Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Goddess of the Week

Melaina is a dark, angry aspect of the ancient Greek Earth Mother Demeter, which She took upon Herself in response to a time of great pain. She has come up once before, in November of 2008, the beginning of the dark time of year here in the north.

One of the most well-known myths of Demeter involves Her beloved daughter Kore, Who was abducted and raped by the Underworld God Haides when just a girl, vanishing without a trace into His realm under the Earth.

When Demeter found Her daughter suddenly gone, She dropped all Her duties as Earth Mother and began the long search for Her, wandering the earth in frantic grief. But She received little help; for Kore had been abducted with the tacit approval of Zeus, and few wanted to cross Him.

In the midst of this dark time, the Sea-God Poseidon conceived a lust for Demeter. When, unsurprisingly, She was in no mood, He pursued Her; and though She tried to escape from Him by taking the form of a mare and running with the wild horses of Arkadia, Poseidon soon enough found Her, and in the form of a stallion He raped Her.

This was simply too much for Demeter, on top of everything else She was going through, so She clothed Herself in black and shut Herself up in a cave in Mount Eliaos, near to the town of Philagia. From the rape She bore two children: the immortal horse Areion or Arion, Who could speak like a human, and a daughter, Whose name has not come down to us. Not, for once, because She was unimportant, but because She was considered a most holy maiden, and Her name was secret, given only to initiates into Her mysteries. They have kept that secret, and Her true name is not known. Her title, however, has survived: Despoena, the Mistress.

Demeter was eventually coaxed out of the cave by the Moirai, the Fates; They are said to have persuaded Her with Their words, perhaps reminding Her that while She was in hiding, and while Her powers of fertility were withdrawn, the crops of the world (and so the people of the world) were dying. That is the usual story, anyway; I am more inclined to think the Moirai did not persuade Demeter with talking, but by listening to Her.

This is a very dark and violent tale; and I suspect it has been quite twisted in a particularly patriarchal way. But this time the casualty is not just the Goddess, but the God as well, Poseidon. There is evidence that He and Demeter may have formed a cult pair in early times; Their names are mentioned together in Mycenaean Linear B tablets from Pylos, Their names written in that syllabic script as Da-ma-te and Po-se-da-wo-ne. Poseidon's name means 'Husband of Earth' or 'Consort of Earth', and even in classical times He was remembered for His connection with the Earth, as the 'Earth-shaker', Ennosigaios, the God Who brings earthquakes. I suspect Their relationship was in earlier times rather less antagonistic.

The Phigalians accounted that cave sacred to Her, calling Her Demeter Melaina, 'the Black', supposedly after the black clothes She wore; and they set up a wooden statue, described by Pausanias in the 2nd century CE thus:

The image, they say, was made after this fashion. It was seated on a rock, like to a woman in all respects save the head. She had the head and hair of a horse, and there grew out of her head images of serpents and other beasts. Her tunic reached right to her feet; on one of her hands was a dolphin, on the other a dove.

Melaina is Demeter in Her chthonic aspect, literally meaning of the Earth. She appears dark and monstrous, but it should be remembered that the serpents and horses may simply be symbolic of the earth.

Go into the dark a little this week. It may be that it is time to bring a traumatic or difficult aspect of your past to the light, where it may be healed; conversely, it may instead be a time to shut yourself off from the world. It is hard to tell, and can go either way; be gentle and compassionate with yourself, and do not do anything if you are unwilling, or if you are not truly ready. You will know. If you are unsure, don't.

The dark is, as it ever is, not nearly as frightening as your fears make it out to be; keep that in mind, also. Also keep in mind that acknowledging something is as good as accepting it in a lot of ways. It needn't be that difficult. You might be surprised.

As ever, I ask Her what She would like to say.

Darkness, it is all darkness. But of your own choosing; your anger, your pain, your hiding, your hibernation away from the light, your rest, your time of healing. Sometimes shutting yourself away from the world is necessary. Sometimes, even, stewing in your own anger is necessary. Do not be afraid of the dark, in all its manifestations. It is an aspect of Me, always.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Fascinating post! Although I knew of Demeter's period as "the withholding mother," I didn't know She was characterized as Demeter Melaina during it.

Maria said...

Thank you. I needed to hear that.

Lani said...

This was a very fascinating post as I had never known about this aspect of Demeter nor of Her children with Poseidon.

I do admit I had a jolt reading this as we just had an earthquake this morning here in Japan. Dark angry Earth goddess paired with the Earth Shaker indeed.

Thalia said...

Debra, I suspect that this episode is an older tale, or at least a separate tale, that was later inserted into the timeline within the story of Demeter searching for Kore. I mean that's just a hunch.