Murshida Vera Corda, Ph.D.

Mother–Daughter Relationships

— As presented in the Eleusinian mysteries —


The following is one in a series of lectures on The Perfection of Womanhood
October 12, 1985 — Larkspur Sufi Order – 215 Alexander Avenue – Larkspur, California

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Resignation is the outcome of the soul’s evolution,
for it is the result of either love or wisdom

Hazrat Inayat Khan



The classic myths first came into my life in the sixth grade, when ancient history was introduced in the San Francisco schools in the first departmentalized program for elementary schools.

My imagination was so touched that I spent that entire year studying reproductions of the masters and reading everything about mythology I could find in the library, then drawing and painting my discoveries.

My first meeting with Persephone was at ten years of age: it was spring and the hills of San Francisco were covered with wildflowers. Saturday was our day to escape from the south of Market city streets and take to the hills. We ran free in the meadows between Mt. Davidson and Twin Peaks, seeking the rarest wildflowers; lying in the grass and gazing aft the sylphs in the cloud formations, fantasizing our own Olympus. It was easy to relate to the young Kora in the Eleusinian fields of Greece. She became my choice to focus upon among the gods for the assigned school project.

So began the transition from early childhood into young womanhood. Truly, when a myth captures your fantasy it will not let go! You turn it over and over in your mind until you come to terms with it in life. It took another time and another transition in mid-life to realize that I too had been a Kora, then a Persephone, searching for my Demeter. As I searched, I was being sought. It is the struggle of every girl to meet the same mother archetype as Demeter represents. Jung much later expanded my understanding in adding that the more remote and unreal the mother image, the greater the yearning and the more insatiable the need of that searching child. Not until we become mothers ourselves do many of us find her in our hearts. In the Sufi teachings, the mother is the first Guru. She mirrors the child; the child is reflected in the mother. In our retreat work we seek to know ourselves by discovering her attributes within. The mirror vision is the symbol for separating the subject from the object, the worlds within and without; “as above, so below.”

In the classic myths we can find our impossible wishes fulfilled: to be perfect, to never die, to be totally loved. In the forty-year transition, these impossible wishes are confronted once again. Mid-life psychology tells us, according to Martin Seligman, it is “a time of readjustment of one’s sense of self” and attaining personal meaningfulness to include experiences of loss and limitation as part of being a person. The shocking, repeated unpredictable losses in later life are harder still if the forty-year transition doesn’t prepare us for them. The “rape of consciousness” in later life explains the sense of helplessness and depression we feel in the midway point in our lifespan. This period of self-scrutiny may bring with it feelings of being unable to go on in our lives, as though our will power is paralyzed.

The myth of Demeter and Persephone (Kora) clarifies the experience of and response to sudden loss for mother and daughter. The story begins with the kidnap and rape of a young maid and ends with the creation of a new and meaningful system called the Eleusinian mysteries or rites. It enables us today to gain a new perspective of the humanity and divinity within ourselves as we explore our own mother-daughter conflict between attachment and separation in our human existence.

Hazrat Inayat Khan taught us: “There are two distinct paths by which one attains the spiritual goal, and one is contrary to the other. One is the path of resignation; the other is the path of struggle.”

In the classic myths, the story of Demeter and her daughter Kora, who matures into Persephone (the bride of Hades), brings into personification the two distinct paths, struggle and resignation. As we discover these prototypes in our own beings we shall find that indeed both paths are essential. We shall see how resignation is truly the outcome of the soul’s evolution; the result of love or wisdom or both.

In Eleusis, a town about 14 miles west of Athens, the first inner initiations to Demeter’s cult began. The devotees, both men and women of all ages, were sworn to absolute secrecy. Initiation required ritual purification, sacrifices, prayer, fasting and bathing in seawater. The deeper initiations, to which anyone could attain if they desired, involved a retreat into self in which the mother-daughter relationship was realized, or if the initiate was male, the Hades-Persephone or Hades-Demeter relationship.

The myth of Demeter, Persephone and Hades was dramatized every year with parades and pageants. This was the means of conveying the teaching to the people. The first stage of the mysteries was the outer work of dancing and feasting which went on for eight days while all other activity stopped. The second stage was the drama and role-play. The third stage was the immersion into the inner meaning of Demeter and Persephone through meditation and visualization.

The Eleusinian mysteries taught belief in man’s immortal soul and the future life after death. In all the Mediterranean area and Europe it was the religious teaching of immortality: dying before death, followed by a resurrection.

The cult of Eleusis was a philosophy of life satisfying the deepest yearnings and desires of the human heart. Its secret was never divulged, even by former devotees who became Christians. Sophocles said, “Happy is he who, having seen these rites, goes below the hollow earth; for he knows the end of life and knows its God sent beginning.” When Christianity conquered the world of that day the inspiring and divine rites of Demeter came to an end.

“When virtues control a man or woman’s life” Hazrat Inayat Khan tells us, “they become idols.” So it was not the personal goddesses the ancients worshipped for over 2000 years but the virtues behind the idols; the prototypes, which are eternally warp and woof of woman’s subconscious mind and heart.

In Demeter and Persephone we meet the archetypes of mother and maiden. Theirs is the earliest mother-daughter relationship, which the post Mycenaean civilization has given us. In the earliest myths of the creation and of the gods, the lady and Queen Demeter grants all good things in season to mortal men. She is the first fertility goddess, whose relationship to a male partner brought forth her attributes as goddess of the ripe grain. The sweet dove is her symbol. Her daughter Persephone is the goddess of the budding, tender shoots of spring.  Kora is another name for Persephone, simply meaning girl. She is the daughter of the holy union of the earth goddess and the sky god, Zeus; the same mother earth and father sky we meet in American Indian legend.

 “Every mother contains her daughter in herself”, C.G. Jung reminds us. “Demeter and Kora extend in the firm consciousness upward and downward, widening out the narrowly conscious mind bound in space and time, giving it intimations of a greater and more comprehensive personality which has a share in the eternal course of things.” In bringing into consciousness the qualities both positive and negative, which we have inherited from our own mothers, we are better able to accept and understand the bones of contention in the mother-daughter relationship.

In the myth it begins on earth, in the fields, and reaches down into the underworld and up into the heights of Olympus. In our psyche it begins in infancy with the first nature explorations of mother with daughter.  Demeter, the mother is between earth and heaven; Persephone, the daughter, is between earth and the underworld; this exemplifies the lower and higher self through realizing expansion of the higher self and transformation of the lower self.

The story of Demeter and Persephone embodies a basic truth, continually repeated and perpetuated in the life of modern women. Mary of Nazareth links us to Demeter, Gaia and Isis as parts of our line of descent, as the archetypes of the woman within. The myth presents the extreme ideals of the gods but the prototypes of Demeter and Persephone exist within every mother and daughter. The myth honors the mother-daughter relationship in three stages: first, the relationship between Demeter and Kora, the immature girl; second, the kidnap and loss of the daughter to a male mate, and third, the reunion of mother and daughter following the birth of the grandchild.

The story goes that one day, the beautiful Kora was playing with Oceanus’ daughters in a meadow, picking wildflowers, when she saw a wonderful narcissus flower and wandered away from her companions to pluck it. At that very instant, the earth opened and Hades, the lord of the underworld, appeared in his fiery chariot drawn by his famous coal black horses and carried her off. She was entranced by the narcissus, symbolically the reflection of her own lower self, as Hades swooped down and captured her. With this shock, Kora was awakened. In this stage of spiritual development, not often recognized as such in our times, the lower self becomes enamored of its own image. It is a vulnerable point, when children must be guarded lest they be raped by the Hades archetype working through the male principle, which can be in the body of any man or woman. This explains why there is so much rape in our time; the cause behind the cause.

The archetype Hades is a potent, violent fertility figure. He represents the forces within us; the battling of anima-animus, male-female, maiden-woman, which urges us to return to the roots of life.

In the myth, Hades raped Kora and when Demeter heard her screams she immediately set off to find her daughter. But, no one could or would give a clue. For nine days Demeter went without food or bathing as she searched, carrying a long staff-like torch in her hand.

Finally, grief-stricken, she veiled herself in black and took on the guise of a poor old woman. She sat grieving for days by the well of the virgin. One day the four daughters of the lord of Eleusis came to the well for water. Demeter told the girls that she wished to be taken into the household of a noble family as a servant, so they returned to their mother, Queen Metanira, and pleaded Demeter’s case. The Queen agreed to speak with her, and when Metanira saw Demeter enter the room, her head touching the door frame and her radiance filling the room, she offered Demeter a good wage to care for her only son, Demophon. Born late in life, this child was most dear to the royal couple.

When Kora vanished, Demeter’s power struggle began. She searched the earth for her beloved daughter, and failing to find her, exerted her personal power in an attempt to make Demophon immortal; for as soon a she became the precious child’s nursemaid she secretly anointed him with ambrosia, fed him no human food and began to raise him like a god. At night, she set him in a great fire like a torch. His parents were pleased with his great growth ahead of time. But one night Metanira spied on her nursemaid and to her horror saw the baby sitting in the flames. She screamed, and Demeter snatched him from the fire and threw him to the floor in a fury, calling the queen stupid. This angry recognition of Demophon’s human mother restored development, which Demeter had suspended by trying to grab a quick substitute in her loss and grief over Persephone. Demeter had confused the divine and the human parts of her being; the archetype and the reality of life in the world. Demeter then revealed herself as a goddess. She cursed the sons of Eleusis to war on one another. She demanded a great temple be built for her on the hill above Eleusis.  Metanira fainted and her four daughters had to soothe Demophon all night as well as calm Demeter’s rage. When the temple was completed, Demeter moved into it and brought a terrible plague upon the dry and barren fields. She took out her grief on the whole humanity, giving man poor crops and famine. Zeus now feared her wrath, and sent messengers bearing gifts and honors to her. But Demeter would accept none of them, demanding instead that her dear daughter be restored to her. Thus she revealed that she could not give Kora up nor relinquish the inner changes in her child. In attempting to recreate the old outgrown relationship by an act of will, she failed to see what was really happening.  Kora, no longer her child, had become Persephone the woman overnight.

Finally, Zeus called Demeter back to Olympus, the heavens. He called her to lift her consciousness to the angels, to climb back to the heavenly source, to be lifted up into a state of consciousness where possession and the mother-daughter entanglement no longer mattered. Demeter then had to return to her source, to retreat back into her roots. This is evocative of retreat work wherein we relive stages, back into union with the immortals, and then return to earth with a deeper understanding of the purpose of our lives.

Every awakened woman experiences and goes through the stages of living both an ordinary life with an ordinary man and the life of the goddess in the higher realms. In coming to recognize the attributes of the goddess within oneself, one attains belief in the divine woman. That is self-recognition, which reflects to the mate by making the woman an enigma and a mystery. As long as she can maintain that part of herself, which can’t be understood, she will never lose her mate to another.

Demeter vowed never to return to Olympus nor allow crops to grow until she could see her beloved daughter once more. So Zeus sent Hermes below where Hades ruled the dead to bring Persephone into the light of her mother’s world again. By that time, however, Persephone was mated to Hades and had borne a divine child to him. She had discovered in motherhood a fulfilling passion. She would not abandon her child, Zagreus.

Zagreus was the healing god of the ancient Greeks. In the mystery pageants he was the torchbearer and procession leader. As a healer, he was called Asklepios by his devotees. The divine son is looked upon as the whole, the redeeming symbol, through which we reconcile the warring opposites of the feminine nature: love and rage, earthliness and spirituality, grounding and wanderlust, hidden and openness; all life and death forces. Asklepios is the master behind the paired attributes of the divine being in wasifa practice.

Hades captured Persephone against her will, forcing her to grow up. Persephone was challenged to take responsibility in a whole new environment and birth a holy child. She developed a lasting feeling for someone who treated her badly. This was not a courtship through a glance or physical or magnetic attraction, but fire was brought forth engulfing and entrancing her. Eventually this became a lasting and committed relationship. We may ask, “Why did she stay with Hades?” She was entranced by the fire element in her own being. This is hard for even modern psychologists to understand, this principle, which is at work in many modern cases. A dramatic example is the Hope Masters case, which occurred in 1973. Masters, raped and kidnapped, eventually fell in love with her captor and defended him at his trial.

Friction does not make fire — it calls it forth. A new attitude toward sex arises when this is understood. It brings understanding of mating and a totally new comprehension of the quotation, “I burn.” It’s not the fire that brings forth the mating, but the friction between opposite polarities that transforms personalities.

When Hermes came for Persephone, Hades agreed to release her, but before she left he offered her a pomegranate to eat. When she accepted the pomegranate, the bond between Hades and herself was sealed forever.

Persephone then mounted the chariot and Hermes drove her to the door of her mother’s temple. There mother and daughter ran to embrace each other but at once Demeter’s intuitive heart told her that some mischief had been done. She asked Persephone if she had eaten anything before leaving the underworld. When Persephone replied that she had, Demeter told her she had been tricked and would have to live one third of each year of her life beneath the earth. Hades had assured that Persephone would return to him. Two thirds of the year she could stay with her mother and father Zeus. Bitter as it was, Demeter accepted the compromise, and returned the crops and golden grains and fruits to the mortals as she had promised, and began to teach the people her mysteries from her temple.

At this point in the myth Demeter had attained the power to discriminate between two choices, and had developed will power to do what her higher self told her had to be done. She was able to distinguish between what was more valuable and what was less valuable.

Even the goddess had to learn the value of things in life that are constant, compared to the transient things.  Demeter’s grieving process, from rage to acceptance even as she clings to the world, is symbolic of our own ever-changing relationship to our daughters. She runs the gamut: earth mother; elemental mother; grieving, adoring and clinging mother in her relationship to her daughter.

The two forces at work within Demeter are the collective power and the individual power, the qahhar and qadir in Sufi wasifas. Learning to resign one’s self precedes coming to terms with conflict within one’s nature of the lesser and greater powers; lifting the power of the individual will into the universal will.

Demeter began by fighting the gods and humanity, opposing the male principle. She was called back by her higher self, speaking to and dominating her lower self. Compromise is not defeat. Every woman should come to that realization, because wisdom is only attained through surmounting this travail of qahhar and qadir, bringing the individual power into line with the universal power; the planets on their orbits, the universe expanding in space.  All travail leads to wisdom if we can recognize and accept the lessons presented in life relationships.

Hades, too, underwent a transformation. He came to respect Demeter’s power, and Persephone’s unbroken bond to her mother. He reached a point where he could renounce Persephone nine months of the year so that he could have her in this world unimpaired for three months.

Persephone embodies self-denial as she struggles to release her own will in the face of great difficulties. She rises above the shock and anger of kidnap and rape and brings even her defeat into a real success. She had been violated, desecrated, imposed upon, and yet in learning renunciation she brought forth a divine child from this union. She could accept and in the end live three months of the year in the underworld at peace with herself. Through the birth of her divine child she finds fulfillment. Persephone personifies the quality of a saintly soul who masters the trials of life through resignation. Her resignation embodies the nature of the water element; for when obstructed she took another course, while keeping her own purpose in life alive. Such a being, Inayat Khan teaches us, becomes in the end,” a consolation to himself and a happiness to others.” Through Persephone’s realization the happiness of Hades, her mother, and her divine child were fulfilled. An entire culture gained strength and inner understanding from her prototype, as practiced in the Eleusinian mysteries. The mother in the daughter and the daughter in the mother came to completion in the attainment and wisdom.

We can reconcile the lost wholeness in ourselves as Persephone, the lost maiden, the anima within the maiden, listens to the call to be true to the self. Thus ends the pain of separation from the angelic plane as woman is born and grounded to the earth plane. As Persephone was kidnapped, raped and shaken into awareness of herself, consciousness and wholeness came into being.

In the primordial mother-daughter relationship, woman’s experience of herself begins with the great epochs of her life- her own birth and bonding to her mother as the first caretaker. The quality of nurturing which the mother gives to her daughter through touch, the glance, and feeding will plant the seeds of what the daughter will expect in relationship to other women in her adult life. Her mating, marriage, and motherhood are patterned by her mother, or the first mother image. The mother, the source of her life, acculturates the daughter into her own environment by means of her innate creative self. In turn, by imitating the mother, the baby daughter first acquires and then extends her own inherent creative nature into the world. In time, the daughter becomes a mother and the archetypal poles create endless seasonal renewal. During the winter solstice when the moon is full, the highest point of this cycle is reached. The sun is at nadir and Virgo rises in the east - the new divine light is born within.

Demeter’s experience and reactions are typical of what each mother experiences conceiving, nurturing and releasing a daughter. The daughter will inevitably be pulled away by the opposite sex but the mother will never give up on desiring reunion. Though her daughter is half her being, the mother must be willing to let her daughter go, failing which she will inevitably ruin the daughter’s marriage. If the mother cannot see her daughter as a separate person with qualities and understanding of her own, she will lose her daughter’s love. The mother-daughter relationship is always connected to problems in the daughter’s relationship to a mate, which stems from confusion in the daughter’s release from her mother’s guidance. There are many examples of this in modern life, often among creative people whose lives are not personally fulfilled because the mother would not or could not let go of guiding the daughter.

When the daughter becomes a mother and lives through the same stages as the mother did, she becomes much more tolerant and understanding of her mother’s actions. She comes to realize many things about her mother- why she felt, reacted and was the way she was. Kora has to become Persephone. She has to relive her mother’s stages of development into womanhood.

The mother-son relationship ends when the son stops confiding in his mother, when he no longer tells her everything, trading his sweetheart for his mother, confessor and confident. A daughter, however, may be kidnapped away by the romantic ideal, but the mother will never give up on reunion, even though the whole world opposes her. This is interwoven with the mother’s subtle creative growth.

The phases of coming to terms with the loss of a daughter are:

    1. Shock, alarm, denial
    2. Acute grief
    3. Integrating loss and grief
    4. Acceptance with poignant caring memories. If the grief is kept hidden within, lingering depression, physical aches and pains, diminished self-esteem, constricted personality and vulnerability to further separations and losses result.

Every daughter must at some point separate from her mother in order to build her own ego and life patterns but when it is done too early, too traumatically, the psyche is inevitably damaged and the adolescence of the child does not progress smoothly. The fantasy that the old ”we” can be regained results in future separations being painful. The loss of the mother early in life brings on the “black hole” experience, a feeling of being abandoned, of unworthiness and guilt when we cannot feel anger. The mother is the symbol of self in early childhood. Anyone who offers protection and nourishment can become a mother substitute (as Hades became to Persephone).

Lack of mothering in one’s life drives a woman to become a Demeter.

Tony Wolff’s four personality types for women are good for modern women to examine in order to understand that what we demand from others is what we fail to give ourselves. These types are given as: The mother of the world, the hetaira or companion, the amazon, and the medium.

Mid-life crisis involves us in meeting and resolving complexes concerning loss and separation, and our personal responsibility for our lives. We awaken to a new spiritual context wherein fulfillment of self and service to humanity are integrated. The myth of Demeter and Persephone clarifies two kinds of loss which are part of the mid-life experience: loss due to fate, death or aging, the will of God, the archetypes at work within; and loss due to abuse of freedom, when we act as though we were goddesses, not human beings subject to loss. We must accept, integrate into our consciousness, and learn from these losses. The threat of loss opens the door to the undeveloped aspects of self-independence and autonomous identity.

The infant is ego-centered, not conscious of his identity. The ability to observe, imitate and reflect upon self and one’s own image develops in cycles. The goals of becoming an individual person are to become powerful and worthwhile in one while respecting the power and worth of others. What the child observes “out there” in parents, God and in the world is evaluated by the ninth year of development and can be experienced as responsibility within the person.

Persephone’s identity crisis demonstrates coming to terms with the limitations of life after the first confrontation with the impossible wishes we had in childhood. These wishes are:

    1. Perfection in self
    2. A perfectly satisfying relationship
    3. A completely responsive sexual partner
    4. Immortality, eternal youth and beauty
    5. Creativity and success in life

From the divine, we gradually lower our sights to just being heroic!

Unexpected loss, “rape of consciousness”, commonly in mid-life, occurs much like the shocking experience of Persephone. This opens doors to a revitalizing new cycle of development. Women shift from passive-accommodative to active mastery. Resignation without despair is experienced, through accepting something beyond our power to control. We seek for new meaning and purpose in our existence in order to transcend personal loss. We may re-establish religious ties, or devote ourselves to larger humanitarian causes. New attitudes arise - that life has a purpose beyond what we see here and now.

Demeter, the eternal mother, like the Sufi, chooses a life in the world with resignation. “Resignation can be a virtue,” Inayat Khan says. To resign one means to do so even when one has the power to resist. Demeter had to come to terms with this. She had to sacrifice her greater personal power to resist opposition to her will in order to learn renunciation.

Renunciation, then, is something that does not arise as a principle but as a feeling of the heart. Both mother and daughter in this myth at some point had to deny self and to learn that their renunciation in itself was neither a virtue nor a sin, but in both cases became a virtue because of the use each woman made of it; the means by which each rose above all limitations life cast in her way. Out of the act of renunciation, happiness came to both.

The renunciation demanded of each woman in her relationships in life determines the evolution of the individual soul. Only the evolved can really renounce. In the beginning, we are as two year olds who cannot renounce their toys, clinging and saying “mine, mine”, as they grasp their possessions. Eventually, as the child learns that caring is sharing, all of the world’s toys are easy to renounce.

The goddess Sophia is the symbol of wisdom which alone is able to chase the illusion of individuality from our reasoning; musing minds where it has so long persisted, captive of old habit patterning of the ego. In the Buddhist wisdom school it is said, “Only thought can kill the illusion which resides in thought.” Sophia teaches us that the way of salvation is the way of purity. For the Sufi woman, the purification and Janna practices clarify what is intuition compared to that which is mere musing.

In India the Yogi teachings bring forth a similar goddess in the form of Tarani, the redeeming One, who leads out of darkness into redemption. In Tibetan Buddhism, she is revered as Tara, “the White Tara”, and symbolizes the highest form of spiritual transformation in womanhood. Tara leads us out of the worldly involvement of samaras, which she creates out of herself. This we call her character, the foundation of her being. The character, the higher self, is so close to the essence of truth that it cannot be compromised by any society. This becomes a crucifixion to the modern woman. The battle she goes through to meet and understand her basic character is the solution to mother-daughter relationships.

Inayat Khan says so truly that all trouble in the world and in our homes comes from lack of renunciation. The greatest goal the spiritual woman can attain demands the highest renunciation. Sophia, the embodiment of wisdom, the highest aspect of womanhood, manifests through learning the lessons of struggle and renunciation so beautifully idealized in the archetypes Demeter and Persephone.


Please note: This transcript is only the “bare bones’ of the actual seminar. Wasifas and other practices are not included.  Murshida Vera also gave a great deal of teaching at the workshop, which was in answer to the needs of the participants.