Boiotian Theoi: Demetre & Persephone

CULT IN BOIOTIA (CENTRAL GREECE)

I) THEBES Chief City of Boiotia

“The sanctuary of Demeter Thesmophoros (Lawgiver) [in Thebes, Boiotia] is said to have been at one time the palace of [the mythical king] Kadmos and his descendants. The image of Demeter is visible down to the chest. Here have been dedicated bronze shields, said to be those of Lakedaimonian officers who fell at Leuktra.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.16.5-6

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 12. 57 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
“When Alexandros the son of Philippos led his forces against Thebes the gods sent them signs and portents presaging their imminent fate . . . In the city at the temple of Demeter a spider began to cover the face of the cult statue with its handiwork and weave its usual product.”

II) Near THEBES Chief City of Boiotia

“Advancing from here twenty-five stades [from the Neistan Gate of Thebes, Boiotia] you come to a grove of Demeter Kabeiraie (of the Kabeiroi) and Kore (the Maid). The initiated are permitted to enter it. The sanctuary of the Kabeiroi is some seven stades distant from this grove. I must ask the curious to forgive me if I keep silence as to who the Kabeiroi are, and what is the nature of the ritual performed in honor of them and of Meter (the Mother). But there is nothing to prevent my declaring to all what the Thebans say was the origin of the ritual. They say that once there was in this place a city, with inhabitants called Kabeiroi; and that Demeter came to know Prometheus, one of the Kabeiroi, and Aetnailis his son, and entrusted something to their keeping. What was entrusted to them, and what happened to it, seemed to me a sin to put into writing, but at any rate the rites are a gift of Demeter to the Kabeiroi.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.25.5-6

III) SKOLLOS Village in Boiotia

“The temple of Demeter and Kore [at Skollos, Boiotia] among the ruins is not finished, and only half-finished are the images of the goddesses.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.3.4

IV) ASKRA Village in Boiotia

“It is said that on reaching old age a vision came to him [the poet Pindaros of Askra in Boiotia] in a dream. As he slept Persephone stood by him and declared that she alone of the deities had note been honoured by Pindaros with a hymn, but that Pindaros would compose an ode to her also when he had come to her. Pindaros died at once, before ten days had passed since the dream. But there was in Thebes an old woman related by birth to Pindaros who had practised singing most of his odes. By her side in a dream stood Pindaros and sang a hymn to Persephone. Immediately on waking out of her sleep she wrote down all she had heard him singing in her dream. In this song, among the epithets he applies to Haides is ‘golden-reined’ – a clear reference to the rape of Persephone.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.23.3

V) PLATAIA Town in Boiotia

“There is also at Plataia [in Boiotia] a sanctuary of Demeter, surnamed Eleusinia (of Eleusis).” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.4.3

“When Philip died, and the kingship of Makedonia devolved on Alexandros, the Thebans succeeded in destroying the [Makedonian] garrison. But as soon as they had done so, heaven warned them of the destruction that was coming on them, and the signs that occurred in the sanctuary of Demeter Thesmophoros (Lawgiver) were the opposite of those that occurred before the action at Leuktra.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.6.5

“By the stream Molois and the place called Argiopion [near Plataia in Boiotia] there is a shrine of Demeter Eleusinia.” – Herodotus, Histories 9.57

“At Plataia the [historical army of the] Persians routed by the Lakedaimonians, fled in disorder to their own camp and inside the wooden walls which they had made in the territory of Thebes. It is indeed a marvel that although the battle was right by the grove of Demeter, there was no sign that any Persian had been killed in the precinct or entered into it; most of them fell near the temple in unconsecrated ground. I think – if it is necessary to judge the ways of the gods – that the goddess herself denied them entry, since they had burnt her temple, the shrine at Eleusis.” – Herodotus, Histories 9.65

“They kept to the spurs of the mountain [Kithairon in Boiotia] and the hill country, by the road that led upward straight to the temple of Demeter.” – Herodotus, Histories 9.69

“There was the additional coincidence, that there were precincts of Demeter Eleusinia on both battlefields [of the historical Greek-Persian War]; for at Plataia the fight was near the temple of Demeter, as I have already said, and so it was to be at Mykale also [an Ionian promontory opposite the island of Samos].” – Herodotus, Histories 9.101

VI) POTNIAI Village in Boiotia

“Across the Asopos [in Boiotia], about ten stades distant from the city, are the ruins of Potniai, in which is a grove of Demeter and Kore (the Maid). The images at the river that flows past Potniai [text missing] they name the goddesses. At an appointed time they perform their accustomed ritual, one part of which is to let loose young pigs into what are called ‘the halls (megara).’ At the same time next year these pigs appear, they say, in Dodona. This story others can believe if they wish.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.8.1

VII) Near MYKALESSSOS Village in Boiotia

“On the way to the coast of Mykalessos is a sanctuary of Demeter Mykalessia. They say that each night it is shut up and opened again by Herakles, and that Herakles is one of what are called the Daktyloi Idaioi [or perhaps originally the hero]. Here is shown the following marvel. Before the feet of the image they place all the fruits of autumn, and these remain fresh throughout all the year.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.19.5

VIII) ANTHEDON Village in Boiotia

“About the center of Anthedon [in Boiotia] is a sanctuary of the Kabeiroi, with a grove around it, near which is a temple of Demeter and her daughter [Kore], with images of white marble.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.22.5

IX) KOPAI Village in Boiotia

“Here [in the town of Kopai by Lake Kopais, Boiotia] is a sanctuary of Demeter.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.24.2

X) LEBADEIA Village in Boiotia

“[In the grove of the oracular daimon Trophonios at Lebadeia, Boiotia] there is also a sanctuary of Demeter surnamed Europe, and a Zeus Huetios (Rain-god) in the open … He who descends [into the oracle of Trophonios] sacrifices to Trophonios himself and to the children of Trophonios, to Apollon also and … to Demeter whom they surname Europa and say was the nurse of Trophonios.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.39.4-5

“The grove of Trophonios [stands] by the river Herkyna. They say that here Herkyna, when playing with Kore (the Maid), the daughter of Demeter, held a goose which against her will she let loose. The bird flew into a hollow cave and hid under a stone; Kore entered and took the bird as it lay under the stone. The water flowed, they say, from the place where Kore took up the stone, and hence the river received the name of Herkyna (Lady of the Stone Enclosure). On the bank of the river there is a temple of Herkyna [of Kore Herkyna], in which is a maiden holding a goose in her arms.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.39.2-3

It’s not (or at least shouldn’t be)news to any-one that the cults of Demetre and Persephone are so tightly linked that the link on Theoi Project with the text “Cult > Boiotia” on the Persephone page actually re-directs to the page for Demetre. Reading over the quote excerpts and fragments above, I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I haven’t given much cultus to Them, and considering a bit of insight I got in a flash whilst writing up on Hekate, I’m rather surprised by this.

It seems clear to me in the excerpts on Her cult in Thebes, in particular, that She was regarded by the Boiotians as a Goddess of civilisation. While Boiotia has a reputation for being rural, at the same time, they had cities which were often remarked upon, travelled to from all over Hellas and elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean, and —at the very least— became famous for their patrons of the arts and as hometowns to some of the ancient Hellenes’ greatest minds and celebrities. Clearly, the Boiotian understanding of Demetre was not one restricted to tilling the soil, but also to laying the foundation of civilisation.

It’s really poetic, if you think about it even a tiny bit. Anthropologists have long determined (and indeed, it seems one of a handful of things universally agreed-upon in the field) that the concept of cities didn’t even become a possibility until the development of agriculture gave people a reason to settle in an area. Essentially, Demetre is the Mother of urban development, though industrialisation is clearly in the domain of other deities. Without the gifts of Demetre, we’d all be wandering nomads, setting up camps for a time until we exhaust resources and move on until that area can replenish. With the gifts of Demetre, we can avoid that drudgery and (most importantly) that uncertainty by planning out what we need, where to best grow it, how best to rotate it, and generally live in a harmony with the land that not only genuinely benefits us and the Earth, but also can allow for those who would be “useless”, or at least all but, in a nomadic model to use the skills and gifts they do have in other ways to benefit the society —it’s like a “No Child Left Behind” model, except that it actually works because every-one is now, thanks to the Agri-Goddess Mother, free to learn what they do best and love most. To keep things running well, Demetre also takes on the Thesmia hat, creating laws to keep Her children in check.

For as much as I can complain about the state of society today, I don’t believe I’ve ever blamed the notion of society itself for what is wrong with Western society today. Society is a gift of Demetre, but what we do with it is our own. To blame the Mother of Society and Cities, even if you do so by merely ignoring those aspects of Her, it’s like sentencing Her to less than half of Her Glory —might as well sentence the mother of a serial killer to just as much time as the actual killer cos she told her child not to play with knives because they could hurt somebody, then a few years later, she handed her child a knife and told them to chop onions for dinner. I can’t take seriously one who claims to honour the same Demetre I do whilst longing for an end to society and harbouring a scathing loathe for cities. The average Pop-Wiccan-on-the-street who entertains anarcho-primitivist fantasies might try and tell me that their Maiden-Mother-Crone Goddess includes the same Demetre I honour, but I can’t believe that; I can’t see Demetre without seeing the building blocks of urban development and modern living, so no, I don’t believe that the Demetre I honour is the same as or even in cahoots with the Neo-Luddite Demetre.

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2 thoughts on “Boiotian Theoi: Demetre & Persephone

  1. Pingback: Demetre and the Palace of Kadmos | Of Thespiae

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