Monday, May 30, 2011

Goddess Demeter

Posts of prior interest:

The Former Getty's Aphrodite Might Not be Aphrodite After All
May 20, 2011

Chicomecoatl and Chimalman

June 6, 2010

Dogs in Myth and Legend (Keres related to Demeter)
December 27, 2009

From Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.

Tholos tomb at Mycenae - note the "de" (delta/triangle) above
the door into the tomb. 
Greek meter is "mother."  De is the delta, or triangle, a female-genital sign known as "the letter of the vulva" in the Greek sacred alphebet, as in India it was the Yoni Yantra, or yantra of the vulva.(1)  Corresponding letters - Sanskrit dwr, Celtic duir, Hebrew daleth - meant the Door of birth, death or the sexual paradise.(2)  Thus, Demeter was what Asia called "the Doorway of the Mysterious Feminine ... the root from which Heaven and Earth sprang."(3)  In Mycenae, one of Demeter's earliest cult centers, tholos tombs with their triangular doorways, short vaginal passages and round domes, represented the womb of the Goddess from which rebirth might come.  Doorways generally were sacred to women.  In Sumeria they were painted red, representing the female "blood of life."(4)  In Egypt, doorways were smeared with real blood for religious ceremonies, a custom copied by the Jews for their Passover rites.

The triangle-door-yoni symbolized Demeter's trinity.  Like all the oldest forms of the basic Asiatic Goddess she appeared as Virgin, Mother, and Crone, or Creater, Preserver, Destroyer, like Kali-Cunti who was the same yoni-mother.  Demeter's Virgin form was Kore, the Maiden, sometimes called her "daughter," as in the classical myth of the abduction of Kore, which divided the two aspects of the Goddess into two separate individuals.  Demeter's Mother form had many names and titles, such as Despoena, "the Mistress"; Daeira, "the Goddess"; the Barley-Mother; the Wise One of Earth and Sea; or Pluto, "Abundance."  This last name was transferred to the male underworld god said to have taken the Maiden into the earth-womb during the dark season when fields lay fallow.  But this was a late, artificial myth.  The original Pluto was female, and her "riches" were poured out on the world from her breasts.(5)

The Crone phase of Demeter, Persephone-the-Destroyer, was identified with the Virgin in late myth, so the Maiden abducted into the underworld was sometimes Kore, sometimes Persephone.  Some of the Destroyer's other, earlier names were Melaina, the Black One; Demeter Chthonia, the Subterranean One; or The Avenger (Erinys).  Her black-robed, mare-headed idol, her mane entwined with Gorgon snakes, appeared in one of her oldest cave-shrines, Mavrospelya, the Black Cave, in Phigalia (southwest Arcadia).  She carried a dolphin and a dove, symbols of womb and yoni.  Like the devouring death-goddess everywhere, she was once a cannibla.  She ate the flesh of Pelops, then restored him to life in her cauldron.(6)  She was as fearsome as every other version of the Crone.  The legendary medieval Night-Mare - an equine Fury who tormented sinners in their sleep - was based on ancient images of Mare-headed Demeter.

See note for this image from Eleusis below.
Her cult was already well established at Mycenae in the 13th century B.C. and continued throughout Greece well into the Christian era, a length of time almost equal to the lifespan of Christianity itself.(7)  Her temple at Eleusis, one of the greatest shrines in Greece, became the center of an elaborate mystery-religion.  Sophocles wrote, "Thrice happy they of men who looked upon these rites ere they go to Hades's house; for they alone there have true life."  Aristides said, "The benefit of the festival is not merely the cheerfulness of the moment and the freedom and respite from all previous troubles, but also the possession of happier hopes concerning the end, hopes that our life hereafter will be the better, and that we shall not lie in darkness and filth - the fate that is believed to await the uninitiated."  Isocrates said: "Dementer . . . being graciously minded towards our forefathers because of their services to her, services of which none but the initiated may hear, gave us the greatest of all gifts, first, those fruits of the earth which saved us from living the life of beasts, and secondly, that rite which makes happier the hopes of those that participate therein concerning both the end of life and their whole existence."(8)

Eleusis meant "advent."  Its principal rites brought about the advent of the Divine Child or Savior, variously named Brimus, Dionysus, Triptolemus, Iasion, or Eleuthereos, the Liberator.  Like the corn, he was born of Demeter-the-earth and laid in a manger or winnowing basket.(9)  His flesh was eaten by communicants in the form of bread, made from the first or last sheaves.  His blood was drunk in the form of wine.  Like Jesus, he entered the Earth and rose again.  Communicants were supposed to partake of his immortality, and after death they were known as Demetreioi, blessed ones belonging to Demeter.(10)

Revelations were imparted to the initiate through secret "things heard, things tasted, and things seen."(11)  This formula immediately calls to mind the three admonitory monkeys covering ears, mouth, and eyes, supposedly to illustrate the maxim "Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil."  Was the "evil" a secret descended from Eleusian religion?  Demeter was worshipped as "the Goddess" by Greek peasants all the way through the Middle Ages, even up to the 19th century at Eleusis where she was entitled "Mistress of Earth and Sea."  In 1801 two Englishmen named Clarke and Cripps caused a riot among the peasants by taking the Goddess's image away to a museum in Cambridge.(12)

Early Christians were much opposed to the Eleusinian rites because of their overt sexuality, even through their goal was "regeneration and forgiveness of sins."(13)  Asterius said, "Is not Eleusis the scene of descent into the darkness, and of the solemn acts of intercourse between the hierophant and the priestess, alone together?  Are not the torches extinguished, and does not the large, the numberless assembly of common people believe that their salvation lies in that which is being done by the two in the darkness?"(14)  Fanatic monks destroyed the temple of these sexual mysteries in 396 A.D., but the site remained holy to the Goddess's votaries, and the ceremonies were carried on there and elsewhere.(15)

Rustics never ceased believing that Demeter's spirit was manifest in the final sheaf of the harvest, often called the Demeter, the Corn Mother, the Old Woman, etc.  At harvest festivals it was often dressed in woman's clothing and laid in a manger to make the cattle thrive.(16)  Secret anti-Christian doctrines of medieval Freemasonry also drew some symbolism from the cults of the ancient Mistress of Earth and Sea, particularly the masonic sacred image of Plenty: "an ear of corn near a fall of water."(17)  The ultimate Mystery was revealed at Eleusis in "an ear of corn reaped in silence" - a sacred fetish that the Jews called shibboleth.(18)

(1)  Mahanirvanatantra, 127.
(2)  Gaster, 302.
(3)  de Riencourt, 175.
(4)  Hays, 68.
(5)  Graves, W.G., 159, 406; G.M. 1, 61; G.M. 2, 25.
(6)  Graves, G.M. 2, 30.
(7)  Encyc. Brit., "Demeter."
(8)  Lawson, 563-64.
(9)  Graves, W.G., 159.
(10)  Angus, 172.
(11)  H. Smith, 127.
(12)  Lawson, 79, 89-92.
(13)  Angus, 97.
(14)  Lawson, 577.
(15)  Angus, vii.
(16)  Frazer, G.B., 473.
(17)  Elworthy, 105.
(18)  d'Alviella, 2.

Regarding the use of red on the door area of a tholos (or beehive) tomb, see The Tholos Tombs of Mycenae: The great doors opened between two half colums of green serpentin with relief decoration while the pediment and relieving triangle were clad in red marble.

For some interesting comments regarding the antiquity (or not) of the practice of painting doors red, see The Garden - This Old House forums

Both of the images above are from that appears to be a synopsis of a tour it offered in 2007 for a mere $1800 - that sounds absolutely fantastic!  It included Eleusis and Mycenae among other sites over 7 days.  The information the website provided accompanying the photograph from Eleusis is particularly interesting - note the mention of Pluto (noted by Barbara Walker, above, as another aspect/name of Demeter before the she-Pluto was turned into a 'he' by the Greeks).  Also note the reference to the comb as a sacred female object used during the Eleusinian rites -- we've seen a comb show up in both Lamiak imagery and Lilith imagery! 

Eleusis was the home of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the most important cult religion of antiquity before Christianity. Like most ancient religious centers, Eleusis was used for cult practices far into prehistoric times, but its fame and importance greatly increased during the 6th century BC, when a major building project was carried out by the Athenian tyrant Peisistratos. Another large-scale reconstruction occurred during the 2nd century AD, especially during the reigns of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. The cult continued to function until the end of the 4th century.

The Eleusinian religion was based on the myth of Demeter and her daughter Kore (Persephone). After Kore had been carried off by her uncle Hades to be his bride and the queen of the underworld, Demeter searched for her everywhere; when she came to Eleusis, she disguised herself as an old woman and sat by a well; the women of Eleusis, coming to draw water, tried to talk to Demeter but got no response until a woman named Baubo or Iambe exposed herself to the goddess; Demeter smiled and told the women the fiction that she was Doso from Crete, that she had been captured by pirates, and was now wandering friendless and penniless; having secured a position as nursemaid to the infant son of King Keleus and Queen Metaneira, Demeter held the baby every night in the fire, trying to burn away its mortality; one night Metaneira came upon this scene and cried out; Demeter revealed her true identity, commanded the Eleusinians to build her a temple, and sealed herself inside; since she was the goddess of fertility and vegetation, nothing grew during her isolation; finally Zeus, realizing that without crops, animals, or humans being born there was no future for the gods, commanded his brother Hades to return Kore to her mother; Hades did so, but since Kore had eaten pomegranate seeds in the underworld she was compelled to spend half of each year above the earth and half below (in fact, despite this arrangement, we never hear of Kore/Persephone henceforth other than as the queen of the underworld).

The annual ceremony of the Greater Eleusinia took place every September; initiates holding a small pig purified themselves (and the pig) in the sea, then marched in procession to Eleusis for several days of varying activity, sometimes orgiastic, sometimes in silent mourning; at the climax of the rites, the high priest (Hierophant) and priestess enacted the marriage of Zeus and Demeter (perhaps quite graphically, as analogy with other cult rituals indicates) and the birth of their child; the celebrants handled sacred objects (e.g., a triangle, a serpent, a fennel stalk, a women’s comb, all condemned as obscene by early Christian converts from the mysteries) and then, stunned by the sudden appearance of a great fire from the inner shrine, were shown the supreme sacred object (probably a sheaf of wheat).

The great attraction of the religion was surely that it promised a special sort of afterlife to its initiates. However, since revelation of the nature of the religion and its rites was strictly forbidden, we have no sure idea of what this afterlife consisted. Since the charter myth of the religion concerns the separation of a mother and her child and the eventual reunion of mother and child, I would suppose that the afterlife promised to good Eleusinians was in some way represented as a return to the blissful situation of earliest childhood, before that fateful separation of mother and child, the basis of all subsequent anxiety, took place. Our only ancient evidence says merely that the Eleusinians after death continued to practice the Eleusinian mysteries. In any case, almost anything would be preferable to the usual Greek concept of the afterlife, which regarded the souls of the dead as insensate and powerless, flitting around in the darkness of the underworld and making squeaking noises like bats.

Entering from the east we are in a large forecourt, with a temple of Artemis and a well. We pass through what was the Greater Propylaia, patterned after the Akropolis Propylaia; part of the pediment is in the forecourt, and the relief bust on it may be Marcus Aurelius, who built the Propylaia; we then pass through a second gate, the Lesser Propylaia (forbidden to the non-initiated in antiquity under pain of death); to the right is the Ploutonion, an area and cavern sacred to Plouto; we then come to the Telesterion, or Temple of Demeter, with an inner sanctuary, the Anaktoron; the chief ceremonies of the cult took place in this temple, which was about 170 feet square with 42 columns and eight rows of seats on each side; West is a late Bouleuterion (Council hall) and above is the Museum, very small and very interesting. Outside is a beautiful Roman sarcophagus of the 2nd century AD. Inside are 6 small rooms: 1 contains a magnificent archaic amphora with scenes of Odysseus blinding the Cyclops Polyphemos and Perseus fleeing the pumpkin-headed Gorgon sisters of Medousa; 2 has a cast of the Demeter/Kore relief we saw in the National Museum; 4 contains two models of the site (the lower is the Peisistratid [6th century BC] and the upper is the 2nd century AD Roman); 5 has part of a caryatid column from the Lesser Propylaia and a piece of burial cloth, the only surviving example from Classical times; 6 has pottery representing continuous habitation from the early Bronze Age to the 5th century AD, including fertility idols of the Cycladic type.
The baby pig used as a flesh and blood sacrifice (I suspect it was in place of the symbolic "son" who was born every year after the sacred marriage and mating of the hierophant and the priestess of Demeter) was an animal sacred to the Great Goddess and Walker has some interesting things to say about the pig/boar, too.  I'll get to that in another post.

Further information on the mare-headed (night-mare) aspect of Demeter.  As per usual, the Greeks added a misogynistic twist to the original tale of Demeter and Kore/Persephone by adding a rape of Demeter by Zeus.  Those Greek dudes sure did a lot of raping of non-Greek female goddesses.  Of course, it was just political glossing over of the extremely powerful (and thus greatly feared) ancient goddesses of non-Greek origin.  Those goddesses had to be made into relatively harmless icons of female powerlessness and what better way to do that than through the brutal force of rape?  In the case of Demeter, raped by Zeus when she took the form of a mare; in the case of Kore/Persephone, who was the virgin aspect of Demeter but the Greeks called her Demeter's "daughter" - she was carried off by Hades and raped in the underworld.  This is all rather perverse, though, because Hades was just another version of Pluto, who was, as noted above, Greek-ized into a male but was originally just another aspect of and name for Demeter!  So, in effect, Demeter "raped" herself. this is the best the ancient Greek dudes could come up with.  Geez!

Image from The Chess Piece
 I haven't located any actual ancient images of the mare-headed "night-mare" Demeter aspect (with Gorgon serpent mane) (like an ancient sculpture or painted on a krater or other vessel), but I suspect that this is a tamed-down image of her. She is modelled, of course, after the famous horses depicted on the Parthenon of the Goddess Athena on the Acropolis in Athens, and Staunton used those very horses as his inspiration for his "classically designed" chess "knights!"  A "knight"?  Heh heh heh...

I don't know about you, but if I had been one of those ancient Greek male rapists (whether literally or figuratively), I'd have been plenty scared to fall asleep and see one of these coming after me in my dreams.  Those wild eyes!  Those snapping big teeth!  That crazy smile! That wavy, hairy mane that could actually be Gorgon serpents!  EEK! 

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