During the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age, the mother goddesses were very prominent in Crete, the Cyclades and on mainland Greece.
This page not only looks at Hellenic mother goddesses in the Greek mythology, but also looks briefly at a couple of mother goddesses, during the Bronze Age, where these are no literary accounts.
House of Hades, Persephone
What do we mean when we identify a female deity as a mother goddess?
Does mother mean in the sense, a mother who nurture and protect the young? Is she goddess of childbirth? Is she a creator goddess or the earth goddess (usually known as Earth Mother)? Does it mean that she is fertility goddess or was she the goddess of nature?
What does it mean by "fertility"?
Mother goddess could mean fertility, but the term "fertility", is in itself rather vague, and could mean a number of different things. Fertility could mean the earth itself, eg. fertility of the land; or could be the growing of crops or other plant life. It could also mean fertility of the animals, as well as that of human, by the mean of mating or sexual intercourse. As you can see, fertility is not good definition to use.
The mother goddess may also have many different roles. The mother goddess can be distinguished from the Earth Mother (earth goddess), but sometimes the two are confused and their roles tends to blur, as it is the case with Gaea. Gaea was both an Earth Mother and a mother goddess.
The Earth Mother can be seen as the primal force and the source of all life. She does not necessarily have a maternal or nurturing nature.
See also Gaea and her Daughters.
The mother goddess is also seen with the divine consort of mortal or even divine ruler, whom she must periodically mate with, as in the case of Cybele and her consort Attis, so that the new year's season are renewed.
The mother goddess may even have more than one attribute, as it was the case, with Demeter, the goddess of corn. Demeter was also the mother goddess and goddess of fertility. See also Demeter and Persephone.
So far I have only mentioned goddesses what we know of, through literature and mythology after the Dorian invasion. I have not mentioned the goddesses of the Bronze Age Aegean civilisations. Most of the authors we read, set all mythological events before the arrival of the Dorians; thus in the Bronze Age.
However, the only writings about the deities in Bronze Age had only mentioned their names on the Linear B tablets in Knossos and Pylos, and nothing else. There were no literature on mythology; there are no details about their cultures, beliefs and their history. See Linear B in the Greek World page (Facts and Figures).
Only some of the names that appeared in these tablets survived in classical periods. The rest of the names were unrecognisable, or perhaps they were probably local deities.
In Pylos, there are Linear B tablets, which mentioned the name, MA-TE-RE TE-I-JA, or Mater theia, which actually means "Mother Goddess". Who this goddess was, we can only guess.
Since the Linear B tablets provided very little understanding about any deities during the Bronze Age, we have to rely mostly in artwork that has survived.
However, none of these figures that appear in the artwork provide us with any names, so we can only relied on the interpretations of experts. But with many artworks, it is hard to determine if each female figure was portraying a goddess, a priestess or a female ruler.
Judging by the number of icons that have survived, there is a strong belief that the female deities were more predominant than the male deities. It is generally believed now that the goddesses they worshipped were mostly the mother goddesses.
Some experts believed that the Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations worshipped not a number of goddesses, but one, powerful goddess, just like the Israelites worshipped the One God. The worship of the Mother Goddess has existed as far back as the Neolithic period.
In Crete, the Minoan civilisation had only worshipped goddesses, judging by the number of arts dedicated to them. Though, the Linear B, in the palace of Knossos showed the names of some gods, such as Zeus, Poseidon and Ares, the dating of these writing showed that they were written after the Mycenaeans have invaded and occupied Crete, around 1450 BC.
Until we one day deciphered the Linear A texts, which was clearly invented by the Cretans, we will never know if the Minoans had only worshipped goddesses or not, or if any of the male deities exist in the Minoan society.
With the arrival of the Dorians and other Hellenic-speaking tribes, they brought with them their own pantheon of deities, where the gods were dominant, with Zeus ruling supreme over all.
We can only speculate how many pre-Hellenic goddesses survived the transition from Bronze Age to the Iron Age. The new people have tried either to suppress the worship of the goddesses or to reduce their roles.
|The Mistress (Potnia)|
PO-TI-NI-JA or Potnia seemed more a title than a name. Potnia means either "Mistress" or "Lady". Potnia was a mother goddess or goddess of nature.
There are many epithets to the name of Potnia, which indicated that either there is one goddess with many epithets or there are a number of different goddesses. Since there are no reliable sources during the Bronze Age, much of what we know about the various Potnias are mere speculations.
In the Linear B inscriptions found in Knossos and Pylos, we have found that the name Potnia appeared several times, but with different attributes or epithets.
On the Linear B tablets in Knossos, Crete, there are the following Mistresses:
Below, are the following Potnias, found in the Linear B tablets in Pylos:
(A full list of Minoan and Mycenaean names from the Linear B tablets can be found in The Greek World, Linear B (Facts and Figures).)
Two pa-ki-ja-ni-ja (Sphagianeia) and ne-wo-pe-o are not epithets; these are names of place.
As you would notice from two lists of names above, there is no mention of Potnia theron, "Mistress of Animals". This is because Potnia theron is a modern name to describe Aegean goddesses with animals, which frequently appeared in Minoan and Mycenaean arts.
There is one goddess, whose name appeared in the tablets in Pylos, which doesn't have the name Potnia – Mater theia (MA-TE-RE TE-I-JA). MA-TE-RE TE-I-JA or Mater theia literally means "divine mother" – a mother goddess.
|Mistress of Animals (Potnia theron)|
Potnia theron (Ἡ Πότνια Θηρῶν) or "Mistress of Animals" is the figure found more commonly in Minoan and Mycnenaean arts than any other Potnias. She was also known as "Lady of Wild Things", "Mistress of Wild Beasts", and several other similar titles.
It should be noted that this name, Potnia theron, have never been found in the Linear B tablets. The name is actually a modern invention to denote Bronze Age Aegean goddesses that frequently appeared with animals in icons. So it would be a mistake for anyone to say that any goddess have this name.
Potnia theron was a goddess of nature, particularly over the wild and domesticated animals. She control nature and animals, either by her presence or by subdue by force.
Influences of the Near East
The Mistress of Animals was not confined to Minoan Crete or mainland Greece. Similar figures can be found in arts in the Near East, such as from ancient Syria and in Babylonia. The Bronze Age Near Eastern religions, as well as their iconoclastically artwork had probably influenced the Minoan civilisation, since Crete have prosperous trade links with the East.
In the Eastern arts, the Mistress of Animals is often seen naked flanked on both sides by animals. Sometimes she forcibly holds them in both hands, by their ears, throats or by their hind legs. At other times, she was seen standing on the back of an animal. This showed the goddess have power over nature and the power to subdue wild animals.
These influences can be seen on the Francois vase of the 4th century BC, where it depicted the goddess Artemis holding a lion and stag by their throats. However, Artemis appeared dressed in a long gown, unlike her Eastern counterpart. See the Olympians, Artemis, for the image of her as the Mistress of Animals.
Artemis was the usual goddess whom people associate with the Mistress of Animals. Artemis was the goddess of hunting and the chase. She was also seen as the woodland goddess and the protectress of wild animals.
Potnia theron may well be the Cretan huntress goddess Britomartis or Dictynna. Britomartis was clearly identified with the later virgin goddess Artemis. Artemis inherited some of the attributes of the Mistress of Animals.
Differences Between the Mistress of Animals and Artemis
Artemis is the closest Greek goddess to the Minoan Mistress of Animals (Potnia theron), because of Artemis involvement with wild animals. However, there are several notable differences between the two goddesses.
We usually see Artemis as a virgin and a huntress. In arts, she is usually seen holding a bow in her hand.
The Mistress of Animals, on the other hand, doesn't appear with a bow. She was goddess who controlled the natural world, such as wild animals or birds, not as a huntress of wild animals. Her power is expressed through holding the animals by their ears, throats or hind legs. Also, the motif of the Potnia theron is usually seen with wings; the Near Eastern icons of the Mistress of Animals don't have a pair of wings.
As the Greek huntress Artemis, the goddess was normally seen with other women or nymphs, but the Mistress of Animals was more often seen with a male figure, usually mortal ruler or warrior (as in the case with Near Eastern goddess). This was because the Mistress of Animals was usually seen as patron of young warriors. The Greek Artemis was sometimes seen with sometimes worshipped by warriors, such as in Sparta, where she was patron of the initiation of boys into young warriors.
A-TA-NA PO-TI-NI-JA or Atana Potnia was the name listed in the Linear B tablets found in Knossos, Crete. Her name doesn't appear anywhere in the tablets in Pylos. Atana Potnia was probably The Mother Goddess.
Atana Potnia was known as the Idaean Mother of Crete. She was the goddess of fertility of both plants and animals, and was perhaps a mountain mother, since her sanctuaries were sometimes found on the mountaintop. Atana Potnia may be related to other Potnia with different epithets.
Another name found on the Linear B tablets in Pylos, MA-TE-RE TE-I-JA or Mater theia, which literally means Mother Goddess, could well be Atana's actual name.
Later, Hellenic (Greek) goddesses, such as Rhea, Demeter and Artemis, and the Phrygian Cybele, inherited her attributes. However, it seemed that many people believed that Atana Potnia was equated with Athena, because of the resemblance of the name Athena with Atana. However, Athena was a virgin goddess.
In 1903, the archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, discovered figurines of women in what is possibly a temple within the palace of Knossos (Cnossus), in Crete. The figurines were not found whole, but they were carefully resembled and reconstructed. The figurines have been named the "Snake Goddess".
The Snake Goddesses were created during the Middle Minoan period, perhaps in 1700 BC. Crete and their palaces had reached the height of their artistic level.
There have been many speculations over the figurine of who this person was. Some have suggested that she was simply a snake charmer or snake handler, while others say she was a priestess. Most people believed her to be a goddess, and people these days, usually referred her as the Snake Goddess. There is no proof that the statuette depicts a goddess. With no literature to support that the statuette was indeed a goddess, we can only guess who she may be.
The two figurines were similar, but have different arm gestures.
One figurine shows a woman in unusual dress with overlapping flounces, but her breasts are bared. On her head, she wears a hat, with a sitting cat on top. She is also holding up two small snakes, one in each hand, which reminds us of the Bronze Age goddess known as the Mistress of Animals (Potnia theron), holding a wild animal in each hand, often lion, stag, and bird.
If we see her as a goddess, than two types of animals, gives clues as to her attributes. However, what we know is really only speculation.
The snakes she is holding up can have many different meanings. Because a snake can bring swift death with their poison, she can be seen as the goddess of death or of the dead.
Snakes, as well as the cat, can also symbolise the afterlife.
On the hand, snake can also symbolise life, because snakes are often associated with healing.
Adding the cat with the snakes, the figurine may depict goddess of sexuality or fertility. Her sexual attributes were emphasized with the exposure of her full, rounded breasts. This may indicated that she is a mother goddess.
There is another figurine of the Snake Goddess. This slightly taller figurine, wears a different type of dress, but like the first one I had mentioned before, her breasts is exposed. The 2nd figurine wears a very tall hat.
Whereas the first figurine shows the goddess holding up two small snakes in her hand, the second figure have a very long snake, with its head in her right hand. The snake entwined up her right arm, over her shoulder, down one side of her back, then across her buttocks; then up the other side of her back, over her left shoulder, and entwined her around her left arm, with its tail in her left hand.
The head of the second snake is found on top of her hat. Following its long body down the hat, in front of the woman's left ear, curving around the outside of her left breast, before continuing down until below her waist, across her belly, and back up the right side of woman's body. The snake's tail ends up looping around the woman's right ear.
The statuettes depict either that there is a single goddess in two different types of costumes or the Minoans worshipped two snake goddesses.
Did the Snake Goddess survive after the Dorian Invasion?
People have wondered if one of the goddesses in Greek myths had inherited the role of Minoan snake goddess. Could she be Artemis, Athena, Rhea, Cybele, or even Demeter?
Some Cretan goddesses such as the childbirth goddess Eleuthia and the war goddess Enyo survived to the classical period. As far as I can tell, there is no similarity between the Snake Goddess and that of the goddesses that survived in the Greek mythology and literature that we have today.
In Archaic and Classical Greek arts, goddesses were rarely seen with serpents.
Britomartis was a Cretan goddess of nature and hunting. Her name Britomartis means "Sweet Maiden". Britomartis was the daughter of Zeus and Carme, daughter of Eubulus. She was born at Caeno on the island of Crete. She was one of the Cretan nymphs. Britomartis was also a huntress and a companion of Artemis. Like the archer-goddess, Britomartis wanted to remain a virgin.
But one day, Minos, king of Crete, saw and fell in love with her, but Britomartis didn't want to have anything to do with the king, particularly considering that he was her half-brother (Minos was the son of Zeus and Europa). So Minos pursued her. Britomartis was a swift runner, but Minos always managed to stay behind her.
Minos thought that he had her trap, because she was standing on the cliff, overlooking the sea. But Britomartis rather died than be in the embrace of a man she loathed, so she desperately leaped off the cliff. She was saved when the fishermen caught her in their nets. Because of her dedication and desire to protect her chastity, Artemis awarded her with immortality.
With her becoming a goddess, she was known by the name Dictynna, which means the "Lady of the Nets", because she was saved by the fisherman's nets. Though, according to Diodorus Sicilus, she had already received this name, because Britomartis had invented the nets for hunting, called dictya. It was this invention that she was named Dictynna.
While other people believed that she was named after Mount Dicte, a mountain where she frequently hunted games with Artemis. Dictynna was also possibly the Minoan Mountain Mother, where her sanctuaries were situated on mountaintop. Pausanias says that the mythical inventor Daedalus had created a wooden idol for her shrine at Olous, in Crete.
Britomartis was probably identical to or derived from the Bronze Age goddess Potnia theron, or the Mistress of Animals. It seemed likely that Dictynna was called in PI-PI-TU-NA, a name found in the Linear B tablets, found in Knossos. If this true then Dictynna is an ancient Minoan goddess. PI-PI-TU-NA, however, doesn't appear in the tablets located in Pylos.
Britomartis has many of the attributes of Artemis. Britomartis became the goddess of hunting and of the earth, nature and wild animals. Britomartis was a patron goddess of hunters, sailors and fishermen. She may have originally being a Cretan moon goddess, as well.
Though Artemis also used this name as well, as Artemis Diktynna in her sanctuaries at Chania bay and at Chersonesos; so some authors assumed that Dictynna was Artemis, not a separate goddess.
Britomartis was not only worshipped in Crete; she was celebrated as one of the local goddesses on the island of Aegina, as the goddess Aphaea. On the island of Cephallenia, she was known by yet another name, Laphria.
|Gaea and her Daughters|
In Greek mythology, Gaea and her daughters – Rhea, Themis and Dione – were the earliest earth and mother goddesses. They goddesses played decisive roles in Hesiod's Theogony, where they make or remove rulers.
Gaea (Γαἳα) was seen as the earth itself; there was no difference between the two. Her name was also spelt Ge and Gaia, but to the Roman she was known as Tellus or Terra. Gaea was not only the ultimate mother goddess; she was a creator goddess.
Gaea was born with Eros (Love) and Tartarus from Chaos (primeval abyss). They were the first physical matters to come into existence.
Through her womb, sprang many gigantic and powerful children. Either without a male partner or by Aether, Gaea became the mother of Uranus (Heaven), Pontus (Sea) and Ourea (Mountains).
Through Uranus marriage to his own mother, he became the supreme ruler of the universe. Gaea and her husband/son represent the separation of heaven and earth.
Gaea bore most of children to Uranus. There were Hundred-Handed (Hecatoncheires), the Cyclops, the Titans and the Gigantes or Giants. By her brother Tartarus, she bore the most powerful of her monstrous offspring, the Typhon.
Uranus fell because he angered his mother, when he confined and hid their children, the Hundred-Handed and the Cyclops under the depth of the Earth (Gaea). This caused her great pain. Gaea sought help from her son, Cronus, the youngest and bravest of the Titans. It was she who gave her son the sickle to emasculate her son/husband.
Cronus gained power and rulership over the universe, but he also enraged his mother, when he refused to release his confined brethren. Gaea was gifted with divination, and she was said to be the first hold the oracle of Delphi. So she foretold to her son Cronus that he will fall because of his son. Fearing that he would lose his power to his children, Cronus swallowed each child that his wife/sister Rhea bore to him. Gaea and Rhea helped Cronus' youngest son, Zeus, to overthrow Cronus and most of the other Titans.
Although, Zeus released the Hundred-Handed and the Cyclops, most of the male Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus. So Gaea turned against her grandson, encouraging her other children, the Gigantes and the Typhon to fight against the Olympians. Yet, it was Gaea who foretold how the Gigantes could be defeat with the help of the mortal hero, Heracles.
One of Gaea's interesting roles is her divination. She was said to have being the first to hold the oracle at Delphi. She passed this responsibility to another daughter of hers, Themis. Themis was also said to be earth goddess as well as the goddess of order and justice.
Gaea was a primeval goddess of the earth, who could unleash power upon anyone foolish enough to anger her. She had the power to make or break a ruler. She was partly responsible for deposing her two sons (Uranus and Cronus), and almost succeeded against her grandson (Zeus).
Gaea also bore some children to her other son, Pontus, the personification of the sea. Gaea was the mother of Nereus, Phorcys, Eurybia, Thaumas and the sea monster Ceto.
She also bore the giant Antaeus to Poseidon. Antaeus usually challenged, wrestled and killed travellers. Most of Antaeus' power comes from his contact with the earth. Antaeus was virtually invincible until Heracles killed him.
By Hephaestus, Gaea was the mother of Erichthonius, when the semen of the smith god landed on the ground.
Rhea (Ῥεία), or Ops or Magna Mater, was a mother goddess. She was sometimes identified with the Phrgyian mother goddess, Cybele.
Rhea was one of the Titans, the children of Gaea and Uranus. She was the sister of Cronus and when he became the supreme ruler of heaven and earth, he married her, to be his consort. However the marriage was not a happy one.
When Gaea foretold that Cronus would be overthrown by one of his children, Cronus cannibalizingly swallowed each child that Rhea bore to her brother. Five successive infants were swallowed.
Fearing to lose all her children, Rhea hid her last child, a son named Zeus, in the cave of the mountain of Crete. She tricked her husband/brother by giving a stone wrapped in swaddling cloth, tricking him into swallowing the stone. With the help of his mother and grandmother, Zeus had Cronus spewed out his brothers and sisters. Eventually Zeus and his brothers defeated Cronus and most of the male Titans, confining them in Tartarus.
Rhea was responsible for the reconciliation between her children, Zeus and Demeter, giving assurance that Persephone would spend two-third of a year with her mother Demeter, and only one third with her husband Hades in Erebus (Underworld). See Demeter and Persephone about the myth of Demeter.
Themis (Θέμις) was also a Titaness and the daughter of Gaea. Themis was originally an earth goddess, before she became the goddess of order and justice.
As an earth goddess, she was sometimes indistinguishable from her mother (Gaea). Like her mother, Themis also possessed the ability in divination, and held the oracle of Delphi, which her mother gave to her.
It was Themis who told Deucalion, son of Prometheus, how he made repopulate the Earth, after the Deluge. She instructed Deucalion and Pyrrha to pick up the rocks from ground and throwing the stones backward, over their shoulders. Where the rocks landed, people would spring out of the ground.
It was Themis who foretold that any son that the sea goddess Thetis bore would become greater and stronger than the father. Thetis had only told this prophecy to Prometheus. Prometheus refused to disclose this Zeus, which was a great bargaining chip. Prometheus was punished for revealing how to make fire to mankind. Prometheus had only told this prophecy to Zeus, after Heracles released him from being chained to the highest peak of the Caucasian Mountains. Zeus fearing that he would be deposed by his own son, hastily married Thetis to a mortal hero, Peleus. Thetis became the mother of Achilles.
Clearly, Themis' prophecy was involved with Prometheus, which benefited Prometheus either directly or indirectly, thereby helping mankind.
As the goddess of order, she was also represented the divine justice. She had not only represented justice on heaven and earth. Justice was met out in the Underworld. In Hades' domain, three men served Themis, as her attendants and judges in the Underworld: Aeacus son of Zeus and Aegina, Minos and Rhadamanthys sons of Zeus and Europa. They were responsible for judging each mortal who had died, whether they are to be rewarded or punished in their afterlife.
Homer doesn't mention Dione's own parents, but Hesiod had called her the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. However, other authors, including Apollodorus and Hyginus, say that Dione was a Titaness, thus she was a daughter of Uranus and Gaea.
Dione's attribute is rather obscure, but she was probably a mother goddess. Some believed that Dione was a moon or water goddess.
Usually, Hera was seen as Zeus' wife and consort, but according to the Linear B tablets, Dione's name is a feminine counterpart of Zeus. This suggests that Dione was originally Zeus' consort, before Hera replaced Dione, when the Hellenic Greeks began suppressing the mother goddess.
|Demeter and Persephone|
The myth explained how the origin of the changes in seasons and the introduction of a new agriculture religion.
My main source for Demeter and Persephone come from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, however, I have supplemented some part from Ovid's Metamorphoses.
Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Persephone was the goddess of spring and flower.
Persephone was playing with her own companions, the daughters of Oceanus, known as the Oceanids. They were playing and picking flowers.
Hades, the brother of Zeus and Demeter, the god of the dead and the Lord of the Underworld, rarely left his dark domain. But that day, Hades saw Persephone he fell in love with the beautiful maiden. It was her great beauty that had moved the cold, emotionless god to love. Hades had Zeus' consent to take the girl, without Demeter's knowledge.
Hades made a beautiful flower grow suddenly. When amazed maiden saw the flower bloomed before her eyes, she reached out to take the flower. Suddenly the earth yawned open before her, and Hades in his chariot drawn by immortal horses sprang out of the gaping hole.
Hades took the reluctant maiden on his chariot, before driving back to his own domain. Of her companions, only one heard Persephone's cry for help. The only other people to hear her cry were Hecate and the sun god Helius.
According to the Metamorphoses, one water nymph saw Hades (Pluto) carrying off Persephone (Prosperina) in his chariot. Her name was Cyane, and she dwelled in the spring near Syracuse, in Sicily. Cyane bravely barred Hades' path, hoping to rescue the distressed goddess. Hades was angry with the nymph, opening a path to the Underworld, by dropping his sceptre into the bottom of the pool. Hades escaped from the determined nymph. Cyane was distraught that she couldn't save the goddess, began to weep in sorrow and despair. Her weeping and lamentation continued unabated. She filled the spring with her tears, until she wasted away; her body dissolving into water. When Demeter came by this spring, one day, still searching for his daughter, Cyane could have told the corn goddess where her daughter had vanished, but couldn't speak since she had no mouth or tongue, but only water.
Demeter was distraught over her daughter's disappearance. She began searching for her daughter, for nine days, without success. On the tenth day, Hecate taking pity on Demeter, told the distraught mother that she had heard Persephone's cry but hadn't seen what had occur. Hecate advised her that she should seek out Helius, who see everything during daytime.
Together, Demeter and Hecate visited the sun god. Taking pity on Demeter, Helius told her he had seen her brother take the reluctant Persephone to his domain. Demeter learned of Hades' intention to make her daughter as his wife and consort.
In Ovid's version, it was another water nymph, named Arethusa, who informed Demeter of her daughter's whereabouts.
This news so distressed and angered the corn goddess that she refused to return to Olympus and began her long wandering. Demeter wandered the earth, in human form, visiting towns and villages of men. She allowed age marred and deformed her beauty.
Sometimes during her wandering in Arcadia (Pausanias 8:25:1-), Poseidon lusted after his sister, where he saw her bathing on the river Ladon, which was the reason why she was known as the Washing Demeter. Poseidon pursued the distressed Demeter. Demeter tried to hide herself, by transforming into a mare. As a mare, Demeter mingled with a large herd of horses belonging to Oncius, hoping that her brother would not find her. Oncius was a son of Apollo, and founder of Oncion, and king of Thelpousa.
However, Poseidon not only found his sister, he had changed into a stallion. Poseidon mounted Demeter and impregnated her. Demeter gave birth to a girl named Desponia, the goddess of horses. However, Desponia's name was so holy that no one must speak of it to any uninitiated. Demeter was also said to have given birth to an immortal horse, called Arion (Pausanias 8:25:7-8); the same divine horse that Heracles would give to Adrastus, king of Argos. Adrastus had used this horse to flee, after his forces were defeated at Thebes, during the Seven Against Thebes. In another part of Book 8 (8:42:1), according to the Phigalian tradition in Arcadia, Pauanias called Demeter's daughter by the title - the Mistress.
Here, she was known as Demeter Erinyes or "Demeter the Fury". Demeter was now both angry after her rape and sorrowful over the loss of her daughter that she hid herself in a cave at Phigaleia, wearing only black dress, hence she became known as the "Black Demeter". Her solitude in the cave brought famine to Arcadia and elsewhere in Greece. Apparently she was so well-hidden in her cave that even the gods knew not where to find her, until the woodland god Pan spotted her near the cave. Zeus sent Fates to the angry goddess, until she relented to the urging of the Fates.
The Arcadians, particularly the Thelpousans, worshipped her at Oncion, where she was called Demeter the Fury and the Washing Demeter, and at Phigaleia, Phigalians called her the Black Demeter.
One day he reached the farm of Celeus, who was lord of Eleusis. Celeus' four daughters met Demeter. Demeter introduced herself as Doso and how she had escaped pirates, who would have sold her in slavery. She also told them how she sought work and would like to nurse a newborn child or do housekeeping chores. Moved by the old woman's story the daughters asked her to come to their home.
Their father (Celeus) and mother, Metaneira, welcomed the ancient woman to their home. At first, Demeter was silence, because of her grief over her lost daughter, but a woman named Iambe made her laugh with her ready quips and jests. Iambe sat in front of Demeter, exposing her vulva to the goddess.
Metaneira offered the old woman, her infant son (Demophon) to nurse. Demeter rewarded the mother, by giving Demophon a charm that would protect him from teething problem and witchcraft.
Demeter did more than nurse Demophon. During the day, Demeter would anoint him with ambrosia, and at night she would burn away his mortal part in a flame, that would make him immortal. But one night, Metaneira interrupted the rite. She had thought the old woman was trying to burn her son to death. Angry at the interruption, Demeter threw Metaneira's child on the ground and revealed her true identity. (According to Apollodorus, Demeter allowed Demophon to be consumed by the fire.)
Demeter told Metaneira that she would teach Celeus and the men of Eleusis the rites to honour her and her daughter Persephone, known as the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Metaneira was stunned by the revelation. The daughters took care of their brother as well as trying to appease the angry goddess. Celeus and the men of Eleusis immediately began to build a temple to honour the goddess.
Then Demeter was appeased. Demophon grew and became godlike.
Demeter was still overcome with grief over Persephone's abduction, had not return to Olympus. Her anger over her brothers, Hades and Zeus, caused global famine. No crops whatsoever would grow. The race of man was facing extinction from starvation.
It was only then that Zeus decided to intervene. Zeus sent Iris to fetch Demeter and bring the corn goddess to Olympus. Demeter was not moved. Then Zeus and the other gods pleaded with her to return to Olympus. No gifts or words would make her returned to Olympus. She threatened to let the whole world starve, unless her daughter was returned to her.
Seeing no alternatives, Zeus sent Hermes to the Underworld, to fetch Persephone and return her to her mother.
Hades had readily agreed to Zeus' command and told Persephone that she could return to her mother. Persephone was overjoyed that she will be reunited with her mother. However, Hades had secretly slipped some pomegranate seeds into mouth.
When Demeter was finally reunited with her daughter, she realised something was wrong. When Demeter questioned her, Persephone admitted that Hades had forced her to eat the pomegranate seeds. For to eat any food in the Underworld then that person must returned to the Underworld.
(There are variations of how Persephone ate the pomegranate seeds. According to Apollodorus, Persephone innocently ate the seeds given to her by Hades. Ascalapus witnessed this and told Demeter. Demeter punished Ascalapus by burying him under a heavy rock.
According to Ovid, Ascalapus had witnessed Persephone walking through a garden, when seven pomegranate seeds fell near her feet. Persephone placed seven seeds in her mouth. When Demeter heard this, she transformed Ascalapus into a large owl, harbinger of doom and woe.)
Zeus decreed that Persephone was to spend a third of a year with her new husband in the Underworld, while two-third of the year was to be spent with her mother either in Olympus or on earth. Zeus then sent his mother, Rhea, with this news.
Rhea told her daughter, Demeter, of Zeus' decree. Demeter agreed to the compromise, so Persephone part of time with her mother and the other with her husband. Her living in the Underworld coincided with the changing of seasons.
With this compromise and assurance from Zeus and her mother Rhea, Demeter restored the natural order of the world, allowing the crops to grow, ending the famine and starvation.
From Persephone's marriage to Hades, she bore a son, named Plutus, who became the god of wealth. The wealth doesn't necessarily means gold and precious stones, but the crops that grow from the soil.
Of all the myths in Greece and Rome, none of them portrayed immortal mother and daughter in such human fashion than in the myth about Demeter and Persephone. The goddesses, particularly Demeter, would react like any human mother would do if she loses her daughter. Demeter experienced loss, sorrow, despair, and even anger, just like any human woman would.
Their names, Demeter mean "mother", and Korē and "daughter" (or "girl" or "maiden"). Demeter was known as the corn mother, while her daughter was the corn spirit.
Much of the myths we know of, come from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which detailed the Persephone's abduction, Demeter's sorrow and wandering, and the compromise between Demeter and Hades before she was reunited with her daughter. The myth also explained the cycles of the seasons that are linked to agriculture.
There is probably a deeper meaning in the myth that also explained the recycle of life in general, where all things experienced life, death and rebirth.
In the beginning, Persephone was life itself, enjoying her days with companions. Here, she represented the spring, where not only flowers bloomed, but creatures usually mate in this season. When Hades abducted her and brought her to his domain, the World of the Dead, her absence upon the surface also signifies winter and death. Demeter allowed the crops to die and writhe. Persephone reunion with her mother signified spring and rebirth. However, the cycle the seasons and that cycle of life/death would now continue endlessly.
Ironically, the seeds usually represented birth and a new life, but Persephone must experience death, in each cycle where she has to return to her husband in the Underworld, because she had eaten some pomegranate seeds. The pomegranates seeds have ensured that she stay in the Underworld for at least one third of a year. There are several version of how she came upon eating the seeds. Some say that Hades forced them upon her, while others say that she ate it voluntarily or she was duped into eating the seeds. Whatever causes her to eat the seeds, she was only grain maiden only for part of the year, and the rest of the year, and she was Queen of the Underworld.
The separation from her mother, not only symbolised death, when she was living in the Underworld. It was also loss for Persephone, such as her innocence. Her marriage, though forced, Hades took away her virginity. Persephone, herself, becomes a mother. She was said to have bore a son, named Plutus, which means "wealth" from the earth. Though, most authors usually say that Plutus was the son of Demeter, by Iasion.
In Eleusis, Demeter had not only disclosed the secret of the corn and agriculture to Celeus, whose family gave hospitality to her, Demeter had tried to bestow immortality to an infant, Demophon, the son of Celeus and Metaneira. Like Thetis trying to immortalize her son Achilles, Demeter anointed Demophon's body in ambrosia and used the fire to burn away the mortal parts. The mother's interruption had cost Demophon immortality, and in some versions, his life. Only then did, Demeter revealed her true identity. (In the case with Achilles, his body became invulnerable (except for his heels), not immortal, because Thetis was similarly interrupted by her husband.)
Since we don't know the inner secrets of the Eleusinian Mysteries, we can only speculate that part of practice and knowledge is that there mankind can hope for afterlife or that immortality can be bestow upon them, from the myths.
The mystery religion in Eleusis was held in honour of Demeter and Persephone, or Kore, as she was often known. Basically, the ceremonies, rites and festivals held in Eleusis had to do with celebrating the changing seasons and agriculture. Special festivals were held for sowing and harvesting. In honour of the goddesses they would re-enact Demeter loss and reunion with her daughter.
|Artemis of Ephesus|
In Ephesus, Asia Minor, there was a great temple built to the goddess Artemis (Diana). This temple, known as Artemesium, was one of the Seven Great Wonders of the World. The temple was immense in size, and magnificently adorned with artwork and sculptures.
The temple was the largest of its kind, built by Croesus, king of Lydia, around the mid 6th century BC.
The temple was destroyed in 356 BC, by a madman named Herostratus, but it was rebuilt by Alexander the Great. The temple was destroyed again, this time by the Goths in AD 262. It was never rebuilt after the second destruction.
Among the Greeks, Artemis was usually seen as the virgin huntress goddess, but in the East, she was a mother goddess. This attribute was emphasized by the statue, which featured the goddess with many breasts, a clear symbol of motherhood.
The Greek Artemis is a goddess, full of contradictions and paradoxes. She was a virgin goddess, yet she was the goddess of childbirth and protectress of the young. There is no such contradiction with the Ephesian Artemis; she was clearly a mother goddess; and there was nothing virgin or chaste about her.
Among the Amazons, she received the highest honour; they worshipped her as the goddess of the Amazonian tribes, and the protectress of their young women. Her warlike attribute contradicted her attributes as the mother goddess and goddess of childbirth. The Asiatic Artemis was also the goddess of nature and wild animals, therefore resembling the Mistress of Animals (Potnia theron).
As daughter of the Titaness, Leto, Artemis was known by her epithet, Letona. Leto was most likely a mother goddess, through no authorities had clearly described her attributes.
Mother goddess. Cybele (Kybele) was a Phrygian mother goddess, who was worshipped in Greece and Rome. She had often being equated with the two other Greek mother goddesses – Rhea and Demeter (Ceres). Cybele was so revered that she was often called "The Mother of All" or "The Great Mother of the Gods".
Cybele was sometimes referred to as Dindymene or Dinymenian Mother because she was born on Mount Dindymus. Zeus had ejaculated on the ground somewhere around Mount Dindymus, where an offspring sprung out of the ground, with both male and female sex organs.
The gods fearing this creature upon reaching adulthood had the hermaphrodite being castrated, thereby causing the creature to become a female being. The creature became the mother goddess, named Cybele, though in Pessinus she was named Agdistis, after Mount Agdos. The gods threw away the severed phallus, and instantly an almond tree grew on that spot.
One day, Nana, the daughter of the river god Sangarius, was playing under the almond tree, when one of the almond seeds fell on her laps. The seed disappeared and Nana became pregnant. Nana gave birth to a son named Attis, whom she exposed in the wild. Attis was saved, because the infant suckled by a goat.
Attis grew to be a very handsome youth, whom Cybele fell in love with. However, Attis' father had the youth betrothed to the daughter of King of Pessinus. Jealousy had caused Cybele to drive the king and Attis mad where they castrated themselves and died. Cybele regretted her part in causing Attis' death, so she had the body preserved. Attis was buried in Pessinus where a pine tree grew.
In earlier legend, Attis was said to be gored and killed by a wild boar.
The worship of Cybele was brought to Rome, in 204 BC, when they a sacred black stone to Cybele was transported to Rome and placed in the Temple of Victory at the Palantine Hill.
To the Romans, Attis was worshipped as the god of vegetation and fertility and was seen as consort of Cybele. Her festival was celebrated on April 4.
Cybele was a wife and consort of Attis, another Phrygian god, who may have being her son. Attis was the god of vegetation and fertility. Attis castrated himself on a pine tree and offered his genital to Cybele.
Her attendants were the mythical youths, called Corybantes. Before her priests would serve in her temple, the galli would dance themselves into a frenzy before they castrate themselves in the memory of her consort Attis.
According to one legend, Cybele coupled with a mortal king, named Gordius, the Phrygian king of Gordium, and became the mother of Midas, the founder of Ancyra and the famous king with the golden touch.
According to Ovid, it was Cybele transformed the heroine Atalanta and her husband Hippomenes or Melanion into lions, because Aphrodite had caused the newly wedded couple to defile her temple. Cybele harnessed the lions to her golden chariot.
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First Created (Mother Goddesses): 22/06/2003.
Last Modified: 12/06/08.