By Dr. Lindy McMullin
The pre-historic nomadic tribes who followed the herds in seasons, knew that the Earth ruled them. Their existence had rhythm, cycles and patterns related to human existence as well as birth, vitality, decay, death and rebirth as seen in nature. The Earth portrayed feminine characteristics, with the cave symbolizing the womb from which one emerged into the light. This birthed the Great Mother, an active, vibrant, protective and nurturing figure that represented a divine element with creative powers.
Images of the Mother Goddess began to emerge on the Aegean islands before the Bronze Age. At first she was made from stone and then clay; these statues held a mysterious power of life and embodied the understanding of sacredness.
During the time that Mother Goddess was revered, we can presume that the Golden Age as described by Hesiod, in the epic poem The Five Ages was, in a spiritual sense, experienced as union with spirit. Abundance was yielded by the Earth without limit until time (Kronos) emerged from Chaos, in turn birthing humankind. Separated from nature in the Silver Age, humankind disconnected from the divine wisdom of Earth, settling in different areas that could be used to provide shelter and food, that in turn yielded sanctuaries, where rituals were practiced to connect with the divine figures that began to emerge.
The Brazen Age brought violence and turbulence as mortals separated completely from the divine. The way back to the gods and goddesses came through the Heroic Age, which birthed noble and righteous warriors, who now fought for the right to live again as once the divine figures had, who were believed to be deathless. During the Iron Age, mortals lived in isolation striving to regain their lost innocence and to reunite with the generation of deities.
Hesiod’s attributes of the generations of deities from the god Chaos to the Earth Mother Gaea (Ge) as a primary source, is outlined in his Theogony. His cosmology reflects northern and eastern influences, with the sky gods (reflected in Zeus as Bright Consciousness) established as king of the gods and ruler of the spiritual realm. However, there are many layers of understanding hidden in the cosmology, where lightning is the generative, possessive force that unites heaven and earth. This has been seen by some scholars as a subversion of the religion of the goddess, with the arrival of the northerners The subdivision of the female aspects of the Earth Mother was by the Classical Period, reflected in the aspects of Demeter, Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite, Athens and Hestia, which Hesiod describes as representing the human condition. Their male counterparts Poseidon, Zeus, Apollo, Ares, Hermes and Hephaistos, qualified them, describing the dual nature in life.
Demeter’s name in antiquity was analyzed as de (a variant of ge or earth) and meter (mother or womb), so she was worshipped as the three aspects of the feminine, namely the maiden, mother and crone. All three aspects could be found in nature, portrayed by the growth of a plant. In the Orphic fragment 399, she was addressed as Earth mother of all, a role she shared with her own mother, Rhea. (Athanassakis & Wolkow, 2013).
It is apparent that the ancient Greeks who worshipped Demeter had moved beyond tribal shamanistic practice into sacred worship that ultimately brought union and a deeper understanding of the nature of the upper and lower worlds. Moreover, there was clear reference to how the hierarchy in the natural world emulated that of the universal world, and that the law of cause and effect was relevant in both worlds. Deities and mortals were exemplified in their creative and destructive modes and, as both were incorporated into a refined vision of self, the healing properties of the divine nature became more prominent.
Daughter of Rhea and Kronos and sister to Zeus, Demeter is the direct link to the Earth Mother of the prehistoric era; she gifts humankind with the art of cultivation which includes fertility and harvest but in her spiritual nature, she gifts humankind with a bridge, giving access to their divine natures through initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries.
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