HYMN TO DEMETER
I sing of rich-haired Demeter, lady of the glorious fruits,
Of her and her trim-ankled daughter Persephone
First of all to travel the roads of the Bardos to the land of death and back.
Persephone was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Oceanus
And gathering flowers over a soft meadow, roses and crocuses
And beautiful violets, irises also and hyacinths and the narcissus
Which Earth made to grow to please the Goddess.
The Narcissus was a marvelous, radiant flower.
It was a thing of awe whether for deathless goddesses or mortal women to see:
From its root grew a hundred blooms and it smelled most sweetly,
So that all wide heaven above and the whole earth and the sea’s salt swell laughed for joy.
And the girl was amazed and reached out with both hands to take the lovely toy.
But the wide-pathed earth yawned there and Kali, with her immortal horses
sprang out upon her, the Daughter of the Creatrix, She who has many names,
She is the destroyer of worlds, eater of universes.
Kali caught her up reluctant on her golden car and bare her away lamenting.
Then Persephone cried out shrilly with her voice, calling upon her mother,
Demeter, who is most high and excellent.
But no one, either of the deathless goddesses or of mortal women, heard her voice,
nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tender-hearted Hecate,
Bright-coiffed, the daughter of Gaia, heard the girl from her cave.
And so long as she, the goddess, yet beheld earth and starry heaven
And the strong-flowing sea where fishes shoal, and the rays of the sun,
And still hoped to see her dear mother and the tribes of the eternal gods,
So long hope calmed her great heart for all her trouble
And the heights of the mountains and the depths of the sea
Rang with her immortal voice: and her queenly mother heard her.
Bitter pain seized her heart, and she rent the covering upon her divine hair
With her dear hands: her dark cloak she cast down from both her shoulders and sped,
Like a wild-bird, over the firm land and yielding sea, seeking her child.
But no one could tell her the truth, neither goddess nor mortal woman;
And of the birds of omen none came with true news for her.
Then for nine days queenly Demeter wandered over the earth
With flaming torches in her hands, so grieved that she never tasted
Ambrosia and the sweet draught of nectar, nor sprinkled her body with water.
But when the tenth enlightening dawn had come,
Hecate, with a torch in her hands, met her, and spoke to her and told her news:
“Queenly Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of good gifts,
What goddess of heaven or what mortal woman has taken away Persephone
And pierced with sorrow your dear heart?
For I heard her voice, yet saw not with my eyes who it was.
But I tell you truly and shortly all I know.”
So, then, said Hecate. And Demeter answered her not,
But sped swiftly with her, holding flaming torches in her hands.
So they came to Amaterasu, who is watcher of both goddesses and women,
And stood in front of her horses: and the bright goddess enquired of her:
“Amaterasu, do you at least regard me, goddess as I am,
If ever by word or deed of mine I have cheered your heart and spirit.
Through the fruitless air I heard the anguished cry of my daughter whom I bare,
Sweet scion of my body and lovely in form,
As of one seized violently; though with my eyes I saw nothing.
But you–for with your beams you look down from the bright upper air
Over all the earth and sea–tell me truly
Of my dear child if you have seen her anywhere,
What goddess or mortal woman has violently seized her
Against her will and mine, and so made off.”
So said she. And the Sun Goddess answered her:
“Queen Demeter, lover of rich-haired Gaia,
I will tell you the truth; for I greatly reverence
And pity you in your grief for your trim-ankled daughter.
None other of the deathless goddesses is to blame,
Terrible Kali, destroyer of universes,
Alone seized her and took her loudly crying in her chariot
Down to her realm of mist and gloom.
So goddess, cease your loud lament
And keep not vain anger unrelentingly.
For Kali is unrelenting; her very touch
Would turn my world burning fires to ash.
But grief yet more terrible and savage came into the heart of Demeter,
And thereafter she was so angered with the dark-clouded Kali
That she avoided the gathering of the Goddesses,
And went to the towns and rich fields of women,
Disfiguring her form a long while.
And no deep-bosomed women knew her when they saw her,
Until she came to the fragrant town of Eleusis, in ocean-girded Crete.
Vexed in her dear heart, she sat near the wayside by the Maiden Well,
From which the women of the place were used to draw water,
In a shady place over which grew an olive shrub.
And she was shrouded in the form of an elder woman
Who is cut off from childbearing and the gifts of garland-loving Aphrodite,
There the daughters of Eleusis, saw her,
As they coming for easy-drawn water,
To carry it in pitchers of bronze to their dear mother’s house:
Four were they and like goddesses in the flower of their girlhood,
Callidice and Cleisidice and lovely Demo and Callithoe
Who was the eldest of them all.
They knew her not,–for the goddesses are not easily discerned by mortals
But startling near by her spoke winged words:
“Old mother, whence are you of folk born long ago?
Why are you gone away from the city and do not draw near the houses?
For there in the shady halls are women of just such age as you,
And others younger; and they would welcome you both by word and by deed.”
Thus they said. And she, Demeter, queen among goddesses answered them saying:
“Hail, dear children, whosoever you are of woman-kind.
I will tell you my story; for it is not unseemly that I should tell you truly what you ask.
Doso is my name, for my stately mother gave it me.
And now I am come from Crete over the sea’s wide back,
Not willingly; but pirates brought me thence by force of strength against my liking.
Afterwards they put in with their swift craft,
And these the women landed on the shore in full throng
And they began to make ready a meal by the stern-cables of the ship.
But my heart craved not pleasant food,
And I fled secretly across the dark country and escaped my captors,
That they should not take me across the sea against my will.
And so I wandered and am come here:
And I know not at all what land this is or what people are in it.
But may all those who dwell on high give you birth of children
When and where you desire,
So you take pity on me, maidens,
And show me this clearly that I may learn, dear children,
To the house of what woman I may go,
To work for them cheerfully at such tasks
As belong to a woman of my age.
Well could I nurse a new born child, holding her in my arms,
Or keep house, or teach, or any other profession requiring the wisdom of age.”
So said the goddess. And straightway the unwed maiden Callidice,
Goodliest in form of the daughters of Eleusis, answered her and said:
“Mother, what the Goddess send us, we mortals bear perforce,
Although we suffer; for they are much stronger than we.
If you will, stay here; and we will go to our mother’s house
And tell Metaneira, our deep-bosomed mother,
All this matter fully, that she may bid you rather
Come to our home than search after the houses of others.
She has an only daughter, late-born, who is being nursed in our well-built house,
A child of many hopes and welcome:
If you could bring her up until she reached the full measure of youth,
Any one of womankind who should see you would straightway envy you,
Such gifts would our mother give for her upbringing.”
So she spoke: and the goddess bowed her head in assent.
And they filled their shining vessels with water and carried them off rejoicing.
Quickly they came to their mother’s great house
And straightway told their mother according as they had heard and seen.
Then she bade them go with all speed and invite the stranger to come for a measureless hire.
As hinds or heifers in spring time, when sated with pasture,
Bound about a meadow, so they, holding up the folds of their lovely garments,
Darted down the hollow path, and their hair like a crocus flower streamed about their shoulders.
And they found the good goddess near the wayside where they had left her before,
And led her to the house of their dear mother.
And she walked behind, distressed in her dear heart,
With her head veiled and wearing a dark cloak which
Waved about the slender feet of the goddess.
Soon they came to the house and went through the portico
To where their queenly mother sat by a pillar of the close-fitted roof,
Holding her daughter, a tender scion, in her bosom.
And the girls ran to her.
But the goddess walked to the threshold:
And her head reached the roof and she filled the doorway with a heavenly radiance.
Then awe and reverence and pale fear took hold of Metaneira,
And she rose up from her couch before Demeter, and bade her be seated.
But Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of perfect gifts,
Would not sit upon the bright couch,
But stayed silent with lovely eyes cast down until careful Iambe
Placed a jointed seat for her and threw over it a silvery fleece.
Then she sat down and held her veil in her hands before her face.
A long time she sat upon the stool without speaking because of her sorrow,
And greeted no one by word or by sign, but rested, never smiling,
And tasting neither food nor drinks because she pined with longing
For her deep-bosomed daughter Persephone, until careful Iambe–
Who pleased her moods in aftertime also–
Moved the holy lady with many a quip and jest to smile and laugh and cheer her heart.
Then Metaneira filled a cup with sweet wine and offered it to her;
And Metaneira mixed the draught and gave it to the goddess as she bade.
So the great queen Demeter received it to observe the sacrament.
And of them all, well-girded Metaneira first began to speak:
“Hail, lady! For I think you are not meanly but nobly born;
Truly dignity and grace are conspicuous upon your eyes as
In the eyes of kings that deal justice.
Yet we mortals bear perforce what the fates send us,
Though we be grieved; for a yoke is set upon our necks.
But now, since you are come here, you shall have what I can bestow:
And nurse me this child whom the gods gave me in my old age and beyond my hope,
A daughter much hoped for. If you should bring her up until
She reach the full measure of youth,
Any one of woman-kind that sees you will straightway envy you,
So great reward would I give for her upbringing.”
Then rich-haired Demeter answered her:
“And to you, also, lady, all hail, and may the Goddess give you good!
Gladly will I take the girl to my breast, as you bid me, and will nurse her.
Never, I promise, through any heedlessness of his nurse shall evil hurt her
For I know an excellent safeguard against woeful demons.”
When she had so spoken, she took the child in her fragrant bosom
With her divine hands: and her mother was glad in her heart.
So the goddess nursed in the palace the daughter whom well-girded Metaneira bare.
And the child grew like some immortal being,
Not fed with food nor nourished at the breast:
For by day rich-crowned Demeter would anoint her with ambrosia
As if she were the offspring of a goddess and breathe sweetly upon her
As she held her in her bosom.
But at night she would hide her like a brand in the heart of the fire,
Unknown to her dear parents.
And it wrought great wonder in these that she grew beyond her age;
For she was like the goddess face to face.
And she would have made her deathless and unaging,
Had not well-girded Metaneira in her heedlessness
Kept watch by night from her sweet-smelling chamber and spied.
But she wailed and smote her two hips, because she feared for her daughter
And was greatly distraught in her heart; so she lamented and uttered winged words:
“My daughter, the strange woman buries you deep in fire
And works grief and bitter sorrow for me.”
Thus she spoke, mourning.
And the bright goddess, lovely-crowned Demeter, heard her, and was wroth with her.
So with her divine hands she snatched from the fire
The dear daughter whom Metaneira had born unhoped–
For she was terribly angry in her heart.
Forthwith she said to well-girded Metaneira:
“Witless are you mortals and dull to foresee your lot,
Whether of good or evil, that comes upon you.
For now in your heedlessness you have wrought folly past healing;
For–be witness the oath of the goddess, the relentless water of death–
I would have made your dear daughter deathless and unaging all her days
And would have bestowed on her ever-lasting honor,
But now she can in no way escape death and the fates.
Yet shall unfailing honor always rest upon her,
Because she lay upon my knees and slept in my arms.
But, as the years move round and when she is in his prime,
The daughters of the Eleusinians shall ever wage war
And dread strife with one another continually.
Lo! I am that Demeter who has share of honor
And is the greatest help and cause of joy to the undying goddesses and mortal women.
But now, let all the people build me a great temple and an altar below it
And beneath the city and its sheer wall upon a rising hillock.
And I myself will teach my rites,
That hereafter you may reverently perform them and so win the favor of my heart.”
When she had so said, the goddess changed her stature and her looks,
Thrusting old age away from her:
Beauty spread round about her
And a lovely fragrance was wafted from her sweet-smelling robes,
And from the divine body of the goddess a light shone afar,
While golden tresses spread down over her shoulders,
So that the strong house was filled with brightness as with lightning.
And so she went out from the palace.
And straightway Metaneira’s knees were loosed
And she remained speechless for a long while
And did not remember to pick up her late-born daughter.
But his sisters heard her pitiful wailing and sprang down from their well-spread beds:
One of them took up the child in her arms and laid her in her bosom,
While another revived the fire,
And a third rushed with soft feet to bring their mother from her fragrant chamber.
And they gathered about the struggling child and washed her,
Embracing her lovingly; but she was not comforted,
Because nurses and handmaids much less skillful were holding her now.
All night long they sought to appease the glorious goddess, quaking with fear.
But, as soon as dawn began to show, they started the labor that
Lovely-crowned goddess Demeter charged them.
So countless people to came an assembly
And they raised a goodly temple for rich-haired Demeter
And an altar upon the rising hillock.
As for the child, she grew like an immortal being.
Now when they had finished building and had drawn back from their toil,
They went every one to their house.
But golden-haired Demeter sat there apart from all the blessed gods and stayed,
Wasting with yearning for her deep-bosomed daughter.
Then she caused a most dreadful and cruel year for humanity
Over the all-nourishing earth:
She cloaked the Sun, Moon and Stars
With endless clouds of dark and roiling aspect
So little light was seen at noon
It was like the gloom of twilight
The ground would not make the seed sprout,
For rich-crowned Demeter kept it hid.
In the fields the oxen drew many a curved plough in vain,
And much white barley was cast upon the land without avail.
So she would have destroyed the whole earth with cruel famine
Had not Amaterasu perceived and marked this in her heart.
First she sent golden-winged Iris to call rich-haired Demeter, lovely in form.
So she commanded. And she obeyed the dark-clouded sky-mother,
And sped with swift feet across the space between.
She came to the stronghold of fragrant Eleusis,
And there finding dark-cloaked Demeter in her temple,
Spoke to her and uttered winged words:
“Demeter, Mother Amaterasu, whose wisdom is everlasting,
Calls you to come join the councils of the eternal goddesses:
Come therefore, and let not the message I bring from Amaterasu pass unobeyed.”
Thus said Iris imploring her.
But Demeter’s heart was not moved.
Then again the sky-mother sent forth all the blessed and eternal goddesses besides:
And they came, one after the other, and kept calling her
And offering many very beautiful gifts
And whatever rights she might be pleased to choose among the deathless goddesses.
Yet no one was able to persuade her mind and will, so wroth was she in her heart;
But she stubbornly rejected all their words:
For she vowed that she would never set foot in the Grove
Nor let fruit spring out of the ground,
Until she beheld with her eyes her own fair-faced daughter.
Now when all-seeing Amaterasu the sky-Goddess heard this,
She sent for Athena, wise and powerful
To win over Kali with soft words, that she might lead forth chaste Persephone
To the light from the misty gloom to join the gods,
And that Demeter, her mother might see her with her eyes and cease from her anger.
And Athena obeyed, and leaving the Grove of the Goddess,
Straightway sprang down with speed to the hidden places of the earth.
And she found the Ruler of the misty Bardos in her house seated upon a couch,
And her shy companion, Persephone, with her, much reluctant,
Because she yearned for her mother.
But she was afar off, brooding on her fell design because of the deeds of the blessed gods.
And wise Athena drew near and said:
“Dark-haired Kali, ruler over the departed,
Mother Amaterasu bids me bring noble Persephone
Forth from the Bardos unto the Grove,
That her mother may see her with her eyes
And cease from her dread anger with the immortals;
For now she plans an awful deed,
To destroy the weakly tribes of earth-born women
By keeping seed hidden beneath the earth,
And so she makes an end of the human race.
For she keeps fearful anger and does not consort with the goddesses,
But sits aloof in her fragrant temple, dwelling in the rocky hold of Eleusis.”
So she said. And skull-garlanded Kali, ruler over the dead,
Smiled grimly and obeyed the behest of Amaterasu.
For she straightway urged wise Persephone, saying:
“Go now, Persephone, to your dark-robed mother,
Go, and feel kindly in your heart towards me:
For I am not a jealous Goddess
Be not so exceedingly cast down;
For I shall be no unfitting companion for you among the deathless goddesses,
That am own sister to the sky-mother.
And while you are here, you shall rule all that lives and moves
And shall have the greatest rights among the deathless goddesses:
Those who defraud you and do not appease your power with offerings,
Reverently performing rites and paying fit gifts, shall be reborn into lower forms.”
When she said this, wise Persephone was filled with joy and hastily sprang up for gladness.
But Kali on her part secretly gave her a sweet pomegranate seed to eat,
Taking care for herself that she might not remain continually with grave, dark-robed Demeter.
Then Kali the destroyer openly got ready her deathless horses beneath the golden chariots.
And she mounted on the chariot and Athena took reins in her hands
And drove forth from the hall of the judgement, the horses speeding readily.
Swiftly they traversed their long course,
And neither the sea nor river-waters
Nor grassy glens nor mountain-peaks
Checked the career of the immortal horses,
But they clave the deep air above them as they went.
And Athena brought them to the place where rich-crowned Demeter
Was staying and checked them before her fragrant temple.
And when Demeter saw them, she rushed forth
As does a Maenad down some thick-wooded mountain,
While Persephone on the other side,
When she saw her mother’s sweet eyes,
Left the chariot and horses, and leaped down to run to her,
And falling upon her neck, embraced her.
But while Demeter was still holding her dear child in her arms,
Her heart suddenly misgave her for some snare,
So that she feared greatly and ceased embracing her daughter
And asked of her at once:
“My child, tell me, surely you have not tasted any food while you were below?
Speak out and hide nothing, but let us both know.
For if you have not, you shall come back from the misty halls of death
And live with me again, and be honored by all the deathless goddesses;
But if you have tasted food, you must go back again beneath seething foam,
There to dwell a third part of the seasons every year:
Yet for the two parts you shall be with me and the other deathless gods.
But when the earth shall bloom with the fragrant flowers of spring in every kind,
Then from the realm of darkness and gloom thou shalt come up
Once more to be a wonder for goddesses and mortal women.
And now tell me how Kali spirited you away
To the realm of darkness and gloom,
And by what trick did the strong destroyer of time and space beguile you?”
Then beautiful Persephone answered her thus:
“Mother, I will tell you all without error.
When luck-bringing Athena came, swift messenger from Amaterasu
And the other Daughters of Heaven,
Bidding me come back from the world between thew worlds
That you might see me with your eyes
And so cease from your anger and fearful wrath against the gods,
I sprang up at once for joy; but she secretly put in my mouth sweet food,
A pomegranate seed, and forced me to taste against my will.
Also I will tell how she carried me off beneath the depths of the earth,
And will relate the whole matter as you ask.
All we were playing in a lovely meadow,
Leucippe and Phaeno and Electra and Ianthe, Melita also
And Iache with Rhodea and Callirhoe and Melobosis
And Tyche and Ocyrhoe, fair as a flower, Chryseis, Ianeira,
Acaste and Admete and Rhodope and charming Calypso; and Urania
And Artemis delighting in arrows.
We were playing and gathering sweet flowers in our hands,
Soft crocuses mingled with irises and hyacinths,
And rose-blooms and lilies, marvelous to see,
And the narcissus which the wide earth caused to grow yellow as a crocus.
That I plucked in my joy; but the earth parted beneath,
And there the strong Goddess, Kali, destroyer of worlds,
Sprang forth and in her golden chariot she bore me away,
All unwilling, beneath the earth: then I cried with a shrill cry.
All this is true, sore though it grieves me to tell the tale.”
So did they then, with hearts at one, greatly cheer each the other’s soul
And spirit with many an embrace: their hearts had relief from their griefs
While each took and gave back joyousness.
Then bright-coiffed Hecate came near to them,
And she embraced the daughter of holy Demeter:
And from that time the lady Hecate was
Companion to Persephone.
And all-seeing Amaterasu sent a messenger to them,
Rich-haired Rhea, to bring dark-cloaked Demeter to the Grove of the Goddess:
And she promised to give her what rights she should choose among the deathless devas
And agreed that her daughter should go down for the third part of the circling year
To darkness and gloom, but for the two parts should live with her mother
And the other deathless goddesses.
Thus the Sky-Mother commanded.
And the goddess did not disobey the message of Amaterasu;
Swiftly she rushed down from the Grove of the Goddess
Came to the plain of Earth, rich, fertile corn-land once,
But then in nowise fruitful, for it lay idle and utterly leafless,
Because the white grain was hidden by design of trim-ankled Demeter.
But afterwards, as spring-time waxed,
It was soon to be waving with long ears of corn,
And its rich furrows to be loaded with grain upon the ground,
While others would already be bound in sheaves.
There first she landed from the fruitless upper air:
And glad were the goddesses to see each other and cheered in heart.
Then bright-coiffed Rhea said to Demeter:
“Come for far-seeing Amaterasu the Sky-Mother calls you to join us in the Grove of the Goddess,
And has promised to give you what rights you please
And has agreed that for a third part of the circling year
Your daughter shall go down to darkness and gloom,
But for the two parts shall be with you and the other deathless gods:
So has she declared it shall be and has bowed her head in token.
But come, my lover, obey, and be not too
Angry unrelentingly with the skull-wreathed Kali;
But rather increase forthwith for women the fruit that gives them life.”
So spoke Rhea.
And rich-crowned Demeter did not refuse but straightway made
Fruit to spring up from the rich lands,
So that the whole wide earth was laden with leaves and flowers.
Then she went, and she showed the conduct of her rites
And taught women all her mysteries,–
Awful mysteries which no one may in any way transgress or pry into or utter,
For deep awe of the goddess checks the voice.
Happy is she among women upon earth who has seen these mysteries;
but she who is uninitiated and who has no part in them,
Never has lot of like good things once she is dead,
Down in the darkness and gloom.
But when the bright goddess had taught them all,
She went to the Grove of the Goddess.
And there she dwelt beside Amaterasu who delights in fire,
Awe inspiring and reverend Goddess.
Right blessed is she among women on earth
Whom can freely love without jealousy.
Share your love as Demeter, Kali and Hecate
Share the love of Persephone.
For jealousy weighs down your heart
And your heart is weighed on Kali’s scales
If it exceeds the weight of a pomegranate seed
You will be sent to wander the misty Bardos
For endless cycles of rebirth
And if you have learned to share your love
You will be taken to the Grove of the Goddess,
And you shall be as a Goddess.
This is the sum of all mysteries.
From “The Book of the Goddess”
by Anna Livia Plurabelle