July 16, 2013

Pandora: The First Woman

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , at 7:45 am by Babs

In Greek mythology, Pandora (“all gifted”) was the first woman, fashioned by Zeus as part of the punishment of mankind for Prometheus’ theft of the secret of fire.  According to the myth, Pandora opened a container releasing all the miseries of mankind – greed, vanity, slander, envy, pining – leaving only hope inside.

The myth of Pandora is very old, appears in several distinct versions, and has been interpreted in many ways.  In all literary versions, however, the myth is a kind of theodicy, addressing the question of why there is evil in the world.  Hesiod, both in his Theogony (briefly, without naming Pandora outright, line 570) and in Works and Days, ca. 700 BCE, has a very early version of the Pandora story.  In modern times, Pandora’s Box has become a metaphor for the unanticipated consequences of technical and scientific development.  The evidence of the vase-painters reveals another, earlier aspect of Pandora.

The Myth According to Hesiod

The titan Epimetheus (“hindsight”) was responsible for giving a positive trait to each and every animal.  However, when it was time to give man a positive trait, there was nothing left.  Prometheus (“foresight”), his brother, felt that because man was superior to all other animals, man should have a gift no other animal possessed.  So Prometheus set forth to steal fire from Zeus and handed it over to man.

Zeus was enraged and decided to punish Prometheus and his creation: mankind.  To punish Prometheus, Zeus chained him in unbreakable fetters and set an eagle over him to eat his liver each day, as the eagle is Zeus’s sacred animal.  Prometheus was an immortal, so the liver grew back every day, but he was still tormented daily from the pain, until he was freed by Heracles during The Twelve Labors.  Another possible reason for Prometheus’s torment was because he know which of Zeus’s lovers would bear a child who would eventually overthrow Zeus.  Zeus commanded that Prometheus reveal the name of the mother, but Prometheus refused, instead choosing to suffer the punishment.

To punish mankind, Zeus demanded that the other gods make Pandora as a poisoned gift for man.  Pandora was given several traits from the different gods: Hephaestus molded her out of clay and gave her form; Athena clothed her and the Charities adorned her with necklaces made by Hephaestus; Aphrodite gave her beauty; Apollo gave her musical talent and a gift for healing; Demeter taught her to tend a garden; Poseidon gave her a pearl necklace and the ability to never drown; Zeus made her idle, mischievous, and foolish; Hera gave her curiosity; Hermes gave her cunning, boldness, and charm.  Thus the name Pandora – all gifts – in Hesiod’s version derives from the fact that she received gifts from all deities.

The most significant of these gifts, however, was a pithos or storage jar, given to Pandora either by Hermes or Zeus.  Before he was chained to the rock, Prometheus had warned Epimetheus not to take any gifts from the gods.  However, when Pandora arrived, he fell in love with her.  Hermes told Epimetheus that Pandora was a gift to the titan from Zeus, and he waned Epimetheus not to open the jar, which was Pandora’s dowry.

Until then, mankind lived life in a paradise without worry.  Epimetheus told Pandora never to open the jar she had received from Zeus.  However, Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her and she opened it, releasing all the misfortunes of mankind: “For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills [kakoi] and hard toil [ponoi] and heavy sickness [nosoi argaleai] which bring the Keres [baleful spirits] upon men; for in time to keep one thing in the jar: hope.  The world remained extremely bleak for an unspecified interval, until Pandora “chanced” to revisit the box again, at which point Hope fluttered out.  Thus, mankind always has hope in times of evil.

In another, more philosophical version of the myth, hope [Elpis] is considered the worst of the potential evils, because it is equated with terrifying foreknowledge.  By preventing hope from escaping the jar, Pandora in a sense saves the world from the worst damage.  The daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora was Pyrrha, who married Deucalion and was one of the two who survived the deluge.

Problems and Mistranslation

Most scholars contend that Pandora’s “box” is a mistranslation, and her “box” may have been a large jar or vase, forged from the earth, perhaps because of similarities in shape between a jar and a woman’s uterus.  There is also evidence to suggest that Pandora herself was the “jar”.

The mistranslation is usually attributed to the 16th Century Humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam when he translated Hesiod’s tale of Pandora.  Hesiod uses the word “pithos” which refers to a jar used to store grain.  It is possible that Erasmus confused “pithos” with “pyxis” which means box.  The scholar M.L. West has written that Erasmus may have mixed up the story of Pandora with the story found elsewhere of a box which was opened by Psyche.  The original Greek text from 700 BC of Hesiod’s Works and Days, whence we get the earliest extant story of Pandora and the jar, does not specify exactly what was in the box Pandora opened.

M.L. West has written that the story of Pandora… pandoapoakdook… and her jar is from a pre-Hesiodic myth, and that this explains the confusion and problems with Hesiod’s version and its inconclusiveness.  He writes that in earlier myths, Pandora was married to Prometheus, and cites the ancient Catalogue of Women as preserving this older tradition, and that the jar may have at one point contained only good things for mankind.  He also writes that it may have been that Epimetheus and Pandora and their roles were transposed in the pre-Hesiodic myths, a “mythic inversion”.  He remarks that there is a curios correlation between Pandora being made out of earth in Hesiod’s story, to what is in Apollodorus that Prometheus created man from water and earth.  (Appolodorus, Library and Epitome, ed. Sir James George Frazer.)


The story of Pandora’s Box can be interpreted in more than one way, but is often thought to be a version of “curiosity killed the cat”.  Various feminist scholars believe that in an earlier set of myths, Pandora was the Great Goddess, provider of the gifts that made life and culture possible, and that Hesiod’s tale can be seen as part of a propaganda campaign to demote her from her previously revered status.  For an alternate view of Pandora, see Charlene Spretnak’s Lost Goddesses of Early Greece; A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Mythology, 1978.  The presence of hope in a jar full of evils for mankind raises questions about whether Hope is a comfort for the evil mankind experiences, or whether the hope for something better must be interpreted as the damnation of mankind.

Pandora As Depicted By the Vase-Painters

Jane Ellen Harrison turned to the repertory of vase-painters to shed light on aspects of myth that were left unaddressed or disguised in literature.  The story of Pandora was repeated on Greek ceramics.  On a fifth century amphora in the Ashmolean Museum the half-figure of Pandora emerges from the ground, her arms upraised in the epiphany gesture, to greet Epimetheus.  A winged Ker with a fillet hovers overhead: “Pandora rises from the earth; she is the Earth, giver of all gifts,” Harrison observes.  On another vase showing the fashioning of Pandora she is inscribed with her alternate name: [A]nesidora (“who sends up gifts”).  “Pandora is form or title of the Earth-goddess in the Kore form, entirely humanized and vividly personified by mythology.”  and she quotes a scholium on a passage of Aristophanes mentioning a sacrificed white fleeced ram to Pandora: “to Pandora, the earth, because she bestows all things necessary for life”.  Thus Harrison concludes “in the patriarchal mythology of Hesiod her great figure is strangely changed.  She is no longer Earth-born, but the creature, the handiwork of Olympian Zeus.”

In Summary

Pandora plays an intriguing role in Greek mythology.  According to the most well-known legend, she was the first woman, created by the ruler of the gods, Zeus.  Zeus was assisted in this task by other Greek deities, including Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, who used her powers to bestow upon Pandora grace and loveliness; Hermes, messenger of the gods, gave Pandora persuasion; and Apollo, god of music and the arts, favored the woman with musical skill.  Because of the gifts of the gods, Pandora was very attractive – her name even means “all gifts”.

However, Pandora had a flaw.  She was curious.  When she encountered a jar that belonged to Epimetheus, she could not resist learning about its mysterious contents, and so she therefore opened it.  This jar contained all of the evils, which were then released into the world.  The only thing that remained in the jar was hope.

She, as the first woman, created after man, is sometimes compared to Eve in Hebrew myth.  Pandora was originally a title of the goddess Rhea (the name means all gifts) – but the story of Pandora and her jar (not box) was more the anti-feminine invention of the poet Hesiod.

But even if Pandora had a jar and not a box, women as portrayed in ancient art are forever putting things tidily away in boxes of various kinds.  There’s even the myth of Danae, where she and her son Perseus were themselves tidied away in a box and dumped at sea.  Francois Lissarague has discussed the idea that the box is symbolic of women’s life in Athens – she was to a large extent herself seen as a container – for the sperm, for the child, who spent most of her life in a container (house) designed for the purpose of allowing no unauthorized person to open the box.

There is a second myth which is less known that says Zeus created Pandora, in good faith, to be a blessing to man.  Zeus sent with her box containing the marriage presents, which were given by every god.  Pandora, being curious, opened the box and all the blessings flew out, save one, Hope.

It is said that the second myth seems more logical, for how could Hope be stored in the same container as all manner of evil and illness.  Unlike today’s associations with Pandora, we need to remember that this goddess’ name mans “all-giver” or “sender of gifts”.  And when the evils of the world threaten, let us not forget that Pandora’s box still, and always, holds hope.

February 28, 2013

Demeter: Goddess of Determination

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , at 9:46 am by Babs

Demeter, in Greek mythology, was the Goddess of corn and the harvest.  When her daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, God of the underworld, Demeter’s grief was so great that she refused to be goddess of the grain any longer.  Her neglect of the land meant no plants grew, and famine devastated the earth.  She neither ate nor slept, she roamed land and sea and refused to give her up for lost – her dedication to the search devastating herself and the earth.

Demeter is the Goddess of the earth, agriculture and fertility in general.  Sacred to her are livestock and agricultural products, poppy, narcissus and the crane.  She is the mother of Persephone by Zeus.  During the months Persephone lives with Hades, Demeter withdraws her gifts from the world, creating winter.  Upon Persephone’s return, spring comes into bloom.

Other names and titles: Achaiva – Spinner, Amphictyonis – name at Anthela, Achaea – name in Athens, Ceres in Roman Mythology.

Her celebration, 27th March, is actually shared by two Goddesses: Demeter Goddess of the Earth, and Selene Goddess of the Moon.  It represents the creation of Selene and the moment Demeter was granted power oer the earth.

The Goddess Demeter was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians in the form of Isis; to the Romans she was known as Ceres; and people in both ancient and modern times speak of Gaea, the earth, she is Demeter.  Demeter chooses to appear older than most other Goddesses, somewhere in her mid 50s. She has a full figure and rich golden hair the color of ripened corn, and she wears it plaited like a coronet, though sometimes this is covered by a veil.  Demeter radiates dignity.  Her eyes are most unusual: a mixture of blue and green and grey.  She wears a long, loose-flowing  pale blue gown.  Demeter features in one of the most dramatic of mythical tales: the abduction of Persephone by Hades.

“I am the mighty Goddess Demeter.  As the weeks pass my name will become more familiar.  Mortals need instructing on farming and I am the one to do it.  I have spoken and explained much and many are changing their methods.  Although it takes longer, the old way of plowing a field was much better for the earth than the way it is now done.  Oil seeps into the soil from machines; chemicals poison the earth.  The use of weed killers and pesticides must stop.  That is why there are so many strange illnesses that were not known in the past.  Those that destroy nature’s balance whether it be on land or sea will not be allowed the freedom that they hope will be theirs.  Those responsible will be punished, and in some cases severely.  There will be retribution.  Those who experiment and develop deadly chemicals for agricultural use will pay in full until they abandon this.”

Although Demeter may be the original ‘earth mother’, and people might assume her to be the kind and gentle Goddess of our planet, make no mistake she is fierce.  For nearly two years our team members were dragged through fields, withered with chemicals and burned along with stubble, the objective, explained Demeter, was for a mortal to literally experience what the chemicals and other modern agricultural practices felt like.

For those moments the team-members experienced what the earth experienced and it was both frightening and painful.  When Demeter makes threats, take them seriously.

“When mortals worshipped us centuries ago they grew flowers and crops without all this.  The crops grew in abundance.  Now with all this the crops are not as healthy and mortals endanger their own health yet think they are overriding nature.  That can never happen.  This is why I am trying to influence mortals as much as I can.  I am the great Demeter and I will succeed.  There were many ceremonies for me in the old days and fertility rites performed.  That was not necessary.  In days long gone there was celebration, much feasting and drinking of wine at festivals.  Entire villages were very merry, full of good food and wine.  It grieves me tha this practice was not continued.  Through the mists of time I have been forgotten, but mortals will again become aware of my presence.”

The Skirophoria, which is also known simply as the Skira, is somewhat of  a mystery to us now.  We know that there was a procession that included the priestess of Athena, a priest of Poseidon, and a priest of Appollon. They began at the Acropolis and took the Sacred Way towards Eleusis, ending at the Kephisos River.  Eleusis is of course the center of the cult of Demeter and Kore, and it was here that their mysteries were celebrated.  There was also a women’s ritual honoring Demeter on this day, in which pigs were sacrificed to her.  The participants were supposed to avoid sexual contact, and were said to eat much garlic as a “turn-off” to their husbands.

As the goddess of grain and fertility, Demeter played an important – indeed essential – role in ancient Greek society.  The Greeks, like most ancient cultures, relied upon agriculture for their sustenance.  As the patron deity of agriculture, Demeter was accordingly worshipped with festivals such as Thesmophoria and other honors.  Likewise, her association with grain also translated into a close relationship with human fertility, as this was another crucial part in continuing survival.  There are, consequently, many myths dealing with Demeter in her capacity as a fertility goddess.

Perhaps the most poignant of these myths is the so-called Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in which the story of the goddess and the loss of her daughter Persephone is told.  The Hymn to Demeter is thought by scholars to be not only a myth about the abduction of Persephone and the consequent anger of Demeter – it also alludes to aspects of the mystery cult referred to as the Eleusinian Mysteries.  This cult falls more properly into the realm of Greek religion, rather than myth, so it will not be discussed in any detail here.  However, as it is an integral aspect of the worship of Demeter, it should at least be mentioned in this context.

In addition to the myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, another intriguing tale that involves the goddess of fertility is her affair with the mortal Iasion.  According to the version told by the poet Hesiod, Demeter and the hero “coupled with passion on a field plowed three times, in the rich soil of Crete.”  Apparently, this legendary liaison with Iasion was quite a fruitful one, for Demeter became pregnant and eventually bore her human lover a son named Plutus.  The goddess Demeter was known as Ceres in Roman mythology.

Suggested Mantra: Determination

Suggested Affirmations:

  • I can achieve my dreams
  • I am determined to succeed
  • I am a success in all that I do
  • I believe in my dreams and desires
  • Lives are made better by my efforts
  • I find my path following my inclinations
  • I am allowed to stop and appreciate the quiet


  • Rose quartz
  • Pink tourmaline
  • Emerald
  • Green fluorite
  • Moss agate (pink and green stones)
  • Red jasper
  • Boji stone

Demeter’s search for her lost daughter Persephone took her on the path of poverty, abuse, and eventually madness.  But her perseverance and determination paid off in the end – as truly devoted motherhood always does.

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