Part I: A history of the use of Asteroids in Astrology
Ceres was first discovered in 1801 and immediately classified as a planet. Shortly thereafter, several other bodies were discovered and classified as planets beginning with Pallas in 1802, Juno in 1804, Vesta in 1807, and later Astraea in 1845. When Neptune was discovered in 1846, it was much larger than the other bodies and was therefore retained as a planet and the others were demoted to the asteroid belt along with thousands more asteroids that were discovered over the next 200 years. The “major” asteroids languished there until in a surge of interest in women’s issues in the 1960s and 1970s inspired the later use of the asteroids in astrological analysis.
We could argue that the modern women’s movement in the US began in 1966 with the founding of the National Organization of Women (NOW) (it incorporated formally the following year) when the Uranus and Pluto were exactly conjunct in Virgo, setting off cultural revolutions of various kinds around the world. In the mid to late 1970s the feminist movement inspired research into the history of women in societies that were matriarchal in nature, and the subsequent return of goddess worship in the form of neo-pagan rituals. In 1976, with Saturn trine Neptune, Merlin Stone’s book When God was a Woman retold the Judaeo-Christian story from the feminine perspective, reaching back beyond the god Yahweh to earlier matriarchal cultures and female deities. This groundbreaking work opened the doors to the study of earlier goddesses and their applications in women’s issues.
In the astrological pantheon of the time Venus was the only feminine archetypes. The love goddess that we know as Venus is significantly watered down from her origins as Innana, Ishtar, Hathor, Ashtoreth and Astarte, various incarnations of the same pagan goddess, slandered in the bibles and expunged from history They were powerful goddesses associated with fertility and sexuality and considered more powerful than their male counterparts. This must have terrified the priesthoods. Ashtoreth, the Hebrew incarnation of this goddess, was called the female demon of lust. The Greeks called her Aphrodite, but their patriarchal society necessitated the diminution of her powers and she was relegated to her role as the goddess of love and beauty. The Romans stripped her power as Venus even more, resulting in the cartoon character we have today.
The Moon of course is not a planet and although it deals with the emotional nature and the quality of nurturing, those are not exclusively feminine qualities.
The feminist atmosphere of the 1970s made its way into the field of astrology, and in 1986 the groundbreaking work by Demetra George called Asteroid Goddesses made four new feminine archetypes available to astrologers. The four major asteroids she covers are Juno, Ceres, Pallas and Vesta, but there are thousands more (both male and female), each with their own astrological symbolism. The use of asteroids by astrologers is not all that common (although I worked with them briefly in the late 1980s but ultimately found they didn’t really speak to me). With the inclusion of Ceres into the planetary pantheon the other asteroids are likely to make their way into the astrological language as well.
I have always had a particular affinity for Astraea (the Starry One), the goddess of innocence and purity and the last of the immortals to live with humans after the other gods had retreated to Mount Olympus as a result of the wickedness of man. She was a goddess of justice, and is often depicted as holding the Libran scales although she is also associated with the constellation Virgo. Perhaps she will return to play a role in the difficult times that are to come.
As I’ve written elsewhere in this column, the inclusion of Ceres into a new category with Pluto, astrological god of transformation, likely indicates a new element of the transformational process. Tomorrow’s column will explore the archetype of Ceres and her astrological functions.
Part II: The Archetype of Ceres
Ceres is the Roman name for Demeter, the Goddess of the Grain. Demeter means “the mother” (de meter) and Ceres is said to be from the root ker meaning “to grow.” Although some researchers believe Ceres and Demeter were two separate goddesses, most historians equate the two. (There is an asteroid called Demeter but she is not commonly used in the astrological pantheon.) Some sources report that Ceres was the fourth sister-wife of Jupiter, king of the gods, with whom she bore her daughter Kore (Persephone), precluding her from the unmarried state that would associate her with the sign of Virgo (more on that later).
The story of the abduction of Persephone forms the fundamental Ceres/Demeter archetype. Persephone was gathering flowers in a meadow when the earth split open and Hades/Pluto emerged in a gold chariot pulled by black horses, grabbed her, and stole her away to the Underworld. Demeter heard Persephone’s cries for help and went to find her, searching high and low, not stopping to eat or drink. One day she reached Eleusis and was found by the daughters of the King. She commanded that a temple be built for her there and there she sat, grieving for her lost daughter and refused to perform her functions of nurturing the land. As a result, the crops died and famine threatened the entire human race. Zeus took pity on her and induced Hades to free Persephone in order to ease Demeter’s grief and restore the land. But Hades, knowing that if Demeter ate while in the Underworld she would have to return to him, gave her some pomegranate seeds and as a result she was compelled to spend one-third of the year (winter) in the Underworld.
Like all divine personages of the Greek and Roman pantheon, Ceres has a dual nature. She is the “greatest cause of joy” in the giving of the grain, but can also cause deprivation, starvation and hunger. Her wrath was legendary: after the abduction of her daughter, she turned the attending handmaidens into the bird-shaped Sirens. She was the goddess of more than grain; she presided over fruits, seeds and most vegetables as well. Because agriculture formed the wealth of the society, she is also associated with abundance and the gifts of the gods. When a villager did not offer her hospitality during her visit to the town, she burned down his house with him in it. Those who did welcome her into their home received abundant gifts.
Demeter had eight children altogether, and her son Ploutos is associated with diligence and acquisition of property.
The Eleusinian Mysteries originated in the temple of Eleusis in which Ceres/Demeter spent her grieving period after her daughter’s abduction. The Mysteries took place during an annual festival that lasted for nine days, during which there was an international truce which allowed worshippers to travel from all corners of the Greek world. Little of the details of the rites of this festival are known because they were treated with absolute secrecy, but they were thought to give protection during life and afterwards as well. The rites included periods of fasting and a special drink which may have had hallucinogenic properties, as well the probably reenactment of the abduction and resurrection of Persephone from the Underworld. It is likely that the hieros gamos or Sacred Marriage was performed between the Priestess and the Hierophant in a fertility rite.
The primary archetype of Ceres is that of the mother. She is the provider not only of food, but also of spiritual sustenance and a faith that life will be reborn from the Underworld. Ceres represents not only the nurturing qualities of the mother, but also the ebb and flow of women’s reproductive cycles that are tied to the Moon. The offering of food to others is a hallmark of the Ceres archetype, as Ceres ruled over the bounty of the harvest. Ceres was the most generous of all the goddesses, providing care on all levels.
The dark side of the Ceres archetype includes depression and loss. The depression of Ceres/Demeter after the loss of her daughter was so great that she withdrew and would willingly have caused the death of all humanity through famine. She cannot bear to lose her adult child who leaves the home to begin her own life and marriage (in most versions of the story Persephone/Kore ultimately finds happiness with Hades/Pluto and settles into a life of comfortable domesticity as Queen of the Underworld). Ceres/Demeter became virtually possessed by her grief and legend in her destructiveness. That which nourishes becomes that which destroys.