DEMETER AS DEPICTED IN CAMEO JEWELRY
By Preston Reuther
A WOMAN OF MYSTERY! - Demeter is the founder of the Eleusinian mysteries. These were GIGANTIC festivals held every 5 years. They were important secret events and all attending was sworn to secrecy! N0 one to this day knows the actual reason for the celebration as everyone attending was sworn to secrecy.
Photo of Cameo featuring Demeter
The daughter of Cronus and Rhea, Demeter is known by many names. One of the oldest goddesses in the ancient Greek pantheon and many times found on antique cameos . Demeter is the deity of agriculture, fertility, harvest, and the harbinger of sacred law. Known also as Sito and Thesmophoros, her most popular avatar is that of Ceres in Roman mythology. As a goddess, one of her duties is to preside over the cycle of life and death. There was a time when Demeter cults were famous and wide-spread, when she was worshipped for being the goddess of fertility and new beginnings. Today, Demeter is mostly relegated to the studies of symbology and mythology.
Intimately associated with the seasons, Demeter is depicted with symbols of harvest like sheaves of wheat that she holds in her hands or are woven through her magnificent earthy crown. She is also shown holding a scepter and torch. As the goddess of earth, she is intimately connected to the earth’s power for bearing fruit. This fertility connection is further opened up to encompass the notion of fertility as a whole. Thus, Demeter came to be known as the Greek goddess of marriage. These clues might help you to identify Demeter on any vintage cameo.
Made Immortal in Art
She has been immortalized in various forms of art. In The Iliad, Homer describes the goddess as being “golden-haired”. In Theogony and Works & Days, Hesiod uses words like “bounteous”, “well-garlanded”, “revered” and “hallowed” to describe the goddess.
One of the oldest Greek deities, it is believed that Demeter symbolized Mother Earth and was a reincarnation of Gaea. While many elaborate sculptures of her have been unearthed, very few of them are complete and untarnished today. Perhaps, the very best representations of goddess Demeter have been created by Praxiteles. Closely resembling the goddess Hera, Demeter’s representations by Praxiteles display a softer, warmer, and fuller mouth. Her eyes are open yet gentle. Unlike other Greek gods and goddesses who are often depicted in the nude, Demeter is almost always fully attired in robes that range in hues of gold and blue. Representations of Demeter show her riding in chariots that are drawn by horses and dragons, sitting opulently or walking with a sense of purpose.
Demeter’s Symbols and Adornments
Owing to her royal status and role in the harvest-time, Demeter’s head is never left unadorned in representations. Being the goddess of agriculture and fertility, it is only right that the colors of autumn and the fruits of the earth are placed around her head. Most of her crowns consist of brilliantly colored ribbons, intertwined garlands of corn-ears or stalks of wheat. One of the symbols of goddess Demeter is a blood red poppy flower and it is often used in depictions of Demeter is popular art forms. She is shown holding corn-ears, wheat stalks or a poppy in her hand. Some representations focus on her other powers and depict her with a scepter, torch, mystical basket, or a cornucopia in hand. NOTE: The crown is a big clue for the identification of Demeter on shell cameos.
The goddess of plenty is also known as the goddess of the fair crown. Adorning gems and vases, Demeter has been immortalized as a Greek goddess. However, this doesn’t mean that her other forms are ignored. As Ceres, Romans too have created plenty of sculptures and art forms around her.
In the Orphic Hymn 40 (Greek hymns circa 3 B.C.E. to 2 C.E.), she has been called “O universal mother, Deo famed, august, the source of wealth, and various named: great nurse, all-bounteous, blessed and divine, who joyest in peace; to nourish corn is thine. Goddess of seed, of fruits abundant, fair, harvest and threshing are thy constant care. Lovely delightful queen, by all desired…”
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Her beauty is unparalleled and a Homeric hymn speaks of “a lovely fragrance was wafted from her sweet-smelling robes, and from the divine body of the goddess a light shone afar.” Her long locks of hair have been described as the color of gold and ripe corn.
Perhaps the most popular mythological legend that surrounds Demeter is her quest for the daughter Persephone. Born to her and Zeus, Persephone is described as the fair virgin daughter of Demeter who has a calm and sunny disposition. Legend says that Persephone was abducted by the God of the Underworld, Hades. Demeter couldn’t find her beloved daughter and took to looking for her far and wide. She searched for her ceaselessly, without stopping to consume ambrosia (food of the gods) or to bathe. As she did this, the seasons began to mirror her frustration and anger. It is believed that the turn of seasons ground to a halt, living things stopped flourishing and began to die, the threat of famine arose as the land became barren.
For nine days, she searched for her daughter. On the 10th day, she asked the sun god Apollo or Helios to tell her the truth of her daughter’s whereabouts. Being the all-seeing god, Apollo told her about Hades’ crime. Legend says that by the time Demeter reached Persephone, the girl had eaten the dreaded pomegranate seeds of Hades. Had she not consumed anything in the Underworld, she would have been saved by her mother.
As a compromise between Demeter and Hades, it was decided that Persephone would return to Hades to spend a month for every pomegranate seed she had consumed while in captivity. In this way, Persephone began to spend four months in Hades’ realm and the rest of her time with her beloved mother. These four months are the months of winter, when Demeter is too heart-broken to fulfill her godly duties of harvest and fertility.
Symbolic of the changing seasons and the movement from life to death to life once again, the story of Demeter and Persephone has given rise to a number of rituals and cults that surround the quest of the goddess.
Demeter also figures prominently in the Eleusian stories that cover her detour to Eleusis in Attica while looking for Persephone. While in Eleusis, Demeter disguised herself as an old woman who played the role of a nurse to the sons of the king – Demophon and Triptolemus. Before she departed from Attica, she thanked the king for his kindness by imparting the secrets of agriculture to Triptolemus. Legends say that Triptolemus passed on the secrets to other humans, and that is how humanity became privy to the benefits of planting, growing, and harvesting grain.
A goddess can only be forgotten if she disappears from the popular imagination of the people. Demeter may not be worshipped with the same fervor as in the times of the Greeks and Romans, but her fame is still tangible. Goddess Demeter was assigned the constellation of Virgo the Virgin by 1st Century Roman astronomer Marcus Manilius. Such is the power of Demeter’s symbology that even today the constellation Virgo is shown as holding a sheaf of wheat in her hands.
Preston Reuther is a Jewelry Designer that has been collecting and selling cameo jewelry for more then 20 years. He has written several e-books, produced over 50 jewelry videos and publised over 1000 articles on jewelry design. Visit his cameo collection at wwww.cameojewelry.com or Contact Us at 816-689-2779