74 - Shh! It’s a Secret… or is it?

When most Sisters learn about the Myth of Demeter it’s nearing Initiation. Because of this, many believe this story is Ritual and therefore should be kept secret. Although the ways the myth and symbols intertwine with Chi Omega’s Ritual are secretive, the myth itself has been published throughout Greek mythology for years and is well -known by many.

Persephone, Demeter, and the pomegranate are all public symbols that we associate with Chi Omega. Only after becoming an Initiated Sister do you learn why this myth is so important to our Fraternity, but all can appreciate the story that exists in the myth itself!

Myth of Demeter

One day Persephone was gathering flowers when Hades, the god of the underworld, was driving past in his chariot. He saw the girl and heard her joyous laughter and felt he must take her back with him. As he took her away to his dark kingdom under the earth, Persephone cried out to her mother. Demeter heard the cry, yet she was unable to rescue her daughter. Demeter began to search in vain for Persephone.

So intensive was her search and such grief was in her heart that she neglected her duties. The flowers drooped, the grain parched, and the grass perished. Helios, the sun god, traveled as much under the earth as over it and knew Persephone’s location. He told Demeter that her daughter was being held in the underworld.

‘The Return of Persephone’ (1891) Frederic Leighton

In despair, Demeter went to Zeus, the king of the gods, begging him to allow Persephone to return. Zeus, seeing that all vegetation was dying because Demeter was neglecting her role of tending to the plants, granted Persephone permission to return if she had not eaten anything while in the underworld. Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds; thus, Zeus decreed that she must divide her time between the earth and the underworld. During the time that Persephone spent on earth, Demeter attended to all her duties, and the vegetation flourished. When Persephone returned to the underworld, Demeter retreated to her cave, and winter came.

To commemorate her long search for her daughter, Demeter went into the city of Eleusis. Persephone’s reunion with Demeter became the basis of an important culture centered at Eleusis, only 12 miles from Athens. Because no one ever revealed the ceremonies that took place there and because little is known about them, they were called the Eleusinian Mysteries. Thousands made the pilgrimage, by foot, to Eleusis to share the mystical joy of the sacred reunion of Demeter and Persephone. The Mysteries, in some way, involved the concept of immortality. Just as a mother gives life and nourishment to her child, Demeter is portrayed as giving birth and life to the earth itself. Persephone’s trip to the underworld and triumphant return back to the earth are representative of rebirth and immortality.

Two festivals were instituted at Eleusis. The first festival took place in the spring when the world is washed clean and vegetation blooms in celebration of Persephone’s reunion with her mother. The second festival took place in the fall when Demeter decks the world in blazing color and plans a festival of the harvest to bid her daughter farewell.

Symbols in Chi Omega

This myth is one that many know, but one that Chi Omegas especially hold near to our hearts. Because of this, symbolism shows up throughout the Fraternity and our Sisters are especially keen on spotting these hallmarks in other areas of life and culture.

Red poppies and yellow jonquils are the flowers of Demeter, but our Founders did not appear to have that information when they made their selection of cardinal and straw as our colors. It was a stroke of luck!

Red poppies and yellow jonquils

Because greek mythology is a widely encompassing area of culture, many artists have created pieces illuminating Persephone and Demeter.

Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti,1874 of Persephone

At the Chicago Convention in 1908, Mary Wright Bain, then S.M., presented designs for a more elaborate seal. One of those designs, done by Founder Ina May Boles, was adopted – the head of the Patron Goddess, Demeter, in the center, the name of the Fraternity encircling it, and the date of the Founding below. The outer edges are made in five irregular scallops. The statue of Demeter of Cnidus, (c 330 B.C.) now in the British Museum, was her inspiration for the drawing.

When the S.H. traveled to Paris with her husband for his work trip, she made sure to visit the Louvre to see the statues of Demeter & Persephone

Pomegranates have shown up in countless Chi O Creations merchandise, Convention attire, and costumes over the years!