Dismembering the Great Mother through the Mythology of Demeter and Persephone

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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Why We are Afraid of Women: The Anima, the Animus and the Great Goddess

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“The Life & Age of Woman – Stages of Woman’s Life from the Cradle to the Grave”, a ca. 1849 U.S. print illustrating 11 chronological stages of virtuous womanhood.

The word “feminine” and “feminism”, with its many variations, has become somewhat of a dirty word these days. Young women deny vehemently any suggestion that they are in any way a “feminist”. Some would cautiously say “yes I am a feminist” before quickly adding a qualifier “but I like men” as if not saying that would make them in any way less of a woman. The recently announced actress for the TV Show Dr. Who, the first female to take on the iconic 50+ years character, drew such vitriol online that she had to urge the audience to “not be afraid” of her gender – These are only some mild examples compared to many other situations where an apology, explanation or, at least, an earnest assurance that no harm is being done is required for being a woman.

As with everything else, there are ancient precedents for this distaste for femininity. One source of resistance in Europe stems from the gynophobia of the early Church Fathers of Christianity. The church institutionalized the message that the present position of women in society is better than it has ever been before, and that this is due to Christianity and the church. The institutions of the state concurred in this assessment since it suited them well enough. These views have become entrenched in religion and law, since both the church and state base their powers on the cultural assumption that women are inferior, weaker and dependent, compared with the superior men. However, the reality is that none of these claims has ever been true in the family, the community, religion, or society at large. Aristophanes was aware of this and it is part of the comedy in his play “Lysistrata”, in which the women abstain from sexual relations with their husbands until the men promise to stop making wars and trouble all over the place. It worked for a while but, of course, not completely as planned because most normal healthy women are not saints either.

AMAZONS_EURASIA.jpgAlthough the 19th century Swiss scientist Johann Jakob Bachofen showed that a matrifocal age once existed in Europe, many people still resist this notion. One reason is the, by now culturally embedded, memory of males being the socially dominant and the center of attention. Evidence that this is purely a cultural choice has been interpreted as an attempt to lower the prestige of men in their own eyes, and perhaps reduce their hold on the centers of power. Therefore, it has been strongly resisted.

The nature of the Great Goddess gives us a clue to one of the deepest reasons for the resistance to evidence of matriarchies and other matrifocal cultures. There is no complete list of all the names the goddess has had and still has, but in Europe, the Nile-Oxus Region and North Africa,  she has more than 260 names. She has been called the Triple Goddess, the White Goddess, the Goddess of Creation, the Great Mother, and Goddess of the Sea (the sea represents feelings – deep and untameable). We find that in some cultures with strong traditions of the Sea Goddess a strongly-held belief that marrying the goddess (or at least mating her to a king or a hero) is considered to be the way to “tame” her spirit.

The Great Goddess combines all aspects of the Triple Goddess in one personality – she is nurturing, enchanting and dangerous at the same time. She is both beautiful and terrifying. To have a close encounter with her can be deeply disturbing, even fatal, for a man if he is not guarded and careful. However, women report different reactions, such as reaching a new degree of maturity in their womanhood. They feel empowered, stronger and more certain in who they are and how they can contribute to their society.

goddess -Joy-_sculpture_by_Christine_Baxter_2013The myths and attributes of the White Goddess or Triple Goddess are remarkably similar all over the world, from Ireland to Japan and from Africa to Hawaii. In fact the goddess has all the characteristics of the Jungian Anima. The anima and animus are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind as well as the abstract symbolic sets that formulate the archetype of the Self. Both are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious – that is, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of a man, this archetype finds expression as a feminine inner personality (anima) and in the unconscious of a woman it is expressed as a masculine inner personality (animus). The anima also influences a man’s interactions with women and his attitudes toward them and vice versa for women and the animus. Jung viewed the anima as being one of the sources of creative ability.

The association of the goddess with the Anima explains many things about her – why she is a source of creativity and destruction, of exaltation and terror; and why most men find it difficult to think about her without becoming emotional, and find it almost impossible to talk sensibly about her at all. This also explains why the prospect of reaching mature womanhood (i.e. being older) is a terrifying prospect for many women. The suppression of the goddess religions, which was often quite irrationally brutal, is also more understandable if one considers it as a reaction by the Animus after a long period of domination by the Anima.

Almost all of the myths of the Great Mother goddess have now been replaced by myths of gods, or, as in the story of Talia, they have been altered so much that the original meaning has been lost. The oldest surviving form of the Snow White story is inseparable from the Sleeping Beauty story. It involves a girl named Talia who is exiled to the forest, gets a poisoned thorn in her finger and goes into a death-like coma. The handsome prince comes along and makes her pregnant. Talia gives birth to two children, a boy and a girl. Of course, this is not the Disney version of the story, but there is another component of the story, now forgotten, that lifts it out of the realm of fairy tales completely – the children’s names were Sun and Moon. Talia was a goddess of creation, and the handsome prince was a god. It is a story of how the universe came into being and Talia is the Great Mother goddess. So, the Great Goddess is not dead as in the stories we read to our children there are still remnants of a tradition that goes back tens of thousands of years.

 “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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A Balanced Partitioning: Gender Roles and a Society where Sexism Doesn’t Exist

goddess - Unisex_pictogramI am currently working on my part for the fourth Time Maps book called “Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture”. Therefore, my research will play a considerable role in my blog narrative for a while. I will start with an often misused word: “The Matrix”.

The root “matri” denotes the womb, so words such as matriarchal and matrilineal refer to social structures where women have major roles. The word “matrix” is also from the same root, and denotes an all-encompassing context, or a source of generation – again like a womb. So let’s look at some words with “matri” in it:

Matriarchy is government by women, also called gynocracy. A matrilineal society is one in which descent is defined through the female line. In ancient times matriarchal and matrilineal societies were much more common than they are now. This usually relates to rights of inheritance and definitions of clans or extended families, but one can also find traces of it in ancient Egypt, where for long periods the right to the throne was through the female line. It makes sense really, since one usually knows who a baby came out of, but one cannot always be sure who put it in there. A matrifocal society is one in which the culture and social structures are centered on the roles of the women. This is a more nebulous concept than matriarchy and matrilineality, and difficult to define precisely – but let’s look at a contemporary example.

Almost all newspaper and television reportage these days are about the activities of men, with emphasis on wars, business, and various forms of political and commercial debates. Because many of our cultures are mainly patrifocal, even patriarchal, these things are considered important. However, we could just as easily have matrifocal cultures, in which matters of childraising and care for future generations, education, family welfare, and other matters of interest and concern to women are given major media coverage. Men’s issues, such as war and football, could be relegated to a special page at the back of newspapers and magazines with a title like “For Him”, or “The Men’s Page”. There could even be special television programs for men, in which one could see the latest trends in warfare from those creative people in Washington, or frivolous technological fashions from Japan. So being matrifocal or patrifocal reflects what the culture considers to be important.

Matriarchy lasted for more than 30,000 years, declined over a period of five thousand years and became extinct about a thousand years ago. Chinese writings refer to the existence of a matriarchal empire in Tibet in the sixth and seventh centuries of the Common Era, during the rise of the Tang Dynasty in China.

As early as the Eleventh Dynasty of Egypt, royal succession became fixed in the female line. The child of a royal princess could reign as pharaoh by right of descent even if her husband was a commoner. The children of a prince with a commoner were excluded from the succession completely. Diodorus states that queens in Egypt were shown greater respect and possessed more power than kings, and in all of the monuments and paintings, only queens wear the triple crown, signifying ecclesiastical, judicial and sovereign power.

Another type of society is partitioned on gender lines. There is a lot of gender partitioning in all cultures as it is a major part of how we tell the difference between girls and boys – but the structures of some societies are defined by it. It is more easily seen in smaller societies such as the tribes and bands of hunter-gatherers in Australia and New Guinea, and it was a key feature of the pre-invasion cultures of North America and Oceania. In this kind of society the roles and responsibilities of men and women are different, and the social rules that apply to them also are different – not one being better or freer than the other, just different. For example in Australia the men went hunting but the women ruled the camp and were responsible for family welfare, for most trade, and for matters of social or group organization. In traditional Polynesia the women did the housework and looked after the small children but the men did the cooking.

goddess - 800px-National_Association_Against_Woman_SuffrageIn places where gender partitioning is strong, a person may refuse to do a certain type of work because it is traditionally done by the other gender. This does not involve any value judgment, for example that the work is beneath them, but simply that the person would be stepping out of his or her place in society to do so. They would be trespassing on the domain of the other gender. This could be discourteous or it could be seen as an insult. Gender partitioning, when properly done, has advantages. Where the roles are clear and equitably balanced, so that the genders can feel self-respect in their functions, any attempt to suppress women would not only be unthinkable, it would be laughable, since to do so would require that the whole structure of the society be subverted. It is when the roles become weak, unbalanced or confused that a gender can be suppressed by the other.

In more recent times, the Federation of Six Nations is the best documented example of a society in which women had key political power. The Six Nations achieved one of the highest forms of government in the history of the world, and it included strong powers and big responsibilities for women. It is an easy habit of speech to say that it “gave” strong powers to the women, but that would be incorrect – the women already had those powers in their own nations, and the constitution of the Six Nations simply continued and formalized them.

In the Six Nations descent was matrilineal, and this was the basis for deciding matters of clan and totem membership. Women’s property rights also were well protected – if a marriage broke up then the woman had the full right to all of the property she had brought into the marriage. A woman’s bond to her children was also respected – when a marriage failed the children almost invariably went with the mother. A Council of Women had a major, and often decisive, role in settling all social disputes and questions of tradition within each tribe and nation. It was the men who went to war but in many areas, after the men had decided for war, they had to get the approval of the Women’s Council, which was not always given. If the women did not agree then the men could not go to war. So in this case the women had a strategic policy role, while the men were concerned with tactical matters. Peace treaties, also, have been preserved that were signed by the “Sachems (chiefs) and Principal Women of the Six Nations”.

These women were certainly not second class citizens in any sense, but they did not have complete control either. The Six Nations was not a matriarchy but it had a much more balanced partitioning of gender roles than most modern societies have. There were variations between the Nations – in some the Council of Women had almost complete legislative authority while in others it was less – but in all cases the women had a prominent role in government. This could also be said of many others among the nations and tribes of North America. So the idea that men “must” have controlled the key political positions, because it is “natural” that the warriors be in charge, is a load of nonsense.

 “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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The Lost Legend of the Human Races: The People who Haven’t Found Their Way Back to Each Other

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At the beginning of this cycle of time, the Great Spirit divided the people of the world into five groups, giving each of them a different color. To each he gave specific teachings, and to each he gave a specific task. He then sent four of the groups out in four different directions in the world. Cautioning them that one group can never exist alone, the Great Spirit instructed that, when they came back together again, the five groups were to share their teachings and what they had learned in carrying out their tasks.

RACES-Women.jpgThe task of the black people was to learn about the Earth – how things grow, foods that are good to eat, plants that heal. They would be able to teach others about survival and endurance.

The task of the yellow people was to learn about water – the most humble, yet most powerful of the elements and strongly linked to our human emotions. Through their own difficulties, they would be able to teach others how to adapt to life’s unpredictable circumstances.

RACES-boygirlThe task of the red people was to learn about wind – breath and animal life, air, the sky and everything within and above it. From this, they would learn about change, stability and motivation, then share their knowledge with others.

The task of the white people was to learn about fire – action and movement, consuming and changing all it touches, typified by strong mind and will. From this, they would learn, and later teach others, about moderation as well as humility to give and accept help.

The task of the brown people was to learn about their own nature as human beings – brown being the union of the four other colors. From this, they would understand and share the nature and power of love.

So the people went out and studied all the matters as they had been instructed, but they were very slow learners and it took a very long time. By the time they began to meet again, they had forgotten the instruction to teach and share what they had learned. They had forgotten that they each had only a part of the human experience and that they still had to learn the other parts from each other.

This story is based on some Native American teachings and a few inputs from Asian traditions.

 Martini

TimeMaps001This is a retelling of an excerpt from Time Maps: History, Prehistory and Biological Evolution, by Dr. R.K Fisher and Martini Fisher. The book is available in Amazon and in bookstores. To get your copy, click here.

Unravelling Ancient Myths and Legends FREE Ebook

anniversary_ebook_coversideI am very happy to be able to contribute a chapter for Ancient Origins‘ 4 Year Anniversary Ebook, “Unravelling Ancient Myths & Legends” on the lives and symbolism of the kitchen gods in Asian mythology.

“To mark the occasion of our 4 Year Anniversary, Ancient Origins has released our biggest ebook yet – titled “Unravelling Ancient Myths & Legends”. The ebook is a compilation of fascinating articles written exclusively for Ancient Origins which explores the unique history of myths and the familiar legends you THOUGHT you knew. Contributors include guest authors: Carl Johan Calleman, Petros Koutoupis, Armando Mei, Martini Fisher, Brien Foerster, Leonide Martin, Ken Jeremiah, Vincent Ongkowidjojo, Gary A. David, Dustin Naef, Adrienne Mayor, Chris ‘Mogg’ Morgan, Charles Christian and Hugh Newman.”

To get your free copy, please follow this link:

Ancient Origins’ 4 Year Anniversary Ebook: Unravelling Ancient Myths and Legends

Happy anniversary, Ancient Origins. Here’s to many more!

Martini

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New Release – Time Maps: Evolution of Languages and Writings

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Where did sounds, words and languages come from? What happens when a language disappears? What happens when a way of writing becomes extinct?

In this third volume of the Time Maps series, Dr. R.K. Fisher and Martini Fisher answer all of these questions and more as they trace languages and scripts back to their earliest forms before re-discovering their evolution, combinations and extinctions. They analyse a wide range of languages to show where migrations and invasions have taken place and discover where particular features of culture and technology came from.

Chapters include:
•Evolution of Languages, which includes the origins of languages, threats of extinction, classification of languages and major language families, among others.
•Evolution of Writing Systems, which includes sounds and symbols, classification of writing systems, the origins and writings and the lost knowledge.

Time Maps: Evolution of Languages and Writings is being released on October 7, 2016

Currently available for pre-order. Click here to order your copy.

Martini

 

 

 

(Excerpt) Life’s Unpleasant Truths Represented by Mahabharata

This is an excerpt from the newly-released ebook “Introduction to Mahabharata: Lessons on Life and Businesses”, currently available on Kindle. To get your copy, press here.

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Let’s be honest: we all want to do the right thing. In fact, all of us are doing our best. However, “our best” is a broad expression which is heavily influenced by our understandings, our backgrounds, our desires, our needs, our education and many other factors. In the end, “our best” may not be suitable for the world as a whole, but enough for perhaps our own country, or our own community. The cold, hard truth of it is that, although it is by no means impossible, it is very rare for a dream to “change the whole world for the better” to come true.

Mahabharata understands this, and makes no pretense of the situation being otherwise. So, instead of taking the stance of “this situation is unvirtuous and therefore should not have happened,” the attitude of the characters lean more to “This situation is unvirtuous, but it happens nonetheless. So, what are we going to do about it?”

          There are, of course, many other unpleasant truths in life symbolized in the epic. Here are some of them:

Fighting for righteousness is all very well, but if the opponent fights dirty be prepared to match them. Many of the tactics used by the Pandavas were sneaky at best. But, they tried to avoid the war, and when they could not avoid it they fought honorably. But, when their opponent started gaining the upper ground by cheating, they resorted to dishonorable methods as well. They had to – otherwise they would lose and the Kauravas would not hesitate to kill every last one of them.  There is no point in occupying the high moral ground if you lose in the process, particularly if “losing” means losing your life, your country and people you are responsible for. There is a story of Prithivraj Chahaun who defeated and captured invader Mahmud of Ghor in the 1191 first Battle of Tarain. However, he released his prisoner as that was considered morally correct. In 1192, Mahmud returned and promptly defeated, captured, and executed Prithivraj, an event which led to Muslim rule over the entire Ganges river valley. One cannot fully blame Prithivraj for letting Mahmud go. It was indeed the noble thing to do, but it cost him his life and his kingdom. Of course, it is not always the case of “kill or be killed”, but it is worth serious pondering. There are always moral conflicts and there will always be people who would mistake courtesy and kindness as signs of weakness.

War is sometimes justified. Mahatma Gandhi argued that it would be better to uphold the principle of non-violence over resorting to violence for any cause. And he was right. It is better, much nobler, and it is certainly something we should always strive to do. However, if the world was or is that noble, we would never hear news on wars or mass killings which we still hear about even to this day. On the other hand, the Mahabarata accepts the idea of a just war – where war is an option that should only be resorted to after all other solutions fail. However, once resorted to, it ought to be fought quickly to its conclusion for the sake of everyone.

There will always be dishonest people in the world, and you need to know how to handle them for your own sake as well as the people you are responsible for. Yudhisthira failed to identify and acknowledge the dishonesty of Duryodhana and lost everything he had. Turning the other cheek to something that is harmful is not righteousness – it will only lead to a bigger wrong.

Rules and customs ought to be interpreted flexibly. Mahabharata argues that that rules and customs should serve as social tools or means to enhance the quality of life and relationships. They are ‘tools’ to achieve a better life, not the ‘end result’. When rules and customs no longer serve their purpose, then we will have to think about reinterpreting them, or even discard them completely. Duty can be amended when it pursues a course of action that is inflexible or harmful. In Mahabharata, the Pandavas felt honor bound to play a game of dice to the end to appease their host, even though it resulted in the gambling away of their kingdom and their queen, as the customs frowned upon guests who refuse their host’s wishes. If following a strict sense of morality leads to actions that are immoral, then it is better to evaluate one’s notion of duty and honor.

Martini

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