The Greek Goddess Demeter

the greek goddess Demeter is a mythological figure with great significance. Her story encompasses the maiden, mother, and crone; and explains the changing of the seasons.

As the Goddess of Fertility, Demeter provides all nutrition on the earth, allowing her to be considered a vital source of survival. She is a mother to the Earth itself, in that the Earth cannot produce without Demeter allowing its seeds to grow.

The story of Demeter revolves around the kidnapping of her daughter Persephone by the ruler of the underworld. Demeter is determined to get her daughter back, so she adopts the guise of an old woman named Doso and takes her stand at the well in Eleusis.

According to the "Hymn of Demeter", for nine days Demeter searched the earth without anything to fill her stomach or her heart. This is the type of emptiness Demeter wished to bestow upon those who required her powers for their sustenance and ultimately, their lives. Demeter's denial of life while Persephone is dead in the underworld consists of the barrenness of winter, the denial of the growth of nature's vegetation and foliage, all of which are represented by the guise of the old woman which Demeter assumes when attempting to rescue her daughter.

When Demeter disguises herself as an old woman, she is assuming the direct opposite identity of herself in that an old woman represents barrenness. The guise of the old woman also acts as an unwelcome reminder of human mortality. In this light, Demeter's disguise could be perceived as a symbol of her decision to starve the mortals by holding back her fertile gifts. The Hymn perpetuates this symbolism in the following passage. "And she was like an ancient woman who is cut off from child bearing and the gifts of garland-loving Aphrodite, like the nurses of king's children who deal justice, or like the housekeepers in their echoing halls." The image of barrenness is especially evident in the reference to the "echoing halls", which could also allude to the emptiness a mother feels in her heart when her child is taken from her.

In myth and legend the Crone is often seen as the third part of a deity, much like that of the Christians' Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However in this Greek version of the trinity, The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone make up the three interrelated divine beings. Like the Christian trinity, this hierarchy of Greek Goddesses reinforces the need of human beings to visualize or relate to a divine force, only if the image is familiar or reasonably definable. From the Trilogy perspective, Persephone is Maiden or daughter, Demeter is Mother, and Hecate of the underworld is the Crone.

Of course the viewpoint could also be taken that instead of the triad consisting of three separate beings, it actually is comprised of three distinct parts of Demeter herself. In this respect, Doso completes the Trinity in that Demeter was the Mother of Earth, who wept beside the Maiden Well, disguised as a crone. Therefore, Demeter's disguise as an old woman, or the mortal version of a crone, was used to both conceal her true identity and to fulfill her destiny.

The earth is Demeter's body created by her from chaos, and all who live on it are born of Demeter's womb. At death one returns to the mother, and the body of the earth, the fertile female, provides nourishment for the human, animal and plant life that live on it. Demeter is this nourishment. She is the basis of life, while her guise as an old woman is fundamentally a symbol of death.

From this perspective, the ultimate image of the Goddess is therefore the Triple Mother, whose aspects are reconciled in one being. The various maternal elements of her personality amalgamate, and eventually converge so that the identification of the young woman with the mother and the old woman can allow them to transcend time and consequently, gain a truer sense of their immortality. They then start to transcend their lives as individuals and become a part of their ancestors and descendants. Demeter, in this sense, is not only the mother of Persephone but of all mortals and immortals. Just the fact that Demeter provides all nutrition on the earth allows her to be considered a mother in that she is a source of survival.

In her acceptance and understanding of death, Demeter affirms the cycle of life. The persona of the old lady represents the reverse of these images, yet even in her masked grief, Demeter manages to get in touch with her maternal instincts when she cares for Demaphoon, a child who is not her own, and even attempts to offer him eternal life. This makes Demeter the archetypal mother and the new child is perfectly analogous to the renewed grain.

When Demeter is caught performing her rituals on the child, she sheds the image of the old woman, reveals her true self, and demands that a temple be built in her honor where she would teach her worshippers her special rites. Therefore the ridding of the Doso persona could also be symbolic of rebirth. Except that after the temple was built she continued to reside at Eleusis, pining for her daughter and refusing to grow the grains. So even though she had shed the outward image of barrenness and mortality, she still clung to those qualities in her heart. It wasn't until Zeus sent Hermes to get Persephone from the Underworld that Demeter was able to bury her unfruitful quality and once again restore richness to the earth and its inhabitants. But this part of her character could not remain buried forever.

The notion that Persephone's requirement to return to the underworld every year originated the four seasons denotes that deprivation could never be entirely eradicated because once Demeter completed her inner trilogy by adding the crone, she could never completely be free of that image again. Demeter agreed to let the seeds sprout for all but three months a year; the time known as winter. Spring would return to the earth every year when Persephone returned to her mother. So essentially, Demeter becomes the personification of desolateness whenever her child is away.

© High Speed Ventures 2011