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Persephone – What can we learn for her plight?

Leighton depicts Hermes helping Persephone to ...

Leighton depicts Hermes helping Persephone to return to her mother Demeter after Zeus forced Hades to return Persepone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Persephone [Greek Persephone: maiden] is a Greek fertility and underworld goddess, born of Zeus and Demeter.

She is also called Kore [Greek: the girl or maiden]. In Roman myth her equivalent is often cited as Proserpina, with her mother Demeter is Ceres.

Brief Sketch

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter Persephone is out gathering flowers from a field in Sicily. Suddenly she’s abducted by Hades, the King of the underworld.

Accompanied by a litter of pigs to Hades’ gloomy abode, she is tricked by the dark King into eating pomegranate seeds. Even though she is tricked, Persephone is also punished. She must stay in the land of the dead for, depending on the account, three to eight months each year.

Persephone is not only raped by but also marries Hades. This makes her Queen of the underworld. Homer writes that she mediates between two worlds, the land of the living and the land of the dead. One of her primary duties is to deliver curses to the dead from the living.¹

persephone rising

Persephone Rising by Eddie van W. via Flickr

This kind of story and the notion of an eating/food taboo is so widespread that it arguably supports Jung’s idea of archetypes and the collective unconscious.

S. G. F. Brandon, in his Dictionary of Comparative Religion, says Persephone is linked to the Eleusinian Mysteries and figures in Orphism.² And some contemporary writers believe her myth exemplifies the ethos of the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries.

Psychological Interpretation

The mythographer Joseph Campbell  elaborates on Persephone’s link with the ancient mystery cults. In a somewhat Jungian style, Campbell believes we can gain esoteric knowledge by risking madness within the depths of the collective unconscious. Some do not survive the experience, and like an ocean diver who dives too deep, they do not make it back to the surface.

It seems that some people do, in fact, become gripped by so-called archetypal forces of the unconscious.

The Extramural Sanctuary of Demeter and Persep...

The Extramural Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone at Cyrene, Libya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again following Jung, one unfortunate outcome occurs when the ego identifies with a psycho-spiritual presence (numinosity) it has discovered and begins to assume the role of the “holy teacher.” Or perhaps in a more Darth Vader kind of scenario, the “holy ruler.”³

We can usually discern false or immature “teachers,” “leaders” and “rulers” when they do not admit to their mistakes and, perhaps, go to any lengths to cover them up. To be human is to err. And whenever someone cannot admit or tries to hide their human imperfection, it should raise a red flag to any sane, sober observer.

Agricultural Interpretation

A more down-to-earth view sees Persephone’s yearly rise and fall as coinciding with the ancient grain crops that thrived in the growing season and yet died when stored underground for the off-season. But considering Persephone is also linked to mystery cults, this view only accounts for half the story.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persephone

² Dictionary of Comparative Religion (New York: Scribner’s and Sons, 1970, p. 493).

³ I once had a professor who came to Canada from a communist land who was a bit like the latter. Although his abilities seemed impressive at first, in retrospect he doesn’t look so great. More like a backward, third-rate scholar who tries to control others through fear and intimidation.

Related » Death and Resurrection

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 Cyclops and Dragon Tongues: How Real Fossils Inspired Giant Myths (livescience.com)

 Exploring the Japanese Roots of ‘Star Wars’ (slashfilm.com)

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Parvati – Loving, terrible and creative, like most deities

The Hindu mother goddess Parvati feeding her s...

The Hindu mother goddess Parvati feeding her son, the elephant-headed wisdom god Ganesha – Wikipedia

Parvati is a central Hindu goddess and the consort of Siva as described in the Puranas.

She is said to be the daughter of the Himalayas and a model for the ideal wife. Sometimes called Devi, Parvati is generally seen as a benevolent, nurturing and protective deity.

In one variant of her mythic cycle, Parvati is the reincarnated Sati, who formerly took her own life. At the request of Vishnu she stops the distraught Siva from undertaking his terrible dance of cosmic destruction.

Some regard Parvati as the exemplary shakti. Shakti is a Sanskrit term for female power, sometimes called ‘serpent power’ because it is believed to rise upwards like a serpent through the chakras of the meditating yogi or yogini.

Like many deities, Parvati has a dark side and it would be incomplete to describe her as entirely benevolent.

Several Hindu stories present alternate aspects of Parvati, such as the ferocious, violent aspect as Shakti and related forms. Shakti is pure energy, untamed, unchecked and chaotic. Her wrath crystallizes into a dark, blood-thirsty, tangled-hair Goddess with an open mouth and a drooping tongue. This goddess is usually identified as the terrible Mahakali or Kali (time).[43] In Linga Purana, Parvati metamorphoses into Kali, on the request of Shiva, to destroy a female asura (demoness) Daruka. Even after destroying the demoness, Kali’s wrath could not be controlled. To lower Kali’s rage, Shiva appeared as a crying baby. The cries of the baby raised the maternal instinct of Kali who resorts back to her benign form as Parvati. In Skanda Purana, Parvati assumes the form of a warrior-goddess and defeats a demon called Durg.¹

Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma. – Wikipedia

Shakti also refers to a general principle of creative, cosmic energy. Some believe that when this energy is personified it takes the form of a goddess, such as Parvati or Krishna’s playmate, Radha. Others, of course, say these goddesses are real, in themselves, and not mere personifications of some general principle.

In one Purana (a Hindu religious text), Parvati is the mother of all other goddesses, universally worshiped with many forms and names. Her appearance and form depends on her overall cosmic purpose or, as Wikipedia suggests, on her “mood.”²

Personally, I think this Wikipedia take is too small a perspective considering the depth and breadth of Hindu myth, philosophy and religion.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parvati

² Ibid.

Related » Hinduism, yoni, linga


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Ambrosia

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen - Istoriato scho...

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen – Istoriato schotel: de maaltijd der Goden op de Olympus (Istoriato dish: the food of the gods on Olympus – Photo credit: MicheleLovesArt)

Ambrosia (from Greek ambrotos = immortal) is the otherworldly food or drink of the Ancient Greek Olympians, sometimes given to mortal heroes and mankind as a salve but usually reserved for the gods. Said to confer the boon of immortality, mortals were punished if they took it uninvited.

Some scholars believe that ambrosia prefigures the Christian Eucharist. It remains unclear as to whether ambrosia has an earthly parallel (i.e. an actual substance found in nature), as does the Soma of the Hindu Vedic pantheon. Some say it’s based on the alleged healing powers of honey, others suggest it may be traced to the hallucinogenic mushroom.

Mythographer Joseph Campbell puts forward an interesting view:

…the drink of the gods, and the distillate of love are the same, in various strengths, to wit, ambrosia (Sanskrit amrta, “immortality”), the potion of deathless life experienced here and now. It is milk, it is wine, it is tea, it is coffee, it is anything you like, when drunk with a certain insight-life itself, when experienced from a certain depth and height.”¹

The Greek epic poet Homer made a clear distinction between ambrosia (food) and nectar (drink). But usually it’s not clear if ambrosia is food or drink. In ancient art it is usually administered by a nymph called Ambrosia.

¹ Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. New York: Penguin Books, 1962: The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, 1976, p. 80.


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Goddess vs. goddess

Goddess

Goddess by junibears via Flickr

Goddess vs. goddess

Some popular writers like Barbara G. Walker argue that the ancient view of the Goddess differs from contemporary male interpretations. Not to be confused with goddesses, Walker says the Goddess was seen by the ancients as a Great Creative Source of All Being.

Nicole Loraux in Duby and Perrot’s A History of Women, Vol. I points out that, with the exception of Sappho, there’s a dearth of women writers in the ancient world, making our view of the ancient understanding of The Goddess come from mostly male accounts.

Walker says that contemporary spirituality would more correctly depict the Deity with female instead of male terms and images.

Along these lines, some feminist writers believe that the idea of the Goddess emerged before and is more authentic than male God imagery. Other feminists look back to cultures where the Goddess or women were apparently dominant (e.g. Samos, Amazonia) to promote alternatives to male-influenced God images.

Marija Gimbutas

The celebrated archeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) argued that behind all representations of prehistoric goddesses lies a single, Great Goddess.

Gimbutas did identify the diverse and complex Paleolithic and Neolithic female representations she recognized as depicting a single universal Great Goddess, but also as manifesting a range of female deities: snake goddess, bee goddess, bird goddess, mountain goddess, Mistress of the Animals, etc., which were not necessarily ubiquitous throughout Europe.

In a tape entitled “The Age of the Great Goddess,” Gimbutas discusses the various manifestations of the Goddess which occur, and stresses the ultimate unity behind them all of the Earth as feminine.¹

English: A mother goddess statuette from Canha...

A mother goddess statuette from Canhasan, which is an archaeological site in Turkey. This figurine, along with other mother goddess figurines found in Canhasan, is thought to be an evidence of a continual matriarchal society in central Anatolia during the Chalcolithic age - via Noumenon at Wikipedia

Gimbutas also believed that excavations from Neolithics sites in Europe and Lithuania suggest a society were women were dominant, in both the worldly and spiritual sense. Her views, although still debated among scholars, gave great impetus to aspects of the feminist movement, mostly among woman scholars, academics and intellectuals who shared her point of view.

Jung and beyond

The Jungian Erich Neumann sees The Goddess as an archetype of the Great Mother.

Meanwhile, Naomi Goldenberg rejects Jung’s entire idea of the archetype, especially archetypes pertaining to an “eternal feminine.” Goldenberg says they constructs are overly generalized, unduly metaphysical and sexist.

In The End of God (1982) Goldenberg suggests the need for depth psychology to develop perspectives about the imaginal (symbolic, inspirational) and literal (physical, social and political) realities of women who find traditional goddess imagery to be an outdated patriarchal legacy.

Apart from the idea of ‘The Goddess’ we also find the minor, small-‘g’ goddess—that is, a female god. Contemporary archaeology points to a tremendous diversity of attributes for a plethora of goddess statues and images discovered around the world. And, to some, attributing all of these different manifestations to a single “Goddess” seems questionable.

Most scholars – male and female – agree that a good number of goddesses are localized, individual deities that emerged from other forms, while other goddesses are, indeed, more universal.

Perhaps most interesting, some goddesses are vindictive, petty, lustful and cruel, just like many of their male counterparts. Meanwhile, others goddesses and gods, alike, are nurturing, loving, chaste and compassionate. So the gender issue arguably could take the form of equality being the right for women to be just as kindly or nasty as men have always been (but this still doesn’t make being nasty right—for women or for men).

The Goddess is also understood as major small-‘g’ goddesses. These major goddesses are often associated with fertility deities in agrarian societies. Some suggest that small-‘g’ goddesses are prominent in matriarchal rather than patriarchal cultures.

Graham Harvey conveniently outlines several different attitudes toward the idea of the Goddess. First, it refers to a spiritual unity (Goddess) in plurality (Goddesses), where the plurality is encountered more often than the unity.

Goddesses

Goddesses by Leslie "LC" Cowger via Flickr

Second, Harvey notes that some contemporary women advocate traditional notions of “femininity” in contrast to the idea of “empowerment” as found within much Goddess theology.

Third, Harvey says Cynthia Eller implies that Feminist Goddess discourse dislocates women from ordinary time and traps them in an obsession with a comforting Golden Age.”²

Harvey also refers to Emily Erwin Culpepper, who is critical of glossing over diversity into some kind of mythic unity:

[With] any monotheism of ‘The Goddess’…She tends to become ‘The Great Mother’ and sweep diverse realities into one cosmically large stereotype.”³

The Virgin Mary

Many writers say the Virgin Mary is a goddess not unlike the Egyptian Isis or the Hindu Kali.

Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by ...

Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by the Virgin Mary (1714), Ceiling paintings made by Johann Michael Rottmayr (1654-1730) for the Karlskirche, Vienna via Wikipedia

Catholic teaching, however, clearly states that Mary is not a goddess, but a “mediatrix” (mediator) between God and mankind. While Catholic rosary devotions are directed to Mary, these emphasize her humility and “fullness of Grace.”

Unlike Isis, Mary is a saint and cannot bestow boons from her own power. Indeed, Catholicism clearly indicates that all honor, power and glory belongs to God.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marija_Gimbutas

² Contemporary Paganism: Listening People Speaking Earth. New York: New York University Press, 2000, p. 82.

³ Cited in Contemporary Paganism, p. 83.

Related Posts » History, Great Mother