The FLUXUS JOURNAL
by Litsa Spathi
A gift for close friends/family of Litsa Spathi. This Pomegranate is the Greek symbol for good health and good luck.
Pomegranates and symbolism
Exodus chapter 28:33-34 directed that images of pomegranates be woven onto the borders of Hebrew priestly robes. 1 Kings chapter 7:13-22 describes pomegranates depicted in the temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem. Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. For this reason and others many Jews eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah.
The wild pomegranate did not grow natively in the Aegean area in Neolithic times. It originated in the Iranian east and came to the Aegean world along the same cultural pathways that brought the goddess whom the Anatolians worshipped as Cybele and the Mesopotamias as Ishtar.
The myth of Persephone, the dark goddess of the Underworld, also prominently features the pomegranate. In one version of Greek mythology, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and taken off to live in the underworld as his wife. Her mother, Demeter (goddess of the Harvest), went into mourning for her lost daughter and thus all green things ceased to grow. Zeus, the highest ranking of the Greek gods, could not leave the Earth to die, so he commanded Hades to return Persephone. It was the rule of the Fates that anyone who consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Persephone had no food, but Hades tricked her into eating four pomegranate seeds while she was still his prisoner and so, because of this, she was condemned to spend four months in the Underworld every year. During these four months, when Persephone is sitting on the throne of the Underworld next to her husband Hades, her mother Demeter mourns and no longer gives fertility to the earth. This became an ancient Greek explanation for the seasons.
It should be noted that the number of seeds that Persephone ate is varied, depending on which version of the story you hear. The number of seeds she is said to have eaten ranges from three to seven, which accounts for just one barren season if it is just three or four seeds, or two barren seasons (half the year) if she ate six or seven seeds. There is no set number.
The pomegranate also evoked the presence of the Aegean Triple Goddess who evolved into the Olympian Hera, who is sometimes represented offering the pomegranate, as in the Polykleitos' cult image of the Argive Heraion (see below). According to Carl A. P. Ruck and Danny Staples, the chambered pomegranate is also a surrogate for the poppy's narcotic capsule, with its comparable shape and chambered interior. On a Mycenaean seal illustrated in Joseph Campbell's Occidental Mythology 1964, figure 19, the seated Goddess of the double-headed axe (the labrys) offers three poppy pods in her right hand and supports her breast with her left. She embodies both aspects of the dual goddess, life-giving and death-dealing at once. The Titan Orion was represented as "marrying" Side, a name that in Boeotia means "pomegranate", thus consecrating the primal hunter to the Goddess. Other Greek dialects call the pomegranate rhoa; its possible connection with the name of the earth goddess Rhea, inexplicable in Greek, proved suggestive for the mythographer Karl Kerenyi, who suggested that the consonance might ultimately derive from a deeper, pre-Indo-European language layer.
Pomegranate - opened upIn the sixth century BCE, Polykleitos took ivory and gold to sculpt the seated Argive Hera in her temple. She held a scepter in one hand and offered a pomegranate, like a royal orb, in the other. "About the pomegranate I must say nothing," whispered the traveller Pausanias in the second century AD, "for its story is something of a mystery." Indeed, in the Orion story we hear that Hera cast pomegranate-Side into dim Erebus — "for daring to rival Hera's beauty", which forms the probable point of connection with the older Osiris/Isis story. Since the ancient Egyptians identified the Orion constellation in the sky as Sah the "soul of Osiris", the identification of this section of the myth seems relatively complete. Hera wears, not a wreath nor a tiara nor a diadem, but clearly the calyx of the pomegranate that has become her serrated crown. In some artistic depictions, the pomegranate is found in the hand of Mary, mother of Jesus.
In modern times the pomegranate still holds strong symbolic meanings for the Greeks. On important days in the Greek Orthodox calendar, such as the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and on Christmas Day, it is traditional to have at the dinner table "polysporia", also known by their ancient name "panspermia" in some regions of Greece. In ancient times they were offered to Demeter and to the other gods for fertile land, for the spirits of the dead and in honor of compassionate Dionysus. In modern times the symbolic meaning is assumed by Jesus and his mother Mary. Pomegranates are also prominent at Greek weddings and funerals. When Greeks commemorate their dead, they make "kollyva" as offerings that consist of boiled wheat, mixed with sugar and decorated with pomegranate. It is also traditional in Greece to break a pomegranate on the ground at weddings, on New Years and when one buys a new home for a house guest to bring as a first gift a pomegranate which is placed under/near the ikonostasi, (home altar), of the house, as it is a symbol of abundance, fertility and good luck. Pomegranate decorations for the home are very common in Greece and sold in most homegoods stores
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(c) December 2006 - Fluxus Heidelberg Center.