Demeter the Mother from Tales of the Ancient Greeks
An Ancient Goddess with a Timeless Message
Demeter, the ancient Greek Goddess of Agriculture, is perhaps best known for the abduction of her daughter Persephone, but she is much, much more.
She has a powerful message for modern times.
The ancient story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone has been used to explain the cycle of the seasons, but a closer examination reveals insights on living and dying, loss and reconciliation, and, importantly, on suffering and healing.
Myths can be read as symbols, and can be used as working templates for modern times. Indeed, this may have been just the way they were used in bygone days. The ancient tale of Demeter helped me recover from the death of a child and gave me the strength to pick up my life again. I'm sure it's been used in this way for thousands of years.
The Abduction of Persephone
The story of Demeter has come down to us more as the story of her daughter, Persephone. This was my first meeting with the tale as a child and it could be used to explain the changing seasons of the year.
The abduction of the beautiful Persephone is the reason behind the sweetness of Spring and the bitterness of Winter.
One day this little girl of life and laughter, Persephone, was collecting flowers on the plain of Enna when the earth opened beneath her feet. Up from the gap rose Hades, grim God of the Underworld, and abducted her.
And only Zeus, the All-Seeing, knew what had happened.
Broken hearted, Demeter wandered the earth, her hair unbound, wailing into the wind, searching for her little daughter until - at last - Zeus told her what had happened.
Now Demeter was angry as well as heart broken! She demonstrated her rage by punishing the earth's inhabitants with fierce cold, bitter winds and an end to all fertility. Unless Persephone was returned, the earth would surely perish.
Finally Herakles the Hero went down to the kingdom of Hades to negotiate the return of Persephone. But, before she was released, the God of the Underworld tricked Persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds - thus she would always be connected to his realm.
For part of the year Persephone must stay in the Underworld and for part of the year she returns to her mother.
When Demeter and her daughter are together, the earth flourishes with vegetation, but, for four months of the year, when Persephone goes back to Hades, the earth is a barren realm.
To Everything there is a Season
To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance
a time to lose and a time to seek
a time to rend and a time to sew
a time to keep silent and a time to speak
a time to love and a time to hate
a time for war and a time for peace.
Message from Demeter - Letting go
A time to lose ......
One important lesson from Demeter is not to place all of our life into our children. It's a trap that any mother can fall into, putting her talents of spontaneity, creativity, playfulness, wonder, curiosity, love of story and all that we call imagination into her children - forgetting that these belong also to her own inner child.
When her daughter is abducted, the loss causes Demeter to go into deep depression. A depression in which she ceases to bathe, ceases to eat, disguises her beauty, neglects her daily duties, denies her future and becomes self absorbed, angry, resentful and lost in torrents of incessant weeping.
If we hold on to our children too tightly, if we weave our lives totally around them, we are then at a loss when they mature and become independent. We can suffer very real and very deep pain. Like Demeter, our own inner child has been displaced onto our actual children.
If we place all of our eggs into one basket, if a friend grows away from us, if we place all of our love into one partner and that relationship ends, we can be shattered until we realise that what has passed, has passed.
We can't go back.
For everything there is a season.
And there is a time for letting go.
Message from Demeter - Laughter
A time to laugh ...
Demeter shows us the value of laughter in our life. In the midst of her deep depression, she is approached by the minor Goddess, Baubo, who dances in front of her telling bawdy jokes. Then Baubo lifts her skirts and bares her belly to Demeter.
And Demeter laughs!
Mirth breaks through Demeter's despair, she shakes off the blackness of her depression and resolves to continue her search.
Demeter's laughter grounds her, and gives her the strength to seek, and to reclaim, her daughter. As she does this, abundant life returns to the earth. By lifting her skirts, Baubo demonstrates to Demeter the centre that they share, returning the Goddess to her own centre of being.
Demeter's relief from unbearable stress and depression comes via the fanciful realm of humour and theatrics. We can all benefit from cultivating a little light imagination, and from sharing a joke with friends.
Practical and whimsical lessons in the art of womanhood and in the joy of loving life as only a woman can.
"You have to be willing to get rid of your self-doubts and acknowledge your innate gifts and talents."
A fabulous celebration of how to live and celebrate the life of being female.
Message from Demeter - Seasons of Life
To everything there is a season
Demeter shows us the March of the Seasons through our life. We can be in the icy grip of despair but we know that Spring will return, our sadness will ease, and we can smile in the warmth once more.
Her message reminds us of these seasons of life, she tells us that though there are times of great sorrow there is also great joy to be found.
Like Demeter, we learn to live through the ups and downs, the sorrows, heartaches and bereavements knowing that it's possible to reach for the light again.
The story of Demeter illustrates the tremendous capacity of a woman to love and nurture within her own family - and in the world at large.
Demeter also reminds us to stand firm for what is good and right, even in the face of adversity when powerful forces are aligned against us.
Mothers Day began with Demeter
An Ancient Celebration
Mothers' Day is certainly not new. It's one of the oldest celebrations known to us.
Celebrations in honour of Mothers were held in Ancient Greece during the Spring and were dedicated to the worship of Demeter. The Spring of course, that happy time when Demeter turns her attention to the outer world again, she smiles on the Earth .. and the new green life appears. (She is stronger now, from the pain).
Later, in Rome, the celebrations were enjoyed just as much. The honour was given to Demeter in the Roman version of her name; they called her Ceres.
So we could make Mothers' Day, with all of its commercialism, into a day for remembering the Goddess of Mothers as the source of all the nurturing strengths of all mothers.
To all of the Mothers in All of the World in All Places and in All Times.
We could have a Demeter's Day instead!
I stood on Demeter's ancient Sanctuary
Yes! I was so fortunate to visit Enna, in the heart of Sicily and stand on la Rocca di Cerere, an ancient site dedicated to the goddess.
This is where Persephone returned to the world.
© 2008 Susanna Duffy