The upcoming Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture is a book that is very near to my heart for a number of reasons. In it, I have the freedom to not only explore mythology from many different cultures, but figure out how the myths known to us today actually come about. Another reason is that I have always been fascinated by goddesses in particular. I believe that they all come from the same source – many of them retaining some of the characteristics as time goes on.

The question then, of course, is why do we feel the need to have our goddesses retain only some of the aspects of the great mother? I suppose it is in our nature to complicate the simple and simplify the complicated. We do that with religions too although we can never seem to get it right. Beliefs in general are both simple and complicated. A belief is not good or bad – it is just “is”. Our need to simplify it boxing it as one or the other often complicates – bringing about things such as discrimination and destruction, while our attempt to complicate it by imposing all sorts of rules and restrictions often leads to fanaticism.

I have talked about how the all-encompassing nature of the Mother Goddess can be empowering and terrifying for men and women alike – also both simple and complicated. Perhaps it is too much for us to contemplate. Too much so that we find ways to simplify it for ourselves by “dismembering”, as it were, the Great Mother.

 

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Demeter

An example of the process of dismemberment of a goddess is the story of Demeter and Persephone. “De-meter” is from Da-mater, “The Mother”. She probably entered Greece from Crete, and before that she was strongly linked with Isis in Egypt, but she wasn’t called Demeter then, since that is an Indoeuropean name. The Indoeuropean era is when we start to see how The Mother became dismembered. Demeter’s function became more restricted and she was called the Grain Mother, representing the mature crops, and her daughter Kore, was the Grain Maiden, representing the new growths. The later Greeks changed Kore’s name to Persephone, possibly deriving the name from Phesephatta, who was an ancient pre-Indoeuropean Earth goddess native to the Greek Peninsula.

Since the growth of crops follows the seasons, Demeter came to be associated with summer and autumn while her daughter represented winter and spring. Originally the goddess, in whatever form she appeared, did not have a daughter, but she herself had maiden and mature aspects, and her appearance could change with the seasons. Evidently, that was a bit too complicated, so she was split in two – one became the daughter of the other. Thus Demeter and Kore were two aspects of the Triple Goddess (the virgin and the mother).

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Demeter mourning Persephone (Evelyn de Morgan, 1906)

When Hades abducted Kore, Demeter’s search for her daughter took her to the palace of Celeus, the King of Eleusis in Attica. She assumed the form of an old woman (the crone), and asked him for shelter. He took her in, to nurse Demophon and Triptolemus, his sons by Metanira. To reward his kindness, she planned to make Demophon immortal; she secretly anointed the boy with ambrosia and laid him in the flames of the hearth, to gradually burn away his mortal self. But Metanira walked in, saw her son in the fire and screamed in fright. Demeter abandoned the attempt. Instead, she taught Triptolemus the secrets of agriculture, and he in turn taught them to any who wished to learn them. Thus, humanity learned how to plant, grow and harvest grain (This whole section is all about birth, death and rebirth.)

The old stories of Demeter are identical with stories of Isis in Egypt – only the names have been changed – she was the sister-wife of the lord of the underworld, with power equal to or even greater than her brother, and she passed freely between the worlds.

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Bust of Isis-Sothis-Demeter. White marble, Roman artwork, second part of Hadrian’s reign, ca. 131–138 CE. From the gymnasium in the Villa Adriana, near Tivoli, 1736.

“Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture” is coming soon. Meanwhile, other volumes of “Time Maps” can be found through this link.

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