Rice goddesses are found across cultures

Rice Goddesses - Earth Mothers who Influenced Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld

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For centuries, rice has been a staple diet and plays an important role in Asian culture. Although rice farmers have found their lives becoming more difficult due to climate change, Bloomberg states in 2016 that 16 million people still farm rice in Thailand alone. Commemorating the beginning of the rice growing season with an annual Royal Plowing Ceremony in the month of May is an ancient tradition for countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka, among others. Some of the duties of the Emperor of Japan as chief Shinto priest is the ritual planting of the first rice seeds on the grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, as well as performing the first harvest ritual.

Rice is a very important food for much of the world

Rice is a very important food for much of the world ( Public Domain )

Of course, rice would have powerful deities to guard it! Among them are Cambodia’s Po Ino Nogar, the polyandrous goddess who is also associated with the sky, clouds and water. Indonesia’s goddess Dewi Sri is associated with rice and the moon, also believed to have dominion over the underworld, domain of the serpent or naga (dragon) race - the very same race that is, according to legends, the progenitors of the Khmers (an ethnic group native to Cambodia).

Although these goddesses, as well as their many variations of legends, may be overshadowed by the famous Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest, they exhibit many of the elements of Demeter’s characteristics. They all journeyed to the underworld in one way or another. They also resemble Demeter in their association with snakes, fertility, and motherhood.

Demeter and Pluto

Demeter and Pluto (Auturbin / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

In 1849, German Classicist Eduard Gerhard speculated that the various goddesses found in ancient Greek paganism (including Demeter herself) had been representations of a singular goddess who had been worshipped much farther back into prehistory - associating this deity particularly with the concept of Mother Earth. Evidently, the influence of the Mother Goddess reached further than ancient Greece.

The Great Mother Goddess Demeter? Harvest, Law Bringer, and the Mother whose Power Brings Death and Renewal

Before we discuss these goddesses, it is useful to remember the Greek Goddess Demeter and her characteristics. She presided over grains and harvest. Her cult titles include Sito ("She of the Grain") and Thesmophoros ("Law-Bringer"). Demeter bestowed wheat seeds on a trusted priest, who then crisscrossed Earth on a dragon-drawn chariot, sowing the blessings of agriculture and civilization—thus marking the civilized existence of an agricultural society.

Though Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she also presided over the cycle of life and death. The story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone was in fact the oldest story in Greek mythology which was derived from the stories of Isis of Egyptian mythology, and Inanna of Sumerian mythology. Isis and Inanna preserved many features of the Neolithic and Paleolithic Great Goddess; the fertility Goddess who was the primary deity of the agricultural peoples of prehistoric Europe and the Middle and Near East for thousands of years. The myth of the Great Goddess revolved around the annual sacrifice of the young Horned God, a grain god who was both her son and consort.

Altar statues of the Horned God and Mother Goddess

Altar statues of the Horned God and Mother Goddess (Midnightblueowl/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Horned God was sacrificed annually in order that new life could arise out of his death. In Sumer and Egypt, this primordial agricultural myth was told in greater detail through the goddess’ own descent into the underworld, through which the sources of life within the goddess were restored and replenished, enabling her to bring renewal to the world above.

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Martini Fisher is a Mythographer and author of many books, including “ Time Maps: History, Prehistory and Biological Evolution ”. For regular updates about Martini’s books, interviews, courses, and blog, check out  MartiniFisher.com

Comments

An explanation of the Origin, this is represented in other cultures but has become a little confused over time. In ancient maritime such as the Minoan and Phoenician trading, empires used twin snakes iconography, entwined around the axis of the earth, the former she was mother earth, the later refined into the axis of the earth . Thuban, snake in arabic, alpha draconis in the Draco constellation and pole star (North) until 1793BC.
The significance of the second snake could be: a) referring to the little dipper (or ursa minor or little plough): that also looks like a snake, b) that the pole after 1800bce is moving between the two snakes, or c) the second serpent constellation, that is below Taurus (the first zodiac sign – hint) at summer equinox, it is about the equator presenting south. It rises above the horizon at summer if you are in the northern hemisphere.
The Minoan had three goddesses and one male god, that may present cardinal direction as well as explaining seasons. Mother goddess holding both snakes (NORTH, winter solstice, shortest day). Beautiful maiden of birth – Aphrodite type (the birth of day in the east). Mistress of (wild) animals (virgin Artemis the huntress of the moon night (and protector of the underworld – another clue), when the sun sets in the WEST, Athena type). When day and night are of equal length at equinox, representing the spring and autumn equinox festivals respectively. When the sun is at its highest zenith at summer solstice, the master of (domesticated) animals that you watch over in the day and at summer solice is celebrated. The youthful Apollo, with the brightest light or spear pointing directly south. The Cretan Palaces and peak sanctuaries all have votives, but the cardinal centres votives tend to be more prolific towards the respective cardinal direction!
There is a need to kill, cut the head off the snake, it no longer gives you a true bearing North using Thuban the Pole star, hence Athena cutting the head of Medusa. Interesting cutting across head of the snake Parallel to the eyes of both snakes, Draco and (now also Ursa Minor, which also looks like a snake), both point to Kappa Draconis, through the cut, now the new pole star around 1500bce. Its not a bright star, so brighter pointers help.
The fable of the apple of discord is also interesting, leading to the Trojan war. You have Zeus’s wife (Hera) and mother of his children (North), Athena (West) and Aphrodite (East) all wanting to be awarded the apple to or for, the most beautiful. Calisto, is the ancient name for a critical trading hub island of Thera in Minoan times (Santorini), as today the most beautiful one. Calisto the island destroyed with the eruption of Thera in circa 1500BC when the pole star needed to be changed! Calisto being killed by Artemis arrow spurred by the wrath of Hera, but Zeus set her amongst the star to become the Great Bear (part of the Draco constellation, but displacing the importance of the snake). Who won the apple, Aphrodite, East. The trade network moved from Minoan to Phoenician control. The Minoans being pressured after Thera by Mycenaeans from the North and the Iberian to the west. I wonder?
There are lots of the stories that echo in mythology, but help you navigate using the stars and celestial bodies. For example, the reason that Apollo and Artemis are twins is because they both help you find south, in the day when the sun is highest, points directly south, at night when the crescent moon is shining, draw a line through the points of the crescent and like an arrow down to the horizon, you also have south. The stories have got a bit muddled with the Greeks because they didn’t really understand the Minoan stories to assist in navigation, but where preserved by the Phoenicians. The Minoan double axe is not just a ceremonial device, it is both a signalling device to bring reflect light(ning) on a foreign ship and directing Minoan vessels to intercept, a navigational tool to cast shadows and reflection on the ships deck to determine time of day and direction and an accurate angular measurement tool, with offset for seasons to determine latitude! Minoan tech is second to none, everything the Greeks are accredited for seems to have a Minoan origin, including their Parthenon of gods. It becomes further muddled when Romanised. Once you understand the source meaning that is present in Egyptian, Minoan and Phoenician sources, it makes more sense, it is a unified system that explains how mother earth rotates to give day and night, seasons as the earth moves around the sun each year and so on. It genius!

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