Category Archives: Slaves-Slavery
Alternative Names: Aschenklas, Bûr, Bullerclås, De hêle Christ (“The Holy Christ” in Mittelmark). Farmhand Robert, Farmhand Rupert, Hans Ruprecht, Rumpknecht, Servant Robert, Servant Rupert, Rû Clås, Ru Klaus (“Rough Nicholas”), Pelz Nicholas (“Fur Nicholas”)
The figure of Knecht Ruprecht is another character who appears within the wintertime, Christmas, and Yule traditions as another companion of Saint Nicholas in Germany.
Knecht Ruprecht is known for wearing black or brown robes with a pointed hood and walking with a limp from a childhood injury. Due to this limp, Ruprecht carries a long staff, he also has a bag of ashes, a whip, a stick, a sack for hauling away naughty children, and sometimes small bells on his clothing. Further details are that he may be shown riding a white horse or that he may be accompanied by fairies or by men dressed as old women with blackened faces.
The Devil You Know
In Germanic folklore, Ruprecht is the German name for the English Robert and a common name for the devil.
In this respect, Reprecht is a lot like the earlier forms of Zwarte Piet as the devil. This fits those traditions with figures like Krampus and Zwarte Piet where Saint Nicholas is to have chained and enslaved the devil.
This devil figure is then who punishes misbehaving children with whippings, handing them a switch or coal.
When it comes to Germany, several various dark figures lend themselves to the wintertime, Saint Nicholas Day, and Christmas traditions. At first glance, it’s easy to distinguish all of them as they all have different names and appearances. Then when you get into the various traditions surrounding each figure, they do hold similar roles. Some folklorists will state that the different names are regional variations of the same figure.
Maybe, but some of them like Krampus, Belsnickel, Knecht Ruprecht and Hans Trapp are way too distinct in their descriptions and frequently their origins to really see them all as being the same being. And maybe there is some comfort in seeing only one Christmastime bogeyman to be afraid of instead of several.
With variations in names, some of them do end up blending Knecht Ruprecht with Saint Nicholas so he is known as Ru Klaus or “Rough Nicholas” or Pelz Nicholas or “Fur Nicholas.” As Pelz Nicholas, we see Knecht Ruprecht get blended with the figure of Belsnickel. Even further names are Aschenklas or “Ash Nicholas” in reference to the bag of ash that Knecht Ruprecht carries. There a couple sources that give alternate names of Pelzmartin or “Fur Martin” when the figures of Knecht Ruprecht and Saint Martin are blended together.
Knecht Ruprecht is a dark helper and companion with a similar role to those of Krampus and Zwart Piet. It’s essentially a good cop, bad cop routine they share where Saint Nicholas is the gift giver who rewards while Knecht Ruprecht and others threaten punishment in the form of either thrashings or kidnapping.
Belsnickel – Knecht Ruprecht has also been identified as just another name for this gift-giving companion of Saint Nicholas in Germany. The two are frequently confused and identified with each other.
Kobolds – Jacob Grimm in his “Deutsche Mythologie” says that Knecht Ruprecht and other punishing type companions are like Kobolds who could be either helpful or not so helpful.
So, what’s a kobold? Those are a type of household spirit in pre-Christian beliefs that could be either beneficial or malicious depending on how they were treated. After the arrival of Christianity, these types of spirits were said to be more mischievous when they weren’t helping or not properly given respect.
Robin Goodfellow – Jacob Grimm also goes on to say that this is the same person as Knecht Ruprecht and just another name that all these house spirits are known as.
Crime & Punishment
On December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day, Knecht Ruprecht will ask children if they are able to pray. If the child demonstrates that they can, they are rewarded with gifts of apples, nuts, and gingerbread. If the child is not able to recite a prayer, Knecht Ruprecht will hit them with his bag of ashes.
Particularly naughty children will be given lumps of coal, sticks, and stones while good children receive sweets from Saint Nicholas in their shoes that they leave out. The absolute worst would be tied up in a sack and thrown into a river.
Nuremberg Christmas Procession
Knecht Ruprecht makes his first appearance in the 17th century during the Nuremberg Christmas Procession where he is a companion to Santa Claus. This is the first concrete documentation of this figure and their association with Saint Nicholas and the Christmas traditions.
According to traditions and stories, Ruprecht is either a farmhand or in other stories, a foundling that Saint Nicholas finds and raises as his own son. The German philosopher Alexander Tille has commented that Knecht Ruprecht represents the archetypical manservant much like stock characters Junker Hanns and Bauer Michel who represent the Nobility and are defined by their social rankings with no individuality.
In the High Alps, Knecht Ruprecht takes on more of the role of Saint Nicholas’ assistant, keeping an eye out for the Saint’s arrival. This is where both Knecht Ruprecht and Saint Nicholas can get blended together to be known as Ru Klaus as both are accompanied by troops of the goat-like creatures known as Krampus who will terrorize any misbehaving children.
Knecht Ruprecht has been the subject of a piano piece by the German composer Robert Schumann in 1848. The German poet and novelist, Theodor Storm wrote a poem called “Knecht Ruprecht” in 1862
For Knecht Ruprecht, not really. He’s much newer compared to the figures of Krampus and Perchta. However, as a collective whole with Zwarte Piet and Belsnickel, then yes, there is an argument to be made with connecting Knecht Ruprecht to older pagan traditions for the dangerous time that Winter can be. So, it’s fair to say we can see the ever-evolving Christian influence to try and tame the more wilder, dangerous Yuletide figures and monsters. Connecting him to the Norse Odin seems more of a stretch as I’ll give that one more to Saint Nicholas.
Saint Martin’s Day
Or Martinmas, which is sometimes also called Old Halloween or Old Hallowmas Eve and was celebrated on November 11th to mark the end of the harvest season and the start of winter. Traditions involve feasting on the Martinmas goose or Martinmas beef, drinking wine, bonfires, mummery, and Saint Martin going around on horseback to bestow gifts of apples, nuts, cakes, and other sweets to children who hung their stockings with hay for Saint Martin’s horse.
Saint Martin is also sometimes called Pelzmartin or “Fur Martin” and seems to be a figure similar to Saint Nicholas in their gift-giving roles. As a result, Knecht Ruprecht is said to sometimes be a companion to Saint Martin.
With the growing Christian influence in Germany, Knecht Ruprecht is also known to accompany Saint Peter, Saint Rupert, and even the Christkindel, or “Christ Child” during their gift-giving journey on Christmas.
Also called: Ananse (Trinidad and Tobago), Annancy or Anancy (Jamaica, Grenada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua), Anansi Drew (The Bahamas), Anansi Kokroko (Wise Spider), Anancyi, Ananansa, Annecy (West Indian), Ayiyi, Kacou Ananzè, Ba Anansi (Suriname), Ba Yentay (South Carolina), Bra Anansi, Hapanzi, Nansi or bra spaida (Jamaica, Sierra Leone), Kompa Nanzi (Curaçao, Bonaire), Bru Nansi (Virgin Islands), Kwaku Anansi (Akan-Ashante), Nanzi, Nancy, Aunt Nancy (Gullah; South Carolina), Miss Nancy, Sis’ Nancy, Kuenta di Nanzi, Spider (Temne), Cha Nanzi (Aruba), Hanansi, Pablo Barnansi (S. Quanderer), Compé Anansi, Kompa Nanzi (Curaçao, Bonaire), Gede Zariyen, Zarenyen, or Ti Malice (Haiti)
Etymology: Spider (Akan)
Anansi is the spider trickster god of the Akan, Ashanti people in Ghana and several West African folklore and folktales. As a trickster, he is able to shape-shift into a human form. His presence as an important cultural figure has made his way into Caribbean mythology, spreading to Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, over to the Netherlands Antilles, the West Indies, Suriname, Sierra Leone and likely several other places. Like a good many trickster figures, Anansi is known for causing and getting into mischief or trouble before using his wits, cunning and guile to wheedle his way out of the troubles and problems. His stories and exploits are numerous, with many regional variations to his tales. As a trickster, Anansi is just as likely to help as to hinder someone.
As with all good stories, Anansi tales began with being told in oral traditions, survived, thrived, and made their way across the Atlantic Ocean to North America during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade era. These stories would play an important part to maintaining cultural identities for many enslaved West Africans. Many of these Anansi stories would be stories and lessons of how to rise up and outsmart those who would harm and oppress the less powerful.
Animal: Fox, Rabbit, Spider
Mineral: Spider Silk
Patron of: Storytellers,
Sphere of Influence: Cunning, Freedom, Messages, Morals, Proverbs, Stories, Trickery, Wisdom, Wits
A trickster, Anansi is often shown in many different forms and representations depending on the artistic source. In many stories, Anansi is a spider while in other stories, he is more anthropomorphized as either a spider with a human face or a human with spider-like features. The original spider-man.
In the Southern United States, when the Anansi came and his named changed to Nancy and Aunt Nancy with anglicized spellings, he became a spider woman and female figure.
One story has Nyame becoming so angry with Anansi’ tricks and antics that he turns Anansi into his spider form.
What’s In A Name?
Letters, letters are in a name…
The name Anansi is the Akan word for spider. Where he is called Kwaku or Kweku Anansi, the word Kweku means Wednesday as that is the day that Anansi’s soul first appeared. Given that Wednesday is named for Woden or Odin, the Norse god of Wisdom, there’s a very good coincidence here for names and meanings.
Parentage and Family
Nyame – Father & Sky-God; some regional variations place Anansi as his son, others don’t.
Ya Nsia – Mother. Asaase Yaa, the Earth Mother is also given as Anansi’s mother.
Where Nyame is given as Anansi’s father. There’s one story where Esum the Night, Osrane the Moon, and Owia the Sun are given as Nyame’s son.
It makes sense to me that these three should be counted as Anansi’s brothers.
Okonore Yaa – Wife, she is also known by the names of Aso, Crooky, Konori or Konoro, and Shi Maria.
The name Konori likely comes from the Hausa word koki for a “female spider.”
Afudohwedohwe – Pot-bellied son.
Anansewa – Anansi’s beautiful daughter, introduced in Efua Sutherland’s stories where Anansi sets out to find his daughter a proper suitor.
Nankonhwea – Son with a spindly neck and legs.
Ntikuma – Firstborn son.
Tikelenkelen – Big-Headed son.
Singular – Obosom
In Akan Spirituality, Anansi is considered an Obosom, a minor deity and spirit. The Abosom are all considered to be children and messengers of the great creator god Nyame. They could be male, female or a mixture of both.
The term Abosom reminds me of the Greek term Daimon (not Demon!) when referring to smaller, lesser & localized gods or spirits. Especially they were likely to be tied to one place such as a river, tree, or mountain.
Abosom is also the Ashanti term for pantheon, so all the gods. Or every divine being who isn’t the great creator Nyame.
With Anansi, he isn’t necessarily revered the same way as the other Abosom in Akan Spirituality or if he’s even seen in the same light. That too can vary and can be up for debate. Which is also understandable, Anansi is a trickster figure. With many trickster figures, you are playing with fire and in Anansi’s case, that’s water that could potentially drown you if you’re not careful. When Anansi does get acknowledged, he is an Obosom of Wisdom.
Just how much of a divine being Anansi will be, varies by region and which stories about him are being told. In some, he’s a human named Spider that has done a few favors for Nyame and is granted extra powers, namely one of t hem being an extended life. He’s a son of Nyame or just one of many beings with some measure of power to separate them from being fully human. Or Anansi is the straight up animal trickster as seen in Native American lore with beings like Coyote and Raven and their stories.
In many of the Anansi stories, the spider is often Nyame’s messenger, acting as his go-between. For many of the Abosom, this is often a role they play for either Nyame, the Sky God or Asaase Yaa, the Earth.
There is a story where Anansi’ antics grew too much for Nyame and he replaced Anansi with Chameleon to be the Sky-God’s new messenger.
Maybe, most of the stories of Anansi aren’t so much as him creating the Universe, but often setting the precedence for why things happen the way they do. Anansi is credited with having created the first man and then Nyame breathing life into them. Or Anansi is convincing Nyame that people need the rain to stop a destructive fire, setting order to the course of the day, ect. Even death if Anansi hadn’t stolen from them.
Like many tricksters, Anansi also has stories revolving around him having brought agriculture, hunting and writing to the Earth for people to use. In the story where Anansi tried to hoard all the world’s wisdom and knowledge, he found it much easier to share and disperse this knowledge for everyone’s use.
As a trickster, Anansi doesn’t just rely on his wits and cunnings to get through scrapes. One of his many tricks is the ability to shape-shift. Not just physically from spider to man but the ability to take seeming weaknesses and turn them into virtues and strengths.
Weakness To Strength
That’s a vital and important lesson to learn. In many stories, Anansi is able to overcome an opponent or situation, not just by his wits but using a seeming weakness to a strength. Similarly, he will exploit an opponent’s weakness against them.
Insatiable Greed – Finding The Angles
That seems to be a reoccurring theme with several Anansi stories, where what he has, isn’t enough and he has to find some way to get more. Oftentimes, that more is food. Anansi is often looking for the angles and finding ways to get others to bring him food or he kills the other animals for food if he’s not outright stealing it.
Sometimes, in the course of Anansi’s covetous and insatiable greed, another character is able trick Anansi instead, outwitting him. That is a classic of trickster tales, where the trickster gets outwitted instead of outwitting everyone else.
Of course, it could be I’m misremembering and thinking far too much of a particular Gargoyles episode “Mark of the Panther” in season 2.
God Of Storytelling & Knowledge
Not only is Anansi the god of storytelling, but he is also the god of knowledge. This makes a lot of sense with how early in human history, much of the history involved, lessons, wisdom and knowledge imparted is through the use of stories.
Meaning Spider Stories in the Ashanti language. The Anansesem stories, like many stories began as an oral tradition. Such is the prominence of the spider stories, that the term Anansesem came to include all the different fables and stories. The Jamaican version of the Anansi stories are the most preserved of the spider stories and have close ties to their Ashanti origins. Especially with how the Anansi stories end with a proverb or moral given at the end.
Anthropologists have studied and found that humans are hard-wired for stories. Stories are important, they are an integral part and parcel of the human experience. They convey who we are as a people, where we came from, morals, lessons and how things came to be.
It seems very poignant, that stories seem very central to the Anansi tales, especially for a keeping one’s cultural identity. Especially in the face of so much adversity and the dark side of history with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The most well known of the Anansi stories are those from Jamaica.
Like all trickster tales, the Anansesem not only entertain, they are also moral stories that often highlight his greed and other flaws along with his wit. The Anansesem stories cover a wide range of stories from the mundane and the subversive. Anansi as a folk hero is both an ideal as well as a cautionary figure of downfalls to be avoided.
It seems very poignant, that one of the roles that Tricksters carry is that of Culture-Bringer. That the very first story of Anansi, or at least the one to place as chronologically first is how Anansi comes to acquire all the stories. Frequently Trickster stories tell the importance of things, how they came to be, conflicts, shenanigans and more. Without stories to tell us who we are as a people, a great many aspects of history and culture are lost. With Anansesem, all stories, regardless of genre are considered spider stories.
Anansi-Tori – This is the name for the Spider stories among the Surinam people. In the capital city of Paramaribo, the Anansi-tori are a prominent part of the death rites. It’s important that these stories are only told during the night and never during the day, lest the dead come to listen, thereby causing the death of the storyteller or their parents. The Saramaca Bush people have a tradition that during the seven days that a body lays in the village death house, they tell the Anansi-Tori to the dead as entertainment. The Anansi-tori have also come to include the dances and songs sung during these rites.
The Spider stories are called Nansi in Guyana and Kuent’i Nanzi in Curacao.
Vive La Résistance! – The importance of the Anansesem stories is seen as a symbol of resiliency with slave resistance and survival. As a trickster, Anansi is frequently able to get the better of more powerful opponents using his trickery and cunning. As such, slaves used the stories of Anansi as inspiration for finding ways to resist and gain the upper hand on plantations, to give a sense of community, connection to their past in Africa and a way to maintain their cultural identity.
As the King of Stories, Anansi is not only the patron of storytellers, but those who live by their wits. Like many Caribbean deities, Anansi can be summoned with offerings of treats, smokes, and liquor.
Just be aware, if Anansi is bored by the story, he may not hang around for long.
A traditional opening for an Anansi story goes:
“This is my story which I have related. If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me.”
Another way to traditionally start a story is:
“We do not really mean; we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A story, a story; let it come, let it go.”
All The Stories!
Also known as “How the Sky God’s stories became Anansi’s stories.” It is the most retold story of all the Anansi tales.
For you see, once upon a time, there were no stories. None. There were stories, but they were all kept by Nyame, the Sky God who had them all hidden away. Some versions of the story note about here how Anansi is Nyame’s son.
For Anansi, it doesn’t sit well with him that his father should be hoarding all the stories and as the world is a boring place, Anansi decides to find a way to get stories of his own. Using his silk webbing, Anansi climbs up to the heavens where his father is at and tries to buy the stories from Nyame, but Nyame refuses, he didn’t want to share the stories with anyone. Anansi kept insisting he can afford the price for Nyame’s stories. Nyame refutes Anansi still, saying that even the great kingdoms of Kokofu, Bekwai and Asumengya couldn’t afford his stories.
A sudden thought comes to Nyame and he asks Anansi, how he, someone so small and insignificant is going to be able to afford the price where others have failed. Undaunted, Anansi persists, saying he can afford the stories, just name the price.
Amused, Nyame relents and sets as high a price as he can, hoping that these impossible tasks would finally deter the spider. As to what these tasks were to be?
Anansi was to capture four of the most dangerous creatures known in the world. Onini the Python, the Mmoboro Hornets, Osebo the Leopard and lastly, the Fairy Mmoatia.
Smiling, Anansi promises Nyame that he will bring these four back and just for good measure, he will even throw in his own mother, Ya Nsia. Nyame accepted the offer, thinking that would be the end of it and told Anansi to start his quest.
Quest in hand, Anansi returns home to his family so he can consult them about his plan. Anansi talks with his mother, Ya Nsia about his plan to capture Onini the Python first. His wife, Okonore Yaa tells Anansi that he should cut a long branch from a tree and get some vines.
Anansi returns with the branch and vines and Okonore Yaa tells him to head down to the river where Onini lives. As the two pretend to argue, Onini overhears them and comes over, listening over whether Onini’s body was longer than the branch of a tree.
Onini, on hearing what Anansi and Okonore Yaa are arguing about, he quickly agrees to stretch out next to the branch to his full length to prove that he’s longer than the branch. No sooner has Onini stretched out than Anansi takes the vines to tie the python up.
As Anansi carries Onini back to Nyame, the spider cheerfully tells Onini about the bargain that he has made. Nyame nods acknowledgement to Anansi for one task accomplished and reminds the spider that there are still three other tasks to fulfill.
Anansi returns to consult with his family for the next task, which would be capturing the Mmoboro Hornets. Okonore Yaa comes up with an idea for Anansi to get a gourd and fill it with water. Carrying that gourd with him, Anansi went off to pay a visit to the Hornets. Once he arrived, Anansi looked around the bushes where the Hornets. Soon as Anansi spotted them, he carefully sprinkled water on the Hornets and then on himself. Grabbing a palm leaf from a nearby tree, Anansi covered his head just time as the swarm of angry Hornets came his direction. Holding out the wet palm leaf, Anansi explained that it had been raining and that he too was wet.
Anansi explained that this rain would be dangerous and that the Hornets might want to hide inside the gourd he brought. The Hornets agreed and soon had all flown inside to take shelter.
Once all the Hornets were in, Anansi stopped up the mouth of the gourd and proceeded to gloat for falling for his trick. Anansi continued with telling the Hornets about his bargain with Nyame as he carried the gourd with him.
Seeing that another task was completed, Nyame accepted the Hornets. He reminded Anansi that there were still two more tasks to go. Surely one of those tasks would prove to be too much for the Spider, Nyame thought.
Once more Anansi returned home triumphant. Now the task was for Osebo the Leopard. Once more Anansi and Okonore Yaa schemed together on a plan. What’s now considered the oldest trick in the book, Okonore Yaa told Anansi to dig a deep hole in the ground and cover it. Anansi caught on quickly to Okonore Yaa’s plan and told her he could take it from there.
Anansi headed off for the parts of the jungle where he knew Osebo hung around at. There, he proceeded to dig the hole and cover with brushwood as planned. Done, Anansi headed home, knowing that eventually Osebo would wander along and be likely to fall in.
Sure enough, the next morning, when Anansi returned, he found Osebo trapped down in the hole. Feigning sympathy, Anansi asked Osebo why he was trapped down there. Was it because Osebo had been drinking again? It seems this has been a problem of Osebo’s for a while. Continuing his act, Anansi asked Osebo if he wanted help. Despite Anansi’s suspicions, Osebo assured the spider that he wouldn’t eat them.
With Osebo knocked out, Anansi made a ladder and climbed down to tie up the leopard and cart him off to Nyame. All the while, Anansi gloated to Osebo when he woke about his bargain with the Sky God. Just like before, Nyame accepted Osebo from the spider and reminded Anansi that there were still more tasks to do.
Eventually Anansi agreed to “help” Osebo and got two long sticks that he cut with a knife. Anansi told Osebo to stretch out his arms, wide. This would leave Osebo vulnerable, who was unaware of Anansi’ plan. The wily spider threw his knife at Osebo when he attempted to climb out, the hilt of the knife hitting the leopard square on the head, hard enough to knock him out.
Once more Nyame accepted the latest of Anansi’s accomplishments. Just like before, Nyame reminded the spider that there were still a couple more tasks to complete. Anansi had not forgotten the deal and set off again back home.
The penultimate task, capturing the Mmoatia, the Fairy. This one won’t be so easy and Anansi sits down to think a while on the matter. After a time, Anansi goes and carves an Akua doll and then cover it the sap of a gum tree. That done, Anansi took some yams and mashed them up to place in the doll’s hand while the rest went into a bowl. Finally, Anansi took some string to tie around the doll’s waist so he could manipulate it.
Ready, Anansi took the doll down to the Odum tree where fairies were known to gather. The wily spider set up the doll and the bowl of mashed yams and then went to hide out of sight. Soon, Mmoatia appeared, lured away from her sisters by the smell of the yams.
Believing the doll to be a real person, Mmoatia asked if she could have some of the yams. Hidden, Anansi pulled on the string, making the doll nod it’s head. Delighted, Mmoatia went back to her sisters, asking if she’d be allowed to have some of the yams.
The sisters said yes and Mmoatia soon returned to the Akua doll and began to eat all the mashed yams. When she had finished, Mmoatia thanked the doll, however this time, Anansi didn’t pull on the string, so the doll didn’t respond. Infuriated at the doll’s lack of response, Mmoatia went to her sisters to complain about the lack of response.
Mmoatia’s sisters tell her to go back and slap the person for their insolence. Back she goes and on promptly slapping the doll, Mmoatia’s hand gets stuck from the sticky sap covering the doll. Stuck, Mmoatia complains again to her sisters, with one of her sisters commenting to slap the doll with her other hand. Mmoatia does so and that hand too, becomes stuck.
There is something remarkably hysterical about this, I can see the sisters realizing what’s going on, maybe they don’t like Mmoatia for some reason and she’s too insolent and arrogant to really understand that she’s getting tricked and that at this point, the sisters are getting in on it too.
I can just see where Mmoatia complains yet again that both hands are now stuck and the sisters, incredulous to the fact that she’s listened to them and gotten stuck, tell her to hit the doll again with her whole body. This has got to be a scene of where the sisters are looking to see if Mmoatia is really going to be that arrogant, insolent, even dumb enough to listen and they want to see if she’ll do it.
And yes, Mmoatia hits the Akua doll with her whole body, getting well and thoroughly stuck. Hilarity ensues, I can see all of Mmoatia’s sisters flying off in fits of laughter as Anansi emerges from where he’s been hiding to gloat over his success.
Just like the others, Anansi tied up Mmoatia and carried her off back to Nyame. Anansi also stopped on the way home to tell his mother Ya Nsia about the last task he had told the Sky-God he would do and that was to bring his own mother. I can see Mom rolling her eyes and “Yes child, of course child” as she accompanies Anansi back to Nyame.
Impressed by Anansi’ persistence, Nyame upheld his end of the bargain, bringing all the elders, the Kontire and Akwam chiefs, the Adontem, general of his army, the Gyase, the Oyoko, Ankobea and Kyidom. Nyame told all those present of Anansi’s deeds that no one else in the kingdom had been able to do. Nyame showed off each of the four, along with Anansi’ own mother. Everyone cheered as Nyame gifts all his stories, to now be known as Spider Stories to Anansi, naming him the Keeper of Stories and God of Storytelling
Variants – There are numerous variations to this story. Some retellings will omit involving Anansi’s wife and mother in the story. In some of the Caribbean stories, it is a Tiger from whom the stories originate. Other stories, the fairy Mmoatia will be solitary or a dwarf who can turn invisible. Sometimes the task of capturing the Python isn’t mentioned. In yet other stories, Osebo, the Panther is caught, getting tangled up in Anansi’ webs when trying to climb out of the pit. Or, Anansi captures Osebo when he offers to help the panther when he lowers a long branch down and tells Osebo to tie his tail to the branch. In this one, Osebo is killed and skinned by Anansi.
Anansi And The Dispersal Of Wisdom
Now that Anansi has all the stories, you’d think he’d go spread them around to tell and pass on the wisdom that they hold. Well no…
It seems Anansi was trying to hoard all that wisdom in a pot. The knowledge he has isn’t enough and he wants even more of it, just collecting it all. After a time, Anansi decides the pot isn’t safe enough to store all this wisdom and knowledge in and takes it to hide in a tall, thorny tree in the forest. Some accounts say this tree is a Silk Cotton Tree.
Anansi’s son, Ntikuma saw his father up to something and decided to follow at a distance to find out what was up. Staying hidden, Ntikuma saw that this pot was the largest one he had ever seen. As he watched, Ntikuma watched as his father struggled with carrying the pot up. Anansi tried tying the pot in front of him to no avail.
As Anansi grew ever more frustrated by his inability to carry the pot up, Ntikuma couldn’t help himself but laugh!
“Try tying the pot behind you and then climb!” Ntikuma called out.
So frustrated with his failed attempts to climb the tree, it perturbed Anansi more to realize that his own son was right behind him. In his frustration, the pot slipped from Anansi’s grip and fell, hitting the ground with all the wisdom spilling out of it.
Making matters worse, a storm was arriving, and the rain washed all the wisdom down to a nearby river stream. From there, the currents carried the wisdom out to the sea and spreading throughout the world.
Seeing what happened, an angry Anansi chased his son, Ntikuma all the way home through the downpour of rain. When Anansi caught up with his son, the spider realized what was the use of all that wisdom if all it takes is a child to put you in your place?
As for the wisdom, because it mixed with the water, that’s why everyone has a little bit within them, but not all of it.
Variation – A minor variation is that instead of getting angry with his son, Anansi listens, carrying the pot up the tree by the means suggested. While he is sitting there, Anansi comes to the realization that try as he might to know everything, there were still things that others could teach or tell him and the wily spider comes to an epiphany to dump the pot out for everyone who has need, to be able to have access to it when the wisdom mixed with the wind and water.
How Anansi Comes To Have A Long Hind End & How His Head Became Small
In this story, a famine comes to the land and Anansi tells his family that he’s going in search of food for them. On his way, Anansi comes to a stream where there are some people who end up being spirits. It seems these spirits were draining the water in hopes of being able to catch some fish. Intrigued, Anansi asks if he could join the spirits.
The spirits invited Anansi to join them and he soon saw that they were using their skulls to drain the river. That’s interesting. The spirits asked Anansi if they could remove his own skull so that he could help drain the river.
As they drained the water, the spirits sang a song: “We, the Spirits, when we splash the river-bed dry to catch fish, we use our heads to splash the water. Oh, the Spirits, we are splashing the water.”
Anansi liked the song and asked if he could sing it with them and the spirits agreed.
And so, Anansi and the spirits sang as they drained the stream enough that they could catch some fish. The spirits gave Anansi his share of the fish in a basket to take home. As they restored Anansi’s skull, the spirits warned him not to sing the song again that day or his skull would open and fall off.
Anansi assured the spirits that he wouldn’t sing that song again as he had more than enough fish. Soon, Anansi and the spirits parted ways.
The spirits began to sing their song again. Overhearing the song, Anansi began to sing along as well and presently, his skull fell off. Just as he had been warned. Anansi picked up his skull and cried out in embarrassment to the spirits that his head had fallen off!
The spirits heard him and came back. As they listened to Anansi apologize and beg for help, the spirits agreed to help him. As they restored Anansi’s skull, they warned him not to sing the song again as they would not return to help him.
No sooner had they parted ways, than the spirits began singing and Anansi over hearing them, just couldn’t help himself and started singing along. It must have had a catchy tune.
This time, as Anansi’s skull fell, he caught it with his rear end and ran from the stream. And that, is how Anansi comes to have such a small head and huge behind, due to his hard-headedness.
Nyame’s Messenger, Anansi; Why Men Commit Evil At Night, Children Play In Moonlight, And Why Disputes Are Settled During The Day
That, is a lengthy title for a story…
The Sky-God Nyame sired three children one day; Esum the Night, Osrane the Moon, and Owia the Sun. When each of the children came of age, Nyame sent them out on their own where they founded their own village. Of these children, Owia was Nyame’s favorite and decided that they should become chief.
Nyame devised a plan, wherein he secretly harvested a yam or “Kintinkyi.” The task was, that the son who could guess what Nyame had harvested, would become the next chief. In addition, the winner would receive Nyame’s royal stool.
As Nyame set about blackening his stool, his subjects were nearby and Nyame asked if any of them could guess his thoughts. Anansi happened to be there and said that he knew. Nyame then sent Anansi to go gather his sons from their villages. The plot twist here, is that Anansi didn’t really know what Nyame’s thoughts were and decided he would try to find out.
Anansi then took feathers from every known bird and covered himself with them. Then he flew high above Nyame’s village, startling the villagers. This brought Nyame out, who didn’t recognize Anansi’s disguise.
But, Nyame thought to himself, if Anansi were present, he’d know the name of this bird as the crafty spider had known that Nyame wanted his son Owia to win his royal stool. That all they had to do was guess the name of the yam. As Nyame pondered and mused to himself, it allowed for Anansi to overhear the Sky-God’s plan.
Away Anansi flew until he was far enough away to ditch his disguise. From there, Anansi went to Esum’s village and told them that their father wished to see them. Anansi made no mention of Nyami’s plans. Esum gave Anansi roasted corn by way of thanks. Soon after, Anansi made his way to Osrane’s village, delivering the same news he had told Esum. Osrane gave Anansi yam in thanks and again, shortly after, Anansi headed for Owia’s village.
Things were different at Owia’s village when Anansi arrived, bringing the news of Nyame’s desire to see his sons. Owia mentioned to Anansi that he wished his father would know of Owia’s accomplishments. Owia decided to treat Anansi as if he were his own father come and prepared the best feast that he could with sheep. With that treatment, Anansi decided to fill Owia in on what he hadn’t told the other brothers. That being the name of Nyame’s yam that he had harvested.
Anansi then fashioned a pair of drums that would beat out the yam’s name, Kintinkyi to help Owia remember. Anansi with Owia in tow, then went to collect up the other brothers as they returned to bring them to Nyame.
Nyame called an assembly as Anansi presented his three sons before everyone. The contest of guessing the yam’s name was then revealed to each of the sons. The eldest, Esum was allowed to guess first and he said “Pona.” Osrane, the second eldest then took his turn to guess and gave the name of “Asante.” Finally, it was Owia’s turn and remembering what Anansi had told him, said the name “Kintinkyi.” Everyone present cheered Owia’s success.
Nyame then took his eldest son, Esum and told him that as he had not paid attention when growing up, that Nighttime would be when evil deeds would be done. To Osrane, Nyame said that as he had not listened when growing up, only children would play during his time. To his youngest son, Owia, Nyame praised him and made him the chief, decreeing that any issue that needed to be settled, would be done so during the day. To protect himself from his brothers, Nyame gave Owia the rainbow.
Lastly, to Anansi, Nyame blessed the spider for knowing his inner-most thoughts and said that from then on, that Anansi would be Nyame’s messenger.
The Arrival Of Disease
Oh yes, Anansi appeared before Nyame one day asking if he could one of Nyame’s sheep, Kra Kwame and eat it. Anansi said that he would bring a maiden from one of the villages as a gift in exchange for the sheep. This seemed reasonable enough and Nyame agreed to the exchange, giving Anansi the sheep while he waited for the maiden’s arrival.
As it were, Anansi took the sheep home and prepared it for eating. Once he was done, Anansi then went in search of a maiden. In his search, Anansi found a village where only women lived. Seeing an opportunity, Anansi moved there and offered each woman some of the sheep and marrying everyone.
It’s not hard to see that Anansi broke his word with Nyame. It wasn’t long after, that a hunter stopped in the village and saw what happened. The hunter back to Nyame and reported what he had seen in the village. Nyame became furious on learning what Anansi had done and sent his messengers to the village to take every woman living there.
Off the messengers went, seizing every woman in the village except for one who was ill at the time to bring back to Nyame. Anansi pondered what to do, as his remaining wife was very ill. The wife told Anansi to bathe her and then fill a gourd with water from the bathwater. This water would hold all the diseases that afflicted the wife.
See his wife after she was bathed, Anansi saw how beautiful she was, more so than all the other wives in the village. Anansi remarried her right there on the spot. It wouldn’t take long for another hunter to pass by the village and to see Anansi and his wife together.
This hunter returned to Nyame, giving the Sky-God a report of this extremely beautiful woman. Obviously Anansi had tricked Nyame as this woman was more beautiful than all the other women that were taken.
Angry again, Nyame ordered his messengers to go take Anansi’s wife. When the messengers got there, Anansi confronted them and they told Anansi of what Nyame’s desires were. Anansi nodded and complied with the messengers, taking them to where his wife was at.
Anansi had his own plans once the messengers left. He found the gourd holding the diseased water and took a skin by which to fashion a drum. Anansi then set about to make a second drum. Done, Anansi called for his son, Ntikuma and together they began to beat the drums and dance around while singing vulgarities.
Another messenger of Nyame’s, Anene the crow saw what Anansi was doing and went back to report about what he saw. Intrigued, Nyame sent more messengers to ask Anansi to come and perform his songs for him.
Ah, Anansi said, he could only perform his song and dance if all of his wives were present. Anansi promised to perform for Nyame if he could have his wives and his drum. The messengers relayed Anansi’s message back to Nyame and he agreed.
Anansi was brough to the harem where all of his wives were being kept and he began to sing and beat his drum. Nyame soon joined in the merriment with Anansi while the wives joined in too.
However, Anansi’ last wife recognized the gourd that Anansi’s drum was made from. She suspected what mischief Anansi had planned and decided not to join in dancing. Nyame tried to coax the last wife into dancing, but before she could, Anansi cut open his drum and tossed all the water out. All the diseases that had once been washed away now returned and a sickness fell upon the tribe.
So out of revenge, Anansi brought illness and disease to the world. Though to be fair, if Anansi had kept his word with Nyame from the start and brought him a maiden as promised, none of this would have happened.
Kwaku Anansi Takes Aso To Wife & How Jealousy Arrives In The Tribe
In this story, Anansi isn’t yet married to Aso as she is married to another man, known as Akwasi-The-Jealous-One.
True to his name, Akwasi was very possessive of Aso and forbad anyone from seeing or talking to her. Such, that Akwasi built a small village where only the two of them lived. The reason for Akwasi’s jealousy is that he is sterile and worried that Aso would be taken from him if they lived among other people.
Well hey, somebody knew or was paying attention. Nyame got tired of Akwasi’s lack of or failure to father any children with Aso. And if Akwasi isn’t siring any children, than Aso is fair game and Nyame tells the other young men in the village about Akwasi’ marriage to Aso and tells them, that the first man to successfully take Aso away and get her with child, can marry and take her to wife.
That is very much so a cultural thing. Doesn’t Aso get a say in who she’s married to and want to be with?
The challenge proves to be more difficult than expected and all the young men who’ve tried to seize Aso, all fail. Anansi was watching all this and after the latest failure from a young man, Anansi went before Nyame. The crafty spider tells Nyame that he’ll be able to accomplish this task to capture Aso.
Just give Anansi the items he requests to help him. Specifically, medicine, rifles and and bullets.
Off Anansi goes, passing through several villages, passing out the black powder, bullets and guns, telling people how Nyame has sent those to go hunting on the god’s behalf. Sweet! Anansi says he’ll come back later to collect up the meat for Nyame.
While everyone’s off hunting, Anansi makes a basket to hold all the meat in when he returns. It’s either a basket of holding, a very large basket or there’s several small baskets to hold meat in. Either way, Anansi collects up the meat and heads off for Akwasi-The-Jealous-One’s village.
Anansi reaches the river where Akwasi and Aso get their water and he takes out some of the meat, placing it in the water. He then continues up to where Akwasi lives, carrying the basket still. Aso spots Anansi’s arrival and calls out to her husband, who is surprised that they have a visitor. Akwasi comes out to find out who this person is.
Anansi tells Akwasi that he’s been sent by Nyame to this place to rest during his journey. This pleases Akwasi as he welcomes the spider into his village. While this is happening, Aso notices the meat that Anansi left in the river and says something. Anansi tells Aso she’s welcome to it as he doesn’t need it. That she can feed it to any pets they have.
Aso comes back with the meat and shows it to Akwasi. Anansi asks Aso if she would cook some food for him and she sets about preparing a dish known as Fufu. As she is preparing the meal, Anansi tells Aso that it won’t be enough and tells her to use a bigger pot as he offers up more of the meat. The catch is, she is to cook only the thighs, of which there are 40.
With the meal prepared, everyone sits down to eat. As they’re eating, Anansi complains, saying that the fufu Aso made lacks salt. At this, Akwasi commands Aso to bring some salt. Anansi spoke up, saying that wasn’t proper, Aso is eating and that Akwasi should be the one who goes and gets the salt. When Akwasi leaves, Anansi pulls some medicine out of his pouch and puts it in Akwasi’s fufu.
Akwasi returns with the salt and Anansi announces that he’s now full and doesn’t need the salt anymore. I’m sure Akwasi may have grumbled at this, but he set down again and finished his fufu, unaware of what Anansi has done.
As he’s eating, it occurs to Akwasi that he hasn’t asked for Anansi’s name yet. Anansi responds by saying that his name is “Rise-up-and-make-love-to-Aso.” This confuses Akwasi who asks Aso if she had heard the name too. Aso assures her husband that she did and Akwasi gets up to go prepare a room for Anansi. The spider says he can’t sleep in the room, he as to sleep in a room with an open veranda as he is Nyame’s Soul-Washer. Apparently, Anansi’s parents are to have conceived him in an open room, so he can’t sleep in a closed room.
Right, so where does Anansi want to sleep then? It must be an open room in a house that belongs to Nyame and asks for a sleeping mat so he can sleep in front of their room. When Anansi was certain that the two were asleep, he pulled out his sepirewa out to play, singing: “Akuamoa Ananse, today we shall achieve something today. Ananse, the child of Nsia, the mother of Nyame, the Sky-god; today, we shall achieve something, to-day. Ananse, the Soul-washer to the Nyame, the Sky-god, today, I shall see something.” Once the song finished, Anansi went to sleep.
Anansi was awoken by Akwasi calling out for him. But as he didn’t like the name that Anansi had told him, the spider remained silent. The medicine that Anansi had put into Akwasi’s food was working. After a few more attempts to rouse a sleeping Anansi, Akwasi finally used the name “Rise-up-and-make-love-to-Aso.”
Now Anansi responded to Akwasi’s calls, asking what troubled him. Akwasi said he needed. Akwasi replied that he needed to leave for a moment and left.
Entering the room, Anansi saw that Aso was awake and he asked if she had heard what Akwasi said. Aso asked in turn of Anansi what Akwasi had said. So Anansi obliged with the name he’d given, implying that it was a command, not his name. Wink, wink.
The two then made passionate love with each other before going back to sleep and before Akwasi returned. The medicine or poison that Anansi used was rather potent and Akwasi would be getting up eight more times, where once again, Anansi and Aso would make love before he returned. Come the morning, Anansi was on his way.
Two moon later, Aso begins to start showing that she’s pregnant. This gets Akwasi suspicious of how his wife got pregnant given that he’s sterile and can’t father any children. Aso takes the opportunity to tell Akwasi that it was by his own commands that she had made love to Anansi and that the child is his.
Angry, Akwasi takes Aso with him to go to Nyame’s village to complain. On the way, Aso gave birth and the two took the baby with them. On hearing the story, Nyame didn’t believe the two, saying no one had left his village and asked them to point out the person to him.
Aso did so, looking around the village until she spotted Anansi sitting on a ridgepole. She told Nyame that’s the one who impregnated her. Anansi slid down the ridgepole, attempting to hide, but Aso found him again, causing Anansi to fall over and dirty himself.
Now Anansi complained, how Aso and Akwasi’s actions defiled him. That he was Nyame’s Soul-Washer and that his desires had been ignored. Hearing this, Akwasi was seized by Nyame’s other subjects for disobeying a god’s commands. That as punishment, Akwasi was to sacrifice a sheep as penance. Embarrased, Akwasi performed the sacrifice and then told Nyame that Anansi could take Aso as his wife.
Sadly, the baby that Anansi fathered with Aso was taken and killed, their remains scattered about Nyame’s village as a reminder. And that, is how Aso becomes Anansi’s wife and how jealousy entered the tribe.
Anansi’s Bald Head
Sometime after Anansi and Aso were married, when they returned from visiting a plantation outside of the village, a messenger arrived. Anansi greeted the messenger and asked why they had come. The messenger replied that Anansi’ mother-in-law had died the previous day. Anansi informed his Aso of what happened, and plans were made to go to the village to mourn.
The next morning, Anansi went down to the village, looking for some favors. He soon found: Odwan the Sheep, Okra the Cat, Okraman the Dog, Akoko the Fowl, and Aberekyie the Goat. Anansi told all of them how his mother-in-law had died and asked if they would accompany him to her funeral. They all agreed, and Anansi returned home to prepare for the journey.
Anansi prepared funeral clothing, consisting of a leopard skin hat and russet colored clothing. The day of the mother-in-law’s funeral came, and Anansi called upon those he’d asked to come. They brought several supplies with them as well, consisting of guns, drums, palm-wine, and other things that they would share with those attending as they celebrated his mother-in-law’s memory.
Soon they arrived at the village and they fired off their guns to signal that they had arrived. Then Anansi and his company went to the home of his mother-in-law for her wake. Anansi shared out everything that he had brought. Anansi also then presented his offerings to help pay for the funeral.
The next morning, as everyone ate, they invited Anansi to join them. Anansi declined, saying he was forbidden from doing so as it is his mother-in-law’s funeral, that he would not eat until the eighth day. Food was then gathered for his companions who accompanied him for the funeral before they departed back for their own village.
Days passed as Anansi fasted, finally on the fourth day he was too hungry, and he went into the house where he was staying to find food. In the kitchen, he found a fire going with beans in a pot boiling. Anansi ate those, scooping some into his leopard hat after making sure no one was watching. No sooner had Anansi placed his hat back on his head to hide the beans, then Aso entered. Thinking fast, Anansi told Aso that there was a Hat-Shaking Festival taking place at his father’s village and that he was going to go.
Now Aso was suspicious. Who wouldn’t be? Especially when married to a trickster. She asked Anansi why he hadn’t told before of this festival. She also reminded Anansi that he hadn’t eatten anything yet and that he really should wait for the next day. Anansi refused to wait and headed off.
Aso went and gathered up everyone in the village, telling them that Anansi was up to something and that they had to keep him from leaving. As Aso went back after her husband, Anansi grabbed his hat and sang: “Just now at my father’s village they are shaking hats! Saworowa, they are shaking hats! E, they are shaking hats, o, they are shaking hats! Saworowa!”
Anansi began to panic too, for the beans were hot and burning his scalp. He bid his wife and everyone goodbye, that he was leaving. However, everyone began to follow after him, knowing what Aso had told them. Paniced, Anansi told everyone to leave and he sang more: “Turn back, because: Just now at my father’s village they are shaking hats! Saworowa, they are shaking hats! E, they are shaking hats, o, they are shaking hats! Saworowa!”
Eventually, Anansi couldn’t stand the heat from the beans and he pulled them off his head with the hat. Now that everyone could see what Anansi had done, Aso and the villagers began to boo him, such that he took off running.
Anansi promised the road he would thank it if it helped him flee. The road agreed and Anansi mad his way back home and access to some sorely needed medicine for his head. Alas, Anansi’ hair never did grow back.
Why Anansi Runs When He’s On The Water’s Surface
With this story, Anansi goes to Okraman, the Dog and tells him how he plans to build a new village. That sounds sensible and Okraman agreed. Okraman would gather some rope-creepr vines and Anansi would also do the same and they would meet up again on the following Monday. They would also bring a gourd filled with water in case where they met up didn’t have any. As an added measure, Anansi put some honey into his gouard.
Anansi and Okraman met each other at the half-way point to their destination. As they continued to travel, they became tired and Okraman said they should rest a bit and drink some of the water they brought with them.
Now it gets a little weird. As the two rested, Anansi said they should play a game to pass the time while they rested. Well type of game Okraman wanted to know. A binding game, where they would take turns tie each other up. The one tied, would then have to escape. After a bit of disagreement on who would get tied up first, Anansi said he would go first.
Once Okraman had Anansi bound, he decided he was so hungry that he didn’t really want to play anymore. Instead, he picked up the trussed-up Spider and carried him away to go sell for food. When Anansi realized what was happening, he began to complain, making a ruckus until they reached a stream.
Odenkyem the Crocodile heard them and asked Okraman what was going on. Okraman was too frightened to answer and dropped the bound Anansi while he fled. Laughing, Odenkyem freed Anansi from his bounds while Anansi thanked him, asking if there were any way to repay the crocodile. Odenkyem declined, saying he didn’t want anything in return. Anansi insisted, saying if Odenkyem had any children, they come, and he would dress and style their hair. Odenkyem accepted this offer, not suspecting that Anansi would be up to any deception.
Anansi returns home, telling Aso that he needs palm-nuts and onions for a stew and that he’s going to bring back crocodile to provide the meat.
That does not sound like a way to repay someone for rescuing you.
Aso gathers up the ingredients asked for as Anansi sharpens a knife. He mashes up some eto and carries it down to the stream where Odenkyem lives. Anansi calls out for the crocodile, saying he’s got a reward for them and sets the eto in the water. Odenkyem comes, having heard Anansi and just as he’s about to take the gift; Anansi flings his knife at the crocodile.
Thinking he’s dealt Odenkyem a lethal blow, Anansi heads home. Aso notices this and asks where’s the crocodile meat? You didn’t get it? Anansi brushes her off, yelling at her and gives her the silent treatment the rest of the night.
The next morning, Aso went down to the river. There, she spoted the crocodile laying still with flies buzzing around him. Seeing this, Aso returned home to tell Anansi what she saw. Anansi explains that he used a special medicine to kill Odenkyem and it will take another day for the full effect and before he can collect up the meat. Anansi thanked Aso for confirming the kill.
Anansi headed down to the river, taking with him a long stick. Seeing the crocodile laying there still in the riverbank, Anansi carefully walked over and poked Odenkyem. As Anansi continued to poke the big crocodile with his stick and roll the body over, the Spider decided to edge closer. When Anansi got close enough and reached out to touch Odenkyem’s body with his hand, that’s when the big crocodile his own trap and snapped his jaws on Anansi’s arm.
That two wrestled for a while and eventually Anansi squirmed free of Odenkyem’s grasp and fled. Now, everytime Anansi crosses a river, he runs for it, never letting Odenkyem get a second chance.
That wouldn’t be the lesson I’d take from here though.
Note: My intention was to include all the Anansi stories that I could find. However, there are just so many variations and stories from Ghana to the Caribbean and even to North America. I could spend whole volumes and books on his stories and likely still not have found them all as he is still very much so active. So I find myself having to make a cutoff point of what do I include? Obviously, if you like Anansi want to read more of his stories or find a storyteller to tell his stories, you will do so.
And of course, the traditional ending to an Anansi story:
“This is my story which I have related. If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me.”
Just a few little odds & ends that I couldn’t figure out where to fit them in at.
“No one goes to the house of the spider Ananse to teach him wisdom.”
“No one tells stories to Ntikuma” refers to someone who has heard it all.
Other West African tricksters that share many similar stories to Anansi are Br’er Rabbit and Leuk Rabbit.
Br’er Rabbit – The similarities between Anansi and Br’er Rabbit, the trickster figure who originates among the Bantu speaking people of South and Central Africa. Just like Anansi, Br’er Rabbit was brought to the Americas with the slave trade where his stories thrived and became a means by which he uses his wits and cunning to outsmart larger creatures. Stories of Br’er Rabbit are found in the French-speaking islands of the Caribbean where he is known as “Compare Lapin.” The most obvious story to compare Anansi and Br’er Rabbit with is that story of Anansi and his capturing the Mmoatia fairy with the Akua doll and the story of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. The Br-er Rabbit stories were collected up into the Uncle Remus stories by the American Journalist Joel Chandler Harris between 1870 to 1906.
Gede Lwa – In Haitian Voudo, Anansi is worshipped as a loa of this name and he is the intermediary between ancestors and the living. We also see in Haitian folklore, the figures of Ti Bouki, Ti Malice or Uncle Mischief who are other variations of Anansi.
Gizo – A spider trickster-hero of the Housa. His wife is Koki. He’s been equated with Anansi stories and sometimes called the Yoruba Anansi.
Iktomi – A Native American Spider figure whom many have noted similarities with Anansi.
Nambo-Nansi – A Haitian Loa, based on the figure of Anansi.
Other names: Amphictyonis, Sito (“She of the Grain,”) Thesmophoros (“Law Bringer”)
Other Names and Epithets: Achaea, Achaiva (“Sorrowing,”) Aganippe (“the Mare who Destroys Mercifully”, “Night-Mare,”) Anesidora (“Sender of Gifts,”) Antaea, Chloe (“the Green Shoot,” Chthonia (“In the Ground,”) “Corn-Mother,” Daduchos (“Torch Bearer,”) Demeter Lousia, “the Bathed Demeter”, Demeter Erinys, Demeter Melaine “Black Demeter,” Despoina (“Mistress of the House,”) Epipole, Erinys (“Implacable,”) Europa (“Broad Face or Eyes,”) Kidaria, Lusia (“Bathing,”) Malophoros (“Apple-Bearer” or “Sheep-Bearer,”) “Mistress of the Labyrinth,” “Mother-Earth,” Potnia “Mistress,” Thermasia (“Warmth,”) “Green,” “The Giver of Gifts,” “The Bearer of Food,” and “Great Mother.”
When paired with Persephone, she and Demeter are called: “the Older” and “the Younger” in Eleusis, Demeters in Rhodes and Sparta, the Thesmophoroi or “the Legislators” in Thesmophoria, The Great Goddesses and The Mistresses in Arcadia. “The Queens” in Mycenaean Pylos.
Antaea – This name and epitaph is one that is applied equally to Cybele, Demeter and Rhea by the Greeks. The meaning of the name is unclear, though it does denote a name for a goddess whom people could approach in prayer.
Etymology: Earth Mother
It’s generally agreed that the second part to Demeter’s name, “meter” comes from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning mother.
Now, the first part to Demeter’s name, De originates as Da, becoming Ge in Attic and then De in Doric. Making it that Demeter means “Mother Earth.” The root word of De has also been linked to the name Deo, from the Cretan word for emmer, spelt, rye and other grains. In this respect, Demeter is the giver of food. Another alternative from Proto-Indo-European etymology is that De is derived from Despoina and Potnia where Des- means house or dome, making in this case, Demeter mean “mother of the house.”
In Greek mythology, Demeter is the Olympian goddess of agriculture and the harvest. She specializes in the cultivation of grains and is a fertility goddess. In addition, Demeter ruled over the cycles of life and death as well. Demeter is an ancient goddess whose worship predates the Greeks. Both Demeter and her daughter Persephone were the central figures in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Animal: Horse, Pig, Snake
Colors: Black, Green
Patron of: Agriculture, Harvest
Plant: Grains, Wheat, Barley, Poppy
Sphere of Influence: Growth, Seasonal Cycles, Harvest, Sacred Law
Symbols: Cornucopia, Scepter, Wheat, Torch, Bread
Early Greek Depictions
Found in Pylos, there is a set of Linear B Mycenean Greek tablets that dates from between 1400 to 1200 C.E. that depicts “two mistresses and the king” that are thought to possibly be Demeter, Persephone and Poseidon.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Demeter is described as a blond-haired goddess who separates the chaff from the grain.
Demeter doesn’t often appear in art before the 6th century B.C.E. Demeter is often associated with imagery of the harvest, flowers, fruit, grain and sometimes seen in the company of her daughter Persephone where they are both wearing crowns and hold a torch and scepter or stalks of grain. Another scene that Demeter is shown in is that of Athena’ birth. Sometimes Demeter is shown sitting alone wearing a wreath of braided ears of grain.
The Eleusinian mysteries were an annual religious celebration that predates the Olympian pantheon. It is an important life and death ritual with Persephone in her role as a vegetation goddess and Demeter having important roles where they are worshiped together. During the reign of King Erechtheus of Athens is when Demeter’s worship came to Eleusis.
Originally, the festival was celebrated in the autumn during the seasonal sowing in the city of Eleusis. The myth was told in three phases of a decent, the search and the ascent, describing Demeter’s sorrow and her joy as she became reunited with Persephone. This celebration also involved dancing in the Rharian field where the first grains were grown. There are inscriptions of “the Goddesses” being accompanied by Triptolemos, an agricultural god and another of the God and Goddess that refer to Persephone and Plouton.
There were two sets of observances or celebrations for the Eleusinian Mysteries that would be held every five years.
The Lesser Mysteries would be held the 20th Anthesterion (roughly coinciding with February 28th) and take place over a span of week
The Greater or Eleusinian Mysteries would occur during the 15th-21st of Boedromion (September 28th to October 4th).
Ancient Sumerian Origin – The idea has been put forward by the renowned scholar, Samuel Noah Kramer that the story of Persephone’s abduction to the Underworld likely sees its origins in the ancient Sumerian story of Ereshkigal, the goddess of the Underworld who was abducted by the dragon Kur and forced to become the ruler of the Underworld against her will.
Agrarian Cults – The cults of Demeter and Persephone of the Eleusinian Mysteries and Thesmophoria are based on some very old agrarian cults. These cults were led by priest as evidenced from an image on a Minoan vase dating to the end of the New Palace Period. This ancient cult held a connection to seasonal practices and tasks.
Daemons & Animal Nature – In Arcadia, the worship of Persephone and Demeter were the first daemons local deities who governed the powers of nature. Such ancient beliefs show a connection to animal nature that saw a belief in nature personified with nymphs and deities with human forms but also possessing animal heads and tails or other features.
Celebrate Good Times, Come On!
The seasonal disappearance and the later return of Persephone were times of festivals during the time of ancient Greece. The Eleusinian Mysteries are the most well-known and even then, the secrets for this festival were closely guarded, that not much is known about them.
Secret Rites & Immortality – Life after death seems to be a very common motif in many religions and beliefs around the world, even anciently. That somehow, life, some sort of existence continues even after death. It was no different for initiates into the Eleusinian Mysteries who closely guarded their initiation rites. After all, the Eleusinian Mysteries wouldn’t be a mystery if everyone knew about them. For the Eleusinian Mystery initiates, these secrets were that of resurrection and there would be some place better than that of dismal depths of Tartarus.
They wouldn’t be the first to have the idea of life after death. It is thought by the experts, that the rites and mysteries held during the Eleusinian mysteries, along with other traditions such as the Orphic tradition and Mithraism all contributed towards the formation of Christianity and its ideas of resurrection, everlasting life and even immortality.
In the Eleusinian Mysteries, Kore’s return from the Underworld conveyed the idea of immortality and a resurrection from death.
Orphic Tradition – This is where the myth of Persephone is identified with other deities such as Isis, Rhea, Ge, Hestia, Pandora, Artemis, and Hecate. It is within this tradition that Persephone, with Zeus becomes the mother of Dionysus Iacchus, Zagreus or Sabazius.
Local Cults & Worship
Each local cult held their own traditions and ideas for where Persephone had been abducted from. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, it is the “plain of Nysa” where Persephone’s is kidnapped. The Corinthian and Megarian colonists, and Sicilians believed her abduction to happen in the fields of Enna. The Cretes believed that Persephone’s abduction occurred on their island. Other versions will place the abduction in places like Attica, near Athens, or even near Eleusis.
Distant localities that lay in the mythical played a part in creating a sense of some mystically, distant chthonic world that normally couldn’t be visited and created more of an air of mystery and prestige to the Eleusinian Mysteries. In the month known as Anthesterion, Persephone was the only one to whom the mysteries were dedicated to in Athens.
Temples dedicated to the Eleusinian Mysteries and the worship of Demeter and Persephone were found throughout all ancient Greece, Asia Minor, Sicily, Magna Graecia and Libya. Not much is known about the specifics of local rites and worship.
Amphictyony – An ancient ruin site, this is likely the oldest cult center for Demeter in Anthele along the coast of Malis, Thessaly. For those interest in history, this is near Thermopylae where the famous 300 Spartans fought the invading Persians. After the “First Sacred War,” this Amphictyony became known as the Delphic Amphictyony. Basically a meeting place for many local Greek tribes and cities to come gather to maintain temples to the gods, festivals and work out any disputes and problems.
Megara – Temples to Demeter were called Megara and would be built in groves with neighboring towns nearby.
Mysia – The goddess Demeter worshiped here had a seven-day festival held at Pellene, Arcadia.
Sacrifices To Demeter – These would consist of pigs, bulls, cows, honey cakes, and fruit.
New Year’s Celebration & Divine Child
A near eastern culture with strong ties and connection to the ancient Greeks. The Minoans of Crete held a belief in a fertility goddess whom every year, would give birth to the God of the New Year. That sounds familiar. The New Year’s baby to symbolize the New Year.
This god of the New Year would become the fertility goddess’ lover and of course, the cycle would repeat with the god’s death and his rebirth at the New Year. Similar beliefs and cults are found with those of Adonis, Attis and Osiris.
In Minoan Crete, this fertility goddess is Ariadne and the “divine child” who died every year were part of an aniconic religion whose main deities were female. Every year, an ecstatic sacral dance that involved tree-shaking and the worshiping of stone or stone idols were conducted. The idea and suggestion have been put forward that the worshiping of Persephone may likely be a continuation of the worshiping of a Minoan Great Goddess.
Eileithyia – She is a local Minoan goddess found in Amnisos, Crete where she is a goddess of childbirth who gives birth to a divine child. Her consort is given as Enesidaon, the “earth-shaker” an epitaph of Poseidon. Eileithyia’s myth and cult would come to be absorbed into the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Divine Child – This boy consort to the Great Goddess symbolized the annual dying and renewal of vegetation every year.
Mycenean Greece – Arcadia
While we know the mystery cults existed, not much is known about other than a few inscriptions. In Mycenae, Persephone is thought to have been identified with a local goddess by the name of Despoina, “the Mistress” and chthonic goddess of West-Arcadia. Despoina’s worship is just an example of another deity who would be absorbed into the worship of Greek deities. To the uninitiated of the Arcadian mysteries, the name Despoina was not allowed to be revealed.
The local temples throughout Arcadia were often built near springs and there is evidence of continual fires being kept at some of these. The worship of Demeter and Kore were closely linked to springs and animals.
Another mystery cult similar to the Eleusinian Mysteries. Many of the secret rites and traditions are very similar to each other, including an early concept idea of immortality. Thesemophoria were held and celebrated in the city of Athen before coming more wide spread throughout Greece. It was a women-only festival that held strong association to marriage customs. It would be held on the third day of the year in the month of Pyanepsion, marking when Kore was abducted, and Demeter neglected her duties as a harvest goddess. The date can vary, if the festival were held in Athens, it would during the 11th-13 Pyanepsion, roughly coinciding with October 23rd-25th.
One ceremony involved burying sacrifices of pigs into the earth and then unearthing the decayed remains of pigs buried from the previous year. The remains would be placed on an alter and mixed with seeds before being planted.
Thesmophoria would be celebrated over the course of three days. On the first day is the “way up” to the sacred space. The second day is a day of feasting where pomegranate seeds are eaten. The third and final day, is a meat feast that honors Kalligeneia, goddess of beautiful birth. Hades, under the euphemistic name of Zeus-Eubuleus would attend the feast.
Thesmophoros – “Giver of Customs” or “Legislator” is a name and epitaph that links Demeter to the goddess Themis, which derives from the word thesmos, the unwritten law.
Parentage and Family
Cronus and Rhea
Zeus, Oceanus, Karmanor, and Triptolemus
Iasion – Demeter manages to lure Iasion away during the wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia.
Poseidon – The Arcadian cult and myths link Demeter and Poseidon together. In this respect, Demeter is then equated with the Minoan Great Goddess, Cybele.
She is the second child born of Cronus and Rhea.
Chiron – a half-brother by way of Cronus and the nymph Philyra.
Amphitheus I – Her son by Triptolemus.
Arion – A magical speaking horse, her son by Poseidon.
Chrysothemis & Eubuleus – Her children by Karmanor.
Despoina – Her daughter by Poseidon.
Dmia – Her daughter by Oceanus.
Iacchus – Her son by Zeus. Due to the similarity of his name with Bacchus, he is sometimes identified as being Dionysus.
Philomelus – her son by Iasion.
Ploutos – Also spelled Plutus, her son by Iasion.
While Demeter may just very well indeed predate Grecian culture, she is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location for where the gods would preside at while keeping watch on humankind down below them.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians varies. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
Birth Of A Goddess
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Demeter and all her siblings.
As the story goes, Cronus defeated his father, Uranus, overthrowing him to become the leader and King of the Titans. Shortly after, Cronus receives a prophesy that just as he killed his father, so too, would a child of his kill him.
This prompts Cronus to decide to devour his children whole as soon as they are born. This happens five times. Poor Rhea just gets to where she can’t take it anymore. With the birth of her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea hides him away and manages to convince Cronous that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetit, Cronous eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Rhea takes and hides Zeus, that later, when he is older, he can come fulfill the prophecy killing his father Cronus. During the battle, Zeus splits open Cronus’ stomach, freeing all of his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera and Hestia.
There is a ten-year long war known as the Titanomachy, that by the end, Zeus takes his place as ruler and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Demeter and the other gods take up their roles as part of the newly formed Pantheon.
Demeter & Zeus
Zeus as we know, King of the Gods, fathered many children with many goddesses and mortal woman alike and usually by rape.
In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Zeus rapes his sister Demeter, resulting in Kore, Persephone.
By one account, Demeter becomes a fourth wife to Zeus and in their union, they have a daughter by the name of Kore (Persephone).
With the information from the Homeric Hymn and Zeus’ reputation, that would be an awful lot of wives if he married everyone he’s to have raped.
The Rape Of Persephone
You read that right. Yes, I could have titled this one differently. However, this is the title of the story for Persephone’s abduction by Hades to the Underworld that many are familiar with and the most well-known story regarding Persephone. Plus, this is also a story involving her mother Demeter and her role in it and the primary story told in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
When Persephone is first known as Kore, the Maiden, she lived with her mother Demeter, a harvest Goddess. Kore herself is a fertility goddess who makes or causes everything to grow. Kore’s father is the mighty Zeus himself.
Kore grew up and spent her time playing in the fields with the nymphs, gathering flowers, playing and with her mother. As she grew older, Kore came to attract the attention of the other male Olympian gods. Hephaestus, Ares, Apollo and Hermes all sought her hand in marriage. The young Kore rejected them all for she was still interested in playing with her nymph friends and collecting flowers. Demeter made sure that her daughter’s desires are known.
This doesn’t stop Hades, the god and ruler of the Underworld. For Hades, this is love at first sight. As was customary, Hades went to his brother, Zeus (Kore’s father), to petition for Kore’s hand in marriage, getting permission.
Zeus took the proposal to Demeter who refused. Kore isn’t going to leave her or go anywhere, least of all the Underworld with Hades. Not going to happen!
At first, this sounds as if Demeter is simply being unreasonable. The type of response of a mother fearing the empty nest or mother smothering and won’t let her child go. What we would call now days, Helicopter Parenting.
Zeus likely thinks he’s being reasonable, mentioning that every child grows up and leaves their parents eventually and that Kore is certainly old enough to marry. But Zeus isn’t listening, he thinks he knows better. That Demeter is just making an idle threat that if he marries off Kore to Hades and takes her down to the Underworld, nothing will grow!
Since they can’t get Demeter’s approval for the match, Zeus and Hades take a step back, allowing Demeter to think she’s won this round. Hades comes up with a plan to outright kidnap/abduct Kore while she is out gathering flowers. Zeus is in on this too and plants a narcissus flower to attract Kore’s attention.
While Kore is distracted by this new, unusual flower, behind her, a chasm opens up in the earth and out comes Hades, riding in his chariot to snatch up Kore to carry away with him back to the Underworld.
Of all of Kore’s Nymph friends, only the Naiad, Cyane tried to rescue and stop her abduction. Overpowered by Hades, Cyane in a fit of grief cried herself into a puddle of tears, forming the river Cyane.
Demeter, hearing the nymph’s cry out that something was amiss, came running, only to find that her daughter is missing and none of the nymphs in their crying could tell her what happened. Angry, Demeter cursed the nymphs that they turned into Sirens. Only the river Cyane offered any help with washing ashore, Kore’s belt.
In vain, Demeter wandered the earth, searching for her daughter. During her search, Demeter found herself in the palace of Celeus, King of Eleusis in Attica. Demeter took the guise of an old woman, calling herself Doso and asked the King for shelter. Celeus took the old woman in and had her nurse Demophon and Triptolemus, his sons.
Now, from a goddess’ perspective, she planned to reward Celeus’ kindness by gifting his son Demophon immortality. To grant the gift of immortality, Demeter anointed the child with ambrosia and laid him down in the hearth fire with the intention to burn away his mortality. Mom, Queen Metanira walks in and see her baby laying in the fire and understandably freaks out, screaming. Demeter decided against this idea and instead taught the older boy, Triptolemus the knowledge of agriculture. From this, this is how humankind learned how to plant, grow and harvest grain.
Unable to find her, Demeter went and hid herself in sorrow at the loss of her daughter. Once plant life begins to die, the other gods go in search of her. Especially once all their followers begin to cry out there’s no food, help them.
Pan is the one who eventually finds her in a cave. Demeter in her despair, reiterates that without Kore, nothing will grow.
The way this gets told in most retellings, Demeter is threatening to refuse any new life or plant growth. To appease her and prevent people from starving, the gods agree to find Kore so that life can return. It seems that way if you don’t know or forget Kore’s already existing role as a fertility goddess.
Hecate realizes and knows there’s a problem. Hence, she intervenes. All isn’t lost if Kore hasn’t eaten the food of the Underworld, the dead, she can return to the world above.
Down in the Underworld, a frightened and despairing Kore is refusing the advances of Hades and refusing to eat any food. Kore knows that if she eats the food, she won’t be able to return to the living world.
Now at some point, Hecate comes and talks with Kore. At some point, Kore falls in love with Hades or she sees the state of what the Underworld is like. A plot twist comes and Kore does, either willingly or tricked into it, eats some pomegranate seeds. The number of which varies from one to four, Persephone is bound to the Underworld and must spend part of the year there. The rest, she can spend above in the mortal world with her mother Demeter.
This way, Hades doesn’t lose his wife and queen and Persephone can fulfill her role as a fertility goddess, bringing life to the land.
As a note, I came across commentary that says there are some 22 variations in Antiquity about the story of Persephone’s abduction. I doubt I could find all of them. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter written between 650-550 B.C.E. is thought to be the oldest story.
Overly Simplified – One version of the above story is drastically simplified and glosses over a lot of details to the story of Persephone and Hades. In it, Hades just happens to be out and about in the mortal realm when he spots Persephone. It’s easy enough to say Hades has love and first sight and he simply grabs Persephone and carries her off with him down to the Underworld. Persephone is unhappy at first with her lot, but eventually she grows to love Hades and comes to accept her fate as his wife.
As to Demeter, she is so overcome with grief at the loss of her daughter that she neglects her duties with creating plant growth. It is Zeus who makes a decree that Persephone may be reunited with her mother, but only for part of the year. Zeus sends the god Hermes down to the Underworld to retrieve and bring Persephone back.
Hades held no desire to give up the goddess whom he intended to marry. Coming up with a plan, Hades tricked Persephone into eating some pomegranate seeds. Now because she had eaten the food of the Underworld, Persephone was bound to stay.
Persephone needed to only stay part of the year and the rest, she could be with Demeter. This way too, Hades didn’t lose his bride for she would have to return to him.
Not the best version of the story to give as it removes many details and robs Persephone of any agency or choice in the matter. Stockholm Syndrome at its finest.
Version 2 – When Demeter becomes distraught over the loss of Persephone, she goes mad and wanders the land disguised as an old woman carrying a pair of torches in her hands. She searches for some nine days and nights.
Eventually, Demeter meets Hecate on the tenth day who takes pity on Demeter’s miserable appearance. Hecate tells Demeter to seek out Helios, the sun god who can tell her of what happened. Demeter finds Helios who informs her about Hades abducting Persephone.
Demeter begs Hades to release Persephone and allow her to come back to the living world. Hades consults with Zeus about the matter. Hecate returns and lets Demeter know that Persephone hasn’t eaten four pomegranate seeds and because of that, Persephone will still be able to return to the living world. There is a catch and that is, because Persephone has eaten some of the pomegranates, she will have to return to the Underworld for part of the year.
Both version 2 and 3 retellings go for making it look as if Demeter is responsible for refusing to allow anything to grow and does so out of anger or spite. Or that in her grief, Demeter simply neglects her duties for making things grow. This idea originates in Homer’s “Hymn to Demeter,” that gives the idea that Demeter is in charge of fertility.
Those versions work if you want to ignore that Kore/Persephone is a Fertility goddess, she’s the one who is responsible for new plant growth.
Version 3 – Some versions of the story place the episode where Demeter goes to Celeus’ kingdom to hide in sorrow after she learns just who abducted Persephone. Regardless of if its Helios or Hecate who tells her the news.
This placement in the narrative often fits when the impression of Demeter as a Fertility goddess is wanted to be given and that in her despair or out of spite, sets the world on a path to barrenness and winter.
Side Note – Sometimes the characters of Demephon and Triptolemus are seen as being the same person, especially Triptolemus.
Ascalaphus – In what seems to be padding the story, Ascalaphus, the keeper of Hades’ Orchard is who tells the other gods that Persephone has eaten the pomegranate seeds. Demeter becomes so enraged with this news that she buries him beneath a huge rock in the Underworld. Later, when Ascalaphus is released, Demter turns him into an owl.
Hades’ Role In The Myth
In the story for the Rape of Persephone, Hades fits into the story as he is an Underworld deity himself. Among the Greeks, it was believed that Hades rode around in his chariot catching the souls of the dead to carry back down to the Underworld.
With Persephone being a chthonic goddess, the Greeks likely came up with the story to better fit the goddess to her role as a Queen of the World. It unfortunately greatly diminishes her role and what her functions were from a much earlier era.
In the myths where Hades is called Pluto or Ploutos, he is not only a god of the Underworld, but wealth where the riches of the earth can be found. Partnering him up with Persephone is meant only to add to his power and domain for now it is the riches of the earth in terms of fertility. In this case, the wealth of corn or grain springing forth from the ground every year and the promise of renewal it brings with it.
This is perhaps the biggest aspect about Demeter. As an Earth Goddess and Goddess of the Harvest, this is Demeter’s biggest role in her gifting mankind with the knowledge of agriculture, especially for grains and cereals. Without the advent of agriculture, humans would still largely be hunter-gatherers moving about and never having settled in any place to build cities and all the rest that follows.
Grain – This crop was of great importance to the ancient Greeks as it was rare and hard to come by in the Grecian country sides. Persephone’s close association with this crop held the promise of renewal, regeneration and possibly immortality, knowing that she would return every spring.
This strong connection of grain and rebirth or renewal is what ties Demeter so closely to the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Hesiod, there are prayers to Zeus-Chthonios and Demeter to help ensure that the crops will be full and strong.
Secrets Of Agriculture – In the larger story of “The Rape of Persephone,” there is a shorter episode that occurs. During Demeter’s search for her missing daughter, the goddesses’ wanderings took her to the kingdom of Eleusis in Attica where King Celeus ruled. While there, seeking shelter in the guise of an old woman, Demeter, after deciding to not gift immortality to the young son, Demophan, the goddess instead taught the knowledge of agriculture to the older son, Triptolemus. In this way, this is how humankind learned the knowledge of how to plant, grow and harvest grain.
Now, there a few different versions to this myth and other figures such as Eleusis, Rarus and Trochilus will be who learned the secrets of agriculture. Fair enough.
Without the knowledge of agriculture, humankind would have continued to be nomadic, hunter-gathers. With Demeter’s influence, humankind is able to settle and stay in one place to begin building up their cities and civilizations. This fits with one of Demeter’s names: Thesmophoros as “Law Bringer” and laying out the planning and laws of society.
Seasonal Cycles & Changes
Like her daughter, Demeter is also closely connected to the Ancient Greeks beliefs about the changing of the seasons, especially as seen in the story: “The Rape of Persephone.” That Spring and Summer are when Persephone has returned to the Living World to be with her mother Demeter and that Fall and Winter come when Persephone descends back down to the Underworld to be with her husband Hades for the rest of the year.
Sure okay, makes sense I guess.
The more simplified Greek versions would have it that Demeter is responsible for the fertility of the earth and that she causes it to be winter out of grief and spite because her daughter Persephone isn’t with her. Add to that so many people wanting to give stories about how fickle and petty the Greek Gods could be, this just seems to fit the Pantheon’s MO, nobody is questioning the story?
Yay! I love mankind so much! I’m going to teach them agriculture and how to harvest! Boo! Hiss! You took my daughter! I’m going to punish the very mortals I claim to love so much by making the earth barren and winter!
That really doesn’t make sense!
Fertility Goddess – That’s because you have to remember that Persephone is a chthonic fertility goddess. The earth can grow again, and Spring comes when Persephone has ascended to the Living World.
The fertility function is something that the Greeks really seem to have forgotten and which role and function they attached to Demeter. That way, a version of the story where Demeter is the fertility goddess, it’s out of spite and grief that Demeter causes winter and refuses to allow anything to grow.
Harvest Goddess – Yeah! Everyone remembers this aspect about Demeter. Afterall, she taught mankind the secrets of agriculture! This is Demeter’s domain and better fits the dual roles that she and Persephone share.
Alright kiddos, Persephone’s going back to the Underworld to be with Hades again, better bring in those crops and harvest like I told you! It’s gonna’ be awhile and we don’t need any empty bellies or people dying while we wait for Persephone to come back.
Fall comes, and this is where Demeter’s role comes in. As plants become dormant or die, now is the time for harvesting, to make sure there enough food has been stored and gathered for the long winter months until Persephone and Spring returns. The first loaf of bread is thought to have been sacrificed to Demeter.
As a goddess of the Harvest, this domain ties closely to Demeter’s role as a goddess of Agriculture, having taught humankind it’s knowledge so they can grow enough food.
To keep with the version of the story where Demeter makes it Winter out of spite or grief because her daughter has been abducted seems contradictory. Especially if Demeter is one of the few Greek Gods who is considered closest to humankind and understands the most about grief and loss.
Just by the very meaning of Demeter’s name, “Earth Mother,” we know she is a mother goddess. Not necessarily a “Great Mother Goddess” as the Romans would identify Cybele and Rhea with.
As a mother goddess, Demeter is seen as the most compassionate and closest to humankind of all of the Greek Gods for she is the one who understands the most about grief and loss. It’s her gifts of abundance and the harvest yields that nurture and sustain humans through the long winter months.
This is another plant besides grains that is strongly associated with Demeter. Her emblem is that of a bright red poppy flower growing among the barley. Theocritus wrote of Demeter being a poppy goddess, that she held poppies and sheaves of grain in both of her hands. In Gazi, Minoa, there is a clay statuette that was found of a goddess wearing seed capsules on her diadem. The idea has put forward that a Great Mother Goddess, under the names of Rhea and Demeter introduced the poppy with her cult in Cretan.
Healing A Poor Man’s Son – An episode often set during Demeter’s search for her daughter, the goddess comes across a poor, old man who is out gathering firewood. He invites the goddess to his home, likely not knowing who she is, and offers to share a meal with her. This would be the law of hospitality among the Greeks known as Xenia.
When Demeter told the old man about her search for her missing daughter, he wished Demeter success and said that he understood her grief and suffering for his own son lay dying. Taking compassion, Demeter decided to go with the old man to his home. She stopped once to gather some poppies and when they arrived, Demeter went straight to the boy’s bedside, kissing him on the cheek. At once, the boy’s sickly pallor left him, and he was restored to health.
As to the poppies, I assume the story intended some healing use and connection. Poppies are a source of opium from which morphine is derived. There is a history of poppies being used medicinally, mainly for diarrhea and pain, chest colds, coughs and pneumonia. So, a Greek audience likely knew very well what Demeter intended to use the poppies for.
Poppy seeds are also used in preparations for bread and confections. Not likely an immediate use of drug abuse.
Goddess Of Marriage
As a goddess of marriage, Demeter is venerated at the celebration of Thesmophoria. It’s an interesting connection and one that makes sense if one remembers that it wasn’t unusual for mothers to be kept out of the loop as to whom their daughter would marry when the father is making the arrangements.
Of course, this future husband was likely someone easily two if not three times the girl’s age and she would find herself torn from her birth home and leaving to live with her husband, most likely in another town and province.
Demeter’s grief over the loss of her daughter would resonate with many women in ancient Greece. Taking from the stance of Demeter as responsible for fertility, she, unlike many women was able to do something that others couldn’t. That was to defy Zeus’ will by holding the world hostage until he agrees to release Persephone back to Demeter, even if only for part of the year.
It may have been a partial victory, but a victory all the same for Demeter. Many mothers probably hoped to be able to do something similar. Or say, a daughter could return to visit her maternal family, things would never return to the way they were before. But just for a little while, they could.
Demeter & Iasion
Iasion is noteworthy as he is considered the only consort Demeter took by choice rather getting raped or forced by another person. Iasion is the son of Zeus and the mortal woman, Elektra.
During the marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia, Demeter spotted Iasion and fell in love. She managed to lure Iasion away from all the other partygoers. The two would head out to a field near Crete where they would have a tryst. Demeter would later give birth to twins: Ploutos (or Plutus) who is known for bestowing wealth and plenty on people and Philomelos who would become the patron of plowing.
Zeus would become jealous of Iasion and kill him with a thunderbolt. By one account, Zeus didn’t think it appropriate that a Goddess would consort with a mortal. But it’s okay if he does it? Got it.
Ploutos & Philomelos
In a case of sibling rivalry, Philomelos was envious of Ploutos great wealth. Rather than re-enact a biblical scene worthy of Cain and Abel, Philomelos bought a pair of oxen and invented the plow so he could earn a living tilling the earth. This so impressed Demeter, that she placed Philomelos up into the heavens to become the constellation Bootes.
Demeter & Poseidon
Well sure and why not? Demeter is the Goddess of the Earth and Poseidon is the God of Water. That’s a good match and they’re consenting adults and gods.
Mycenaen Greek – This is Bronze Age Greece, there is a script known as Linear B found in Mycenae and Mycenaean Pylos where both Demeter and Poseidon’s names appear. Poseidon is given the epitaph of E-ne-si-da-o-ne “earth-shaker” and Demeter’s name is given si-to-po-ti-ni-ja. In these inscriptions, Poseidon’s title and epitaph E-ne-si-da-o-ne (Enesidaon) links him as a King of the Underworld and gives him a chthonic nature.
Touching back to the Eleusinian Mysteries, there are tablets found in Pylos that mention sacrificial goods for “the Two Queens and Poseidon” or “to the Two Queens and King.” It’s agreed that the Two Queens very likely refer to Demeter and Persephone or its later precursor goddesses who are not associated with Poseidon later.
Eileithyia – She is a local Minoan goddess found in Amnisos, Crete where she is a goddess of childbirth who gives birth to a divine child. Her consort is given as Enesidaon, the “earth-shaker” whom we just mentioned is Poseidon. Her cult and worship would survive within the Eleusinian Mysteries. Plus, we see where local deities’ worship get absorbed and conflated with a more popular, well-known deity.
Arcadia – We’re still in Bronze Age Greece! Here, Demeter and Poseidon Hippios or Horse Poseidon give birth to a daughter, Despoina, who is a goddess in her own right before some of the myths confuse her with Persephone or make her an epitaph of Demeter.
In this myth, Poseidon is a river spirit of the Underworld, appearing as a horse. In this form, Poseidon pursues Demeter, who is also in horse form. Demeter hid among the horses of King Onkios. Due to her divinity, Demeter couldn’t remain hidden for long and Poseidon caught up with her and forced himself on her. When the two gods copulate, Demeter gives birth to a goddess who is also in horse or mare form. This is a myth that sounds very similar to another one between Poseidon and Athena and more accurately, Philyra and Cronos when Chiron is born. The horse motif is very common in norther-European myths and folklore.
As a mare-goddess, Demeter is known first as Demeter Erinys due to her fury with Poseidon for forcing himself on her. She becomes Demeter Lousia, “the bathed Demeter” after washing away her anger in the River Ladon. There’s something to be said for this as you can’t hold onto your anger forever, you must let it go or otherwise it consumes you.
The whole myth of pairing up Demeter and Poseidon is to connect Demeter as a Goddess of the Earth and Poseidon as a God of Water with their connection over nature. Despoina is the daughter who results from their union and whose name could not be spoken outside of the Arcadian Mysteries. Demeter and Poseidon also have another child, a horse by the name of Arion who is noted being able to speak, being immortal, really swift and for having a black mane and tail.
The effigy or imagery of Demeter worshiped in Arcadia depicts her as a gorgon or medusa-like with a horse’s head and snake hair while holding a dove and dolphin that likely represented her power over air and water. Close to the Arcadian city of Phigaleia, there is Mt. Elaios where a cave held sacred to Demeter is found. Here, an image of Demeter Melaine is seated showing the goddess dressed in black with a horse’s head and snake hair. According to Pausanias’ Description of Greece, when the statue caught fire and was destroyed, the Phigalians failed to make a new statue for Demeter, eventually leading to neglecting her sacrifices and festivals, the land became barren.
Demeter & Ascaelabus
I assume this is an episode set during when Demeter is searching for her daughter. When Demeter stopped at one point to kneel by a spring to quench her thirst, a man by the name of Ascaelabus began laughing when he heard the sound of Demeter’s gulping. Angry and embarrassed, Demeter turned the man into a lizard for his rudeness.
Demeter & Triopas
Considered the father of the Thessalians, Triopas was cursed by Demeter after he destroyed one of her temples. In retaliation, Demeter sent a huge serpent to kill Triopas. Even in death, Demeter wasn’t finished and she set Triopas up among the heavens as a constellation where the serpent could forever torment him.
Demeter & Erysichthon
Erysichthon was a Thessalian hero who decided to build himself a palace. Unfortunately for Erysichthon, the grove of trees he chose were sacred to Demeter. As Erysichthon set about to cut down the trees, Demeter came in disguise as a priestess by the name of Nikippe to try and warn Erysichthon not to cut the trees.
Nikippe is also the name of a nymph who lived in the grove. So when Erysichthon ignores the warning and chops down the tree, killing Nikippe, Demeter became very wroth and cursed Erysichthon with an insatiable hunger.
The more that Erysichthon ate, the thinner he became. In addition, when he had spent all of his money to try and sate his insatiable hunger, Erysichthon turned to selling his daughter Mestra into slavery.
Luckily for Mestra, she was a mistress of Poseidon and he granted the powers of shape-shifting into animals. Using this ability, Mestra would be able to escape slavery every time her father sold her.
In New Age, Pagan and Wiccan practices, Demeter is often seen as the Mother aspect of the “Triple Goddess” with Persephone representing the Maiden and Hecate the Crone.
Virgo Zodiac Constellation
The constellation of Virgo is the sixth sign of twelve that form the classical Greek Zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from August 23 to September 22. Virgo is often depicted as a Winged Maiden holding a stalk or sheaf of wheat or some other grain in her hand. This figure is sometimes identified with that of Demeter, most notably by Marcus Manilus in his Astronomicon in 1st century Rome.
Ceres – Roman Goddess
Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility, and motherhood and equated with Demeter. Similarly, Ceres has a daughter by the name of Proserpina is also abducted by Pluto down to the Underworld to become Queen of the Dead. The biggest difference in the myth is that Pluto is struck by an arrow from Cupid after his mother Venus told him to do. This is what causes the God of the Dead to fall madly in love with Proserpina. The other difference is that Cere’s celebrations and festivals come during the Spring while Demeter is venerated in Fall with the Harvest.
Cybele – Phrygian & Roman Goddess
The Greeks are who make the connection and equate Cybele with Demeter and Rhea, seeing in her a Mother Goddess. While Cybele does have her origins in Phrygian worship, when the Greeks encountered her, they just saw another deity like their own, just under a different name. Yes, all three are a Mother Goddess and Goddess of the Earth, you can see why the Greeks would equate all three together.
The Romans are clearer in acknowledging more clearly the genealogy of the Greek pantheon and equating Cybele whom they readily adopted as their own with Rhea and then equating Demeter with Ceres, a Roman Harvest goddess.
Antaea – This name and epitaph is one that is applied equally to Cybele, Demeter and Rhea by the Greeks. The meaning of the name is unclear, though it does denote a name for a goddess whom people could approach in prayer.
Rhea – Greek Goddess
The Greeks are who equate Demeter with her mother, Rhea, a Titaness, mother of the gods who is also a goddess of the earth and fertility. As I previously mentioned with the name of Antaea, that epitaph could be applied to Demeter, Cybele and Rhea equally. It works if you’re just seeing all the gods as different aspects of the divine and not making any distinction. It’s possible that’s just remnants of an older belief and religion that the Greeks replaced with their own.
Gaia – Greek Goddess
I’m my own Grandma!
Not really, leave it to the Greeks to continue with blending all their deities as being one and the same, to blur or ignore their own genealogies for their Pantheon. Gaia is the primordial goddess of the Earth and from whom all life sprang forth. Again, it works if you’re just seeing all of these deities as just different aspects of the divine.