My historical novel, DAUGHTERS OF TIME, traces a line of mothers and daughters through 4000 years as they carry the way of the Goddess from ancient Sumer to the present day. In 1926, a daughter in the lineage is born in Southern Italy:
“Maria’s family had lived in the village and surrounding area for longer than anyone could remember. Like all the girls of her village, she grew up a Catholic, yet on Christmas Eve she gathered with the other women to perform a ritual in the Church that no man was allowed to see. The words she spoke would have been familiar to her many, many times great grandmother, Meh-tan, who once met a Queen in Ursalimmu.It did not occur to Maria that the ritual was not in keeping with the teachings of the Church; it was what her mother and all the mothers before her had done on Christmas Eve to honour the Great Mother.“
Five years after writing about my fictional Maria, I stood in the church in Calabria where my grandmother Carmella once met with the other women on Christmas Eve. And the Great Mother was still there – the Madonna del Carmine a Varapodio, whom the people call “O Madre nostra cara.”
The transition from Goddess to Madonna is very tangible in Calabria . . .
Forty kilometres from my grandmother’s town, on the Ionian coast, lie the ruins of Locri Epizephyrii, one of the most important cities of Magna Graecia. Excavations have revealed a temple of Aphrodite, a sanctuary of Persephone, and numerous terracotta plaques and votive offerings. The famous marble sculpture known as the Ludovisi Throne is understood to have come from the temple of Aphrodite (Temple of contrada Marasa) at Locri.
The measurements of the sculpture fit perfectly with three great stones still standing at the site:
A book called The Locrian Maidens proposes that the abundance of female dominated iconography and mythology found at Locri suggests “… a distinct, perhaps even deliberate ‘third way’ in contrast to the systems of classical Athens and Sparta.”[i] At the heart of this difference was a unique approach to the mythology and rites usually associated with Demeter/Persephone.
At the core of this difference was a joining together of two Goddesses usually seen as opposites: Persephone and Aphrodite. In most of the temples of Magna Graecia, Persephone was represented as daughter of Demeter and Queen of the Underworld. In this capacity, Persephone presided over the domain of legitimate marriage and child rearing, while Aphrodite was more explicitly erotic, presiding over love affairs outside marriage. The two Goddesses were often represented as opposites: at around the same time as the temples were being built at Locri, Hesiod’s poetry depicted Persephone and Aphrodite as rivals, fighting over a man (Adonis).
In many of the Locri images of ritual activities, the symbolism of Aphrodite and Persephone were represented together: the plaque opposite shows a girl offering a ball and a rooster to a goddess, “while a goose flexes its wings beneath the offering table.”[ii] Roosters were considered chthonic birds, linked to Persephone. Geese were usually linked to Aphrodite. Here the identity of the goddess is ambiguous – Persephone or Aphrodite? Or Persephone/Aphrodite?
This integration of Persephone and Aphrodite – unique to Locri Epizephrii – suggests an emphasis on initiatory rituals, rites of passage exploring the intersection of death, sex and transformation. The transformation of the Kore to Queen of the Underworld was always a part of the story underlying the Thesmophoria rituals, yet the emphasis was usually on the Demeter/Persephone cycle of loss and renewal: Persephone’s descent = Demeter’s mourning and the barrenness of Winter; Persephone’s return = Demeter’s rejoicing and the renewed fertility of Spring. In Locri Epizephyrii there appears to have been at least equal importance placed on Persephone’s initiation as she crossed from Kore (maiden) to Queen (mature woman).
The ritual sites at Locri suggest that combined worship of Persephone and Aphrodite provided a pathway for maturation from girl to woman, wife, mother, and perhaps hetaira. Consistent with this, there seems to have been an “absence of discrimination against the prostitute.”[iii] The sides of the Ludovisi Throne show two female figures worshipping the goddess: “on the left side, a naked hetaira plays an aulos,” and in the right, “a heavily draped matron burns incense.”[iv]
It is not surprising that scholars have disagreed about the identity of the figure arising in the main panel of the Ludovisi Throne: Aphrodite arising from the waves, or Persephone arising from the Underworld?
Perhaps She is both together.
Or perhaps the image shows the initiate transformed, rising between Aphrodite and Persephone, guided and supported by both …
What if the pathway from Kore to Queen, from Maiden to mature Sovereignty involved walking with Persephone and Aphrodite together, making the crossing with their joint blessings? What might come from such an initiation?
I think we might find less rivalry between women, fewer women stuck in over-idealised youthfulness, and more experience of empowerment, choice, and control in women’s relationships with self, others, and the World . . .
[i] J. M. Redfield, 2003. The Locrian Maidens. Love and Death in Greek Italy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
[ii] M. B. Skinner. “Nossis and Women’s Cult at Locri.” www.stoa.org/diotima/essays/fc04/Skinner.html. URL accessed 3/9/14
Dr. Kaalii Cargill is a ‘physician of the soul’, living and working in Melbourne, Australia. In the 1980s she co-developed Soul Centred Psychotherapy, a therapeutic modality based on a profound respect for the feminine principle. www.kairoscentre.com. Kaalii’s engagement with ritual has spanned 25 years and includes participating in regular women’s circles and seasonal rituals, teaching therapeutic ritual, running initiation rituals, and sponsoring the development of ongoing ‘Moon groups’. Her work draws from the ancient mystery traditions of Sumer, Greece, and Egypt as well as the Reclaiming tradition. Kaalii writes fiction and non-fiction that asks, “What if . . .?” The themes of her writing emerge from the Goddess movement and political activism, with a focus on dismantling and resisting structures of power and domination and actively honouring and defending the Earth and the feminine principle. Her short stories have been published in international magazines, and she has 5 books available on Amazon. http://kaalii.wix.com/soulstory