The maiden aspect of this triumvirate, Persephone is known not surprisingly as a Goddess of Innocence. She was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus. She was also known as Goddess of Spring, as her return from the Underworld brought spring with it. Paradoxically she was also known as a harvest deity, which makes sense in light of being associated with the underworld she would stand at the end as well as the beginning, in this case the death and rebirth of flora and fauna. As the spring maiden, she was known as Kore and she was quite beautiful. So beautiful as to inspire rape apparently because, her most central story is when Hades, Lord of the Underworld, claimed her, without her or her mothers consent, and dragged her, kicking and screaming back into the Land of the Dead. The full story goes as such,
Demeter, the goddess of the crops and harvest, and Zeus, the king of the gods, had a daughter, Persephone. One day while Persephone was gathering wild flowers she was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld where the dead live. The ground where she was rent open and Hades in his chariot came out slung her over his shoulder, and dragged her down back into the depths of the earth.
Distraught when she cold not find her daughter, Demeter wandered over the face of the earth trying to find out what had happened to her. She came to Eleusis disguised as an old
woman, and was taken in by the king and queen to be the nurse for their son. Each night, while the palace slept, she placed the baby prince in the fire. One night the queen peeked and saw what the goddess was doing. Not unnaturally she snatched the baby out of the fire, and had hysterics. The goddess revealed who she really was and informed the queen that if she had not interfered, the baby would have been made immortal, all the mortal parts of him having been burned away.
Demeter met Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, who told her that she had heard Persephone calling out one day, and suggested she ask Helios, the Sun, if he had seen what had happened in his daily course across the sky. Helios told Demeter who had abducted her daughter, and Demeter went off to complain to Zeus, who was not only Persephone’s father but Demeter and Hades’ brother. Zeus refused to intervene, so Demeter withdrew from her role as goddess. Without her no crops could grow, and the resulting famine threatened the extinction of the human race.
Eventually Zeus said that Hades would have to let Persephone go. When Persephone was reunited with her mother, Demeter asked if she had eaten anything while she was in the underworld. Persephone admitted she had eaten a pomegranate seed, the fruit of the dead. Because of this, she now spends one-third of each year in the underworld as the wife of Hades, and two-thirds of the year with her mother. While Persephone is in the underworld, her mother mourns and refuses to allow crops to grow until she gets her daughter back again.
Another mention of Persephone, was in the story of Psyche and Cupid. Persephone was willing to help Psyche pass Aphrodite’s tests so that Psyche could be reunited with her beloved husband, Aphrodite‘s son Cupid. Psyche had been assigned to go to the underworld and return with some of Persephone’s famous youth serum/beauty ointment, which ended up being a sleeping potion.
Persephone also helped Heracles (Hercules), loaning him Cerberus, the ferocious three-headed dog that guarded the entrance of the underworld, so that he could complete the Twelve Labors he’d been assigned to make retribution for the death of his wife. The goddess Persephone was also at home in the underworld when Odysseus (Ulysses) arrived. She rewarded him with a legendary tour of the souls of women of great renown.
The mother aspect of this triplicity is Demeter. Obviously being the mother of Persephone, the story of the rape of Persephone is one of her central stories as well. She was the daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and the sister of Zeus. She was a goddess of agriculture and tablets from the 13th century BC title her as “grain mother”, “earth-mother” and “mother-earth”. Aside from Zeus as a consort, she also laid with Iasion on a thrice plowed field and to whom she bore Plutus (wealth). This is the ancient custom of ritual lovemaking to ensure the fertility of the fields that is a common neo-pagan ritual in modern times, usually celebrated on Beltaine (May 1st). The name of Demeter’s son by this union, Plutus can be interpreted as the wealth of an abundant harvest.
She was also primarily associated with corn. Aside from all the light aspects of this association there is also the fact that corn needs a lot of nitrogen to support it’s growth. The best natural source for nitrogen is blood, hence the tradition in some cultures of animal sacrifice, blood rites for corn. This is an obvious connection to death and by consequence the underworld, and following this there is the Black Demeter. Two epithets applied to her in this dark form were Melaina meaning black one, and Erinys meaning avenger. In the town of Phigalia Greece there is a cave called Mavrospelya meaning black cave. In it there is a statue of Demeter with the head of a horse, and robed in black. In one hand she holds a dolphin and in the other a dove. This is a direct reference to shape shifting, another power of the underworld. As to why she would be associated with a horse there are several theories. One being that while she was searching for Persephone, she turned into a mare to avoid the advances of Poseidon (explaining the dolphin in one hand), who ended up turning into a stallion and raping her, and may also have to do that Demeter was often associated with Posiedon, as earth and seeds are inert without water, and Posiedon as Posiedon Hippos, is a horse. It also may have to do with the fact that the horse was a form of the corn spirit in Classical Greece. It may also be a totem, as in an archetypal animal with specific symbolism or that it was an animal sacrificed to her. Cows were also sacrificed to. Together Demeter and Persephone may have been the prototypical corn mother and harvest maiden of northern Europe.
Demeter was also known as a Goddess of health, of birth and of marriage. Healing is often associated with the underworld, as it is a function of regeneration. Birth and rebirth are also associated with the land of the dead and marriage can be construed as the legal vehicle of sex, again from the underworld. She was the patron Goddess of the Amphictyonic League, which was associated with the temple of Delphi, famous for the Oracle there, Oracular visions, prophecy and mediumship all being traditionally associated with the underworld. She was associated sometimes with Dionysus, who also had a dark side and was the patron of vine and fermentation, fermentation being a process of decay and transformation, again associated with the archetypal Death Goddess. Dionysus’ worship involved mass drunkenness and orgies, mediumship and sex, functions of the dark archetype. Demeter was associated with the infamous Pomegranate and she . was sometimes accompanied by a snake, a potent alchemical symbol, again being associated with sex and transformation.
The last lady in this triumvirate is Hecate. She is most often the “Goddess of the Crossroads”. Her name means “she who works from afar” or “the distant one”. She was the daughter of the Titan Perses and the Nymph Asteria. She was the only Titan (showing just how old she really was, and earning her in one more way the title of Crone in this work) Zeus allowed to retain her authority after the Titans were overthrown by the Olympians. She was the only one aside from Zeus who had the power to give (or withhold) anything she wished. She had power over Heaven, Earth and the Sea, and it was she who bestowed wealth and all the blessings of daily life.
She was the protector of the newly born and she was frequently called upon not only to ease the pain and progression of labor and as such was a protector of women, but to aide the growth and health of the child. True to the dark Archetype, she also was like the hospice nurse who eased the transition of the elderly onto death. She stands at both the beginning and the end. She also is in the story of the Rape of Persephone, being the goddess who aides Demeter in the search for her daughter. Hecate was also the confidant of the new Queen of the Underworld, which was actually welcomed by Hades.
She was the Goddess of witchcraft, presiding over magic and spells. She is also associated with dreams. Her name is frequently mentioned in charms and occasionally mentioned as the mother of Circe the Enchantress of the Odyssey fame. Hecate was a moon goddess and it was purported that on moonlight night she could be wandering crossroads and cemeteries with her hell-hounds and ghosts. A night Ancient Greeks would lay out offerings to her, which most likely were eaten by homeless. Being a patroness of the fringe, the homeless and downtrodden were under her care. Hecatea, pillars erected in doorways and at crossroads were means to ward off evil spirits, once again invoking her protection and her power over the otherworldly. At the end of the month offering of eggs, fish, black puppies and black she-lambs were laid at crossroads eliciting her favor. Early art depicts her as single faced but later she becomes triple-faced, connoting an ability to see past, present and future and as such the wisdom to choose when presented with one of life’s crossroad. The prophetic ability this shows is just one more link to the underworld. She had the ability to conjure dreams. Prophecies and phantoms. She is considered virginal, one in herself-independent, not inexperienced. In some legends she is invisible or visible as a light, like a will-o-wisp which is a ball of green energy forming in or near swamps, (clusters of death energy) which have minds of their own and have been known to chase the unwary.
All three of the Greek Pantheon have extremely strong connections to the underworld, and the themes of sex, death, rebirth, healing/transformation, magic, dreams mediumship and prophecy figuring prominently in their myths. Unlike the other Goddesses I have mentioned before and will after, they did not seem to suffer the same fate of having their less acceptable attributes separated out and banished to the underworld, this is especially true with Demeter who was an extremely important and respected deity. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they were too old and firmly entrenched in Greek culture to be twisted by the patriarchy. Perhaps it is a testament to the Greek people to maintain respect for and the integrity of their goddesses even when cultures all around them were changing. Maybe in the great cosmic order of things these myths remained untouched to serve as an anchor and a starting point to reassemble the true nature of the Goddess when the time was right, as it is now. No matter what the reason, Persephone, Demeter and Hecate are shining examples of the true nature of the great Goddess, light and dark, independent and extremely powerful.