Transcendent Wisdom in the Hymn to Demeter

prajnaparamita_transcendent_wisdom Illustration left: Prajñāpāramitā, Singhasari, East Java

Transcendent Wisdom (Intuitive Understanding) is an idea personified in Buddhism as a buddha-like goddess named Prajñāpāramitā, illustrated left, seated in a lotus position. She is similar to the Greek goddesses who incarnate various archetypes, for instance, Aphrodite, who personifies the archetype of Love.

What is the intuitive meaning of the Goddess Demeter — her transcendent wisdom — what are the values or concepts Demeter personifies in the ancient Greek understanding? First and foremost she represents her name literally, Demeter — God the Mother, as both Mother Nature and the protector of nature, because her seed, her daughter, Persephone, represents the life energy, the Viriditas (as Hildegard of Bingen calls it) the greening of the Earth in Spring.  And thus it is this very life spring Demeter seeks to rescue and protect throughout the Hymn. In modern times, Demeter represents the ecological idea of conservation of the fecundity of all life on Earth.

In order to journey into the deeper meanings of the Greek goddesses, here primarily Demeter and Persephone, we first need to conceive this whole idea of the personification of ideas, which we can only do intuitively.  In other words, we don’t have a scientific measuring rod, it just seems intuitively possible that an idea could be personified in the form of a mythological being.  It can happen also in our daily lives that we undergo experiences which teach us intuitively the meaning of an archetype.  For instance, if we are set free from a difficult situation, we thereby get to know what Freedom is, and in that sense we incarnate freedom directly into our life experience, not only by way of intellectual reasoning.

As we journey through the Hymn to Demeter, we find the author has included a variety of archetypes personified by the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, including differing perspectives as regards what they represent as mother and daughter together, in contrast to what they personify separately as individuals. With Persephone at her side, Demeter is the Great Mother, for instance, but in ancient Greece she also represented grain and the great harvest. Demeter demonstrates enormous ability in the Hymn to dialogue with women as equals, and to unite with and to work with them individually and in groups.  These women include, in their order of appearance:  Persephone, Hecate, Callidice, Cleisidice, Demo, Callithoe, Metenaira, Iambe [Baubo], Iris, and Rhea. The Hymn to Demeter must be making a statement of some kind as regards female solidarity or what we would name as feminism.  Is Demeter, then, a feminist? Yes, very definitely, it is part of her persona, even including the anger she must tap into and transform in order to make a lasting change for the good.

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Ancient Greek Hymn to Demeter
English & Ancient Greek, Illustrations, Commentary