Demeter, the goddess of domesticated nature and crops – especially of wheat, the most noble amongst grains – has little affinity with untamed nature and its wild, tumultuous expressions.
She bore Zeus a daughter named Cora, later also known as Persephone when she was united with Hades, the god of the underworld.
One day, when Cora was frolicking with her nymph friends, Gaia made a wonderful flower spring from the earth before her as a favour to Hades. When Cora leaned down to pick the flower, the earth parted before her. Hades surged forth from the gulf and dragged her away to his kingdom with the tacit complicity of his brother Zeus. The young woman only had time to utter a scream, heard only by Hecate and Helios.
Worried by her disappearance, her mother ran to find her, but Cora proved to be impossible to find. Demeter then wandered the world for nine days and nine nights in her search, but in vain. On the tenth day she was led by Hecate to the sun Helios, ‘he who sees all things’, and who revealed the identity of the culprit. In despair and knowing that she had no hope of persuading her brother Hades, Demeter decided to quit Olympus. As soon as she did so, the earth was deprived of her influence and became sterile.
Then, lamenting the destiny of her vanished daughter, she took on the appearance of an elderly woman and went to Eleusis. There she was welcomed by the four daughters of king Keleos and was led to his palace before their mother, queen Metaneira. The latter had just given birth to a son, Demophon, who had been long wished for after the birth of her daughters. Intuiting uncommon gifts in the elderly woman, the queen employed her as the child’s nurse.
Wishing to render the child immortal, the goddess rubbed him with ambrosia during the day and plunged him in a purifying fire at night to burn all that was mortal within him.
Although the child was growing beautifully, curiosity led his mother to spy on the elderly woman (the goddess), and she beheld her magical operations. As the treatments alarmed the child’s mother, Demeter unwillingly returned him to her, uttering these awful words: ‘Witless are you mortals and dull to foresee your lot, whether of good or evil, that comes upon you.’ (Homeric Hymns- Hymn to Demeter). She predicted that the sons of Eleusis would undergo terrible battles.
Then, having regained her divine form, she revealed her identity to her divine hosts, ordered them to establish in her honour the mysteries of Eleusis and requested a temple to be built there for their celebration.
Almost a year had passed since Cora’s abduction, and the earth remained sterile, for deprived of the influence of Demeter nothing could grow or reach maturity. As all of Olympus worried for the survival of humankind, Zeus sent his messenger Iris followed by other gods in the role of his ambassadors to ask the goddess to return amongst them. Faced by her obstinate refusal to do so, Zeus ordered his brother Hades to allow Cora to return to her mother. The latter agreed, but wishing to tie the young woman to himself forever he made her swallow a pomegranate seed. In so doing, she broke the fast necessary for anybody wanting to return definitively to the kingdom of the living.
And thus Cora had to accept a compromise; she would remain for a third of the year in the underworld with her husband Hades, and would spend the rest of the year with her mother Demeter. The latter agreed to this arrangement, and on these terms agreed to take up her place in Olympus again.
Demeter and Cora/Persephone held central roles in the initiation rituals of Eleusis, the teachings of which accompany the seeker throughout his progression. Through the structuring character Δ, the name Demeter signifies ‘the mother of union’ (Δ +μητηρ).
Let us remember that following their victory over the Titans, the three brothers, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon, divided the world amongst themselves; Zeus ruled over the starry sky, Poseidon over the seas and Hades over the underworld. Mount Olympus and the surface of the earth remained their shared possessions.
Zeus ruled therefore over the supraconscious, Poseidon over the subconscious, essentially the vital, and Hades over what is of the underworld, the body and the unconscious.
A wider interpretation of the kingdom of Hades could include the domains of the deep subconscious, that of the deepest planes of the vital represented by the youngest children of Pontos. However, taking into account the fact that only the great heroes Heracles and Ulysses could access it, it has been in this work identified as corporeal consciousness associated with the inconscient, with which could correspond Nereus, “the old man of the sea”.
Linked to the yoga of the body, the legend of Persephone and Hades therefore only applies to a very advanced stage of the quest, the essential points of which develop with the abduction of Cora who was named Persephone after her union with Hades. Let us note that the character (Δ) associated with the iota (I) of consciousness is also the structuring character of the name Hades (αΙΔης), which represents the power directing the process of yoga of “re-union” in the corporeal unconscious and responding to the work of Demeter in the conscious plane.
According to a legend not unanimously agreed upon amongst the ancient Greeks, Demeter, distracted by the grief caused by the disappearance of her daughter, ate the shoulder of Pelops, which she then replaced with a shoulder of ivory, thus bringing him partly across the ‘door of the gods’ just before the wedding of the hero with Hippodamia (In fact, in the Tree of Sephiroth, the clavicle corresponds to the ‘veil of the abysses’ or the ‘doorway of the gods’). In this version, vital mastery must imperatively be achieved before the seeker can entertain any ambition for corporeal yoga, which is to say the direct action of divine forces through the ‘doorway of the gods’ rendered permeable by its purification, for the new clavicle is made of ivory, a symbol of purity.
In Greek the name Cora or Kora signifies ‘young woman’. The related verb Κορεω can induce the notion of the necessary purification for realising Union. Therefore, if Demeter represents the power which leads towards this union, her essential manner of operating, her daughter would represent ‘cleansing’ or ‘purification’. With the structuring characters Κ+Ρ her name signifies ‘opening of consciousness to the true movement’ or ‘a widening of consciousness in exactitude”.
But as she had eaten a pomegranate seed in the underworld, which is to say tasted the ‘essence of Love’ in her body, she could not return completely to the ordinary state of consciousness of those at the surface of the earth. In fact the Greek name for pomegranate is Σιδη, Σ+Δ signifying ‘the current which realises union’. The seed of the pomegranate is the core, the essence of the union of Love when begins the corporeal yoga in the body; the seeker who has experienced Divine Love within his cells can no longer turn back.
The deep red of the pomegranate is also that of blood, of incarnation and of life. The seed of the pomegranate is therefore the core of life, its primordial essence of Love. The term used to designate the seed is κοκκος, a symbol of a very strong opening of consciousness. The ancient Greeks considered the pomegranate to be the symbol of love and fertility, and it was dedicated to Aphrodite. According to the Mother, the pomegranate tree is the symbol of Divine Love spreading over the earth (Mother’s Agenda Volume 9, entry of November 2, 1968).
When the seeker embarks upon the yoga of the body he momentarily loses contact with ‘the true movement’ which he had carefully watched over until that point (the tie between Demeter and Cora is broken). His yoga therefore ‘wanders’ during a long period of gestation (symbolism of the nine days and nights) with nothing to guide him, not even the subconscious (neither day nor night), before he is informed by a supramental light that the yoga in the body can be carried out (Helios reveals the truth to Demeter).
The goddess Hecate is the ‘higher spirit in the distance, she who sees far’ and watches over the ‘crossing of roads’ to allow the right orientation to take place. She leads the seeker towards the one who ‘sees all’, Helios, bringer of the light of Truth of the supramental plane. The latter reveals to her the place in which the yogic process is to be henceforth carried out, the corporeal inconscient.
Cora then took on the name Persephone, ‘she who destroys death’.
But the seeker does not know how to engage with this, as he is still attached to the old paths of yoga (Demeter wants her daughter to be returned to her): the path of union within the body is not clearly marked, in contrast to the yogic processes in the mind and vital which have been marked out since the beginnings of time. This is why Demeter despairs.
As demonstrated by the episode in which Demophon intervenes, the work of union is not interrupted and continues with a powerful purification of all attachments, bodily habits, etc. (Demeter would plunge Demophon in a purifying fire during the night so as to burn within him all that was mortal in his body, and would rub him with ambrosia during the day). But all this occurs without the direct knowledge of the seeker, or at least under a form which he cannot identify or which he associates with old forms: Demeter turns herself into an elderly woman. The seeker is alarmed, and the work is interrupted.
This action is carried out in Eleusis, a high place of spiritual research and initiation where was held one of the famous of the mystery schools. The royal couple represents the highest gains of the seeker before the conscious and continuous process of work on the body is initiated through Cora/Persephone. The king is named Keleos, ‘rectitude’, and his spouse, queen Metaneira (μετα-νειρα), concentrates the work ‘around what is deepest’. Their four daughters represent fulfilled realisations: Callithoe, ‘a beautiful inner state’, Calidice, ‘a just manner of being’, Demo, ‘a just organisation’, and Cleisidice, ‘a just manner of acting recognised as such’.
These four sisters, who we can consider to represent the traditional methods of yoga, lead towards the threshold of the yoga of the body. But they do not suffice in bringing about a real transformation, for the queen has long awaited a son.
At this point the seeker can for some time only marvel at the growth of the ‘penetration of superior consciousness in certain parts of the body’. But very soon he is disquieted and worried and the process ceases or ends definitively, according to certain authors who have Demophon die in their accounts of the myth.
The relationship between the time spent in the kingdom of Hades and in the world of the living, a third and two thirds respectively, probably warns the seeker of the need for respecting a certain relation between the work in the body and the time in active consciousness, for each one is nourished by the other.
Demeter then established the mysteries of Eleusis, which bring forth an emergence and lead to ‘freedom’, not only in the liberated spirit of nature, but also in that of the liberated nature of the ancient laws.
The teachings to be imparted there were to begin with the initiatory teachings permitting, in an initial phase, a right movement of the opening of consciousness (Kora), and continuing till the most advanced phases of the path in the body.
Another legend attributes to Demeter and Poseidon the origin of the horse Areion, famous in the war of the Seven against Thebes. This battle, led by the children of Oedipus, demonstrate a progressive purification of the chakras or centres of energy in a quite advanced phase of yoga. To fulfill this level the seeker must possess a vital energy which is both strong and in his mastery. The story is as follows:
Courted by the god Poseidon, Demeter tried to flee from his attentions, and transforming herself into a mare hid in the midst of a herd of horses. Instantly Poseidon took on the appearance of a stallion and united with her. From their union were born Areion, ‘the best’, and a daughter named Despoina, ‘the mistress’.
Poseidon faces Demeter in the circle of complementary gods (On diagram 18, the author proposes a possible organisation of these complementary forces.) He rules over the subconscious, from which surges the essential elements of vital manifestations. He governs this plane through the expression of ‘the power of the luminous mind’, the bull, and the ‘force of vital mastery’, the horse.
From the union of these two complementary divinities is born a beautifully mastered vital force, the horse Areion, ‘the right movement of vital consciousness, Ρ+Ι ‘who becomes the divine horse of Adraste, ‘he who does not seek to flee but who is immobile and does not act’. Thus, the act originating from the immobile centre of the being will allow the other energy centers of the body to open, representing the seven doors of Thebes.
The other fruit of this union is Despoina, ‘the mistress’. While the horse Areion is the symbol of mastered vital energy, Despoina is that of the force which trains and directs, which is to say the knowledge of one’s means and the ability of using these for mastery, the secrets of which, being the foundations of all magic, are reserved for initiates.
Let us also mention some other mythological accounts involving Demeter.
Triptolemus, the king of Eleusis and according to certain sources the son of Metaneira, was given the task by Demeter of spreading the cultivation of wheat, the conscious quest of the perfecting of oneself also known as yoga. His name Triptolemus (τρι + πτολεμος) means ‘he who battles on two fronts simultaneously’. These battles can be convincingly associated with the three tracks identified by ancient Indian spirituality: the yoga of work, the yoga of devotion and the yoga of knowledge, which use as their instruments action, sentiment and mind respectively.
In Crete Demeter ceded to the passion awakened within her by Iasion (the work of mental consciousness), and united with him in a field laboured thrice. From this union was born Pluto, ‘wealth’. Hearing of this union, Zeus struck him with lightning, for unions between goddesses and mortals were generally disapproved of by the Olympian gods.
This episode takes place in Crete at the beginnings of the quest. Seriously engaged on his path as indicated by the field laboured thrice, the seeker receives in return the ‘graces’ of the goddess who ‘watches over the quest’. These confer a certain plenitude (Pluto, ‘he that fulfills lack’). But generally these favours are of brief duration, and to keep the seeker from considering himself too advanced on the path Zeus strikes Iasion with lightning.
Another legend is brought to light by Callimachus and Ovid.
Erysichthon, ‘he who carves furrows on the earth’, was in need of wood to build a palace, and in a thoughtless moment he was about to cut the sacred trees of a grove consecrated to the goddess Demeter. The latter, taking on the form of the priestess Nikippe (‘victory over the vital’), tried to dissuade him, but the hero threatened her with his axe. Furious beyond all bounds, Demeter then encouraged him to proceed with his work, affirming that he would soon be in need of a banquet hall. Henceforth he was afflicted by a ferocious and terrible appetite, and the more he ate, the hungrier and thinner he became. He devoured his stores and then his domestic animals, and was soon reduced to the state of a mendicant wandering the roads in search of food.
This myth chastises the ego’s tendency for utilising the sacred vital forces meant for union, and therefore consecrated to Demeter, for the ends of its own glorification at any stage of the path. According to different authors he is either a Pelasgian or Thessalian, a Lapithian or a Myrmidon: these are different stages on the path, from the preparatory period – Pelasgian – to an advanced stage – Myrmidon.
He is warned that these forces can only be used by those who have acquired vital mastery (Nikippe), and therefore hold less egoistic aims. Despite these inner orders, the seeker remains obstinate. Throughout the progression of the quest the goddess therefore allows him and even incites him to persevere in his error, dangling before him the promise of the future enjoyment of his work. But the just way of things does not allow him any escape and makes him loose his way, engaging him in an exacerbation of his desire to the point of depriving him of his capacity for assimilation and of all spiritual resources.
For the greater part of the path and in the majority of myths, Demeter is therefore considered to be the mother of Cora, not of Persephone. She consequently represents the force which works toward Union through the appropriate opening of consciousness (Kora). She encourages the refinement and mastery of the inferior mental or vital nature so that it may produce essential nourishments, bread having been considered to be an indispensable element for life.
She is the divinity working on the progression of yoga, understood as a conscious effort and undertaking for coming into contact with and fulfilling our essential nature: she is an incarnation of the law of self-perfection.
In the period at the beginning of the path, what is essential in this yogic work is carried out without the seeker’s awareness. If he wishes to cooperate with and accelerate his evolution he must develop with discernment an active submission to what life proposes. But fear and attachments (to material goods, family, etc.), the elements constituting the personality and the surface identity which he believes to be his own particularity (ideas, opinions, beliefs, societal roles, etc.) and his ‘vices’ and ‘virtues’ which are only moral values (the good which one want to do, what one believes to be one’s mission, etc.), often impede the seeker from carrying out a real work of acceptance.
A fair understanding and the realisation of this submission is the key of yoga, appropriately translated by the English term ‘surrender’ which does not carry any connotation of passivity. It implies an abdication before something which surpasses and elevates us rather than lowers us, akin to a true humility. It includes the idea of an active consecration, of a giving of oneself: such ’surrender’ can never be a refusal of action and implication in the world in accordance with what is asked of each individual. It must lead to what constitutes the only true freedom, that of becoming an instrument moved by the only ‘force of Truth’.
Through Demeter, the seeker must understand that there is no other path for him than his own even if he follows the teachings of a master. Everything rests on his aspiration and determination to engage with what life proposes, even error being an integral part of the path of progress.
Demeter’s symbolic objects are sheaves of wheat, the sickle, the poppy, the snake and the torch.
The sheaf of wheat and the sickle represents respectively inner work and its fruits and the capacities for ‘overthrow’ situations, habits, etc.
The snake is the symbol of the propagation of energies, and therefore of evolution, and the torch is the symbol of the light which allows one to advance through darkness.
Demeter within us
Within us, Demeter is the voluntary and conscious movement towards Union, an effort aimed at perfecting our nature so that we can obtain mastery over it and lead it to its highest level of perfection. Its fundamental mode of operation is a widening movement of consciousness in exactitude (Cora Κ+Ρ).