Olympos: Demeter, the Goddess of Nature

333px-Demeter_Pio-Clementino_Inv254Tablinum: my dear readers, we have now reached the end of our cycle on Greek mythology.

The latter article is dedicated to a benefactress deity , as in previous months, as you may remember I wrote of God Hephaestus, the god of Olympus builder. This month I will tell the history of the Goddess of Nature, Demeter.

Daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, sister of Zeus, Demeter is the goddess of Abundance, Agriculture, also called Mother Earth. Demeter was the guardian of the cycle of the seasons that regulates life and death.

She was a goddess who gave to mankind wealth and well-being; then we could call she a Goddess “constructive”. 

adeThe greatest gift that she gave to mankind were cereals * that allowed them to rise to a higher status and to distinguish themselves from wild animals. She also gave to men the knowledge of agricultural techniques: sowing, plowing and harvesting. The Goddess Demeter felt a great love for her little daughter Persephone;  born from her relationship with Zeus and this is the vicissitudes that threatened to lead to the extinction of mankind. This is how it happened: Ade, God of the Dead   the darker and more shadowy between  Zeus’ brothers, was tired to live  always  alone  with  damned spirits and decided that It could not be bad to have a spouse. So, he asked audience to Zeus, who despite the contempt for him, the Gods’ Fathers decided to find him a wife, because he clearly knew what Hades was capable to do. However it was very difficult to find a bride who decides, of her own free will, to follow him in the kingdom of darkness and desolation. It was clearly necessary to use a more forceful method: the bride’s abduction.

ratto di persefoneSo Ade chose the young Persephone daughter of Zeus and the goddess Demeter. Alone and unaware of what’s going to happen to her, that innocent girl was playing, in the heart of Sicily, in a grassy meadow full of daffodils; when Demeter notice the disappearance of her daughter, she fall into an indescribable pain.

She began to interrogate all men and animals but  unfortunately without success because no one would antagonize the God the Dead.

demetra dea della naturaThe tenth day  afer Persephone’s  kindnapping the lunar goddess Hecate, moved with pity, decided to reveal what happened to Demeter and together they went to the Sun God Apollo, who sees all and knows all. Apollo also confirmed the facts and reveals the secret pact between Zeus and Hades, so that he could choose a bride.

Enraged and closed in his grief she decided to leave the Olympus and, disguised as an old woman, she wander through faraway lands seeking her beloved daughter. Firstable she took a drastic decision, as she was the Goddess of Nature, she decided to stop this life cycle because everyone could suffer as she was suffering:  so no more crops, no more blooms and nothing more seasons.

The Olympians, just like men, were damaged by this decision, since the offers in their suffrage decreased drastically and receiving more swearing than prayers, they turned in unison to the Father of the Gods why did end this famine wanted by Demeter . Zeus, in order to return the abundance on earth and indirectly on Olympus, sent Iris to seek Demeter and persuade her to take again her place  in the cosmic order.

eleusiAnd by this time the vicissitudes of the Goddess Demeter are intertwined with Eleusis. Indeed, we can bring to the Goddess Demeter the establishment of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Rituals that helped the human being to understand himself better and everything around him. These mysteries have to do with the loss of her beloved child Persephone.

During one of his pilgrimages, Demeter stopped at a tree, near the city of Eleusis, and she began to cry disconsolately

She was greeted by the loving daughters of Celeus king of Eleusis, who decided to accommodate the old woman at their court and, disguised as an old nurse, were entrusted to her care of the royal children, Demophontes.

Monument ID: 32444To alleviate the sadness of the old woman, the queen Metanira decided to assign to Demeter the most irreverent and cheeky servant of the palace, the young Iambe *** . That young girl, with jokes and of any kind was able to snatch an amused smile to the Goddess of Nature.

Demeter to thank the queen Metanira of her benevolence decided to transform the small Demophontes in an immortal and began her mysterious practice in the heart of the night.

Metanira who suspected that the old woman was much more than it appeared, decided to oversee her actions. that was how, with surprise and terror she discover the little Demophontes subject of these ritualsand she starts screaming and yelling at the nurse. Demeter at that point that she went on a rampage for the queen who dared to refuse a so immeasurable gift.

demetra e metaniraFurious, Demeter resumed his divine forms, terrorizing even more Queen Metanira, and imposed the construction of a temple in her honor where were practiced, every year, the rites that Demeter in person would have taught to initiates.

After a long search the Goddess Iris found the Goddess of Nature, just outside Eleusis and reported the message of Zeus, that is to come back and make peace with the Olympians.

Demeter refused angrily, telling Iris to report to the Father of the Gods that would never come back if he had not been given back her daughter Persephone.

melogranoZeus was angry with her and ordered to his brother Hades to return with Persephone, but she was already been turned into his bride and queen of hell. Ade devised a stratagem: he allowed Persephone to return to her mother, but before leaving the god offered her a fruit from the seeds red as blood. It was the fruit of the dead: the pomegranate. With this fruit he bound Persephone to himself for eternity.

Come back in the surface of the earth Persephone was greeted by Demeter, the goddess with a single hand gesture, rebooted the cycle of the seasons and in an instant the fields were full of corn ears and trees bursting with fruit. Demeter, knowing the cruelty of his rival, he asked the small Persephone if she touched or eaten something in the realm of the dead. Persephone confirmed the fears of the mother and admitted that she had eaten the pomegranate.

Then Demeter was forced to accept Hades’ deception and she told to Persephone that she should return to the Land of the Dead, as queen, for the six months of winter, while, for the six months of summer they woill be together on the land filled with fruits and flowers.

persefone regina dei mortiThese facts gave rise to the initiatory path that all young Greek had to follow, from the condition to that of virgin brides. Path that symbolically represents death of childhood**** and the birth of adulthood.

Demeter was a deity always dutiful who was responsible for maintaining a delicate balance between all things created, however, we can find a story of “gossip” linked to the attempted seduction by the God Poseidon.

Demeter transformed herself into a horse and hid himself among the herd of horses of King Onkios, in the city of Onkeion, but the Blue God was not fooled and unearthed the “mare,” also was transformed into a horse, a beautiful stallion and couple with the goddess Demeter.

poseidoneThe Goddess of Nature was literally furious and went to wash the filth in the river Ladona. However from that forced union was born a daughter, whose name was forbidden to pronounce outside of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and a horse with a thick mane, black as pitch, Arion.

King Onkios donated Arione the horse to Heracles during the expedition against the city of Elis.

erisittoneThere is a story in which we experience the violent side of the Goddess of Nature. The king of Thessaly Erysichthon of Thessaly, in his arrogance and pride, deliberately wanted to break down a forest sacred to the goddess Demeter. The reason was quite senseless: with the wood he wanted build a dining room. The Goddess of Nature went on a rampage and punished his wickedness condemning him to eternal hunger. From that day Erysichthon of Thessaly could no longer be satiated, tormented by the constant desire for food, the king of Thessaly squandered the royal treasury and was forced to sell his daughter to the market.

Mestra, since she was the lover of Poseidon and she had the gift of metamorphosis to turn into any animal she wanted to be. 

Erysichthon of Thessaly, knowing the gift of Maestra, forces her to become a different animal every day and then, after being sold, escape at night to return to the palace. But even this is not enough to the unfortunate Erysichthon of Thessaly: his lust for food growing every day and so, to appease his hunger, he finally devoured itself.

PlutoWhile the story that sees the Goddess Demeter love someone like the daughter is really worth telling. The son of Zeus and Electra, lasion, lived in Samothrace and had the good fortune to become a lover of Demeter, their bed of lovers was a fallow land “revolted” three times, protected by nature. From their relationship was born a son Pluto, that is to say the wealth. Their little Pluto start immediately his pilgrimage spreading everywhere wealth and abundance, trailing his touch men more deserving.

The symbols of the goddess were, poppies, daffodils and bundles of wheat that was holding in his hands, sacred to her were the crane and the sow and its places of worship were scattered throughout Greece: Eleusis, Delos, Corinth, Samothrace, Pergamon and in Magna Greece: Agrigento, Selinunte, Enna and Syracuse.

The Goddess of Nature was especially worshiped in the countryside, where they lived with humility and where was handed down the knowledge that Demeter gave to men. Many votive offerings have been discovered by archaeologists exclusively on the worship of the goddess Demeter, like clay piglets, made in the Neolithic.

The priestesses who took care of Demeter were called Melissse were wood nymphs, the best known of these, Melissa, nursed Zeus in bands, together with the the goat Amalthea, and she was responsible of feeding the future Father of the Gods with the sweet honey.

Alessandro Cerioli

* The word cereal comes from the latin word Ceres, the equivalent of the Roman goddess Demeter.

** The legends tell that because of this earthquake, caused by Hades, Sicily detached itself permanently from the rest of the Italian peninsula.

*** From the name of this girl came the famous comic poetry, Iambos, full of jokes and obscene elements, which in the form of folk songs was sung derisively to friends and enemies.

**** Even today we talk about the orgasm as a “little death”. Persephone itself contains the mystery of the two conditions. With her mother Demeter looks like life, with the bridegroom Hades looks like death.

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