In the Greek pantheon, Persephone is best known as the daughter of Demeter and wife of Hades.
Her story has been told over and over again in many forms, chiefly as a way to explain the changes in seasons.
However, there’s more to her than being the Goddess of Spring and Queen of the Underworld.
Persephone was also known as Kore, meaning “girl” or “maiden.” The name Persephone may stem from perso, for “sheaf of corn,” and an element that originates from the proto-Indo European root gwhen, meaning “to strike.”
Put together, Persephone would be “one who threshes corn.” Plato interpreted her name as “one who touches things that are in motion,” which connects her to the ever-moving cycle of life and death.
Some folk etymologies connect her name to light, death, and even wealth. This would connect her to Hades, whose Roman name, Pluto, translates to “the wealthy one.”
According to ancient Greek legend, Persephone is the daughter of Demeter. (Some sources claim Zeus is her father, while others don’t name anyone.)
Demeter spent all of her time with her daughter, and the two were very close. Persephone was growing up, however, and the time for playing all day and holding her mother’s hand was to come to an end.
Hades wished to wed Persephone, and Zeus agreed. As the leader of the Gods (and potentially her father), he had the right to arrange a suitable marriage for her.
Zeus also knew that Demeter would never permit her beautiful, vibrant daughter to go away to the Underworld. For this reason, Zeus allowed Hades to go to Gaia for help sneaking Persephone away.
Gaia made an incredibly beautiful flower appear near where Persephone, Artemis, Pallas, and a group of nymphs were relaxing. Persephone spotted it, left the group to pick it, and Hades suddenly sprang up through a cleft in the ground and carried her off.
This allowed Zeus to make sure that Persephone married well, while also keeping Demeter from blaming him. Persephone screamed out in terror as she was carried off, and her companions were either struck mute or ran away in fear.
Demeter was inconsolable at the loss of her daughter. She, aided by Hecate, searched the whole world around for her. She refused to allow the Earth to bear fruit until she found her daughter, and so everything became dormant and barren.
Finally, Helios ratted Hades out — as the God of the Sun, he saw everything and knew exactly what happened.
As soon as Demeter heard this, she knew Zeus was at least partly to blame. She went to him and demanded her daughter’s return. Zeus, seeing the world bleak, gray, and starving, was forced to insist that Hades return Persephone to her mother.
Hades reluctantly complied with this request, but not before offering Persephone some pomegranate seeds to eat.
She consumed a few and, when Hermes came to escort her back to the world of the living, he realized that she could never fully return since she had tasted the food of the Underworld. As a result, she must spend a part of the year above ground, and part of the year with Hades.
When Persephone is reunited with her mother, the world is verdant and blooming again. When she returns to Hades, Demeter makes everything dormant once more. This is why we have winter, spring, summer, and autumn.
Some say that Hades tricked Persephone into eating the pomegranate seeds, but others say that she ate them willingly.
In some old versions, Persephone’s abduction is translated as a rape. It should be noted that the word “rape” doesn’t always refer to an assault — it stems from the Latin rapere, meaning “to carry off.”
Some versions make this distinction more explicit than others. Interestingly, in Ovid’s description of her abduction where he does describe Hades as “ravishing” her, Persephone weeps because she dropped the flowers that she had picked and not over the ravishing itself.
In still other versions, Persephone asks Cupid to shoot an arrow into Hades to make him infatuated with her so she might be allowed to grow up, stop being treated as a child, and become a woman.
In the days before Greece, it was also common for raiders to carry off women and force them to become their wives and concubines.
Once Greece’s legal system and overall culture made this practice obsolete, some historians believes that a ritualized “kidnapping” of a young bride by her husband-to-be still took place. This would make Demeter’s reaction to the kidnapping strange, not the kidnapping itself.
Persephone’s abduction may reflect a historical view of how marriage was “supposed” to work — patriarchs arranged them for their children, often with very little (if any) input from their wives or daughters.
Remember that Hades didn’t merely take Persephone as a lover; he made her his queen.
This story explains the origin of the seasons, but Persephone exists as more than just a plot device. She also embodies the relationship between birth, death, and rebirth.
She also represents a gentle, caring side of death when compared to her husband. Her story may also serve as a way of reinforcing ancient marriage traditions and describing a person’s growth from girlhood to womanhood.
Some versions of the story hold that Persephone’s original name was Kore, and she only received the name Persephone once she grew up, went to the Underworld, and left her childhood behind.
Interestingly, there are many stories of gods and heroes going to the Underworld and speaking to Persephone, even during times when she ostensibly should’ve been with her mother.
Persephone is also responsible for the creation of mint. When Hades fell in love with a nymph made Minthe, Persephone turned her into a small, fragrant plant in a jealous rage.
In religions that worship a triple goddess, Persephone is often chosen to represent her in her Maiden aspect.
According to Orphic mythology, Persephone was actually the child of Zeus and the titan Rhea (his mother). Zeus transformed into a snake and copulated with Rhea, who then gave birth to the monstrous, beast-headed, many-eyed Persephone.
Zeus transformed into a snake again and copulated with Persephone, who gave birth to Dionysus Zagreus. This may be a metaphor for rebirth, as the snake sheds its skin and renews itself.
Symbols & Associations
Persephone is symbolized by all things related to spring and death. She is associated with:
- Bones and skulls.
- New seeds.
- Animals that emerge during spring.
- Bulls and pigs, which were offered as sacrifices to her and Demeter.
Persephone had the power to bring about the change of seasons through her interactions with her mother, Demeter.
Like the other Greek gods, she was able to turn people into things — like when she transformed Minthe into the mint plant.
She’s also the Queen of the Underworld, and her beauty is said to rival Aphrodite’s.
Persephone’s offerings are fairly straightforward:
- Fresh pomegranates.
- Pomegranate juice or wine.
- Fresh bread.
- Spring flowers.
- Floral incense.
- Images of rams, stags, bats, pigs, or bulls.
As a rule, foods, plants, objects, and depictions of animals associated with spring are welcome.
Signs Persephone is Calling You
Persephone may be the girlish, lovely Goddess of spring, but she’s also the powerful Queen of the Underworld. She may be calling you if you suddenly feel an interest in her or her story.
Feeling drawn to death work can also be a sign from her. She represents a gentler aspect of death than Hades does, so she may draw your interest toward working as a death doula or in hospice care.
You may also dream of Persephone as either a beautiful young maiden or the Queen of the Underworld.
Crystals Associated with Persephone
You can connect with Persephone by working with crystals like:
- Citrine, for optimism, abundance, and prosperity. As a goddess associated with spring, fruitfulness, and grain, Persephone resonates with citrine’s energy.
- Aventurine, particularly green aventurine. Green stones represent growth, life, and fertility.
- Rose quartz. This is a stone for love, marriage, and beauty.
- Pink calcite. Like rose quartz, this is a stone for love and relationships, as well as emotional healing.
In general, pink, green, light blue, and yellow crystals are appropriate for Persephone work. These colors are all associated with various aspects of springtime, like growth, renewal, love, and joy.
Herbs Associated with Persephone
The herbs tied to Persephone are mostly the same as those used for offerings. Spring flowers and early herbs all work, as well as more specific plants like:
- Asphodel flowers. These are associated with the space between the living and the dead. They were even said to grow in the Underworld.
- Pomegranates. Persephone consuming some pomegranate seeds is what causes her to remain in the Underworld for a portion of the year.
Working with Persephone
Persephone is an interesting character who is all too often treated as a pawn in her own stories. She is more than a kidnapping victim and a bargaining chip between Hades, Zeus, and Demeter.
She may have stayed with Hades of her own volition, willingly eating the pomegranate seeds in order to be able to spend her time with both him and her mother as she pleased.
Even if that isn’t the case, then she was still strong and resilient enough to recover from the trauma of the abduction and take her place as the Queen of the land of the dead.
You can work with Persephone by welcoming her when she returns in spring. Make offerings to her and cheer her arrival, since she brings warmer temperatures, spring flowers, and new life with her. In autumn, celebrate her return to Hades with more offerings.
You may also want to make an altar to her, especially in a garden or other outdoor space. Plant early blooming flowers nearby. Have a statue or other representation of her, and a safe place to set incense, candles, or other offerings. Make sure to maintain this space regularly.
Persephone is an excellent goddess to work with when you’re going through major life transitions. After all, her story is partially a coming-of-age tale — she begins as Kore, the child, and goes through marriage as a rite of passage before becoming Persephone the Queen.
With so many retellings of her story out there, reading up on her history and different portrayals is a good place to start. Persephone is a complex and often contradictory goddess, so you may find that one depiction of her story resonates more with you than others.
Persephone’s tale is the story of a child growing up and stepping into her own power. Regardless of how she gets there, she eventually arrives at her rightful place as the Queen of the Underworld.
She is beautiful, powerful, and capable of embodying the maiden and mother aspects of goddess energy. If you feel her calling to you, answer. She guards the gate to the mysteries of life.