Monday, May 30, 2011

Goddess Demeter - in the Christian Form

We've seen this in other cases of ancient goddesses (particularly) incorporated into the Christian pantheon (although Church Fathers would never describe it that way!) as "saints."

Fragment of "Demeter" stolen from Eleusis in 1801 CE, now residing in the
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University, England.  According to the
Fitzwilliam, this is not a bust of Demeter, per se, but part of a pair of colums
that flanked the entrance into the sanctum sanctorium of Demeter's Temple at Eleusis.
 It supposedly represents one of the daughters of Appius Claudius Pulcher, the
Roman consul who dedicated the gateway that they supported, between 54 and 48 BC."
 From Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Demetra, Saint [not to be confused with Saint Demetria]
[This is the entry directly under Demeter, the Goddess]

As was the rule with other manifestations of the Great Goddess, there was an attempt to Christianize Demeter by making a saint of her.  Though the church refused to canonize "St. Demetra" officially, yet she remained a great favorite of the people, who told miracle-tales abou her and prayed to her as fervently as if she were a certified member of the canon.

The classic myth of Kore-Persephone and Demeter was retold as a popular fairy tale centering on St. Demetra.  The saint's daughter {Kore} was kidnapped by "a wicked Turkish wizard" {Hades} and locked up in a tower.  A young hero rescued her, but perished miserably, chopped in pieces by the wizard and hung from the tower's walls "between heaven and earth."  Guided by a stork {her ancient toemic bird of  birth}, St. Demetra arrived on the scene, reassembled the hero, and brought him back to life.(1)  Several elements of this story were repeated in the Germanic fairy tale of Rapunzel.

A masculinized version of Demeter - or perhaps one of her Demetreroi - was accepted into the canon as a "St. Demetrius," of no known date, and no real biograpny.  His legend, established in the late Middle Ages, made him a warrior saint like the equally mythical St. George.  The basic story was invented to publicize his healing relics preserved at Salonika.(2)

(1)  Lawson, 80-84.
(2)  Attwater, 102.

The Cabinet of Curiosities has further information and historical background to fill in the legend of Saint Demetra.  It recalled to my mind something I knew but had forgot - that the Turks (Muslims) in the form of the Ottoman Empire ruled Greece from the 15th century CE until 1821 CE!  The updating of the legend of Demeter and Kore/Persephone was thus updated very late, indeed, to satisfy the mandates of the Greek Christian Orthodox Church.  Wink, wink. 

I found Lawson (see Note 1 from Walker, above) online at Google booksModern Greek Folkore and Ancient Greek Religion: A Study in Survivals, 1909.  John Cuthbert Lawson.  You can read the entire updated tale that has the "Turkish" villain/kidnapper/ravisher of Kore/Persephone there.

According to the Cabinet of Curiosities, the tower-like structure on this maiden's head is called a cista and it may have held sacred artifacts used in the Eleusinian rights.  That may be correct, but I think it could also be a representation of the "tower" that the "archaic" Goddess Kar wore on her head.  Kar was an important Goddess in "walled cities" such as Carthage and was, like Demeter, a primal Mother Goddess. Kar - was a manifestation of walled fortifications that the earliest "cities" used to protect themselves against raids and unwanted visitors, and the custom was copied down through the ages - indeed, into cities built in the Dark and Middle Ages in Europe.  The "Old City" of Jerusalem is just one example of a city using Kar's walled fortifications.  Many cities today still survive with this remnant of the Goddess' name of "KAR" or "CAR" in their names.   

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