I want to talk about Ceres today. She feels present in the zeitgeist—maybe because the United States is currently completing and beginning a new 26-year cycle with the asteroid goddess, or maybe because she has shown up prominently in almost all of the readings I’ve done this month. She is also involved in this Venus retrograde, squaring the action from 7 degrees Pisces.
The ancient Romans worshipped Ceres as the goddess of the grain, fertility and the seasonal life cycle. Her name derives from a word meaning “to grow” and “to feed.” Like the Greek Demeter, she was the Great Mother who sustains all life on earth. Her daughter was Proserpina (“to emerge, creep forth”), the beautiful maiden who, like her Greek counterpart Persephone, embodied the promise of spring.
There is a plain in the town of Enna, Sicily, that is said to be the site of Proserpina’s underworld rapture (rape?) by Hades. According to the myth, she was picking flowers when she was abducted. Thus the poppy, often found in wheat fields, became one of her symbols: blood red and narcotic, the crop of death growing next to the crop of life. Proserpina represents budding, ripening life. She also represents the archetypes of awakening and loss of innocence—the shedding of skin and the shedding of blood.
In my experience with (admittedly) mostly women’s charts, when Ceres is in difficult aspect to asteroid Proserpina, Black Moon Lilith, Pluto, Chiron or the Moon—or with heavy placements in the 4th or 8th houses—you’re most likely looking at a complicated, karmic, and deeply ambivalent picture of motherhood. Many have a sense that it just isn’t in the cards for them. Some choose willingly not to have kids; some struggle to conceive; some never found the right partner; some are deeply afraid of passing along mental illness or addiction; some have had abortions; others have suffered miscarriages. For those who do have children, it may be that the pregnancy was unwanted or unexpected, or that the child undergoes a period of illness that feels like a separation. It may show up as a contentious custody battle with a controlling ex. Even without challenging aspects or placements, Ceres and Proserpina (or Demeter and Persephone) exist somewhere in all of our natal charts–men’s and women’s alike. The myth invokes a poignant archetypal story of initiation and transformation, on both the part of the mother and her child. It is a story of separation from our younger selves; and it conjures up the bittersweet space between holding on and letting go.
As to the macro perspective, for so many throughout our history and today, that separation has not been the result of nature taking its course, but from the powerful and heartless mandates of imperialism, colonialism and capitalism. We see it in the uprooting of indigenous peoples; in the countless captured and enslaved in the African diaspora, transported to the New World, and sacrificed to the cash crop; and in the millions of sons and daughters lost to wars, to incarceration or to human trafficking. While those threads continue to run through the generations, we are also seeing other modern-day examples in the families separated at the US-Mexico border; in those taken by the opiod epidemic; and in the effects of climate change and the tenuous future of food supplies and agriculture. And the most eery: due to the pandemic, we are all currently suspended in a mythic winter, while the Mother wanders the earth, seeking what was taken from her.
Ceres, to me, represents our precarious relationship to nature. It can look like abundance and fruitfulness or lamentation and vengeance. In looking at her astrologically and archetypally, I want to lift up the complexity of women’s experiences around conception and childbearing, and acknowledge the sacrifice of so many men’s and women’s bodies to history. But while I think this myth can point to collective pain and loss, we should also remember that in the end, mother and daughter were reunited. The story of Ceres and Proserpina can also be one of reconciliation and deep love, a reminder that life goes on and the human spirit is beautifully resilient.