Goddesses in the Dust: Mothers and Daughters and Digging in Tombs

Unearthing the Divine Feminine, one archetype at a time...

A few years ago, my daughter accompanied me on our archaeological excavation in Greece. My primary task for the summer was to excavate two 3000 year old tombs. The tombs had been excavated some 50 years previously and filled in - we were re-excavating them so they could be opened to the public as official archaeological sites.

Working side by side with my daughter I naturally thought of Persephone, who is pulled into an underworld realm by the god of the underworld, Hades, and her mother, Demeter, who wanders the earth refusing to let anything grow until her daughter is returned to her. It also got me thinking about how these specific tombs we were excavating - called tholos tombs - were feminine symbols. The ancient Greeks fashioned tholos tombs in the shape of beehives, which were built into a conical shape with large blocks, a sloping roof and held into place with a keystone. 

The beehive shape resembles a womb and reminds us that we are held in a vessel at both the beginning and at the end of our life cycle. In D.J. Conway's book, Maiden, Mother, Crone, she describes the tomb as a womb symbol of the Dark Mother. It also represents the subconscious and the resting period of the "dense-matter body while it undergoes transformation."

Tombs and the Underworld share similar characteristics, and psychologists often describe the Persephone myth as symbolizing the period of transformation a girl must undergo to become fully conscious as a woman. The Underworld, or unconscious, is the eternal cauldron in which our psyche becomes transformed, and oftentimes through challenging circumstances. Wombs and tombs resemble cauldrons, what Conway calls "the belly-vessel of rebirth; the first recycling center run by the Goddess."

Greece has been such a place of transformation for me, challenging me over the decades to face the unilluminated areas of my psyche and learn to incorporate them into my creative life. I am happy to have shared this experience of excavating ancient tombs with my own daughter and I celebrate the mythological and psychological parallels. Since this time, she has herself transformed from a girl to a young woman, and I am a proud Demeter, watching her grow. Whether we are aware of it or not, all mothers and daughters pass through these phases symbolized by the Persephone-Demeter myth, and the eternal goal is ever the same: 

to become wise women who see in the dark. 


  1. Amanda, this post was very satisfying -- and it has the effect of making me wish to read more of your words. Your experiences and resultant paradigms resonate very deeply with me.

    (Off to look up the Conway book.)

  2. Mother/daughter relationships have got to be the most complicated part of life. These symbiotic relationships are so fraught with tension that it is a miracle when the daughter finally becomes her own person. If ever she does. I still see so much of my mother in me today that I know I am my mother.

  3. as you live the metaphor becomes the tangible and the tangible, in turn, once again the metaphor. i think of a mirror set beside a mirror. i think of spiegel im spiegel, the music and the phrase. i see the two of you smile side by side and i see my daughter and i side by side, time dissolved, us all women, as you say, trying to see in the dark.


  4. oh, i bought my first silver bangle. of course i thought of you))))

  5. The whole enterprise sounds like such a grave undertaking.

    Hope you had a great time in the process, and that your Greek soul was nourished.

  6. I love that last sentence. May we all become wise women and find that which nourishes our psyche. What a wonderful experience it must be to excavate such ancient places.

  7. That last sentence, that goal, unconscious most of the time, is what separates this myth from a whole lot of Greek thought that came later. Interesting.

  8. Ha! Love Rob-bear's comment: "grave undertaking." Yes, I suppose the same thing could be said about motherhood. Wise women seeing the dark. Lovely. And very cool that you get to dig up the dusty tombs of those goddesses. I'm thoroughly fascinated--and so pleased to hear (from one of your previous posts) that you've set a goal to complete your novel by summer's end. You have a lot of fans who will be patiently waiting for its publication. :)

  9. Oh chills, Amanda. First you wrap history with mythology and tie them with the ribbon of mothers and daughters and then your comments are equally fantabulous . I especially like rubye jack's and her use of the word 'fraught' my daughter is do intregal to who I am that she is a part of my fiber but she won't know that for many years yet... Just as I look at my 96 year old mother and thank god I have her DNA.

    You have such a precious view. I'm always do glad to know you ;-)


  10. what a nice experience and an intereresting adventure to both of you!

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  11. Dear Amanda, such a beautiful post. I will never be a mother, even though it has been my dream. But I guess life wanted otherwise for me and all I can do is only imagine what a bond between a mother and daughter is like, as I am a daughter.;)
    I bet your girl must have enjoyed spending those exciting and adventurous moments with you.;)
    Thank you for finding the time to visit me even though I know you are busy writing - wishing you all the best of creative luck in your endeavor.;)

  12. Thanks for sharing us the blog of yours. I have the great time exploring it. It is really beautiful.

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  13. Ah, yes, I remember those tombs, in the years before we had daughters to dote on! We are all daughters of the womb-tomb! (funny words - why is it pronounced with an ooo?) Wonderful writings as always! Love, Renée

  14. I love that photo of you with your daughter - such a resemblance! Inside too, I imagine. And as always you tie your experience into mythology so well.

  15. what beautiful memories and keeping them here for safekeeping is a brilliant idea amanda. such a lovely photo too. xxx lori

  16. Loving memories and a stunning picture with your gorgeous daughter. Like mother, like daughter!!

  17. brilliant post, and very satisfying.

    but more importantly...yes, my niece did go to middle school with your nephew. how cool is that? Her name is Jody Stella...I don't know how much their paths have crossed since then but you know how kids are.

    Small world eh?

    1. Mim,

      It truly is a small world. I will ask my nephew if he remembers Jody!

  18. You are the ultimate Demeter and Persephone...with bonds as strong as the umbilical cord that once connected you.

  19. Beautifully written..powerful and magnificent..all the symbolism and meaning that I love so much too kindred! Wonderful photo..very special!


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