Mythology Monday: Demeter

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I kept trying to get over seventeen years of deception. But somehow knowing it was in my best interest wasn’t enough to forgive her for keeping my divinity…my life…everything about me a secret. She’d let me think I was human, but I wasn’t, and some part of me had always felt different from all the people around me, so I’d just grown up thinking I was a freak. That something was wrong with me. As much as I wanted to make things right between me and my mom again, I didn’t think that was something I could get over.

I took a final look at my mother’s silhouette in the doorway and tightened my grip on the steering wheel.
Hades followed my gaze. “She was trying to protect you.”
“I know. That’s the worst part. I’m just tired of her deception. I mean, keeping the fact that I was a goddess from me my whole life was one thing, but to still keep something from me? That’s just…” I couldn’t put words to the feelings that were bothering me.
“You wanted her to be as honest as you’ve always perceived her to be.”
“Yes.”
“It could be worse.”
“How?”
“My father ate me.”

~@~

The treatment of Demeter in retellings is always interesting to me. I’ve read versions where she’s an overprotective helicopter mom who loved her daughter more than words can express, and I’ve read versions where she was more possessive of Persephone than caring. Persephone was hers and no one else could have her. But she’s always, always, always, portrayed as an extreme, borderline irrational, over-protective parent, and that never made sense to me.

It is true that Demeter kept her daughter from the rest of the Pantheon, and she turned down several offers from gods to court Persephone. But the Pantheon was horrible. Almost every goddess in Greek mythology suffered rape or sexual assault, including Demeter, who was raped by Poseidon in horse form (don’t ask). The gods of the pantheon lied, cheated, and fought with no regard for the people caught in the middle. Demeter’s experience with the gods of Olympus was not a pleasant one. It makes complete sense she’d keep her daughter as far away from them as possible.

When Demeter’s daughter went missing, she scoured the earth in search for Persephone in the guise of an elderly woman named Doso. At one point in her search, she stayed with a lovely woman who had an infant son. As a thank you, Demeter planned to make the child immortal by anointing him in ambrosia and burning away his mortal self over an open fire. His mom walked in on her baby roasting over the flames and flipped out. Demeter backed off the immortality bit and instead taught the child ( Triptolemus) to farm then returned to her search.

See, At first she didn’t know that Persephone was in the Underworld or that Zeus had a role in putting her there. And for a while, no one told her. That seems cruel, and it is, but here’s the thing about Demeter.

She was terrifying.

Demeter once cursed a man with eternal life an eternal hunger because he trampled her fields and threatened one of the Melissae (Priestesses of Demeter). She was an incredibly powerful goddess that predated the Pantheon. The Greek’s and Roman’s worked her in where they could, which is why her role varies from telling to telling, but one thing came across loud and clear in every myth. If you mess with Demeter, there are serious consequences.

Eventually, Demeter did discover Persephone’s whereabouts, who told her varies depending on the myth, but the first thing the proud goddess did upon finding out was ascend to Olympus and ask Zeus to help her retrieve their daughter. When he refused, she begged, not realizing Zeus was half the equation that put her there.

That’s when she learned the terrible truth. Her daughter had been sold to the Lord of the Underworld by the very father Demeter had worked so hard to shelter her child from. Demeter was enraged so she hit Zeus where it hurt. His worshipers. Demeter showed Zeus exactly why it was a bad idea to mess with her. She needed to show him how much the pantheon depended on living in her good graces. So she went on strike. Crops stopped growing and people started starving. Tragic for the people, but Demeter was speaking the language the gods understood. Collateral damage. It worked. Zeus relented and sent Hermes to retrieve the Goddess of Spring.

Unfortunately, since Persephone had eaten the food of the Underworld, she couldn’t escape completely. She had to return every year for 3-6 months depending on the myth. During that time, Demeter mourns and crops stop growing.

In my version of Persephone, Demeter shelters her daughter by not telling her that she’s a goddess. She wasn’t planning on keeping it from her forever. Just long enough for her to have a normal childhood. Since in my version, the gods are mostly dead and the humans are unaware of their existence, Persephone needed to know how to blend. Demeter deceives Persephone in a lot of ways, violates her trust, and actually put her child in danger due to her ignorance, but she did it out of love. I tried to keep it balanced. I tried not to portray her as an extreme helicopter mom or an over possessive proud woman living vicariously through her daughter, but as a mom, struggling to make the very best choices for her child. Sometimes succeeding, and sometimes failing.

I try not to judge Demeter in either my version or the original myth. If my daughter went missing, I wouldn’t hesitate to scorch the earth if I thought that would bring her back. If telling my daughter the truth could possibly hurt her, I’d hesitate. What would you do in Demeter’s place?

I try not to judge Demeter in either my version or the original myth. If my daughter went missing, I wouldn’t hesitate to scorch the earth if I thought that would bring her back. If telling my daughter the truth could possibly hurt her, I’d hesitate. What would you do in Demeter’s place?

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5 thoughts on “Mythology Monday: Demeter

  1. Pingback: For Real Friday: Demeter the Helicopter Parent | Kaitlin Bevis

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  3. Pingback: Mythology Monday: Cronus | Kaitlin Bevis

  4. Pingback: Mythology Monday: Chthonic Deities | Kaitlin Bevis

  5. Pingback: Mythology Monday: Epic Moms | Kaitlin Bevis

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