Magical Mondays: Faerie Food and Sexual Assault

PersephoneI was thinking recently about faerie food and how it never leads to anything good. Very rarely is the only consequence of eating fairy food that you’re a little less hungry afterward. At first, I thought that faerie food seems to be a metaphor in some ways for drug use and addiction, seeing how, in many myths, humans who eat it become addicted, don’t want to eat anything else, and if there is faerie food available, can’t stop eating it even past the point of being full. But then I started to realize there is a much more sinister connotation to faerie food: faerie food in a lot of ways seems to be very similar to date rape drugs, thus tying it to sexual assault.

Trigger warning for rape, date rape, and sexual assault after the jump.

hades & persephoneProbably one of the first examples of this comes from the myth of Hades and Persephone. Now this pains me to say because Hades/Persephone is like my Greek god OTP. In some version of the myths they seem to love each other; for example, Hades and Persephone are one of the only Greek god couples never to cheat on each other. But I’m pretty sure I’m projecting a revisionist mythology onto the story, because most versions of the myth make it very clear that Persephone wanted nothing to do with Hades and is tricked into remaining with him. In most versions of the myth Persephone is kidnapped by Hades and then tricked into eating four pomegranate seeds in the Underworld. Eating food of the Underworld meant Persephone had to remain there at least four months out of the year. While it is never explicitly stated that Persephone and Hades had sex, most cultures consider sex to be a key part of a “valid marriage”, so it’s more than likely that Hades had sex with Persephone after their wedding to consummate the marriage. On top of this, most art work portrays Hades’s abduction of Persephone as very violent and sexual. So Persephone, after being kidnapped, is then forced to marry and remain with the man who assaulted her, all because she ate some fruit.

Sarah & the peachThis kind of narrative is repeated in various ways in other fantasy stories. In the movie Labyrinth, the Goblin King Jareth tricks Sarah into eating an enchanted peach that essentially traps her in one of her dreams. Sarah appears in a ballroom dressed in a beautiful gown, attending a masquerade party. In the Jim Henson documentary on Labyrinth, the ballroom is described as this very adult place that Sarah is not supposed to be since she is still a child. Remember, Sarah is only sixteen in Labyrinth, and suddenly she eats some strange fruit and ends up in a place she is both somewhat enchanted and repulsed by, where there is an adult male preying on her. In the ballroom scene, Jareth draws her in, enchants her, toys with her, hides from her, and then laughs when she can’t find him. Finally, Jareth takes Sarah’s hand and dances with her, and at first she seems bewitched, as if she barely knows what is going on. But things quickly start to become more and more uncomfortable for Sarah. She seems distressed the more she dances with Jareth, and she only finds the strength to pull away from him and break out of the dream when she hears the chiming of the clock that counts down her time in the Labyrinth. Again, we have a female character who eats something strange and is then sexually accosted by an aggressor; however, unlike Persephone, Sarah manages not only to escape, but, as the story continues, defeat her aggressor.

Tithe_A_Modern_Faerie_TaleThe same type of story is not limited to women or heterosexual couples, though those are much more common. In Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, we meet Corny, a somewhat asocial loner who is gay. Corny doesn’t have a lot going for him when he first meet Kaye, our female protagonist. Because of his friendship with Kaye, he learns about the faeries and at first seems to find the whole thing cool. However, later in the novel he is seduced by Nephamael, a knight in the faerie court. Corny is very attracted to Nephamael and it appears Nephamael is also attracted to Corny, but the faerie knight views humans as less than him, and so treats Corny more like an abused pet than a person. He kidnaps Corny and tricks him into eating magical faerie fruit that keeps Corny drugged and unable to resist Nephamael. The knight humiliates Corny and laughs at him when he can’t stop eating or resist the faerie food. Nephamael basically keeps Corny on an addicted magical high and then uses him as a sexual pet. Corny, with Kaye’s help, does eventually get revenge on Nephamael, but the whole experiences leaves him shaken and scarred.

While I still think faerie food could be used as an analogy for drugs and addiction, there certainly seem to be, from the earliest examples of this kind of thing, this understanding of faerie food as date rape drugs. These various stories where a person eats something, only to then be assaulted, is pretty telling about how rape culture has even affected our mythology. I am grateful, however, for the more modern stories where the character who eats the faerie food either escapes before they are assaulted, or at least manages to get revenge, or regains a sense of agency and autonomy in some way. That is worlds better than Persephone’s story, where the poor girl has no say over her life.

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3 thoughts on “Magical Mondays: Faerie Food and Sexual Assault

  1. This is an interesting interpretation! I’ve never really given much thought to faerie food besides it being magical. Do you think that it was a means of explaining the unexplained like a lot of things back then? (like you said with it being a metaphor for drugs)

  2. Hmm. I think a different, more positive interpretation is possible.

    One thing you have to remember is that women in these societies live in an oppressive environment. Where they frequently are not able to choose who they are to be with, but are bartered as political tokens – see e.g. Helen of Troy. In the myth of Persephone, her likely fate was otherwise to be placed into an arranged marriage by her mother, a situation she is equally unable to leave!

    So, might I suggest that the role of supernatural intervention is actually empowering and liberating? I ate this food, or the gods messed with me, therefore my will is not my own. And therefore it becomes not My Fault, and my personal dishonour that I did transgressive things! Like having a child out of wedlock, or running away with a guy my parents don’t approve of, or left my husband to be with another. Fantasies like this created release valves for women (and sometimes men) bound up in codes where their daily lives and destinies are totally controlled, gave the promise that things could be different and a little bit exciting.

    Maybe Persephone chose to eat the pomegranate, eh?

    • Indeed you can see this theme of the woman eating the forbidden fruit leading to both sin and liberation in the most famous example of this – the tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

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