Today’s theme is a favorite myth or myths about Demeter. As a mother of a young daughter the story of Demeter’s search for Persephone and the subsequent founding of the Eleusinian Mysteries is one that resonates very strongly with me. I am not going to focus on Persephone’s abduction by her husband because I believe that looking at that part through modern eyes has led to many people misinterpreting things that were more normal in the Hellenic culture of the time.
However, as a mother, I know how I would feel if my daughter suddenly was missing and nobody would come forward with information. I know that I would likely put almost everything aside to search for her, and when I found out that she had been kidnapped and was unlikely to be returned, I would do much like Demeter did and go into mourning.
It is interesting to me though, that during that period of mourning for her daughter, Demeter (posing as a mortal) would agree to not only foster a mortal prince, but take steps which if completed would have made him an immortal as well. It is only when the prince’s parents interfered that Demeter revealed that she was, in fact, a Goddess. To appease Demeter, the king and nobles of Eleusis built a temple to her and later instituted the Mysteries as Demeter directed.
It is also interesting that the sacred drink of the mysteries mirrors the drink that Demeter herself requested in one of the Homeric Hymns dedicated to her. She told the Eleusinians that it was not “lawful” for her to drink wine and instead asked for a drink made with grain and mint. From what we know of the sacred drink given to the Initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the drink was made in a similar way.
I also like that there is actually a festival in the Athenian festival calendar honoring the actions of Iambe, who told baudy jokes in an attempt to make Demeter smile — and finally succeeded.
This story is one that provides rich ground for study and contemplation.