Months ago, it was February, I wrote an article on feminism in astrology and the Asteroid Goddesses (click here to read it). With the intention of writing multiple articles on first of all the four major Asteroid Goddesses: Ceres, Pallas Athene, Vesta and Juno. But also on Goddesses like Kali and Isis, my favorites, and many more. Finally, the first of the series is here. Starting with Ceres, the first asteroid discovered. I’m publishing this article much later than I intended. But maybe it is fitting. Because tomorrow, May 10th, it’s Mother’s Day here in the Netherlands and in most other countries. So in honour of all mothers and especially mine, I offer you my writings on one of the Great Mother Goddesses and the very first asteroid Goddess that was discovered: Ceres. First I will tell you of the myths of Ceres. After that I share a few insights on placements of the asteroid Ceres in birth charts.
The Roman Goddess Ceres was originally known to the ancient Greeks as Demeter. Her name was derived from the ancient form ‘da mater’ meaning ‘earth mother’. Ceres was a daughter of Saturn and Rhea. Her sisters were Vesta and Juno; her brothers Zeus, Neptune and Pluto. These sisters and brothers became the rulers of ancient Greece, after they defeated their father Saturn and the Titans. Ceres was the Goddess of agriculture and harvest, often depicted with grains and corn, and symbolized the cultivated and fertile soil that fed humanity. Providing humanity with food, she was worshipped as a Mother.
The Story of Ceres and Persephone
Ceres was also known as the mother of Persephone (Kore). Both Ceres and Persephone were beautiful, they were desired by men and Gods. The bond between mother and daughter was so strong, that they did not wish to be separated. Persephone kindly declined offers from men and Gods. One day however, when Persephone was on walk in a meadow not in the presence of her mother, she felt drawn to beautiful narcissus. She inhaled the intoxicating fragrance from the flowers. At that moment the earth split open and Pluto, God of the Underworld, emerged and grabbed Persephone. He took her away into the world of the dead, so he could claim her as his bride and queen. The crack in the earth healed itself, leaving no trace of the incident. As soon as Ceres realized her daughter was missing and that no one seemed to have a clue who could have taken her, she turned desperate because of grief. For nine days she refused to bathe and eat.. On the tenth day Ceres turned to the Goddess Hecate. Hecate then suggested that Ceres should turn to Helios; the Sun God and seer. Helios informed Ceres that Pluto had abducted Persephone, with approval of Zeus. Zeus liked the idea of Persephone ruling the underworld as a queen. Ceres responded to this news by wrapping herself in mourning clothes. She was full of hatred towards Zeus and she withdrew from Mt. Olympus. She disguised her identity and wandered as an old woman in the cities of men.
Eventually Ceres sought refuge in the city Eleusis where she was welcomed into the palace of King Celeus. There she met Queen Metaneira, who then trusted Ceres with the care of her young son Demophoon. Ceres wanted the child to become immortal. She anointed him with ambrosia every day. Every night she would place him in the fire’s embers in order to burn off his mortality. One night the Queen discovered Ceres performing her rituals with the young prince. The Queen screamed out, furious at Ceres. In response Ceres revealed her true identity as a Goddess and showed her attempt to bring the child eternal youth. Ceres then ordered that a temple would be build, so that mortals could offer her worship and also be initiated into her rites.
Ceres sought refuge in her temple. Still full of grief and rage, she put a curse on the earth and brought a terrible year for humanity. The earth became infertile and all crops were destroyed. If the Goddess of fertility must live without her child… humanity would suffer from starvation. Zeus soon realised: if humanity would die out, there would be no more worship of the Gods. Zeus tried to summon Ceres to come back to Olympus, but she refused. Different Gods and Goddess offered Ceres gifts in hopes that she would come back to Olympus and make the earth fertile again. Ceres kept refusing: only if her daughter were to be freed she would relent. Zeus then commanded Hermes to descend into the underworld and command Pluto to release Persephone. Persephone, in the meantime, had also been refusing food or drink; mourning like her mother. Pluto agreed to let Persephone go, but first tempted her thirst by offering pomegranate seeds. Since the pomegranate was the symbol of sexual consummation, Persephone became bound to their marriage union after eating some seeds.
When Persephone returned to the land of the living, she and her mother Ceres were happily reunited. Ceres questioned her daughter on what happened in the underworld and asked if she had consumed any food of the dead. When Persephone revealed what had occurred, Ceres realised that her daughter had been tricked. Persephone was still Pluto’s prisoner. So, Ceres still refused to lift her curse. In order to prevent a war between Ceres and Pluto, Zeus then commanded that the two would comprise. For each pomegranate seed that Persephone had eaten, she would spend a portion of the year with Pluto in the underworld. Persephone could spend the remaining months with her mother on earth.
So it has come that each Spring Persephone emerges above ground and rejoins Ceres. Ceres then allows the earth to become fertile and fruitful. In Summer everything blossoms and nature flourishes. When Autumn comes however, Persephone returns to her husband Pluto in the underworld. After her daughter’s departure Ceres turns the earth barren. The earth stays cold and desolate until Spring, when Persephone returns to her mother again.
Before leaving Eleusis, Ceres expressed her gratitude to the city by giving the oldest son, Triptolemus, of the King and Queen the first grain of corn. She then instructed him to convey her sacred art of agriculture to humanity. She then. taught the people of the city her sacred rites and initiated them into her divine worship. These rites were to kept secret by the people of Eleusis, never to be shared with others. These rites formed the heart of the Eleusinian Mysteries and became the major initiation rites of the ancient world. The rites allowed the people of Eleusis to traverse the passage between death and rebirth during their earthly lives. The direct experience of the eternal continuity of live in its visible and invisible forms, symbolised by the secret of the seed, offered the participants a guarantee of life without fear of death, of confidence in the face of death.
As Demetra George writes: “Thus, the world alternately blooms and dies each year as Ceres rejoices at Persephone’s return and weeps at her leaving. On an outer level, the story of Persephone’s annual disappearance and return is an allegory of spring sprouting from dormant winter seed that explained the changing of the seasons to the peasants. On an inner level, the reenactment of this drama gave humanity access to the archetypal themes of loss and return. On the esoteric level taught by the initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries, this ritual revealed the great transformation mystery – the cycle of birth, death and renewal.” (Asteroid Goddesses, page 43-44.)
In Homer’s Hymn to Demeter, the rape of Persephone by Pluto is described. The rape is not described in the earliest stories of Ceres and Persephone’s drama. But later retellings of their story include that Persephone was raped by Pluto. “Historically, Persephone’s rape symbolises the power struggle that was occurring between the patriarchal cultures (Pluto) and the indigenous matriarchal goddess cults (represented by Ceres). The final outcome of the story points to a clear victory for the northern Zeus worshippers. The Great Mother not only had to stand by and watch her daughter being raped and abducted, Ceres was also forced to share her beloved Persephone with the enemy. Hence, she had to abdicate a portion of her powers over the birth and death rituals, a dominion that was eventually wrested from her in its entirety.” (D. George, Asteroid Goddesses, p. 45) Originally, Ceres her dominion was not just agriculture and fertility, but also death and the land of the dead. In ancient times it was not uncommon for men to claim their power and take over rulership of women by either claiming the queens or their daughters, by rape and/or forced marriage. Even though Pluto is known as the ruler of the underworld and was worshipped as the ruler of the underworld for a big part of Greek and Roman history, in more ancient times the underworld was not just his domain but owned by his sister Ceres.
The Great Mother Goddesses: death and life
In different cultures and different times in history we find that Mother Goddesses are worshipped. These Goddesses have attributes, qualities and storylines in common. Ceres / Demeter is an universal archetype of the Great Goddess that emerged in the Near East and Egypt and then migrated to Classical Greece. In the myths associated with these cultures we find a recurring theme of the great fertility / Mother Goddess. Inanna from Sumeria, the Semitic Ishtar and Isis as the Goddess of Egypt. We also see this archetype in the Minoan Rhea, the Buddhist Tara, and the Hindu Durga/Kali. All these Goddesses have in common that they entered the realms of the dead to later return to the land of the living.
Persephone’s abduction into the Underworld is a “metaphor of the descent we must all make – into the darkness and terror of the unconscious where fears of abandonment and death reside.” (A. Joseph, Zodiacal Virgo and the Ceres Complex) As teacher of the Elusian rites of death, Ceres governs our need to fully understand the death process and thereby resolve our fears about dying.
“Ceres as a goddess of death functions as the matrix which receives the death for rebirth. the entrance to rebirth is through the womb. Thus Ceres as Mother, whose blood provides nourishment for the fertilized egg and fetus, rules over the women’s ‘blood transformation mysteries’.
The first mystery is that of menstruation, indicating the ripening of the womb whereby a girl becomes capable of becoming a mother. In earlier times a girl’s first menstrual period was an occasion for great rejoicing. The second blood mystery is pregnancy. To the primitive mind, pregnancy meant that the menstrual blood ceased its monthly flow and instead formed and nourished the embryo. The third and final mystery, the transformation of the mother’s blood into child-nourishing milk, provides the foundation for primordial mysteries of food transformation.
In the earliest offerings to the Great Goddess, menstrual blood, not human blood, was sacrificed. When the esoteric teachings became denigrated, menstrual blood was replaced by animal and human sacrifice. Today, tantric mystery teachings still believe that the menstrual blood and semen are the true elixir offerings for rejuvenation and enlightenment.” (D. George, Asteroid Goddesses)
The astrology of Ceres (and Persephone)
“To enter into the figure of Ceres means to be pursued, to be robbed, to be raped, to fail to understand, to rage and grieve, but then to get everything back and be born again.” (C. Jung, Essays on a Science of Mythology)
Asteroid Goddesses in our chart have a different story to tell than the personal planetary bodies (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn; these rule the zodiacal signs and have thus rulership of the houses in our chart). The outer planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) and the four major Asteroid Goddesses (Ceres, Pallas, Vesta and Juno) have a certain influence in our birth chart; but have no saying in the final judgement over the houses. Their energies are always present in some way. But not always in a major sense. Their presence is stronger when they are aspected to the personal planets. For example; I can strongly identify with the stories of Pallas and she is exactly conjunct my midheaven. I do recognise the themes of the other three major Asteroids Goddesses in my chart and life, but not as significantly and they are less strong aspected. In my experience exact conjunctions are the strongest aspects, followed by oppositions and squares and then come the trines. So, you don’t need to identify exactly with the stories of all the Asteroid Goddesses. Just like you might not identify with stories of Mars, Jupiter or Saturn. But, especially when there are strong aspects, I find that clients can identify in some way with either the stories of the Goddesses or the qualities or personalities of the Goddesses. The stories of the Goddesses can be tellings of our own personal traumas and pains. They can also show us where to find healing and empowerment.
So, back to Ceres in astrology. There are a few notes on that. When it comes to the Asteroid Goddesses and their placements in birth chart, I would first look at aspects. The stronger the aspect, the stronger the story or qualities of the Goddess are present in the individual’s life. With positive aspects the individual might have a strong mother-daughter relationship for example. With difficult aspects (opposition or square; or aspects with Mars or Saturn) stories of trauma in the mother-daughter relationship might be present or stories of rape and abuse (also look for the placement of Persephone in the chart; this might clarify). So with Ceres we can think of her maternal qualities, the mother-daughter relationship, her relationship to the earth/food/agriculture, her relationship to the underworld, etc. People with strong Ceres aspects often find fulfilment in caring for others. Or these people work in organic farming or the food industry. Because of the relationship Ceres has with food; hard aspects can sometimes point to a difficult relationship with food, for example eating disorders. Because of Ceres her relationship with the underworld and the trauma of losing her daughter, she can point out where we have lessons in attachment and separation and in dealing with death, loss and suffering. Again, these lessons might be more present in life when there are strong aspects to personal planets or points. And the house Ceres is placed in, in the birth chart, is an important indicator as to where these lessons are to present themselves.
I won’t be going over all different Ceres placements; Ceres in the different signs and houses. Because that would be way to exhausting for this article. And, if you are curious about your Ceres and other Asteroid Goddess placements, you can always book a reading with me. But I will name a few examples to clarify how Ceres can express herself in birth charts and individual lives.
Demetra George, famous astrologer who has done a lot of work on Asteroid Goddesses, has Ceres opposite her Sun. This placement is a beautiful example in many ways. The name Demetra comes from Demeter (Greek); the other name of Ceres (Roman). Demetra George has Greek roots and as a young women she worked on an organic farm. Her Sun is in Leo in the first house. Meaning Ceres is placed in the seventh house of relationships (long term committed partnerships and client relationships) in the sign Aquarius. Demetra later became an astrologer having a wide audience of clients whom she provided and still in limited amount provides readings for with much care.
Elizabeth Kugler-Ross, famous psychiatrist, had Ceres in Virgo in the seventh house. Ceres in Virgo is known for nurturing with perfection and service. Nurturing is expressed through teaching others to express themselves. Kugler-Ross dedicated herself to the service of others by counselling those in need of psychological healing.
Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, has Ceres conjunct his Moon in the eight house of mental suffering. With this placement nurture might be expressed in working with the mentally ill, in palliative care and/or in working with taboo topics like sexuality (sex as a physical act is not a eight house topic as some believe, but a fifth house topic; taboo however does belong in the eight house). Freud became known for his theories on issues regarding sexuality in relation to mental health and motherly love.
Queen Victoria had Ceres conjunct the Sun, Moon and ascendant (yes!) in Gemini in the first house. She was the matriarch of the expanding British Empire and mother of nine children. She was also known for intensly mourning her husband.
“Every mother contains her daughter in herself and every daughter her mother; every woman extends backward into her mother and forward into her daughter.” (C. Jung, Essays on a Science of Mythology)