If you’ve been pagan very long or interested in classical Greek literature at all you’ve probably run across the myth of Demeter and Persophone. You have heard how Demeter’s daughter was joyful in her youth, frolicking with the nymphs when she was abducted by Hades and dragged down into the underworld. You may have been party to discussions about how awful abduction was, the symbolic rape themes, or the attempt to set such a thing within a cultural context where asking the father for the hand of a woman was more than enough without asking that woman’s permission. You may have wondered, like I have wondered: did Persophone eat those seeds on purpose?
I’m not going to talk about any of that.
I’m going to talk about breaking the cycle. Let’s review. First we had Gaia, the most primordial earth mother of the Greek pantheon. She gives birth to her husband, Ouranos who was the big boss, and then has a passel of children by him. He stuffs them into the earth rather than letting them out, and she aids her youngest son Cronos, to kill his own father in order to save his siblings.
Next we had Rhea, the earth mother goddess of the next generation, who also married Cronos, the high king of this generation. She too has an entire pantheon worth of children but this time her husband eats the kids, hiding them within his own body, rather than that of his wife. I wonder if it caused him the kind of pain it caused Gaia. In the end, due to Rhea’s intelligence and cleverness, the children are again released, and Olympians are finally born.
There’s a pattern laid out here: fear of the children of sky and earth and the attempt to escape the inevitability of the next generation where children are hid away and the youngest son, aided by his mother the earth, must do battle with his own father for the survival of his siblings
But that’s not what happened here at all. Persephone is the Earth’s daughter in this generation. She’s not stuffed into some cave or belly, she’s happy. She’s frolicking with the tree spirits and picking flowers. Demeter isn’t even married to Zeus, the earth and sky did procreate and create Persephone, but that’s it. Zeus, as we all know, is married to Hera, Queen of Gods. The son that was to have overthrow Zeus was in fact not Hera’s child, nor the Earth’s child at all, but Metis’s. She was a goddess of crafty thought and wisdom. Zeus follows in his father’s footsteps, but this time he doesn’t eat all his offspring (and a good thing he didn’t too, he had a lot of kids) but he did eat Metis. Athena then bursts from his skull to become the goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts, and swears to have no children herself. She is the inheritor of Zeus and chooses the entirely end the progression of generational battle by simply not having children.
Is this a perfect outcome? Nope, at least by my standards it’s not okay to eat your siblings, it’s not okay to give your daughter to your brother in marriage, and it’s not okay to expect your other daughter to not procreate so that you can stay King-of-All-the-Things forever. But it’s a damn sight better than what his parents did.
As much as the generational saga of the Greek Gods reminds me of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, thankfully their tale doesn’t end with their progeny getting eaten by the jungle. (Sorry for the spoiler!) In the end, there is hope within it as well as all the various encodings of cultural expectations and symbology. There are echoes of self-reliance, the complicated relationship of parent to child and husband to wife, and most of all, the power to take action and make change. Sometimes I think change is all there is. Every once in a while I want to go found a new sci-fi based religion on Octavia E. Butler’s Earthseed. (She’s amazing. Go read her stuff.)
That’s the thing. We read to understand. We learn to create a broader framework for our own ethics, values, and actions. If the myths and the stories of the ancients don’t help us do that then they are failing. But they do. Each person may get a different lesson to learn, but within the macrocosm of the monumental upheavals and drama of the deities we see our own lives writ large.
Recently I came across an article about how the experiencesof our ancestors directly affects our own genetics. Not only does this mean that the pain and success of the past truly is ours, but the choices that we make directly affect future generations. Each of is us caught in our own generational drama, even if we don’t chose to procreate. I hope my retelling of these tales aids you in your own thoughts about the future and the past, dear reader.
May the blessings of the Gods and Spirits be upon us all.