|The Death of Rachel, Giambettino Cignaroli|
|Snow White illustration, Franz Juttner|
|Kate Crackernuts, Trina Schart Hyman|
So, having no mother is bad. Having a vindictive mother is bad. Having a caring mother is bad. Is there any kind of good mother who's not also dead?
|Demeter and Persephone, Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire|
Right from the start, she's got the loving and nurturing aspect of motherhood covered; she's goddess of the harvest, so we already know she'll take awesome care of her daughter. And going by the brief glimpse we get of young carefree Persephone before Hades abducts her, it seems fair to say that Demeter knocked it out of the park. Once Persephone goes missing, Demeter essentially shuts down the earth, holding life itself hostage until her daughter is returned. Her determined crusade to find Persephone is the sole reason Zeus gets off his arse and sends Hermes to bring Persephone back. And even though Hades tricks Persephone into spending three months of the year with him, the remaining nine are divinely judged to be the purview of the mother-daughter team of spring and harvest, which creates lovely weather and plentiful harvests and ensures that even the mortals want Persephone to stay with her mom.
|Isis & Horus, Judith Page|
And now the Virgin Mary is knocking at the door. Gotta count her, too. Betrothed-but-not-married knocked-up-by-God virgin mom sounds like the premise of a VH1 show. But Mary makes it work. She convinces a very skeptical Joseph that she didn't actually cheat on him (at least not by choice - we can talk
|Madonna and Child, Il Sassoferrato|
So yes, there are positive models of motherhood who play active and crucial roles in their children's stories. But there's a catch. They're all goddesses. (You can quibble about Mary's divine status, but she ascends to Heaven at the moment of her death, and has more icons and fan-worship than any sanctified Christian who's not Jesus. The woman's a goddess.) Fairytale mothers are mortals with only mortal strength. Is it fair to ask human mothers to live up to the astonishing lengths that goddesses go to in protecting and raising their children?