Annapurna Parvati and Artemis the Nurse

Annapoorna

When I speak of Artemis as the divine nurse I don’t mean to bring forth the imagery of Artemis whipping out a breast to suckle newborns, or anything of the like. I don’t even agree that the orbs attached to the Ephesian statue are breasts (although Roman copies in Italy have exaggerated into breasts), rather I think of them as eggs which was a very important mystic motif in the Hellenic world. Rather, even as Artemis is widely associated with numerous streams and rivers, she is a goddess who at the birth of the baby draws up the nourishment for the baby (ie lactation). This is her provision of nourishment for the newly born who need to nurse as most warmblooded creatures require. It is for this purpose that she was likely honored by wetnurses of infant boys in Sparta, as well as her wide worship as Kourotroph (a role she shared with Hekate, and Ge notably). Her role of nourishment though should be taken in consideration of the sum of the whole.

She was important enough in the harvests that she sent the Calydonian Boar to ravage when she was forgotten in the harvest sacrifices. In Italy we find the cult of Diana which the sacred Nemoralia in August was said in part to have been celebrated to hold off autumn storms from devastating crops which may have some cross cultural sharing given the sacred laws inscribed in Greek at her temple). Artemis’s own role as Soteira, that we find a loose connection with human nourishment through protection of the crops, as well as protection of young animals that she provided as consumption as the huntress of the mature wildlife.  With her associations with rivers and streams there are also tentative association with freshwater fish. As such it is all connected with the concept of nurturer and sustenance that allows from growth and development.  As a huntress such growth and development, and thus proper nutrition, would be of high priority to her as a goddess who is also a huntress.

This quite relatable to Artemis’ manifestation in India as Parvati when she comes in the for of Annapurna. Although Annapurna is associated with provision of meals of rice and grain, she herself is not really, to my way of understanding, a grain goddess. She doesn’t bring the grain nor is she responsible for its production and cultivation. She provides the nourishment. It can be said that the food end-product which she distributes in order to feed men is more her area, something which began with her feeding the world with Shiva. She is overall a goddess of nourishment in general, “Ann” being food and “purna” referring to full or complete. In this sense she is considered too the goddess of cooking, which seems like a strange role to association the very apparently  undomestic Artemis with until we consider that cooking food is believed to have its origins in Neolithic hunting where game meat that would otherwise be too tough to consume was softened by cooking. In which case we can see a very tangible link between cooking and hunting despite notions of the person who brings home the bacon being separate from the person who cooks said bacon to borrow a colloquialism. Her associations, like Apollon, to the living flame further reinforces it. Again to look towards Nemi which may or may not have connection to the Hellenic Artemis cults, there was a significant votary connection between Artemis and the lamps of Vesta.  There are many ways in which we considered Artemis and Hestia to be cooperatively working goddesses, and the production of food in cooking would be a huge common territory.

Even the vague lunar associations that Artemis has are not distinct from Annapurna as the goddess is depicted seated with a moon upon her brow. The moon has a long history of association with making full and increase, which may be the basis of Artemis’ connection with the moon as well as it is not otherwise very clear exactly how the moon fits into her overall cults.  The pull of the moon on growth, the movement of the tides as well as tracking the times for harvest and planting (anyone seen a falmer’s almanac?) is quite significant when taken into consideration the vague connection Artemis seems to have with the harvest. Such connection becomes more evident when we look at myths in which Artemis, with Athena, was said to have led Persephone to the spot where Hades stole her away. The marriage of Persephone is very much lined up with the grain harvest and the sewing of the new seeds (plant eggs) which would be very evident in the worship of Artemis if she is implementing  these activities in her mystic mythic role. This certainly provides an interesting slant to Annapurna’s neglect of the food giving fields causing all things to go barren. It is not because she is responsible for plant growth necessarily. But the harvest and planting that is part of food production she plays a part in, just as wild animals disperse seeds through consuming them and defecating the seeds from their bowels. Consumption and food making are not separate from the process of cultivation, but neither are they directly the same. We see this too with animals in which Artemis is the huntress who provides for young creatures and protects them but has also been connected loosely with their fertility and reproduction even though she is not a fertility goddess strictly speaking. The connection between crops and animals is a close bond that we can even see even with Apollon and his associations with protecting and harvesting herds and crops alike. Her likeness in this respect with food grains is probably part of what significantly connected her as a daughter of Demeter whose myth of the barrenness of the earth bears similarity to that of Annapurna.

Further, associations with Artemis and primal energy can be linked to food as well which provides the physical body with energy, even as she herself fills the spiritual body with energy in the pursuit of her spiritual hunt towards driving forth our souls. I talk more of Artemis and energy in my post here. Likewise the prayer to Annapurna address she who gives her energy to Shiva, this is his nourishment, not the material food. In either case what is important to take away is less the myth surrounding what is going on but more towards what is being presided over. She is offering nourishment and sustainment to the body and the soul. This is the importance of this function of Artemis-Annapurna.

That said I can really easily imagine Apollon and Artemis getting into a heated argument over the importance of spiritual pursuits vs food/nourishment.

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