When you hear WINTER, what associations pop into your head? Snow? Santa? A forest scene? Hot chocolate? For me winter brings up images of pomegranates. Yes, a pomegranate. A fruit that normally ripens in summer. I love the pomegranate! In more ways than one–as a fruit as a symbol, as a subject of art. I am so obsessed with pomegranates I have made tons of drawings, sketches, and even soaps and sugar scrubs from their seeds. (If you want to get real technical, the official word for the seeds of a pomegranate is “avril”.) I am attracted to all things pomegranate.
I think the association is strong because of my Hellenic heritage. The pomegranate has a rich history in Greek culture. Pomegranates have an ancient and modern significance. From the ancient tradition, the pomegranate was sacred to Persephone, the reason why we have winter in the first place. We all know the story by now. She ate the pomegranate seeds, which kept her prisoner to the underworld, and forced into matrimony with the most depressing of gods, Hades, lord of the underworld. The fruit due to its connection to death and Persephone’s eventual return to earth and life has become ingrained as a chthonic symbol of resurrection. Its association with the goddess of grain and cultivation, Demeter, the mother of Persephone makes it a uniquely feminine symbol. Ancient Greeks actually offered pomegranates in rites to worship Demeter to bless the earth.
POMEGRANATE as ANCIENT GODDESS SYMBOL
Its curvaceous bulbous form evokes the curves of the Mother Earth goddesses in the dawn of civilization before patriarchal deities eclipsed their devotion. In fact some anthropologists and mythographers, George Thomson an English classical scholar and Marxist being one, claim that pomegranate juice alludes to menstrual blood or the blood shed during childbirth by mothers.
(Could it have become a replacement for actual human blood during rituals? The world may never know).
MODERN SYMBOL IN GREECE
It makes sense that the presence of the many ruby round seeds in its core makes it a fit symbol for fertility, abundance, and good luck. This is partly the reason why Greeks even to this day continue the custom of smashing a pomegranate against the threshold of their homes for good luck on New Year’s Day. The tradition goes that the more seeds spill out of the fruit, the more abundant and prosperous the year will be. But pomegranates feature during other occasions such as moving into a new home again smashed on the doorstep for good luck and abundance. The entire holiday season witnesses pomegranates, sometimes known as “polyspora” or “many-seeded,” adorning silver trays as centerpieces in many a Greek home.
Additionally, the breaking of a pomegranate in front of the house door could also be performed at other times. For example, it was used in some places of Greece at the 1st of September, as a magical means to avert death. It was believed that on this day Kharos, the personification of Death (akin to the ancient Charon), determined who was going to die during the year. The breaking of the pomegranate was also used in the past by newly-weds, probably to ensure the couple’s fertility. It can be traced as far back as the Homeric times.
Don’t forget that koliva, the memorial grain prepared to remember the dead, also feature red avrils of pomegranate, again emphasizing the symbolic connections of the fruit to death and resurrection.
UNIVERSALITY OF SYMBOL
The pomegranate is central to perhaps all cultures that have come into contact with it. In the historical record it traces first to ancient Persia, the land that first cultivated it. According to author Alexandra Hamburger, “the pomegranate was also associated with the Aegean Triple Goddess, who evolved into the Greek goddess Hera; in Polykleitos’ cult image of Hera in the Argive Heraion, she is portrayed with a sceptre in one hand and offering a pomegranate in the other as an emblem of fertile blood and marriage, and a substitute for the narcotic capsule of the opium poppy. In some Greek dialects, the pomegranate was called rhoa, thought to be connected with the name of the earth goddess Rhea, mother of Hera.
The pomegranate also features extensively in almost all of the great religions. In Judaism, pomegranates were the fruits that were brought to Moses to demonstrate the fertility of the promised land, and King Solomon is said to have designed his coronet based on the fruit’s serrated crown-like calyx. It is traditional to consume pomegranates at the festival of Rosh Hashana (New Year) because the pomegranate, with its numerous seeds, symbolizes fertility.”
In Islam, the Qur’an mentions that pomegranates grow in the gardens of Paradise, and in Hinduism and in Persian and Chinese culture, the pomegranate is also considered a symbol of fertility and procreation, associated with earth goddesses. In Armenia, it is a semi-religious icon representing fertility, abundance, and marriage.
A fellow blogger and scholar of ancient goddess practices, Harita Meenee makes further insights into the psychology of the pomegranate:
Carl Jung believed that the pomegranate, when it appears in dreams, is analogous to the phallus as an emblem of fertility and healing. Yet fertility is not always something physical. It can refer to the mind and its creative powers or to the psyche, pregnant with archetypes. It can also pertain to the heart and its abundance of love. I take the pomegranate to be a very special Goddess symbol of our inner riches. Its seeds are our wisdom, joy, and the ability to bring about change.
She also mentions how the symbol has been used in Christian mythology, especially depicted in Renaissance paintings of the Madonna. She points out, “In theory the pomegranate is an allusion to Jesus’ death and resurrection: the seeds bursting forth from the pomegranate are likened to Christ emerging from the tomb. Yet in reality, it’s one of the many Pagan and Goddess motifs that managed to survive through the centuries. Not far from Paphos, the Cypriot city whose main goddess was Aphrodite, now stands the Greek Orthodox Chrysoroyiatissa Monastery, dedicated to Mary; its name is often interpreted as “Our Lady of the Golden Pomegranate” (although there are other suggestions about its meaning too).
POMEGRANATE as SUPER FOOD
Not only is pomegranate good as a symbol for tradition and myth, it is actually considered a superfood. Rich with anti-oxidants it has been touted as decreasing cholesterol, inhibiting cancer, increasing heart health, invigorating skin, and in general making a wonderful health tonic. Scientists have discovered that a molecule in pomegranates, transformed by microbes in the gut, enables muscle cells to protect themselves against one of the major causes of aging.
I personally use pomegranate juice and pulp not only to ingest for a beauty routine, but also to make my natural line of artisanal soaps, bath bombs, and facial scrubs.
Here is a quick and easy recipe to use pomegranate in a rich sugar scrub:
1 cup coconut oil
½ cup sugar
1 fresh pomegranate de-seeded OR you can also use ½ package of pomegranate seeds (found in the produce section)
4-5 4 oz. Jelly jars
#1. Cut the top of your fresh pomegranate off and de-seed a 3-4” section placing the seeds and juice in a small bowl. If using pomegranate seeds from the produce section, use a blender to puree ½ the package of pomegranate seeds (mixture will be chunky). This will give you enough juice for the nice pink color as well and the pomegranate particles to add to your scrub.
#2. In a medium size bowl, combine the coconut oil, sugar, pomegranate puree or the seeds and juice from the fresh pomegranate and mix well.
#3. Add the scrub to your 4 oz. Jelly jars.
*Makes 4-5 4 oz. Jelly jars. This will last 1-2 months, simply stir the jar if you see that the mixture is settling.
POMEGRANATE WORKSHOPS: PAINTING, HERBAL INFUSION and SOAP MAKING IN GREECE!
Should you get the pomegranate craze too, you can join me this summer on the Cycladic islands of Paros and Ios, for herbal workshops on how to make pomegranate into facial scrubs, bath bombs and soaps. Or better yet join me as we paint still lives of pomegranates and figs, landscapes of the gorgeous blue and white Cyclades, impressionistic sea and skyscapes. We can even take a photo walking tour and study the pomegranate in all its glory in the land it inhabits. Register here if interested.
The Pomegranate in Art
As a visual artist, I am drawn to the shape and contour of pomegranate as well as the color. I am not alone. The fruit has had a long history in art. Here’s a brief gallery: