Demeter (Greek)

Demeter (Greek)

Demeter is one of the best known goddesses of the harvest. When her daughter Persephone was kidnapped and seduced by Hades, Demeter went straight to the bowels of the Underworld to rescue her lost child. Their legend has persisted for millennia as a way of explaining the changing of the seasons and the death of the earth each fall.

Demeter, the middle daughter of Cronus and Rhea, was the Ancient Greek goddess of grain and agriculture, one of the original Twelve Olympians. Her grief over her daughter Persephone – who has to spend one-third of the year with her husband Hades in the Underworld – is the reason why there is winter; her joy when she gets her back coincides with the fertile spring and summer months. Demeter and Persephonewere the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the most famous secret religious festival in Ancient Greece.

Demeter’s Role

Name

Demeter’s name consists of two parts, the second of which (-meter) is almost invariably linked with the meaning “mother,” which conveniently fits with Demeter’s role as a mother-goddess. However, there are still debates over the meaning of the first part (De-), which most scholars associate with “Ge,” i.e., Gaea (making Demeter “Mother Earth”); others, however, prefer to link it with “Deo,” which is a surviving epithet of Demeter and may have been, in an earlier form, the name of one of few grains.

Portrayal and Symbolism

Demeter is usually portrayed as a fully-clothed and matronly-looking woman, either enthroned and regally seated or proudly standing with an extended hand. Sometimes she is depicted riding a chariot containing her daughter Persephone, who is almost always in her vicinity. The goddesses – as they were endearingly called – even share the same attributes and symbols: scepter, cornucopia, ears of corn, a sheaf of wheat, torch, and occasionally, a crown of flowers.

Epithets

Demeter was known mostly as the Giver of Food and Grain, or “She of the Grain,” for short (Sito). However, since she presided over something as vital as the cycles of plants and seasons, the Ancient Greeks also referred to her as Tesmophoros, or “The Bringer of Laws,” and organized a women-only festival called Tesmophoria to celebrate her as such. Other epithets include: “Green,” “The Giver of Gifts,” “The Bearer of Food,” and “Great Mother.”

Demeter’s Family

Demeter was one of the six children of Cronus and Rhea, their middle daughter, and their second child overall – born after Hestia, but before Heraand her brothers: HadesPoseidon, and Zeus. Just like all of her siblings, she was swallowed and later, following an intervention by Zeus, regurgitated by her father.

Demeter’s Consorts: Iasion, Poseidon, and Zeus

Demeter didn’t have many partners and was rarely portrayed with a male consort. The mortal Iasion and her brothers Poseidon and Zeus are the most noteworthy – if not the only – exceptions.

Iasion

Early in her life, Demeter fell in love with a mortal named Iasion. She seduced him at the marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia and lay with him in a thrice-plowed field. Zeus didn’t think appropriate for such a respected goddess to have a relationship with a mortal, so he struck Iasion with a thunderbolt. But, by then, Demeter was already pregnant with twins: Ploutos and Philomelus, the former the god of wealth, and the latter, the patron of plowing.

Poseidon

Next, Demeter’s brother Poseidon forced himself upon her (once transformed into a stallion), and the goddess, once again, became pregnant with two children: Despoena, a nymph, and Arion, a talking horse.

Zeus

Finally, Demeter became Zeus’ fourth wife. From their union, Demeter’s most well-known child was born, Persephone.

Demeter and Persephone

The most important myth involving Demeter concerns her daughter Persephone’s abduction by Hades and Demeter’s subsequent wanderings.

The Abduction of Persephone

Hades, the Lord of the Underworld, fell in love with Demeter’s virgin-daughter and decided to take her into marriage. So, one day, as she was gathering flowers with her girlfriends, he lured her aside using a fragrant and inexpressibly beautiful narcissus, and then snatched her up with his chariot, suddenly darting out of a chasm under her feet.

Demeter Finds Out

Inconsolable, Demeter walked the earth far and wide for nine days to find her daughter – but to no avail. And then, on the tenth day, Hecate told her what she had seen and Helios, the All-Seeing God of the Sun, confirmed her story. Demeter wasn’t just brokenhearted anymore. She was now angry as well. And with everybody! Especially with Zeus who, the rumors claimed so, had approved the whole operation and even aided Hades throughout.

The Institution of the Eleusinian Mysteries · Iambe, Demophon, and Metanira

So, Demeter left Mount Olympus and went to grieve her daughter among the mortals, disguised as an old woman. She ended up at the court of King Celeus of Eleusis, where his wife Metanira hired her to be the nurse to her baby son, Demophon. Iambe, the old servant woman of the house, cheered her with her jokes, and Demeter laughed for the first time in many weeks. In gratitude for the kindness, Demeter devised a plan to make Demophon immortal, so she started bathing him in fire each night, thus, burning away his mortality.

However, one day, Metanira witnessed the ritual and, not realizing what was happening, started screaming in panic and alarm. This disturbed Demeter’s strategy, so she revealed herself at once and told Metanira that the only way that the Eleusinians will ever win her kindness back is by building a temple and establishing a festival in her glory.

The Return of Persephone and the Establishment of the Cycles

King Celeus did just that, and Demeter spent a whole year living in her newly built temple, grieving, and, in her grief, neglecting all her duties as a goddess of fertility and agriculture. As a consequence, the earth turned barren, and people started dying out of hunger. After unsuccessfully sending all the gods, one by one, to Demeter with gifts and pleas, Zeus realized that he would have to bring Persephone back to her mother if he didn’t want to see humanity wiped out from the planet.

So, he sent Hermes to Hades, and the divine messenger fetched back Persephone to her mother. However, the gods soon realized that Demeter’s daughter had already eaten one seed of pomegranate in the Underworld, which obliged her to remain in the Underworld. Knowing that Demeterwouldn’t allow such thing to happen, Zeus proposed a compromise: Persephone would spend one-third of the year with Hades and the other two-thirds with Demeter.

The former, the period during which Demeter is grieving, corresponds to the winter months of the year when the earth is infertile and bare; the latter, when she rejoices, overlaps with the abundant months of our springs and summers. The myth likewise explains the growth cycle of the plants. The grain, just like Persephone, must die and be buried under the earth in order to bear much fruit above it.

Sources

The best sources for the principal myth of Demeter are the “Second Homeric Hymn,” and the fifth book of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” where, naturally, the names of the main protagonists are changed to their Roman counterparts: Ceres, Pluto, and Proserpine.

Published on Greek Mythology

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Frigga (Norse)

Frigga (Norse)

Frigga was the wife of the all-powerful Odin, and was considered a goddess of fertility and marriage within the Norse pantheon. Like many mothers, she is a peacemaker and mediator in times of strife.

 

Strangely for a goddess of her high position, the surviving primary sources on Norse mythology give only sparse and casual accounts of anything related to her personality, deeds, or other attributes. The specifics they do discuss, however, are not unique to Frigg, but are instead shared by both her and Freya, a goddess who belongs to both the Aesir and the Vanir tribes of deities. From these similarities, combined with the two goddesses’ mutual evolution from the earlier Germanic goddess Frija, we can see that Frigg and Freya were only nominally distinct figures by the late Viking Age, when our sources were recorded, and that these two figures, who had formerly been the same deity, were still practically the same personage in everything but name.Frigg (pronounced “FRIG;” Old Norse Frigg, “Beloved”[1]), sometimes Anglicized as “Frigga,” is the highest-ranking of the Aesirgoddesses. She’s the wife of Odin, the leader of the gods, and the mother of Baldur.

Frigg and Freya

Like Freya, Frigg is depicted as a völva, a Viking Age practitioner of the form of Norse magic known as seidr. Seidr involved discerning the course of fate and working within its structure to bring about change, often by symbolically weaving new events into being.[2] This power could potentially be put to any use imaginable, and examples that cover virtually the entire range of the human condition can be found in Old Norse literature. In the Old Norse poem Lokasenna, after Loki slanders Frigg, Freya warns him that Frigg knows the fate of all beings, an intimation of her ability to perform seidr.[3] Frigg’s weaving activities are likely an allusion to this role as well. Freya owns falcon plumes that she and the other Aesir use for shapeshifting into that bird, and Frigg possesses her own set of falcon feathers that are used for the same purpose.[4]

In the Viking Age, the völva was an itinerant seeress and sorceress who traveled from town to town performing commissioned acts of seidr in exchange for lodging, food, and often other forms of compensation as well. Like other northern Eurasian shamans, her social status was highly ambiguous – she was by turns exalted, feared, longed for, propitiated, celebrated, and scorned.[5]

During the so-called Völkerwanderung or “Migration Period” – roughly 400-800 CE, and thus the period that immediately preceded the Viking Age – the figure who would later become the völva held a much more institutionally necessary and universally acclaimed role among the Germanic tribes. One of the core societal institutions of the period was the warband, a tightly organized military society presided over by a chieftain and his wife. The wife of the warband’s leader, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, held the title of veleda, and her role in the warband was to foretell the outcome of a suggested plan of action by means of divination and to influence that outcome by means of more active magic, as well as to serve a special cup of liquor that was a powerful symbol of both temporal and spiritual power in the warband’s periodic ritual feasts.[6][7]

One literary portrait of such a woman comes to us from the medieval Old English epic poem Beowulf, which recounts the deeds of King Hroðgar and his warband in the land that we today know as Denmark. The name of Hroðgar’s queen, Wealhþeow, is almost certainly the Old English equivalent of the Proto-Germanic title that Tacitus latinised as “veleda.”[8] Wealhþeow’s “domestic” actions in the poem – which are, properly understood, enactments of the liquor ritual described above – are indispensable for the upkeep of the unity of the warband and its power structures. The poem, despite its Christian veneer, “hint[s] at the queen’s oracular powers… The Hrothgar/Wealhtheow association as presented in the poem is an echo of an earlier more robust and vigorous politico-theological conception.”[9]

This “politico-theological conception” was based on the mythological model provided by the divine pair Frija and Woðanaz, deities who later evolved into, respectively, Freya/Frigg and Odin. Woðanaz is the warband’s chieftain, and Frija is its veleda.

Thus, in the Migration Period, the goddess who later became Freya (and Frigg) was the wife of the god who later became Odin. While somewhat veiled, this is ultimately still the case in Old Norse literature. Freya’s husband is named Óðr, a name which is virtually identical to that of Óðinn (the Old Norse form of “Odin”). Óðr means “ecstasy, inspiration, furor.” Óðinn is simply the word óðr with the masculine definite article (-inn) added onto the end. The two names come from the same word and have the same meaning. Óðr is an obscure and seldom-mentioned character in Old Norse literature. The one passage that tells us anything about his personality or deeds – anything beyond merely listing his name in connection with Freya – comes from the Prose Edda, which states that Óðr is often away on long journeys, and that Freya can often be found weeping tears of red gold over his absence.[10] Many of the surviving tales involving Odin have him traveling far and wide throughout the Nine Worlds, to the point that he’s probably more often away from Asgard than within it. Many of Odin’s numerous bynames allude to his wanderings or are names he assumed to disguise his identity while abroad. Thus, it’s hard to see Freya’s husband as anything but an only nominally distinct extension of Odin.

Freyja and Frigg are similarly accused of infidelity to their (apparently common) husband. Alongside the several mentions of Freya’s loose sexual practices can be placed the words of the medieval Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus, who relates that Frigg slept with a slave on at least one occasion.[11] In Lokasenna and the Ynglinga Saga, Odin was once exiled from Asgard, leaving his brothers Vili and Ve in command. In addition to presiding over the realm, they also regularly slept with Frigg until Odin’s return.[12][13] Many scholars have tried to differentiate between Freya and Frigg by asserting that the former is more promiscuous and less steadfast than the latter,[14] but these tales suggest otherwise.

The word for “Friday” in Germanic languages (including English) is named after Frija,[15] the Proto-Germanic goddess who is the foremother of Freya and Frigg. None of the other Germanic peoples seem to have spoken of Frija as if she were two goddesses; this approach is unique to the Norse sources. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that in the Norse sources we find a confusion as to which goddess this day should have as its namesake. Both Freyjudagr (from Freyja) and Frjádagr (from Frigg) are used.

The names of the two goddesses are also particularly interesting in this regard. Freyja, “Lady,” is a title rather than a true name. It’s a cognate of the modern German word Frau, which is used in much the same way as the English title “Mrs.” In the Viking Age, Scandinavian and Icelandic aristocratic women were sometimes called freyjur, the plural of freyja.[16]“Frigg,” meanwhile, comes from an ancient root that means “beloved.”[17] Frigg’s name therefore links her to love and desire, precisely the areas of life over which Freya presides. Here again we can discern the ultimate reducibility of both goddesses to one another: one’s name is identical to the other’s attributes, and the other name is a generic title rather than a unique name.

Clearly, then, the two are ultimately the same goddess. Why, then, are they presented as nominally distinct in the late Old Norse sources? Unfortunately, no one really knows.

 

References:

[1] Orel, Vladimir. 2003. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. p. 114.

[2] Heide, Eldar. 2006. Spinning Seiðr. In Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes and Interactions. Edited by Anders Andrén, Kristina Jennbert, and Catharina Raudvere. p. 166.

[3] The Poetic Edda. Lokasenna, verse 29.

[4] Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Skáldskaparmál 18-19.

[5] Price, Neil S. 2002. The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. p. 279-328.

[6] Tacitus, Cornelius. Germania 8.

[7] Enright, Michael J. 1996. Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tène to the Viking Age.

[8] Ibid. p. 192.

[9] Ibid. p. 66.

[10] Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Gylfaginning 35.

[11] Saxo Grammaticus. The History of the Danes.

[12] The Poetic Edda. Lokasenna, verse 26.

[13] Snorri Sturluson. Ynglinga Saga 3. In Heimskringla: eða Sögur Noregs Konunga.

[14] See, for example: Grimm, Jacob. 1882. Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1. Translated by James Steven Stallybrass. p. 302.

[15] Ellis-Davidson, Hilda Roderick. 1964. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. p. 111.

[16] Grimm, Jacob. 1882. Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1. Translated by James Steven Stallybrass. p. 300.

[17] Orel, Vladimir. 2003. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. p. 114.

 

Published on Norse Mythology for Smart People

Gaia (Greek)

Gaia (Greek)

Gaia was known as the life force from which all other beings sprang, including the earth, the sea and the mountains. A prominent figure in Greek mythology, Gaia is also honored by many Wiccans and Pagans today as the earth mother herself.

In Greek mythology, Gaea (or Gaia), the primordial earth or mother goddess was one of the deities who governed the universe before THE TITANS existed.

In the creation myth, CHAOS came before everything else. He was made of Void, Mass and Darkness in confusion; and then earth in the form of Gaea came into existence. From “Mother Earth” sprang the starry heavens, in the shape of the sky God Uranus, and from Gaea also came the mountains, plains, seas and rivers that make up the Earth we know today.

Gaea first appears as a character of divine being in the Homeric poems, in the Illiad, black sheep were sacrificed to her, and people were declaring oaths to invoke her.

The Greek Historian Hesiod wrote that the union of Gaea and Chaos created Uranus. From there Gaea and Uranus gave birth to the Giants, the Titans, Oceanus and the whole world. Uranus decided to stop Gaea from creating anything else and sent his children inside her, imprisoning them in her womb, therefore infuriating Gaea and causing her allegiance to her Titan son Cronus, and together they overthrew Uranus.

CRONUS, using a great iron sickle created by his mother attacked Uranus, castrating him, the drops of blood fell from him and onto Gaea, the earth, and became the seeds of the Erinyes (the spirits of punishments), the Gigantes and the Melian nymphs. Another myth is that Cronus threw Uranus organs into the ocean and the mixing of the blood and sea foam birthed Aphrodite.

Gaea’s allegiance switched to ZEUS due to the cruelty of Cronus, who had imprisoned the same sons and had an insatiable endless determination for domination. Gaea foretold a prophecy that one of Cronus’s sons would dethrone him, due to his distrust; Cronus swallowed each of his children whole to prevent a coup. Zeus was successfully hidden, and when he was older, he returned to his father, forced him to throw up his siblings and together they overthrew him.

Zeus’s toppling of Cronus marked the end of the age of the Titans. Gaea would not be without conflict with Zeus; she was angered by his binding of her Titan sons in Tartarus, so she birthed the tribe of Giants and later the monster Typhoeus (a storm giant) to overthrow Zeus though both were unsuccessful. Her final attempt to dethrone Zeus was by telling him that his next son, birthed to him by Metis would depose him, so he swallowed her causing ATHENA to spring from his head.

Other versions show Gaea was the great mother of all creation; the heavenly gods were descended from her union with Uranus (the Sky), the sea-gods from her union with Pontos (the Sea), the Giants from her mating with Tartarus (the Pit) and mortal creatures born from her earthly flesh. In ancient Greek cosmology, the earth was believed to be a flat disk, encircled by the River and encompassed by the heaven on one side and Tartarus on the other. In a Greek vase painting Gaea was portrayed as a buxom, motherly figure rising from the earth but inseparable from her element. In some mosaic artworks, Gaea is a full figured woman, reclining on the land, clothed in green and surrounded by fruits and the Seasons.

Gaea was the source from which arose the vapours producing divine inspiration and was regarded as an oracular divinity and was said to have had the oracle of Delphi in her possession first.

Gaea was seen was the all-producing and all- nourishing mother; her worship universal amongst the Ancient Greeks.

She had temples at Athens, Sparta, Delphi, Olympia, Bura, Tegea and Phlyus to name a few. Due to her mother like presence she presided over marriages, oaths and was honoured as a prophetess.

Other Interesting Facts About Gaea

• Gaea may have formerly been worshipped in Greece as a mother goddess before the Hellenes introduced the cult of Zeus
• Gaea was described as the giver of dreams and the nourisher of plants and young children
• Gaea was renamed by the Romans as Terra
• In modern times, Earth scientist use the term Gaea to describe the earth as a complex living organism

 

Published on Greek Gods and Goddesses</