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Bibliotheca - The myth of Demeter and Persephone

Identifier

027758

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Demeter is the goddess of grain, harvest, growth, and nourishment, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. Her cult titles include Sito (Σιτώ), "she of the Grain", and Thesmophoros (θεσμός, thesmos: divine order, unwritten law; φόρος, phoros: bringer, bearer), "Law-Bringer", she presided also over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death.

She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures in the myth of Demeter and Persephone a myth that formed the core of the Eleusinian Mysteries. 

Story

Persephone, also called Kore, is the daughter of Zeus [Jupiter] and Demeter [Ceres]. Demeter's virgin daughter Persephone is abducted from a field where she was picking flowers on Mount Olympus [thus in Paradise]  to the underworld by Hades/Pluto with the agreement of Zeus her father. Demeter is beside herself with anguish, once she finds out  and searches for her ceaselessly, overcome with her loss and her grief.

Demeter is the goddess of divine order – the systems of the universe – and her fury at this act, cause chaos - the seasons are halted; living things cease their growth, then begin to die.  Faced with the extinction of all life on earth, Zeus sends his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back. Hades agrees to release her.

But, and here the wording is key “But when Zeus ordered Pluto to send up the Maid, Pluto gave her a seed of a pomegranate to eat, in order that she might not tarry long with her mother. Not foreseeing the consequence, she swallowed it”.

This act bound her to Hades and the underworld and she has to return over and over again.  She would stay with Hades for that period and for the rest of the year she would live with the Gods and Goddesses on Mount Olympus.

Interpretation

Literal  - One can accept the legend of Demeter and Persephone simply as an exciting story about a mother’s love for her daughter,  the wiliness of men [fathers and suitors]  in their dealings with women and a warning about the fury and damage a truly angry woman can be capable of when her emotions are really engaged.  Literally, people take the underworld to mean ‘underground’, and in this sense Persephone then emerges as the personification of vegetation, which shoots forth in spring and withdraws into the earth after harvest.

Symbolic - Grain is a symbol for the soul , as such this story is very much about souls and the ‘underworld’.  The underworld is clearly not heaven where Persephone comes from, it is actually earth.  Physical earth and of course symbolic Earth.  Thus Persephone is snatched by Pluto and becomes a physical human as opposed to a goddess in heaven.  The “predominating significance of the pomegranate arising from its shape and internal structure is the reconciliation of the multiple and diverse within apparent unity”.  Seeds and grains have the same symbolic meaning – they are souls encased by a red [the symbol of blood and thus spirit].  One seed is thus a person with their aura. 

At the much wider planetary level, Pluto is a symbol of power, control, consumption, greed, and lust, the masculine extremes, the corporate excesses and lack of accountability, the pornography, the injustices.  And Pluto has become far too powerful, balance has been lost.  Pluto is genetically modifying food, spraying food with pesticides, he is wasting resources horrendously and destroying ecosystems and species.

And Ceres/Demeter is currently showing her wrath.  When Ceres is happy she has the ability to make things abundant. But when things are totally out of balance, she creates havoc with the environment. Thus climate change is symbolically via this archetype, being caused by her fury.

Our Earth home and all forms of life in it are at grave risk. We men have had our turn and made a proper mess of things. We need women to save us.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Also at the Peace Summit in Vancouver, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said: “The world will be saved by the western woman.“

Esoteric – The story is an allegory of the spiritual path that sees humans born into the underworld [earth] and thus become human.  When Demeter “set the babe of nights on the fire and stripped off its mortal flesh”, we are seeing she is a goddess capable of handling the rebirth process – purgatory.

The pomegranate has its own symbolism when it is found outside the Mysteries, but within the Mystery religions, it is associated with sexual stimulation and sexual abstinence and it takes on a new meaning.

One pomegranate seed is a person with their aura.  "But when Zeus ordered Pluto to send up the Maid, Pluto gave her a seed of a pomegranate to eat, in order that she might not tarry long with her mother."   Persephone wasn't raped, Persephone was beguiled because she was innocent.  Pluto seduced her, she  may have gone down to earth as a virgin, but she doesn’t come back as one because she has partaken of another human being, sunk into the more of human relations that result in jealousy, and possessiveness and severely impact progress of the spiritual path.

The myth is explaining that those who would follow the spiritual path through purgatory to completion and annihilation,  must remain virgins, or abstain from sex, in order to complete the entire path through purgatory and on to purification and thetothe  final stages of Dawn and Spring.  This is why the specific time she remains underground is not mentioned in the texts, as it makes it more difficult to reconcile the literal meaning with the esoteric meaning – linked as it is with the Four seasons and the hours.

A description of the experience

Apollodorus. The Library. Translated by Sir James George Frazer. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 121 & 122. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.  [http://www.theoi.com/Text/Apollodorus1.html#6]

[1.5.1] Pluto fell in love with Persephone and with the help of Zeus carried her off secretly.74 But Demeter went about seeking her all over the earth with torches by night and day, and learning from the people of Hermion that Pluto had carried her off,75 she was wroth with the gods and quitted heaven, and came in the likeness of a woman to Eleusis. And first she sat down on the rock which has been named Laughless after her, beside what is called the Well of the Fair Dances76; thereupon she made her way to Celeus, who at that time reigned over the Eleusinians. Some women were in the house, and when they bade her sit down beside them, a certain old crone, Iambe, joked the goddess and made her smile.77 For that reason they say that the women break jests at the Thesmophoria.78

But Metanira, wife of Celeus, had a child and Demeter received it to nurse, and wishing to make it immortal she set the babe of nights on the fire and stripped off its mortal flesh. But as Demophon -- for that was the child's name -- grew marvelously by day, Praxithea watched, and discovering him buried in the fire she cried out; wherefore the babe was consumed by the fire and the goddess revealed herself.79

[1.5.2] But for Triptolemus, the elder of Metanira's children, she made a chariot of winged dragons, and gave him wheat, with which, wafted through the sky, he sowed the whole inhabited earth.80 But Panyasis affirms that Triptolemus was a son of Eleusis, for he says that Demeter came to him. Pherecydes, however, says that he was a son of Ocean and Earth.81

[1.5.3] But when Zeus ordered Pluto to send up the Maid, Pluto gave her a seed of a pomegranate to eat, in order that she might not tarry long with her mother.82 Not foreseeing the consequence, she swallowed it; and because Ascalaphus, son of Acheron and Gorgyra, bore witness against her, Demeter laid a heavy rock on him in Hades.83 But Persephone was compelled to remain a third of every year with Pluto and the rest of the time with the gods.84

Homeric Hymn to Demeter

When he said this, wise Persephone was filled with joy and hastily sprang up for gladness. But he on his part secretly gave her sweet pomegranate seed to eat, taking care for himself that she might not remain continually with grave, dark- robed Demeter.

....if you have tasted food, you must go back again beneath the secret places of the earth, there to dwell a third part of the seasons every year: yet for the two parts you shall be with me and the other deathless gods. But when the earth shall bloom with the fragrant flowers of spring in every kind, then from the realm of darkness and gloom thou shalt come up once more to be a wonder for gods and mortal men. And now tell me how he rapt you away to the realm of darkness and gloom, and by what trick did the strong Host of Many beguile you?”

And all-seeing Zeus sent a messenger to them, rich-haired Rhea, to bring dark-cloaked Demeter to join the families of the gods: and he promised to give her what right she should choose  among the deathless gods and agreed that her daughter should go down for the third part of the circling year to darkness and gloom, but for the two parts should live with her mother and the other deathless gods. Thus he commanded. And the goddess did not disobey the message of Zeus

The source of the experience

Bibliotheca (Pseudo-Apollodorus)

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps

Activities

Commonsteps

References