who could tell her nothing, but joined her, holding two torches aloft as she escorted her through the night. When she spotted Helios going by in his chariot the next day, Demeter called to him, “Helios, you see everything that happens on Earth, did you see what became of my daughter Persephone.” To which he replied, “Oh yes, She has gone to the Underworld to wed Hades and rule as Queen.”
At this, Demeter flew into a rage and made her way to Olympus where she demanded to see Zeus and demanded Zeus force Hades to return her daughter to her. Zeus refused and sent her away.
So Demeter returned to the Earth, but no longer nurtured it. She disguised herself as an old woman and went to live with a mortal family as their servant.
The rest of the people of Earth found that their crops no longer bore fruit and they began to starve. As the prayers mounted up and the offerings slacked off, the Gods began to grow concerned.
So they sent for Demeter to see if she could be reasoned with. She could not. So Hermes was sent to fetch Persephone back on the condition that she had not eaten any food in the underworld. Persephone had.
Demeter still refused to cooperate with sending her back. So it was decided that Persephone would return to Hades for only part of the year, and spend the other part with Demeter.
When Persephone is with Hades, Demeter withholds her nurture from the fields and gardens, and when Persephone returns, fresh green growth returns.
Persephone as Queen of the Underworld
As Queen of the Underworld, Persephone hosts the dead and is recorded as merciful on many occasions, granting the requests of Sisyphus, Orpheus, Psyche, and Heracles.
It is interesting to note that she is not prone to asking her husband’s permission, though she has been known to cajole him into changing his mind about things, and he is not prone to punishing her for overstepping her bounds.
In the Odyssey, Persephone is mentioned with dread that She (not Hades) might send forth a Gorgon to punish people fiddling about.
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This would suggest that, unlike other female halves of royal divine couples, the Queen of the Underworld has absolute power. She is the one making the decisions, and her husband, presumably, backs her up.
Offspring of Persephone
According to Orphic tradition, Persephone was the mother of Zagreus who was killed and then reborn as Dionysus.
Some accounts of the birth of Erinyes reference Hades and Persephone as their parents. They did reside with them and serve them.
Melinoe, the Goddess responsible for receiving offerings to propitiate the dead was the daughter of Persephone and Hades (Or possibly Zeus in Hades’ guise).
Some NeoPagans celebrate Persephone as a Goddess of Springtime and her descent is often commemorated at Autumnal Equinox or Samhain through a ritual procession and storytelling. Persephone then may be welcomed back during Vernal Equinox or Imbolc celebrations.
Modern versions of the Eleusinian Mysteries are performed by Aquarian Tabernacle Church (https://www.springmysteries.com/).