Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Demeter and Persephone: The Self-Renewal of the Divine Feminine

Demeter and Persephone: The Self-Renewal of the Divine Feminine

Prepare Yourself. Prepare Yourself.
Open the Way.
Breathe Now. Be Now. Open the Way.
Abbi Spinner McBride Fire of Creation




As the mystical Pisces Full Moon rises, I wonder where to start this meditation on the Divine Mother—Daughter, and I hear Abbi Spinner's haunting chant, “Prepare Yourselves” playing in my body. So I sing along and follow the chant and suddenly find myself walking with others in a solemn torch-lit procession down a sacred road. I'm on my way to the initiation at Eleusis in honor of Demeter and Persephone. I'm on my way to encounter my eternal Being.

Prepare Yourself. Open the Way.

Prepare Yourself. This is a call to step outside our daily reality and step into sacred space. The masculine energy within us makes a decision to follow the path of Initiation. It takes integrity and discipline to make that choice.

Open the Way. This is a call to allow something new to enter our lives. It is a call to the feminine energy within each of us, for the Divine Feminine's gifts are openness, receptivity and transformation.

Breathe Now. Be Now. Open the Way.

Just as a woman's body opens with the breath to enjoy sex and to give birth, we are called by Demeter and Persephone's mystery of renewal to open ourselves to our personal renewal. It takes trust and courage to be this opened, as any woman will tell you.

So this is how the Goddess Demeter/Persephone presented Herself to me. As an energy of hope, of strength, and of renewal. As the knowledge of Eternal Life. As the Wisdom that Life and Death are One.

Virgo the Virgin

 Constellation of Virgo

With the Sun now traveling through the sign of Virgo, the Eternal Virgin, it is time to honor the ancient Great Mother of Life and Death, Demeter and Persephone. Long before Jesus the Christ died and was re-born again, the Goddess went through her natural transformation, descending to the Underworld of Renewal to bring back the riches of Life. Virgo is symbolized by a celestial Woman bearing a sheaf of wheat. She is the source of the Harvest. She is also the Virgin Mother, with her Child seated in her lap, symbolic of the life she brings forth. She is both seed and fruit, Mother and Daughter.

When I carried my daughter in my womb, my body contained all of my eggs as well as all of my daughter's eggs. The potential of future life. Each daughter's mother carries the future within her body. This is the mystery of the Divine Feminine.

The Goddess blessed her daughters with the wisdom of the natural processes of life, of ebb and flow, of building up and letting go, although patriarchy is doing a great job of separating women from our natural instincts and powers. As Father's Daughters, modern women have given their allegiance to the masculine vision of achievement and individualism, rather than to our unique feminine gifts of wisdom and individuality. We have lost touch with our feminine powers because patriarchy willed it so. But women can reclaim these powers, as they are manifested in our bodies and within nature.

That's when we discover the Goddess' powers of renewal. Each month when women shed our menstrual blood and are renewed, we are participating in the cosmic laws of creation and destruction, of life and death. We can look at the transformation during the Moon's cycle and know that our bodies are responding to it. Each month, a woman's body is renewed as virgin, as mother and as crone. We instinctively know there is no death, only cycles.

This is the mystery of Demeter and Persephone. This is the initiation that both women and men sought at Eleusis. How life comes out of death, which in turn gives birth to new life. The eternal becoming of our souls.

The Eleusinian Mysteries


Demeter at Eleusis

The great matriarchal societies existed from at least 7000 to 3500 BCE. They were agricultural societies, and their goddesses reflected their experience. It was the growing cycles of wheat and grains, legumes and fruits which sustained them and so the Great Goddess reflected this lifestyle. Their experience was of life as a cycle, where their deities were born, matured, died and were resurrected. Demeter became the Goddess of the Grain and her daughter Persephone became the power of the Seed, which in turn brought new grain and life back to the world after the Winter's cold.

After the great Aryan invasions beginning in 4000 BCE, this natural knowledge was saved as the psychological and spiritual initiations of the mystery religions, whose main theme was the death of the old and the birth of the new, the birth of spiritual awareness out of our humanity, the alchemical transformation of gold/consciousness out of lead/unconsciousness. Remember, patriarchy values linear time over cyclical time. That's why most modern people don't believe in reincarnation, which is a cyclical belief in the return of the soul to life until it achieves enlightenment, rather than one lifetime with a beginning, middle and end.

The old legends say that Demeter first brought agriculture to Eleusis, producing the first wheat in the ancient world. But she was never just the all bountiful, abundant Earth Mother. She was also her Daughter, Persephone, who had to take the Underworld journey of death and be reborn in the Spring. In the Underworld, Persephone was married to Plutus/Pluto/Hades, the lord of the wealth of the Underworld, he who guarded the inner riches of Life. He shows up in the Mysteries as the son, the lover and the wise old man, for he is the energy of Life and evolution. (Just as the planet Pluto is today in astrology.)

The symbols associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries are traditional agricultural symbols, but they became metaphors for the psychological transformation of our consciousness.
“What the cornucopia represents is that vessel of our own psyche out of which the crop must come, out of which the flower must bloom, and the figure carrying it can be either the child, the puer aeternus, or the old man. The woman (Demeter) represents the fostering field itself, the very source. The male (Plutus/child/old man) is simply the agent of the female in these systems: he is the one who represents the active arm, you might say, of the one whose body is really the body of giving, receiving and nourishing.” (Joseph Campbell, Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine, p. 192.)

Of all the thousands of people who went to participate in the Eleusinian Mysteries, not one person ever revealed what went on there. The Mystery stayed a mystery. But we can reconstruct some of it from the ancient myths and understand that people were given an experience of eternal life. They came to know that death is an illusion and that we partake in the eternal life of Spirit. 

 
The Homeric Hymns of ancient Greece, tell the story of Demeter and Persephone this way.

HOMERIC HYMN TO DEMETER & PERSEPHONE

[Note: This Homeric Hymn, composed in approximately the 7th century BCE, served for centuries thereafter as the canonical hymn of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The text was translated from the Greek by Hugh G. Evelyn-White and first published by the Loeb Classical Library in 1914.]

 Eleusinian Mysteries

I begin to sing of rich-haired Demeter, awful goddess -- of her and her trim-ankled daughter whom Hades rapt away, given to him by all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer. Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, she was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Oceanus and gathering flowers over a soft meadow, roses and crocuses and beautiful violets, irises also and hyacinths and the narcissus which Earth made to grow at the will of Zeus and to please the Host of Many [Hades], to be a snare for the bloom-like girl -- a marvelous, radiant flower. It was a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see: from its root grew a hundred blooms and it smelled most sweetly, so that all wide heaven above and the whole earth and the sea's salt swell laughed for joy. And the girl was amazed and reached out with both hands to take the lovely toy; but the wide-pathed earth yawned there in the plain of Nysa, and the lord, Host of Many, with his immortal horses sprang out upon her.

He caught her up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. Then she cried out shrilly with her voice, calling upon her father, Zeus, who is most high and excellent. But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, heard the girl from her cave, and the lord Helios, Hyperion's bright son, as she cried to her father, the Son of Cronos. But he was sitting aloof, apart from the gods, in his temple where many pray, and receiving sweet offerings from mortal men. So he who is Ruler of Many and Host of Many, was bearing her away by leave of Zeus on his immortal chariot -- his own brother's child and all unwilling.  

[Line 33] And so long as she, the goddess, yet beheld earth and starry heaven and the strong-flowing sea where fishes shoal, and the rays of the sun, and still hoped to see her dear mother and the tribes of the eternal gods, so long hope calmed her great heart for all her trouble. . . . and the heights of the mountains and the depths of the sea rang with her immortal voice: and her queenly mother heard her.  

Bitter pain seized her heart, and she rent the covering upon her divine hair with her dear hands: her dark cloak she cast down from both her shoulders and sped, like a wild-bird, over the firm land and yielding sea, seeking her child. But no one would tell her the truth, neither god nor mortal man; and of the birds of omen none came with true news for her. Then for nine days queenly Demeter wandered over the earth with flaming torches in her hands, so grieved that she never tasted ambrosia and the sweet draught of nectar, nor sprinkled her body with water. But when the tenth enlightening dawn had come, Hecate, with a torch in her hands, met her, and spoke to her and told her news:  

"Queenly Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of good gifts, what god of heaven or what mortal man has rapt away Persephone and pierced with sorrow your dear heart? For I heard her voice, yet saw not with my eyes who it was. But I tell you truly and shortly all I know."  

[Line 59] So, then, said Hecate. And the daughter of rich-haired Rhea answered her not, but sped swiftly with her, holding flaming torches in her hands. So they came to Helios, who is watchman of both gods and men, and stood in front of his horses: and the bright goddess inquired of him: "Helios, do you at least regard me, goddess as I am, if ever by word or deed of mine I have cheered your heart and spirit. Through the fruitless air I heard the thrilling cry of my daughter whom I bare, sweet scion of my body and lovely in form, as of one seized violently; though with my eyes I saw nothing. But you -- for with your beams you look down from the bright upper air over all the earth and sea -- tell me truly of my dear child if you have seen her anywhere, what god or mortal man has violently seized her against her will and mine, and so made off."  

So said she. And the Son of Hyperion answered her: "Queen Demeter, daughter of rich-haired Rhea, I will tell you the truth; for I greatly reverence and pity you in your grief for your trim-ankled daughter. None other of the deathless gods is to blame, but only cloud-gathering Zeus who gave her to Hades, her father's brother, to be called his buxom wife. And Hades seized her and took her loudly crying in his chariot down to his realm of mist and gloom. Yet, goddess, cease your loud lament and keep not vain anger unrelentingly: Hades, the Ruler of Many, is no unfitting husband among the deathless gods for your child, being your own brother and born of the same stock: also, for honour, he has that third share which he received when division was made at the first and is appointed lord of those among whom he dwells."  

So he spake, and called to his horses: and at his chiding they quickly whirled the swift chariot along, like long-winged birds.  

[Line 90] But grief yet more terrible and savage came into the heart of Demeter, and thereafter she was so angered with the dark-clouded Son of Cronos that she avoided the gathering of the gods and high Olympus, and went to the towns and rich fields of men, disfiguring her form a long while. And no one of men or women knew her when they saw her, until she came to the house of wise Celeus who then was lord of fragrant Eleusis. Vexed in her dear heart, she sat near the wayside by the Maiden Well, from which the women of the place were used to draw water, in a shady place over which grew an olive shrub. And she was like an ancient woman who is cut off from childbearing and the gifts of garland-loving Aphrodite, like the nurses of king's children who deal justice, or like the house-keepers in their echoing halls. There the daughters of Celeus, son of Eleusis, saw her, as they coming for easy-drawn water, to carry it in pitchers of bronze to their dear father's house: four were they and like goddesses in the flower of their girlhood, Callidice and Cleisidice and lovely Demo and Callithoe who was the eldest of them all. They knew her not, -- for the gods are not easily discerned by mortals --, but startling near by her spoke winged words:  

"Old mother, whence are you of folk born long ago? Why are you gone away from the city and do not draw near the houses? For there in the shady halls are women of just such age as you, and others younger; and they would welcome you both by word and by deed."  

[Line 118] Thus they said. And she, that queen among goddesses answered them saying: "Hail, dear children, whosoever you are of woman-kind. I will tell you my story; for it is not unseemly that I should tell you truly what you ask. Doso [Giver] is my name, for my stately mother gave it me. And now I am come from Crete over the sea's wide back, -- not willingly; but pirates brought me thence by force of strength against my liking. Afterwards they put in with their swift craft to Thoricus, and these the women landed on the shore in full throng and the men likewise, and they began to make ready a meal by the stern-cables of the ship. But my heart craved not pleasant food, and I fled secretly across the dark country and escaped my masters, that they should not take me unpurchased across the sea, there to win a price for me. And so I wandered and am come here: and I know not at all what land this is or what people are in it. But may all those who dwell on Olympus give you husbands and birth of children as parents desire, so you take pity on me, maidens, and show me this clearly that I may learn, dear children, to the house of what man and woman I may go, to work for them cheerfully at such tasks as belong to a woman of my age. Well could I nurse a new born child, holding him in my arms, or keep house, or spread my masters' bed in a recess of the well-built chamber, or teach the women their work."  

So said the goddess. And straightway the unwed maiden Callidice, goodliest in form of the daughters of Celeus, answered her and said:  

[Line 147] "Mother, what the gods send us, we mortals bear perforce, although we suffer; for they are much stronger than we. ... if you will, stay here; and we will go to our father's house and tell Metaneira, our mother, all this matter fully, that she may bid you rather come to our home than search after the houses of others. She has an only son, late-born, who is being nursed in our well-built house, a child of many prayers and welcome: if you could bring him up until he reached the full measure of youth, any one of womankind who should see you would straightway envy you, such gifts would our mother give for his upbringing."  

So she spake: and the goddess bowed her head in assent. And they filled their shining vessels with water and carried them off rejoicing. Quickly they came to their father's great house and straightway told their mother according as they had heard and seen. Then she bade them go with all speed and invite the stranger to come for a measureless hire. As hinds or heifers in spring time, when sated with pasture, bound about a meadow, so they, holding up the folds of their lovely garments, darted down the hollow path, and their hair like a crocus flower streamed about their shoulders. And they found the good goddess near the wayside where they had left her before, and led her to the house of their dear father. And she walked behind, distressed in her dear heart, with her head veiled and wearing a dark cloak which waved about the slender feet of the goddess.  

[Line 184] Soon they came to the house of heaven-nurtured Celeus and went through the portico to where their queenly mother sat by a pillar of the close-fitted roof, holding her son, a tender scion, in her bosom. And the girls ran to her. But the goddess walked to the threshold: and her head reached the roof and she filled the doorway with a heavenly radiance. Then awe and reverence and pale fear took hold of Metaneira, and she rose up from her couch before Demeter, and bade her be seated. But Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of perfect gifts, would not sit upon the bright couch, but stayed silent with lovely eyes cast down until careful Iambe placed a jointed seat for her and threw over it a silvery fleece. Then she sat down and held her veil in her hands before her face. A long time she sat upon the stool without speaking because of her sorrow, and greeted no one by word or by sign, but rested, never smiling, and tasting neither food nor drinks because she pined with longing for her daughter, until careful Iambe -- who pleased her moods in aftertime also -- moved the holy lady with many a quip and jest to smile and laugh and cheer her heart. Then Metaneira filled a cup with sweet wine and offered it to her; but she refused it, for she said it was not lawful for her to drink red wine, but bade them mix meal and water with soft mint and give her to drink. And Metaneira mixed the draught and gave it to the goddess as she bade. So the great queen Deo received it to observe the sacrament.

[Line 212] And of them all, Metaneira first began to speak: "Hail, lady! For I think you are not meanly but nobly born; truly dignity and grace are conspicuous upon your eyes as in the eyes of kings that deal justice. Yet we mortals bear per-force what the gods send us, though we be grieved; for a yoke is set upon our necks. But now, since you are come here, you shall have what I can bestow: and nurse me this child whom the gods gave me in my old age and beyond my hope, a son much prayed for. If you should bring him up until he reach the full measure of youth, any one of woman-kind that sees you will straightway envy you, so great reward would I give for his upbringing."  

Then rich-haired Demeter answered her: "And to you, also, lady, all hail, and may the gods give you good! Gladly will I take the boy to my breast, as you bid me, and will nurse him. Never, I ween, through any heedlessness of his nurse shall witchcraft hurt him nor yet the Undercutter: for I know a charm far stronger than the Woodcutter, and I know an excellent safeguard against woeful witchcraft."

When she had so spoken, she took the child in her fragrant bosom with her divine hands: and his mother was glad in her heart. So the goddess nursed in the palace Demophoon, wise Celeus' goodly son whom well-girded Metaneira bare. And the child grew like some immortal being, not fed with food nor nourished at the breast: for by day rich-crowned Demeter would anoint him with ambrosia as if he were the offspring of a god and breathe sweetly upon him as she held him in her bosom. But at night she would hide him like a brand in the heart of the fire, unknown to his dear parents. And it wrought great wonder in these that he grew beyond his age; for he was like the gods face to face. And she would have made him deathless and unaging, had not well-girded Metaneira in her heedlessness kept watch by night from her sweet-smelling chamber and spied. But she wailed and smote her two hips, because she feared for her son and was greatly distraught in her heart; so she lamented and uttered winged words:  

[Line 248] "Demophoon, my son, the strange woman buries you deep in fire and works grief and bitter sorrow for me."  

Thus she spoke, mourning. And the bright goddess, lovely-crowned Demeter, heard her, and was wroth with her. So with her divine hands she snatched from the fire the dear son whom Metaneira had born unhoped-for in the palace, and cast him from her to the ground; for she was terribly angry in her heart. Forthwith she said to well-girded Metaneira:  

"Witless are you mortals and dull to foresee your lot, whether of good or evil, that comes upon you. For now in your heedlessness you have wrought folly past healing; for -- be witness the oath of the gods, the relentless water of Styx -- I would have made your dear son deathless and unaging all his days and would have bestowed on him ever-lasting honour, but now he can in no way escape death and the fates. Yet shall unfailing honour always rest upon him, because he lay upon my knees and slept in my arms. But, as the years move round and when he is in his prime, the sons of the Eleusinians shall ever wage war and dread strife with one another continually. Lo! I am that Demeter who has share of honour and is the greatest help and cause of joy to the undying gods and mortal men. But now, let all the people build me a great temple and an altar below it and beneath the city and its sheer wall upon a rising hillock above Callichorus. And I myself will teach my rites, that hereafter you may reverently perform them and so win the favour of my heart."  

[Line 275] When she had so said, the goddess changed her stature and her looks, thrusting old age away from her: beauty spread round about her and a lovely fragrance was wafted from her sweet-smelling robes, and from the divine body of the goddess a light shone afar, while golden tresses spread down over her shoulders, so that the strong house was filled with brightness as with lightning. And so she went out from the palace.  
And straightway Metaneira's knees were loosed and she remained speechless for a long while and did not remember to take up her late-born son from the ground. But his sisters heard his pitiful wailing and sprang down from their well-spread beds: one of them took up the child in her arms and laid him in her bosom, while another revived the fire, and a third rushed with soft feet to bring their mother from her fragrant chamber. And they gathered about the struggling child and washed him, embracing him lovingly; but he was not comforted, because nurses and handmaids much less skillful were holding him now.  

All night long they sought to appease the glorious goddess, quaking with fear. But, as soon as dawn began to show, they told powerful Celeus all things without fail, as the lovely-crowned goddess Demeter charged them. So Celeus called the countless people to an assembly and bade them make a goodly temple for rich-haired Demeter and an altar upon the rising hillock. And they obeyed him right speedily and harkened to his voice, doing as he commanded. As for the child, he grew like an immortal being.  

[Line 301] Now when they had finished building and had drawn back from their toil, they went every man to his house. But golden-haired Demeter sat there apart from all the blessed gods and stayed, wasting with yearning for her daughter. Then she caused a most dreadful and cruel year for mankind over the all-nourishing earth: the ground would not make the seed sprout, for rich-crowned Demeter kept it hid. In the fields the oxen drew many a curved plough in vain, and much white barley was cast upon the land without avail. So she would have destroyed the whole race of man with cruel famine and have robbed them who dwell on Olympus of their glorious right of gifts and sacrifices, had not Zeus perceived and marked this in his heart. First he sent golden-winged Iris to call rich-haired Demeter, lovely in form. So he commanded. And she obeyed the dark-clouded Son of Cronos, and sped with swift feet across the space between. She came to the stronghold of fragrant Eleusis, and there finding dark-cloaked Demeter in her temple, spake to her and uttered winged words:  

"Demeter, father Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, calls you to come join the tribes of the eternal gods: come therefore, and let not the message I bring from Zeus pass unobeyed."  

Thus said Iris imploring her. But Demeter's heart was not moved. Then again the father sent forth all the blessed and eternal gods besides: and they came, one after the other, and kept calling her and offering many very beautiful gifts and whatever rights she might be pleased to choose among the deathless gods. Yet no one was able to persuade her mind and will, so wroth was she in her heart; but she stubbornly rejected all their words: for she vowed that she would never set foot on fragrant Olympus nor let fruit spring out of the ground, until she beheld with her eyes her own fair-faced daughter.  

[Line 334] Now when all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer heard this, he sent the Slayer of Argus whose wand is of gold to Erebus, so that having won over Hades with soft words, he might lead forth chaste Persephone to the light from the misty gloom to join the gods, and that her mother might see her with her eyes and cease from her anger. And Hermes obeyed, and leaving the house of Olympus, straightway sprang down with speed to the hidden places of the earth. And he found the lord Hades in his house seated upon a couch, and his shy mate with him, much reluctant, because she yearned for her mother. But she was afar off, brooding on her fell design because of the deeds of the blessed gods. And the strong Slayer of Argus drew near and said:  

"Dark-haired Hades, ruler over the departed, father Zeus bids me bring noble Persephone forth from Erebus unto the gods, that her mother may see her with her eyes and cease from her dread anger with the immortals; for now she plans an awful deed, to destroy the weakly tribes of earthborn men by keeping seed hidden beneath the earth, and so she makes an end of the honours of the undying gods. For she keeps fearful anger and does not consort with the gods, but sits aloof in her fragrant temple, dwelling in the rocky hold of Eleusis."  

So he said. And Hades, ruler over the dead, smiled grimly and obeyed the behest of Zeus the king. For he straightway urged wise Persephone, saying:  
[Line 360] "Go now, Persephone, to your dark-robed mother, go, and feel kindly in your heart towards me: be not so exceedingly cast down; for I shall be no unfitting husband for you among the deathless gods, that am own brother to father Zeus. And while you are here, you shall rule all that lives and moves and shall have the greatest rights among the deathless gods: those who defraud you and do not appease your power with offerings, reverently performing rites and paying fit gifts, shall be punished for evermore."  

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. Then Hades the Ruler of Many openly got ready his deathless horses beneath the golden chariots And she mounted on the chariot and the strong Slayer of Argus took reins and whip in his dear hands and drove forth from the hall, the horses speeding readily. Swiftly they traversed their long course, and neither the sea nor river-waters nor grassy glens nor mountain-peaks checked the career of the immortal horses, but they clave the deep air above them as they went. And Hermes brought them to the place where rich-crowned Demeter was staying and checked them before her fragrant temple.  

[Line 384] And when Demeter saw them, she rushed forth as does a Maenad down some thick-wooded mountain, while Persephone on the other side, when she saw her mother's sweet eyes, left the chariot and horses, and leaped down to run to her, and falling upon her neck, embraced her. But while Demeter was still holding her dear child in her arms, her heart suddenly misgave her for some snare, so that she feared greatly and ceased fondling her daughter and asked of her at once: "My child, tell me, surely you have not tasted any food while you were below? Speak out and hide nothing, but let us both know. For if you have not, you shall come back from loathly Hades and live with me and your father, the dark-clouded Son of Cronos and be honoured by all the deathless gods; but 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?"  

[Line 405] Then beautiful Persephone answered her thus: "Mother, I will tell you all without error. When luck-bringing Hermes came, swift messenger from my father the Son of Cronos and the other Sons of Heaven, bidding me come back from Erebus that you might see me with your eyes and so cease from your anger and fearful wrath against the gods, I sprang up at once for joy; but he secretly put in my mouth sweet food, a pomegranate seed, and forced me to taste against my will. Also I will tell how he rapt me away by the deep plan of my father the Son of Cronos and carried me off beneath the depths of the earth, and will relate the whole matter as you ask. All we were playing in a lovely meadow. We were playing and gathering sweet flowers in our hands, soft crocuses mingled with irises and hyacinths, and rose-blooms and lilies, marvellous to see, and the narcissus which the wide earth caused to grow yellow as a crocus. That I plucked in my joy; but the earth parted beneath, and there the strong lord, the Host of Many, sprang forth and in his golden chariot he bore me away, all unwilling, beneath the earth: then I cried with a shrill cry. All this is true, sore though it grieves me to tell the tale."  
[Line 434] So did they then, with hearts at one, greatly cheer each the other's soul and spirit with many an embrace: their hearts had relief from their griefs while each took and gave back joyousness.   Then bright-coiffed Hecate came near to them, and often did she embrace the daughter of holy Demeter: and from that time the lady Hecate was minister and companion to Persephone.  

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 rights 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; swiftly she rushed down from the peaks of Olympus and came to the plain of Rharus, rich, fertile corn-land once, but then in nowise fruitful, for it lay idle and utterly leafless, because the white grain was hidden by design of trim-ankled Demeter. But afterwards, as spring-time waxed, it was soon to be waving with long ears of corn, and its rich furrows to be loaded with grain upon the ground, while others would already be bound in sheaves. There first she landed from the fruitless upper air: and glad were the goddesses to see each other and cheered in heart. Then bright-coiffed Rhea said to Demeter:  

[Line 459] "Come, my daughter; for far-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer calls you to join the families of the gods, and has promised to give you what rights you please among the deathless gods, and has agreed that for a third part of the circling year your daughter shall go down to darkness and gloom, but for the two parts shall be with you and the other deathless gods: so has he declared it shall be and has bowed his head in token. But come, my child, obey, and be not too angry unrelentingly with the dark-clouded Son of Cronos; but rather increase forthwith for men the fruit that gives them life."  
So spake Rhea. And rich-crowned Demeter did not refuse but straightway made fruit to spring up from the rich lands, so that the whole wide earth was laden with leaves and flowers. Then she went [to many lands], and she showed the conduct of her rites and taught them all her mysteries, awful mysteries which no one may in any way transgress or pry into or utter, for deep awe of the gods checks the voice. Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiated and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom.  

[Line 483] But when the bright goddess had taught them all, they went to Olympus to the gathering of the other gods. And there they dwell beside Zeus who delights in thunder, awful and reverend goddesses. Right blessed is he among men on earth whom they freely love: soon they do send Plutus as guest to his great house, Plutus who gives wealth to mortal men.  

And now, queen of the land of sweet Eleusis and sea-girt Paros and rocky Antron, lady, giver of good gifts, bringer of seasons, queen Deo, be gracious, you and your daughter all beauteous Persephone, and for my song grant me heart-cheering substance. And now I will remember you and another song also.


Jean Delville (1867-1953) 
Women of Eleusis

This is how the ancients experienced this Divine Mother/Daughter energy; as the eternal round of life and death here on Earth. As we enter into the death cycle of the year in the North, learn the lesson of these two aspects of the Great Goddess. When you let go and accept what needs to pass on, new life will surely come to you.

Prepare yourself. Prepare yourself. Open the Way!

Blessed Be!
Cathy


Bibliography
Joseph Campbell, Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine, Ed. Safron Rossi, PhD. (Novato, CA.: Joseph Campbell Foundation, New World Library, 2013)

Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Copyright: 2015 Cathy Lynn Pagano


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hera: Goddess of the Sacred Marriage

Hera: Queen of Heaven





Let us sing now of Hera, the women's goddess,
she who rules from her throne of gold.
Let us sing now of the queen of gods.
Let us sing now of the most beautiful goddess.
There is no one more beloved than you,
womanly Hera, no one we honor more.
-Homeric hymn


Patriarchy has rewritten most of the stories of the ancient goddesses, but the Great Goddess they maligned the most was Hera and her gift of partnership. Known to us from Greek mythology as the vengeful and jealous wife of their supreme god Zeus, Hera, the Queen of the Gods, is the Goddess of Marriage, women, childbirth and family. Hera was also worshiped as the Roman goddess Juno, and the month of June (the most popular month for weddings) is named in her honor.

Hera was the Queen of Heaven, a powerful goddess in her own right long before her marriage to Aryan Zeus, the mighty king of the Olympian gods.  Hera ruled over the heavens and the Earth, responsible for every aspect of life. Hera's power was enormous. She knew all, and she was absolutely just. All seeing, all pervasive, she ruled the stars and the winds. This included control of the seasons and the weather, indicating her more cosmic attributes, since it is the movements of the Earth, Sun, Moon and planets that create the seasons and cosmic weather. 
Hera’s all seeing eyes are symbolized by her sacred bird, the peacock. Peacocks symbolize wise vision or watchfulness, integrity, nobility, guidance and protection. In the myth, the giant Argus was Hera’s watchman. He had 100 eyes so he never fully went to sleep. Argus was called lord of the herd and means lord of the land. (Hera was also a cow goddess like her Egyptian sister goddess Hathor). Argus was Hera’s steward. When she set him to guard Io, the great heifer whom Zeus desired, he was killed by Hermes, who enchanted his eyes to sleep so he could kill him. In tribute to her loyal servant, Hera put his eyes into the tail of her totem, the peacock.

Hera’s orchards were the resting placed of the exalted dead. It’s interesting that the peacock is also associated with the Phoenix, the bird of resurrection and rebirth. The Garden of the Hesperides was given to Hera by Mother Gaia as a wedding gift when Hera accepted Zeus as her husband. Hera’s sacred garden or orchard provided the Olympian Gods with the golden apples of immortality. According to ancient Greek mythology eating one of the golden apples could made a mortal human immortal. As the Great Goddess, Hera presided over all births—so this aspect of rebirth is also hers, for if our souls do get reborn over and over again, we are truly immortal.
Honoring her deep capacity for nurturing the world, her name translates as the Great Lady, referring not only to the power of Mother Earth but also of the Moon and the heavens. Our word galaxy comes from the Greek word gala meaning mother's milk. Legend has it that the Milky Way was formed from the milk spurting from the breasts of Hera, Queen of Heaven, as she feed her hero-son. 
 
Hera Teleia, the Universal Mother and Creatrix sat in the heavens with the Earth at her feet nursing her infant son Heracles. As she sat in contentment watching her son, her milk let down in her breast. She watched as Heracles suckled eagerly at this new abundance and she began to laugh. Heracles let go and watching her, began to giggle. As they both laughed together her exposed breast sprayed milk across the heavens and formed what we call the Milky Way.
While Greek myths tell us of Hera’s hatred of the hero Hercules (his Roman name, while his original Greek name was Heracles, the ‘glory of Hera’), perhaps the real story is that he was originally Hera’s son and the 12 labors that she set for him were his initiations into higher consciousness, as represented by the 12 signs of the zodiac. As a matriarchal goddess, it would be Hera’s responsibility to bring men to higher consciousness and individuation. 
 
In Greek myth, Heracles’ mother is Alcmene and she is described by the writer Hesiod as, “the tallest, most beautiful woman, with wisdom surpassed by no person born of mortal parents. It is said that her face and dark eyes were as charming as Aphrodite’s, and that she honored her husband like no woman before her.” That could very well be a description of Hera herself, especially the honoring of her mate part, since she’s the Goddess of Partnership. 


 
Hera is portrayed as a stunningly beautiful, regal woman, even topping the beauty of Aphrodite. Hera took great pride in her looks. Her sandals, chariot, and throne were all of pure gold. She wore a high, cylindrical crown, the polis, which was an axis or pole, which would make her the World Tree or center for her people.

Hera’s real power was very different from the picture we have of her from Homer and other male writers. For one thing, Hera’s temples were some of the earliest built in Greece, dating back to 800BCE. The greatest and earliest enclosed, free-standing temple to Hera was the Heraion of Samos, while on the Greek mainland Hera was worshipped as Argive Hera at her sanctuary that stood between the city-states of Argos and Mycenae. At Hera’s temple at Olympia, Hera's seated statue was older than the warrior figure of Zeus that accompanied it. Hera was the Great Goddess before Zeus and his Olympians arrived on the scene.

In ancient times Hera was revered as the only Greek goddess who accompanied a woman through every step of her life. Hera blessed and protected a woman's marriage, bringing her fertility, protecting her children, and helping her find financial security. Because no matter what the Aryan invaders believed about marriage and the role of women, Greek women still had an example of feminine power and leadership in Hera.

These aspects of a woman’s life would certainly be the values around which a matriarchal society that honored the feminine would evolve. Unfortunately, patriarchy would not let Hera retain her power as the leader of the community or the marriage, giving her lip service as Queen of the Gods, but making Zeus the real power.

Relationships and partnerships are all sourced in Hera’s archetypal energy. And when these energies are out of balance, bad things happen. This has been the source of most of our marital issues—the domination of the masculine and subjugation of the feminine—the imbalance of power between men and women. We are discovering that in a matriarchal society, women and men were seen as equals. Women did not dominate men in the same way that patriarchy encourages men to dominate and violate women.



In almost every story about Hera, we see a goddess jealous of Zeus’ lovers and children, determined to destroy both lover and mother. We hear that Hera curses the pregnant Leto so that she can’t give birth on the mainland or any island, and prevents the midwife coming to her to stop the births of Artemis and Apollo. We hear how she tricks Zeus’ lover Semele into demanding to see Zeus in all his godly glory, ending her life although Zeus saves her son Dionysus. Hera supposedly turned another lover, Lamia, Queen of Libya, into a monster and murdered their children.

And yet, Hera is the goddess not only of marriage but also of childbirth and family. It seems to me that there’s some double-speak going on here. The very magic of Hera is withheld from the women Zeus desires and the children they conceive? That is not the way of the Great Mother. That is the way of patriarchy.

Perhaps these stories are a reflection of the fact that since Hera was a great goddess of the matriarchal society in Greece before the Aryan’s gods were forced upon her, her jealousy and hatred was directed at the patriarchal form of marriage—including ownership of the children—these Aryans brought with them. Perhaps Hera’s jealousy was really rage at what this patriarchal culture was doing to her sister priestesses, goddesses and women.

Perhaps Hera’s continuing rage is her unwillingness to give in to this unbalanced form of relationship. If so, she’s my HERA!

Hera, Great Mother Goddess of the Sacred Marriage


 

Hera was the Goddess of the Moon, revered as the Virgin, her daughter/self Hebe, as the Mother/partner Teleia, and as the Crone Hekate. She was honored by her people with festivals and games similar to those of the Olympics and her mysteries were honored by women, for her true concern was women. Although most of Hera’s stories portray her as the Matron, the queenly figure of power and authority, Hera exemplified the different aspects of partnership as the Maiden, the Wife and the Widow or Divorced One. So we see that Hera is concerned with all aspects of partnership, especially the sacred marriage.

Hera most especially embodied the energy of the Full Moon, and she was called ‘the Perfect One’. As her partner, Zeus was called ‘the Perfector’, the energy that is supposed to bring to perfection the awareness of the Full Moon. The Full Moon brings us awareness of the issues in our lives. When the goddess’ partner does not fulfill his function, there is trouble. The Greek stories of Hera’s jealousy and rage give us a picture of a troubled marriage, which arises from the basic inequality between men and women under patriarchy. And of course, this inequality still persists today. 

 

Partnership entails issues of where the appropriate boundaries are with another person, i.e., how much sharing is appropriate versus holding back. When partners refuse to ‘perfect’ each other, there are always issues of bitterness and jealousy, or projected authority and control onto the other person, and this lack always affects our intimacy needs. Women today are feeling this lack of true intimacy with their partners, which so often leads to divorce. Patriarchy has not helped men to be ‘the Perfector’ of their woman’s needs and insights. 

The way to heal this outer inequality is to first heal it within ourselves. The sacred marriage between the Divine Feminine and Masculine, between right-brain feminine consciousness and left-brain masculine consciousness cannot take place if our rational intellect does not listen to and complete/perfect what the feminine imagination brings up to consciousness. We have to make sure that feminine, right-brain consciousness is the foundation while masculine, left-brain consciousness serves to manifest what is needed.

Hera’s partnership gifts to us are diplomacy, tact, cooperation, and mutual trust. When we own our freedom and confidently believe in our own equality, her gifts draw true partners into our lives. In owning ourselves, we can accept another’s truth or opinion without having to control the outcome, and we can honor and support others in their choices and decisions.

Hera teaches us to be our own authority, to own our womanly instincts and to hope for that partner who will perfect us!



Prayers to Hera

Mother of showers and winds,
from thee alone, producing all things, mortal life is known:
all natures share thy temperament divine, and
universal sway alone is thine,
with sounding blasts of wind, the swelling sea
and rolling rivers roar when shook by thee.
Come, blessed Goddess,
famed almighty queen, with aspect kind, rejoicing and serene.
-Orphic Hymn 16 to Hera


I praise you, great Hera
Fair bride of mighty Zeus,
Mother of stout Ares
And skillful Hephaistos
Beautiful queen who walks
Olympos’ golden halls.
Magnificent temples are yours,
Glorious Goddess;
With libations and festivals
Are you honored,
Hera, with your fathomless eyes,
Your even gaze,
Your measured step, your poise
And grace beyond compare.
To each wedding day you bring joy,
Most honored one;
By your will do lovers join
In lawful marriage,
As partners form a household,
Begin a family.
Brilliant and strong-willed
Defender of marriage,
Great Hera, I honor you
And ask your blessing.



Stately Hera, glorious queen
Of fair Olympos,
Comely you are,
Your shining beauty unsurpassed.
Great daughter of Kronos,
Defender of cities,
Deep-eyed goddess,
Chosen bride of thundering Zeus,
Mighty guardian
Of the marriage oath and bond,
Graceful one, vital one,
I praise and honor you.
Sublime Hera, swift of thought,
Certain of action,
I pray to you. Grant me
Strength of will, o goddess,
Help me to know my worth,
To act with confidence
And passion, to risk wisely,
To freely speak my mind.
Bless my marriage bed,
My vows, my devotion.
Peerless Hera, watchful one,
I ask your favor.



Glorious Hera, fair one, noble one,
Beautiful Hera with eyes as deep and full
As any well, as bright as distant stars,
As clear as the cloudless sky, I praise you.
Peerless Hera, queen of high Olympos,
Chosen bride of thundering Zeus, only you
Could match his might, his wit, his every step.
Dear Hera, guardian of marriage, of love
Between partners, of constancy, of faith
And of faithfulness, your blessings you give
To those who hold together against the world;
Who build together a family, a haven,
A life; who grow together into a fond
Old age, ever ardent, ever devoted.
Shining Hera, sublime goddess, I honor you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Gaia: The Ancient Earth Mother




       

In celebration of this 45th Earth Day, I would like to acknowledge the ancient Greek Goddess of the Earth, Gaia.
The Greeks saw her this way:

The Mother of us all
the oldest of all
hard,
splendid as rock

Whatever there is that is of
the land
it is she
who nourishes it,

It is the Earth
that I sing.

Hesiod's Theogony is an ancient story about the creation of the world by the Greek Earth Mother, Gaia.   First there was Chaos, and then appeared "broad-bosomed" Earth, who bore, first of all and as her equal, the starry Sky, Ouranos.  Then She bore the great mountains, valleys, plains and the Sea, and after that She mated with Ouranos and bore many children, among whom were the Titans and Titanesses, the ancestors of the Olympian divinities, who represented the 'titanic' forces of the earth.  Yet, although Ouranos came every night to mate with his wife, Gaia, from the very beginning he hated the children whom Gaia bore him.  As soon as they were born, he hid them and would not let them come out into the light.  He hid them in the inward hollows of the Earth, and it is said that he took pleasure in this wicked deed.
            The goddess Gaia groaned under this affliction, and felt herself oppressed by her inner burden.  Therefore she devised a stratagem.  She brought forth gray iron and made a mighty sickle with sharp teeth.  Then she took counsel with her sons and daughters, asking who would avenge her for this wicked deed.  Only Kronos (Saturn) took courage and agreed to act on her behalf.  So Gaia rejoiced, and hid Kronos in the place appointed for the ambush, giving him the sickle and telling him her plan.  And when Ouranos came at nightfall, inflamed with love and covering all the Earth, his son thrust out his left hand and seized his father.  With his right hand he took the huge sickle, quickly cutting off his father's manhood, and cast it behind his back into the sea.
            Gaia received in her womb the blood shed by her spouse, and gave birth to the Erinyes - the strong ones - and to other creatures.  The father's genitals fell into the sea, and it mixed with the foam and gave birth to Aphrodite.  Since that time, the sky has no longer approached the earth for nightly mating.
           
As with any story, let this one work on your heart and your imagination.  The world is recreated in each moment.  That’s amazing.  So it stands to reason that we too go through times when our whole world is created anew.  That’s when Gaia can be our guide. This is a perfect time to understand how creation works, because with the strong astrological aspects going on for the past few years, we are ready for a new story.   We are all in the process of creating a new life for ourselves.

So with Gaia’s help, let’s look at what she has to teach us about the process of creation.  Just as the Earth gives birth to the whole world, our experience of the Earth and our personal relationship with nature gives birth to our own world-view.  Gaia’s myth says that first there is chaos, or nothingness, and then there is Earth, or form.   This implies that within chaos there are inherent forms.  Each moment of chaos has shapes within it.  
            Admittedly, it is very hard for most of us to imagine living within the chaos, for we are troubled by any confusion in our lives. But this image also warns us that there is a need to allow some chaos, for there is always the danger that we will try to get rid of the confusion too quickly, thereby losing whatever new forms are about to emerge from it.  The very nature of creativity entails chaos and times of daydreaming, as any artist will tell you.  Joseph Campbell said that "Until you are willing to be confused about what you already know, what you know will never grow bigger, better, or more useful."
            There are fallow periods in our lives and in our days when nothing much seems to happen.  (Oh, how hard that is on our masculine, left-brain consciousness!)  What do we do with the fact that the very nature of our being is chaotic?  We create ourselves and our reality each moment!  Those moments do contain the chaos of imminent creation, because each moment asks us to make choices out of our free will.


 Ouranos, Gaia’s lover and father of her children, symbolizes the Divine Plan before manifestation, the cosmic laws that order the Universe, the urge for perfection, the ideal vision of life.  It’s very hard for the Ideal to manifest in all its perfection.  Therefore, like Ouranos, that first masculine consciousness who takes pleasure in the feminine but rejects the fruits of their union, we may too quickly impose a form, an agenda on our chaos; the 'shoulds' and 'oughts' of our lives are imposed too readily onto our inner and outer chaos and children.  Perhaps this myth explains why our modern masculine consciousness has such a hard time giving over power to feminine consciousness: the masculine likes order and control and loses itself too readily in the chaotic processes of creation, which is the work of right-brain feminine consciousness.
            There is always a tension and antagonism between the creative idea and its manifestation.   Overwhelmed by the power of our ideal vision, our own creativity (which is of the Earth) rebels and might retaliate – because of time constraints, day to day pressures or just plain giving up under the pressure (Saturn/Kronos as worldly authority and time and constriction) – by cutting off the source of inspiration, our creative imagination.  


            There is also the new life that grows spontaneously from within our inner chaos.  This is the mystery of continuous creation we need to open ourselves to.  This is the mystery of Spring, of new life that comes out of seeming death.  Our directed, goal-oriented, reasonable ego-consciousness hates mystery, and is afraid of the creativity of feminine consciousness because it is wild and passionate, unpredictable and chaotic, and often demands the death of old, worn-out ego ideals before it can create something new.  Perhaps this is why Ouranos feared to let his children out, for then he would have had to change and adapt, and not live in absolutes.   We all need to face our fears as well as our creativity and our desires.  Can we let the forms and the images that are inherent within us come into the light of day?  Can we allow them a place in our lives so we can be co-creators of our lives?  There is so much potential within each one of us if we can only allow it to gestate in the chaos.
            To begin to do this, let’s re-learn how to mother ourselves, which is essentially to give birth to ourselves.  If we can accept the instinct to mother as a grounding and nurturing instinct, we need to also accept that sometimes the instinct will be to jump into the dark abyss of Chaos.  If we can do this, we might discover a more fulfilling and creative way to live life.
            Here is a dream of the Goddess as Mother, a dream that asks the dreamer to accept deep love and mothering from her inner dark Goddess.  When she accepts this nurturing, she is restored.  She is a beautiful woman and the whole universe is hers!

I am an infant, lying alone in the grass.   A great Being picks me up.  She is huge and black skinned.  She has a beautiful face and large soft breasts.  She has the kindest smile I have ever seen.  She holds me and sits down on the great stone steps of an alabaster temple.  She nurses me with the milk of human kindness.  I grow into a woman.  We are dressed in the most beautiful garments.  I have on a rose madder color robe and she has on an ultramarine robe with small silver stars on it.  It is the entire universe. 

The Great Goddess Gaia will nurture us if we honor her every day.  This is the most important thing we can do this Earth Day.
Most ancient cultures that lived close to the Earth - the Celts, the Aborigines, the Native Americans, and Western culture itself until the sixteenth century - revered Earth as the Mother.  They knew they were made from the dust of this Earth, that they shared this Earth with the other animals, the trees, the rivers and seas.  They knew that they were part of the Great Round of Nature, one with all the other works of the Mother.  They knew that just as the animals gave up their lives to feed and nourish human beings, so too, human beings gave back their lives to the Great Mother when death took us.  They understood the wisdom and necessity of the cyclic processes of Her mysteries, and they lived within that cycle of gestation, birth, death and regeneration as in the protective circle of a mother's arms.  For them, the Earth was animate and divine; She set the rhythms of life for all Her children.  She was the Divine Nourisher and Sustainer, giving humans beautiful children and plentiful harvests; She was also the Divine Destroyer, taking back Her own.  She was, and is, the bedrock and foundation of all that draw their life from Her.
We modern people need to honor our Mother Earth.  We need to consciously live in tune with her cycles and in connection with all her children.  We need to come back into resonance with her pulse.  And then we will be willing to listen to her wisdom.
The Native Americans treasured the wisdom of the Earth.  Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota (Sioux) medicine man, wrote:

           The Lakota was a true Naturist - a Lover of Nature.  He loved the earth and all things of the earth, the attachment growing with age.  The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power.  It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth.  Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth.  The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew.  The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing and healing.
            That is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces.  For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly; he can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him. . . .
            Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky and water was a real and active principle.  For the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them and so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.
            The old Lakota was wise.  He knew that man's heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.  So he kept his youth close to its softening influence.

Blessed Be!
Cathy