Mother and the Maid
goddesses and a child carved in ivory, c. 1400-1200 BC. Many such
triads exist from Sumeria to Classical Greece
“I dream of a
place between your breasts
to build my house
like a haven
where I plant my
in your body
is moonstone and
giving milk to
all my hungers
and your night
comes down upon me
like a nurturing
– Audre Lorde[i]
Mother and the Maid appear as a dyad over and over in the myths and
stories of the West. Sometimes they are one woman, like the Virgin /
Mother of Christianity. Sometimes they are a lesbian couple, like
the Two Goddesses at the most famous sanctuary in ancient Greece,
Eleusis: Demeter and Kore; Earth Mother and Maid.
story goes like this: the two inseparable goddesses are split apart
when the Virgin Kore is abducted by Hades, Lord of the Dead. Demeter
grieves inconsolably. She rages so violently that every seed is
prevented from sprouting. The earth is barren, parched and withered.
Finally Hades is convinced to release the ravished Kore, so that the
Earth can bloom again. At the last moment, Kore eats a pomegranate
seed that Hades offers. Contaminated, she must return again every
winter to spend part of the year in the land of the Dead. Every
winter, Demeter grieves; the earth shrivels and dies. When the Maid
returns to the Mother each spring, the whole world rejoices.
Mother, Demeter, is Kore’s mother. And
she is Kore’s lover. Scholar Walter F. Otto compares the relations
of other daughters of Greek myths to their divine parents, and finds
none so intimate. Carl Kerényi comments, “The fervor of their
love for one another reminds us rather of divine lovers such as
Aphrodite and Adonis. . . .”[ii]
If we accept that the Mother and the Maid read as lovers, we find
the key to Demeter’s wild grief, and Kore’s withholding. The two
women are bound together as closely as lovers, and separated as
painfully. Reunited, they fall on each other with passionate kisses.
lesbian relationship engages the archetype of the Maid and the
Mother. This is not to say that there ever is a lesbian relationship
where one partner plays the mother and the other partner plays at
being mothered. But as usual, this stereotype opens into something
more interesting. The turn to a woman’s body is often experienced
by lesbians with a sense of homecoming. Between our lover’s
thighs, we come home to the Mother’s body. Inside her, we find a
place that held us before we were born. Here we can at last become
the daughters we are and give birth to.
carved into rock face inside a cave, c. 30,000 BC, France
culture separates mothers from daughters. It keeps women apart from
one another. The social and symbolic order precludes each woman’s
joy, imprisons her capacities, and excises her sex. Loving lesbians,
we come home to our own bodies. Reaching out to her, we touch
ourselves. In the words and gestures that love invents between us,
we redeem the Mother who had no power to teach us. When the Mother
is delivered from her patriarchal imprisonment, we can inhabit our
own bodies for the first time.
story of the Maid and the Mother represents same-sex love as an
initiation to the wild order of life and death, the deepest of
Earth’s mysteries. Carl Jung describes the mother archetype:
“mother love...is... the mysterious root of all growth and change;
the love that means homecoming, shelter, and the long silence from
which everything begins and in which everything ends. Intimately
known and strange like Nature, lovingly tender and yet cruel like
fate, joyous and untiring giver of life –
mater dolorosa and mute implacable portal that closes upon the
Demeter is Earth Mother, origin and end.
It is she who speaks for (initiates) the cycle of death and
rebirth in which every life is enmeshed. And it is she who grieves
inconsolably, raging, refusing ever to accept or understand the loss
of her beloved to Death.
Kerényi interprets Kore as representing “that which constitutes
the structure of the living creature apart from this endlessly repeated drama [symbolized by Demeter] of
coming-to-be and passing-away, namely the uniqueness
of the individual and its enthrallment
That which is unique in us will die. It is our individuality which
differentiates us each from the continuum of being and links us with
non-being and death. Kore’s story invokes our inevitable fate. But
where the Mother grieves and rages, the Maid surrenders. Kore
accepts the initiation and moves to live inside the mystery: death
in life, life in death.
cannot have life without death, but only a shriveled semblance of
life, parched by withholding. We cannot love without loss. There is
no inconsolable heartbreak without unspeakable gladness. So much of
contemporary society seems intent upon avoiding risk. Old age is
approached as a disease to cure. Science intends to conquer
disability. Children are confined to playpens. Love appears only as
weak sentiment. We need the Maid and the Mother to guide us to the
mystery, or we will stay stuck on the surface, clinging to youth,
picking flowers, avoiding the dark chasm where we meet loss, and
grief, and mortal destiny.
love brings us home to the Mother we never had. Through our lovers
we find our source and our surcease. We experience enmeshment with
one another and with the continuum of all life. And yet lesbian love
challenges us to differentiation. We are enjoined in battle against
the patriarchy, wounded, denied, called to use every ounce of our
power. Our lovers cherish our strengths. They summon us to our
capacities. They admire our songs. As personal voice and
individuality grows stronger, the threat and risk of loss is
greater. Our passions lead us to the maw of fear. If we dare to move
inside, we face the season of despair. And we come, again and again,
union with the Mother we experience the unity of life. Through
identity with the Maid, we come to know our uniqueness, solitude and
strength. Patriarchal socialization requires each of us to disavow
the Mother and break irrevocably with the unity of self and world we
know in her body.[v]
Individuality is valued and commonality is denied. The end of life
is as feared as the beginning. The Maid and the Mother invite us to
a different way of being in the world, extending and transforming
the empathic continuum of life with each person’s individuality
mystery accepts that, always, some part of world or self is lost and
broken. We can admit grief, without being paralyzed by fear of
grief. We can go down beneath the surface and live with our own
deepest fears, until love bids us back to a beginning. When we meet
her again, the sun is shining. Birds sing. Flowers begin to open.
The air smells of fresh spring rain. Our joy in each other’s arms
is boundless. Our love goes deep enough to call the world to life.
Audre Lorde, 1978, (82).
Carl G. Jung and Carl Kerényi, 1949, (179).
Carl Jung, 1959, (428).
Catherine Keller asks, “What would it be like if the original
continuum from which we all emerge . . . [was] neither shattered
nor repressed, but extended and transformed?” Quoted by Karin
Lofthus Carrington, in Robert H. Hopke,
Karen Loftus Carrington and Scott Wirth. (Eds.), 1993,
(90). This chapter owes much to Carrington’s analysis.