Demeter: Motherly Archetype,Goddess of Grain and Nurturer
Mother and Infant
Demeter, The Goddess of Motherhood
Demeter is the Greek Goddess of Mythology which best expresses the need that people have to nurture or take care of others, and is the Goddess of Motherhood, the most nurturing role of all. She is best known from a story told by Homer, about Demeter and the abduction of her daughter Persephone. Young Persephone was playing in a meadow, and saw a lovely narcissus flower she reached out to pick. Suddenly the Earth split, and Hades, God of the Underworld, emerged in a chariot pulled by black horses, grabbed her, and took her back through the abyss. Persephone cried for help, and Demeter rushed to the spot, but it was too late to save her daughter.
Although Demeter frantically searched the world for nine days and nights, without stopping to eat or sleep, she was unable to find Persephone. Demeter met up with Hecate, the Goddess of the Crossroads, who suggested they ask the Sun for help in finding Persephone. Together they found that Hades had kidnapped Persephone to be his unwilling bride, with Zeus’s approval. Demeter was infuriated that Zeus saw nothing wrong with the abduction and rape of her daughter, so she withdrew from Mt. Olympus.
Kidnapping and Rape of Persephone
One day as she rested by a well at Eleusis, the beautiful daughters of Celeus conversed with Demeter and offered her a job as a nursemaid to their baby brother, Demophoon. Demeter fed Demophoon ambrosia, and under her expert care, he almost grew up to be a God. She tried to hold him up into the fire so he would become immortal, but his real Mother Metanira rushed to the scene in time to stop this act. Demeter screamed at Metanira for her stupidity, why would she not want her son to become a God? In her fury, Demeter changed and it became obvious that she was a beautiful Goddess; her gorgeous golden hair fell below her shoulders, and her presence brightened the house with light. She commanded that a temple be built for her, then sat alone with her grief at losing Persephone, refusing to function at all.
Since Demeter was the Goddess of nurturing and grain, nothing could grow, and nobody could be born while she was in this state of sorrow. Zeus finally took notice, sending Gods with all sorts of gifts to tempt Demeter to come back, but she insisted that only the return of her daughter would show results. Zeus sent Hermes as the mediator to Hades so Persephone could be brought home to Demeter. She was overjoyed at the thought of seeing her Mother again.
Before she left with Hermes, Hades offered Persephone some pomegranate seeds to eat. Then Hermes swiftly took Persephone back to Demeter in Hades' chariot. The reunion of Mother and Daughter was very joyous, until Demeter asked Persephone if she ate anything in the Underworld. Since she ate the seeds, this meant that Persephone would only be able to spend two thirds of the year with Demeter, and the remainder of the year in the Underworld with Hades. Demeter restored fertility and growth to the Earth, and provided the Eleusinian Mysteries to everyone, amazing religious ceremonies that were normally only revealed to initiates. Once the people learned the Mysteries, they became joyous once more, and found reason to live in happiness without fearing death.
Demeter Restores Growth in Spring
Demeter Women are the Most Nurturing
Cooking for and feeding other people is something else which is very satisfying to nurturers. Demeter, as Goddess of Grain, provided humanity with the skills to cultivate crops and was responsible for nature’s bounty. Demeter women are friends you know who move to the country, grow and can their own food, bake bread, and share it all with their neighbors. A Demeter parent will never give up if they think their child is being wronged in any way.
These are also the Mothers who group together to send “care” packages overseas to their adult children in the military, so they can have something that comforts them and reminds them of home. Demeter was the most generous Goddess, giving agriculture and harvests, helping to raise Demophoon, and providing the Eleusinian Mysteries. All Demeter women naturally provide support for others, normally in three levels, caring for physical needs, offering emotional support and understanding, and finally when children are grown, they look to their mothers for spiritual support and wisdom as they try to cope with life’s disappointments and try to seek meaning in them.
Empty Nest Syndrome
Demeter type women suffer “empty nest syndrome” more acutely than other women when their children go out on their own. A Dr. Pauline Bart, professor of Sociology at the University of IL, wrote an article after interviewing 500 Mothers who were hospitalized for the first time between the ages of forty to fifty-nine. Her findings were that extra-nurturing, overly involved mothers who lost their maternal role were the most depressed. A woman in this age bracket who becomes angry, depressed or disappointed when her children are more distant becomes a grieving Demeter.
She is possessed by her loss and must be careful not to stop her other interests, if she has any. A woman should enjoy her children, but not live through them vicariously. It is somewhat normal to need a period to get used to any change within a family. Plus in prior generations, women stayed home all day to tend to children and household chores, but did not as a rule hold a job outside of the home. So it was different for these women, who gave all their attention to family, and had no other outlets or interests, like women in this and some of the women in other generations.
Often Suffer Postpartum Depression
Mothers can be destructive when they stop functioning, just as Demeter threatened famine and no new births when she was grieving. A mother with postpartum depression can seriously endanger a young infant if she does not feed the baby regularly and give the child attention, and the baby will be diagnosed with a “failure to thrive.” This happens if a mother withholds emotional and physical contact from a newborn infant. Mothers who do not speak or interact enough with younger children can inflict psychological damage, and their children will lag behind other children in their vocabulary and social skills. Another damaging behavior of a Demeter mother can be when she withholds approval from her older teen children as they begin to need to be more independent from their mothers. The depressed Demeter experiences her child’s growing autonomy as an emotional loss for herself, which can cause a young person to have both anger and self-esteem issues.
Mom Nurturing Child
The Nurturing Side Begins to Call
It is obvious when a woman is beginning to cultivate her Demeter skills. A woman who normally never pays any attention to children is suddenly interested in them. She asks questions about pregnancy, about which times certain children achieve what kinds of activities, and wants to know how having a child changed other relationships with their spouses. She is imagining what her life will be like if she has a child of her own. A Demeter woman is maternal and supportive in all her relationships. She is a sensible and dependable person, altruistic, a loyal friend, very outer directed and warm.
A child Demeter is the little toddler you see pushing her toy baby stroller and holding her doll “baby” as she sees real mothers do. Teen age girls with Demeter tendencies know they want to have a child someday, but will work for awhile and maybe attend college. They will not be really serious about education, unless it is in a helping profession, and mainly see school as a place to find a husband or boyfriend. She would be a great psychotherapist, physical therapist, pediatrician, elementary school teacher or nurse, as would a nurturing man with some Demeter tendencies as part of his makeup.
She may also “mother” or spearhead a group or organization dealing with an issue dear to her heart, and express her maternal instinct in this way. Demeter women are not competitive with other women, and normally work well together towards common goals. You may see a Demeter/Persephone kind of friendship, where one woman is more of a mentor or mother figure to the friend. Or they can take turns mothering each other. Many of these women have friends from their grade school days.
Attracts Men Who Need a Mother Image
A Demeter woman attracts men who need a mother figure, or want someone to take care of them. She often falls for artistic and immature men who feel unappreciated or misunderstood, so takes them on as a “project.” Her maternal qualities may make it hard to say “no” to him when he pushes too much responsibility for the serious aspects of the relationship onto her, and she realizes he is self-absorbed and juvenile.
She also has to watch out for the guy who expects her to be his mother, to buy all his clothes, pay all the bills, and to keep the household and their social life running smoothly without any help or input from him. He wants her to be warm and responsive, but does not expect to have to do anything in return for all her hard work. The best match for a Demeter woman is a family man who is mature and motivated to want a strong family life. He helps her fulfill her dreams of bearing and nurturing children, she helps fulfill his by enjoying the roles she plays by taking care of him, the home and children. If this woman has more Hera in her than Demeter, she will always put her husband first, and may not give her children the attention they rightfully deserve, causing resentments later in life.
Will Choose a Nurturing Career
Unlike Hera, Demeter does not care if she is married, if she is getting older and still not found a mate, she may adopt a child on her own. She must be careful that she does learn to let them go when they are old enough, and does not interfere in their lives. She will be hurt if she is not needed, but most people grow up, leave home, and still manage to have good relationships with their mothers.
In her midlife years, it is possible she may find other creative outlets for her maternal instincts, and being a mother gives a person great managerial skills. This can be a very rewarding time for her, as she is still down to earth and generous with others, and now she has the time to devote more to her favorite pastimes. If she neglected her friends and did not keep up some interests in the years while she was raising a family, she may be the kind of bitter old woman that is sad to see.
Time for Relaxing
Demeter Must Pamper Herself Too!
A Demeter woman needs to learn to be her own good mother! She must consider if she really wants to do what others ask of her, and learn to say “no” if that is the case. Even when the children are young, she must make time away from her husband and children to paint, sing, meditate, or engage in any activity just for her. I am sure we all know women who will say, “Oh, I’m so busy, I wish I could find time to exercise (or whatever), like you do.” They manage to say it in a tone that makes it seem they want to insult you for “neglecting” your family. But it is they who need to get on with making a life of their own, if they never did all during their married years while the children were growing up. It is a sad thing to witness, but we all do.
But growth and recovery are always possible. She can find other people or organizations to “care” for and spend time building them up, while doing the same for herself. Or suddenly she notices new things she wants to try to do and has new goals to accomplish, as childcare duties start to diminish. This is a woman who has great wisdom and spiritual understanding. Through her experience she learned that she could live through hard times. Demeter’s love is unconditional, and she will be proud and supportive of her children no matter what choices they make during the course of their lives. She will always be available to discuss their dreams, disappointments, and to help offer concrete solutions to whatever is bothering them. This is the best mother of all!
Bolen, Jean Shinoda 2001 Goddesses in Older Women Archetypes In Women Over Fifty Publisher Harper Collins New York Demeter, The Goddess of Grain The Mother Archetype pgs. 159-169
Monaghan, Patricia 1999 The Goddess Path Publisher LLewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN Myth and Meaning of Demeter pgs. 139-148
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Jean Bakula