I love Greek mythology and the power these stories have to illuminate human psychology. Their resonance and strength doesn't hinge on belief. We live the triumphs and tragedies and feel the forces they describe in our own lives. But I don't love all of the stories equally. I have my favorites. And I've always found Demeter dull. She is the goddess of grain and agriculture. Her Roman name is Ceres, as in "cereal."
So until recently, I spent little time with this goddess. That mother Demeter is the most visible figure in the myth of Persephone's abduction to the underworld bugged me. You have to get past her to catch a glimpse of the beautiful and fascinating Persephone. But you can't have a daughter without a mother. And the Eleusinian mysteries, the ritual integrally bound up with this story, unites them. They are two and they are One. They are both lost and transformed. They initiate each other into the mysteries of life and death. The metaphorical/psychological parallels between their experiences in the myth are at the heart of it. But while this union challenges and intrigues me, it doesn't bring me closer to the mother goddess.
My estrangement from this earth mother, a key player in the myth that many consider to be "the" myth for women, has bothered me. Would I understand Demeter better if I was a mother I wondered, if I had ever given birth? And how many of my feelings about her reflect the complications of my relationship with my own mom, which is not as close as I would like? I feel the ways that I am stuck in the role of daughter and continue to take that position in my relationships with other women. Something was missing.
Last year we nailed a little wooden box up under the eaves on the south side of our cabin to encourage house finches to nest there. It's just a few feet from our kitchen window and we've had a delightful couple there for several months. For days and days I watched the little mother bird diligently sitting on her nest. The weather this spring has been unusually cool and I often worried about the birds. Early one cold and very windy morning I stood, coffee cup in hand, watching the bird. She was alone in the whistling wind and I felt that I knew about that nest, the eggs, the sitting, the effort.
I admire this mother's perseverance and stamina, her devotion and tenderness. My interest in her enables me to see these qualities in myself as part of my mothering of the people, creatures, and places that I protect and nurture. I can also connect the process of incubating and birthing my many ideas and projects with an urge to create that comes from the Demeter mother in me. The Demeter mother energies are cyclical, connected with the darkness as well as the light. They are directed towards sustenance, relationships, and ties that bind. There is devotion, fierceness, and a certain amount of narcissism. Loss looms large. It's hard to know when to let go.
Seeing my life through the archetypal lens of Demeter, mother goddess of the grain, creates new opportunities in my relationships with all that I love and allows me to make new connections with the deeper mysteries. I never thought of myself as one-who-mothers in any way before. But the abundance of Demeter, giver of good and complicated gifts, isn't limited to literal mothers with flesh and blood daughters. A little birdie told me so.
(Now there are babies and it's a marvel to watch the parents feed and tend them).