Proserpina (Persephone) - The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Proserpina (Persephone)
The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

Persephone is the young Greek spirit, kidnapped and raped by Hades and forced to become Queen of the Realm of Death for half of each year. During the other half of the year, Persephone is permitted to live with her mother Demeter on Earth. Persephone and Demeter were the central figures in various spiritual rituals and traditions, most notably the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Whether Persephone was invoked by individual witches is unknown. According to Horace’s Epodes (30 BCE), witches worshipped Proserpina. Proserpina is the Roman name given to Persephone.

Are Proserpina and Persephone one and the same? It’s no longer entirely clear. In Rome, Demeter was identified with the Italian Corn Mother Ceres and their myths merged, although in this case they clearly were once distinct independent deities. Ceres is the mother of Roman Proserpina. One version of Persephone’s abduction suggests that it occurred on Sicily, once a thriving Greek colony.

Whether they are identical spirits or whether two distinct spirits have merged, Proserpina manifested somewhat differently in Italy, in particular in regards to her close identification with witchcraft.

Proserpina is the spirit who goes to Hades and back, traveling back and forth like a shaman. She is a liminal figure who survives in both realms. Persephone is the Matron of Necromancers. She presides over death: she is the Queen of the Dead but she herself is not dead.

The name Proserpina derives from the Latin serpere, “to creep” or “to crawl” like a serpent. Proserpere means to crawl forward. (Persephone, on the other hand, is frequently translated as “destroying face” or “light-bearing face.”)

Sacred Creatures: Snakes and fish

Attributes: Keys and a torch, emblems she shares with Hecate

Plants: Rue and parsley

Proserpina is often depicted holding a fish and a key. A fish containing a key is a secret reference to Proserpina. Proserpina is the secret deity at the heart of April Fool’s Day. References to “All Fools Day” first appeared in Europe during medieval times but may be traced back to Roman rituals involving the myth of Proserpina and her mother.

When Pluto, Lord of the Dead, abducted Proserpina she called out to her mother for help. Ceres, who could only hear the echo of her daughter’s voice, searched in vain for Proserpina. The fruitless search of Ceres for her daughter (commemorated during the Roman festival of Cerealia) is believed to be the mythological antecedent of the fool’s errands popular on April 1st.

In France and Italy, April Fool’s Day is known as April Fish Day. People once played tricks by pinning paper fish to other’s backs. Old French April Fool’s postcards often depict a beautiful woman holding a big, floppy fish.

See also Dionysus; ANIMALS: Snakes; DICTIONARY: Necromancy; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Ceres, Demeter; MAGICAL ARTS: Necromancy.