THE DEMETER MYTH IN CAMPBELL’S MODEL
INSERTING THE DEMETER-PERSEPHONE MYTH INTO CAMPBELL’S HEROIC FRAMEWORK
NOTE: Some title wording has been modernized.
|CAMPBELL’S (Generic) MALE MONOMYTH||FEMALE DEMETER-PERSEPHONE MYTH|
|Call to Adventure||Journey begins in normal life||Call to the Quest||Demeter hears daughter’s cries – innocent abducted (by Hades into netherworld)|
|Refusal of the Call||Reluctance to heed the call for any reason/circumstance||Doubt the Call||Demeter has no doubt -strong bond – seeks to save|
|Supernatural Aid||Magical mentor appears – often provides aid||Mobilization||Demeter immediately goes in search of Persephone|
|Crossing the Threshold||Enters an unknown field of adventure, danger||Crossing a Threshold||Demeter leaves immortal realm for desperate search|
|Belly of the Whale||Leaves own world & self – willingness to change||Openness to Change||Demeter hides status, offers her servitude to mortals|
|The Road of Trials||Ordeals to overcome on road to transformation||The Road of Trials||Demeter searches 9 days – no food or sleep (example)|
|Meeting with Goddess||Experience of unconditional love||Meeting with Supernatural||Hekaté, Goddess Magic/Sky /Sea/Earth seeks Demeter|
|Woman as Temptress||Facing temptations||Women as Allies||Hekaté sees Demeter’s pain, immediately joins search|
|Atonement with Father||Confront, defeat personal demons||Atonement and Selflessness||Demeter hid herself, wasted away, pining for daughter|
|Apotheosis||Metaphor for death – rest, reflect before the return||Compromise||Demeter does not stop Zeus’ brokering deal with Hades|
|The Ultimate Boon||Achievement of the goal||Achieving the Quest||Persephone to be returned|
|Refusal of the Return||Reluctance to return to ordinary world||Reluctance for the Return||Persephone manipulated by Hades who wants her to stay|
|The Magic Flight||Sometimes adventurous escape with the goal/quest||The Magic Journey||Persephone suffering from Hades’ treatment, difficulty leaving – Zeus sends Hermes to mediate, retrieve her|
|Rescue from Without||Sometimes needs guide or assistant for return||Rescue from Without|
|Return over Threshold||Retain and share wisdom gained through quest||Return: Sharing New Wisdom||Demeter/Persephone spend a day in reunion, sharing|
|Master of Two Worlds||Balance between material and spiritual (growth)||Mastery Over Two Worlds||Women adapt: Persephone 2/3 of year with mother; 1/3 with Hades|
|Freedom to Live||Freedom from fear of death = freedom to live – no regret||
Freedom Through Reconciliation
|Demeter creates Winter Season (no crops) – time when Persephone with Hades|
NOTE: The mother-daughter bond between Demeter and Persephone was so strong, that the “Demeter” myth is actually the story of both women. Therefore, both Goddesses play roles in the myth-making. However, it is important to stress that this in no way suggests that two women are required to complete a heroic journey that one man could accomplish alone.
In addition, a dual-hero model may be considered an unusual interpretation of Campbell’s framework, but it serves to demonstrate one of the differences in the female heroic path: women helping women. Where males tend to act alone, women more often gather together and rely on the support of others, whether that be a single, trusted ally or an entire community.
DO DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE MEET THE HEROIC CRITERIA?
- PROTAGONISTS CENTRAL TO THE STORY
Goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone are the two central characters who share an epic story together.
- A MYTHIC, EPIC JOURNEY THAT RESONATES ACROSS CULTURES
This story is one of the most familiar of the Goddess myths. Among other things, it served to explain birth and growth, crops and seasons to the ancient Greeks, plus it speaks to the powerful bond between mothers and daughters, and by extension, shared experiences among women.
The words “epic” and “Homeric” are used interchangeably to describe a lengthy adventure, usually a heroic quest. Indeed, the sweeping drama of the Demeter myth was immortalized as one of the Homeric hymns.
Bonds of family, especially between female relatives, as well as the threads of community are universal in their cultural significance.
- COMING OF AGE, AND TRANSFORMATION FROM ORDINARY TO EXTRAORDINARY
The “ordinary” Demeter is represented by the woman that Campbell focused on as his idealized but “limited” female. She is a Goddess and immortal who willingly casts off that status in order to find her abducted daughter, even offering to serve a mortal family when she grew despondent over her fruitless search. When her true identity is discovered, she cloisters herself in a temple and wastes away in despair. During that time, as Demeter declines so do the crops in the fields. Zeus had known Persephone’s fate – and even played a role in a deal that led to her capture. When he becomes aware of Demeter’s self-sacrifice, his guilt causes him to intervene. Ultimately, Demeter’s willingness to die because she could not find her daughter results in Persephone’s release. Both Goddesses return to the immortal realm and the people once again receive a bountiful harvest.
The “ordinary” Persephone is an innocent young girl picking flowers with her friends when she is brutally abducted by Hades. She then endures his physical and mental dominance and emotional manipulation until Zeus brokers a deal for the girl’s return to her mother.
Both women are “extraordinary” after Persephone is returned to Demeter. Persephone has faced trials and matured before she was ready. She finds the courage to accept the brokered contract and lives two-thirds of each year with her mother, but the other one-third with Hades – a fate that she both fears and detests. Demeter, too, although exhausted by her search and self-imposed banishment, finds the strength of will to reconcile the new arrangement, accepting it as the best compromise. However, she uses her power over the harvest to create the Winter Season: the one-third of the year during which her daughter is the consort of Hades becomes a period when crops will not grow.
- HEROINES CHANGED FOREVER
Both Demeter and Persephone were greatly changed by their journeys. Both learned lessons and adapted to unhappy lives following Persephone’s return.
Demeter’s tenacious search for her daughter, her near-sacrifice when the quest seemed hopeless, and her creation of the winter season as a way to grieve her daughter’s fate with Hades were among the events that changed – or were changed by – the Goddess.
Persephone’s loss of innocence, enslavement, and manipulation by Hades mark her coming of age. She reluctantly adapts to being his consort for one-third of her life, and becomes an unwilling Queen of the Underworld.