Throughout world mythology, the goddess of the good ground, the grain, the autumn harvest, has been appropriately portrayed as a knowledgeable mature woman of the world, mistress of all earthly domains. A matriarch. A Queen. She is the Great Mother who sustains all Her species. She was known as Astarte, Ishtar by the ancient Semites, Semele by Phrygians, Isis in Egypt, Demeter in Greece, and Ceres in Rome.
She is Tari Pennu to the Bengalis, Old Woman Who Never Dies to the Mandan and Mother Quescapenek to the Salish. To the Aztec, She is Chicomecoatl, to the Quechua Indians in Bolivia, She is Pacha Mama and the Huichol call her Our Mother Dove Girl, Mother of Maize.
While the Earth Herself is seen as the fertile mother from whom all life is issued, Her aspect as the spirit of the grain is celebrated in many cultures as Mother Earth's child. This young one represents next year's crop curled like a fetus gestating within the seeds of this year's harvest.
Typically, She is the daughter, the harvest maiden, the corn virgin, although in Aztec Mexico and Egypt, the grain spirit was Her son. To the Aztec She was Xilonen, Goddess of New Corn. The Cherokees call Her Green Corn Girl. To the Prussians, She was the Corn Baby, to the Malays, the Rice Baby. In parts of India, the harvest maiden is Guari and She is represented by both an unmarried girl and a bunch of balsam plants.
The archetypal grain mother/daughter pair is personified in Greek mythology as Demeter and Persephone, also known as Kore, the Virgin Goddess. They illustrate two aspects, the Mother and the Maiden, of the same divine fertile spirit. Demeter is this year's ripe crop and Persephone, the seed-corn taken from the parent. Like the seed sown in autumn, She symbolically descends into the underworld, torn from the breast of Her mourning mother. And, again like the seed, She reappears, reborn, in the spring.
The harvest is experienced at once as a festival of life and a drama of death. In the fall, we commemorate the seasonal demise of the light as well as the plants, which provide us sustenance. Even as we glory in the great yield, the reward of our diligence, we mourn the death of the deity residing in the grain, killed by the cutting of the crops. At harvest, we honor She Who Died so that we might continue to live.
Despite the clear and rational necessity, there is considerable and understandable reluctance to scythe the last sheath of grain. For here lives the Great Grain Mother and Her child -- She who has always fed us, to whom we owe our existence. Can we slash Her body with a sickle? Can we allow Her to be tread upon and trampled on the threshing floor? Can we cook and eat Her seed and feed Her broken corpse to the animals?
Would that we still revered the gifts of life and living bestowed upon us by our mutual Mother Earth.
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