Astrological Musings

This is part II of the Ceres Series, part I is here.

Ceres is the Roman name for Demeter, the Goddess of the Grain. Demeter means “the mother” (de meter) and Ceres is said to be from the root ker meaning “to grow.” Although some researchers believe Ceres and Demeter were two separate goddesses, most historians equate the two. (There is an asteroid called Demeter but she is not commonly used in the astrological pantheon.) Some sources report that Ceres was the fourth sister-wife of Jupiter, king of the gods, with whom she bore her daughter Kore (Persephone), precluding her from the unmarried state that would associate her with the sign of Virgo (more on that later).

The story of the abduction of Persephone forms the fundamental Ceres/Demeter archetype. Persephone was gathering flowers in a meadow when the earth split open and Hades/Pluto emerged in a gold chariot pulled by black horses, grabbed her, and stole her away to the Underworld. Demeter heard Persephone’s cries for help and went to find her, searching high and low, not stopping to eat or drink. One day she reached Eleusis and was found by the daughters of the King. She commanded that a temple be built for her there and there she sat, grieving for her lost daughter and refused to perform her functions of nurturing the land. As a result, the crops died and famine threatened the entire human race. Zeus took pity on her and induced Hades to free Persephone in order to ease Demeter’s grief and restore the land. But Hades, knowing that if Demeter ate while in the Underworld she would have to return to him, gave her some pomegranate seeds and as a result she was compelled to spend one-third of the year (winter) in the Underworld.

Like all divine personages of the Greek and Roman pantheon, Ceres has a dual nature. She is the “greatest cause of joy” in the giving of the grain, but can also cause deprivation, starvation and hunger. Her wrath was legendary: after the abduction of her daughter, she turned the attending handmaidens into the bird-shaped Sirens. She was the goddess of more than grain; she presided over fruits, seeds and most vegetables as well. Because agriculture formed the wealth of the society, she is also associated with abundance and the gifts of the gods. When a villager did not offer her hospitality during her visit to the town, she burned down his house with him in it. Those who did welcome her into their home received abundant gifts.

Demeter had eight children altogether, and her son Ploutos is associated with diligence and acquisition of property.

The Eleusinian Mysteries originated in the temple of Eleusis in which Ceres/Demeter spent her grieving period after her daughter’s abduction. The Mysteries took place during an annual festival that lasted for nine days, during which there was an international truce which allowed worshippers to travel from all corners of the Greek world. Little of the details of the rites of this festival are known because they were treated with absolute secrecy, but they were thought to give protection during life and afterwards as well. The rites included periods of fasting and a special drink which may have had hallucinogenic properties, as well the probably reenactment of the abduction and resurrection of Persephone from the Underworld. It is likely that the hieros gamos or Sacred Marriage was performed between the Priestess and the Hierophant in a fertility rite.

The primary archetype of Ceres is that of the mother. She is the provider not only of food, but also of spiritual sustenance and a faith that life will be reborn from the Underworld. Ceres represents not only the nurturing qualities of the mother, but also the ebb and flow of women’s reproductive cycles that are tied to the Moon. The offering of food to others is a hallmark of the Ceres archetype, as Ceres ruled over the bounty of the harvest. Ceres was the most generous of all the goddesses, providing care on all levels.

The dark side of the Ceres archetype includes depression and loss. The depression of Ceres/Demeter after the loss of her daughter was so great that she withdrew and would willingly have caused the death of all humanity through famine. She cannot bear to lose her adult child who leaves the home to begin her own life and marriage (in most versions of the story Persephone/Kore ultimately finds happiness with Hades/Pluto and settles into a life of comfortable domesticity as Queen of the Underworld). Ceres/Demeter became virtually possessed by her grief and legend in her destructiveness. That which nourishes becomes that which destroys.

Tomorrow: The Astrological Symbolism of Ceres.

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