In the eighth grade, circa 1977, I learned about Greek Mythology, a unit in the English curriculum. I was fascinated by the Gods and Goddesses and what their powers were. I was awestruck by the ancient ruins. I always wondered if the Gods and Goddesses really existed. Were they real? When did they live? Were they just a myth? Something resonated with me. I couldn’t explain it, but I started to become obsessed with the myth.
At the end of the unit there would be a party and all of the eighth grade students had to choose a project to complete: a written paper, a diorama, an ancient ruin re-created from papier mache, or dress up as an ancient Greek God or Goddess. Anyone dressing up would automatically get an “A” for the project. About a half dozen or so other students and I opted for the latter and dressed up as famous or infamous Greek mythological figures. I chose to dress up for the automatic ‘A’ as I had no artistic talent and I didn’t like writing. In the cafeteria, where the party was held, there was Ambrosia salad, displays of projects and a parade by a few of the students dressed as Ancient Greek Gods or Goddesses.
I recall someone who came as Atlas, the legendary Titan of astronomy – holding up an unusually large globe from the social studies room. Another student who walked in with a bow and arrow, and donned wings taped to his back – cut out from poster board – was Cupid, the God of desire, erotic love and attraction. I was more down to earth. I came as the “Earth Mother”, Demeter. I was drawn to her during our studies of Greek mythology. I wore a rather large piece of material – that I borrowed from my mother’s sewing room – around me for my dress and a Christmas wreath on my head. ( A few years ago on Halloween, I reprised my role as the Goddess of harvest and agriculture – with a grape vine wreath.)
I couldn’t put into words then the hold that the story of Demeter had over me. When her daughter, Persephone, was taken by Hades to the Underworld, Demeter, heartbroken, ceased taking care of the earth. The crops stopped growing, trees lost their leaves, flowers no longer bloomed. Until six months later, when Persephone was allowed to visit her mother for the next six months, and the crops began to grow again, the leaves grew back on the trees and flowers were in bloom once more. But the deal was that Hades would take her back at the end of six months. Demeter would become depressed and once more the plants on the earth would die. And so it would go, every six months – Demeter would have to share her daughter with Hades. And that, according to Greek Mythology, is why we have the seasons: fall and winter, spring and summer. Maybe I was gullible, but this story made sense to me, more than any other story of a Greek God or Goddess. Is it possible that it was more than just a myth?
Anyway, the week after the party when I went into my Earth Science class, my teacher, Mr. Witter, told me he always thought I looked like a Greek Goddess. I took it as a compliment, even if it might have sounded a bit creepy. I felt a connection with Demeter. Maybe we all feel a connection with the Earth Mother. We plant our gardens, take shade under a tree, decorate our homes with vases of flowers and in the summer enjoy the fruits of her labor at the farmers market. I have always loved the fall: the crisp air, colorful foliage, the crunch of fallen leaves under my footsteps and baking zucchini bread and apple bread. Still, I’m sorry to see the long, warm summer days go away. Perhaps it is empathy for Demeter that we feel when summer comes to an end.
And so it is at the autumnal equinox, that I channel my inner Demeter and pay homage to the Greek Goddess of harvest and agriculture, the Earth Mother, who gives up her daughter to the Underworld and the plants, trees, flowers and crops die or hibernate, until once again Demeter is reunited with Persephone in the spring.