CERES AND EATING DISORDERS
It starts in heaven and ends in hell. First, successfully losing weight, but soon enough losing control instead, developing an addiction to food. An estimated 70 million people worldwide suffers from a serious eating disorder (ED) and many die trying to beat the fat. At the core of the ED spectrum, ranging from anorexia and bulimia to binge eating and orthorexia, we find a fascinating connection to the mythology of Earth Mother Ceres, the goddess of fertility and grain, and her daughter, the young maiden Proserpina. It is a myth of change and of natural transition, but also of trauma and disempowerment. Life is all about change and even Ceres had to give up on eternal summer and accept the natural seasons. Astrologically, Ceres, the dwarf planet, is showing up in the charts of ED sufferers en masse.
The History of ED
Most studies on ED reveal a cultural connection. There are more sufferers in the USA and Europe than in Asia for instance and there are more now than in earlier times in history, mostly due to the massive propaganda of the super thin Barbie-ideal. But eating disorders existed before glossy media. From the Roman food orgies to religious fasting, food has been a source for pleasure and pain for a long time. In our genetic memory lies hunger and famine and in today’s society where most people have easy access to processed foods, food abuse often masks emptiness and anxiety. The lack of inner sweetness is replaced by chocolate.
Anorexia Mirabilis, miraculous lack of appetite, is a term also used to describe women in the Middle Ages who starved themselves in order to get a glimpse of God. Fasting is a tradition that influences Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam and from a spiritual point of view, the body and its instincts can easily disturb man’s ability to sense and experience the spiritual realm. The concept of sin is related to what happens when humans indulge their bodies without constraint and the need to refrain from sensual pleasures such as sex and food are encouraged in religious traditions. Man needs control. But too much control leads to rigidity, as in the case of ED where there is a strong need to have order and rules.
Today, the ideal of mastery is to get the perfect body through exercise and dieting, gaining self-esteem and love once the scale hits that perfect measure. But no matter how much we hope to control the instincts, the craving still goes on and dieting often morphs into anorexia, bulimia, or bingeing.
The Myth of Ceres and its Interpretation on a Psychological Level
It is rumored that the Romans imported the Greek Myth of Demeter, first known through the Homeric Hymn of 7 BC, during a famine a few hundred years before Christ. As the Goddess of Grain she was at the core of a society that started cultivating the earth around 10,000 BC. Due to nature’s moodiness, worshipping the Great Mother was a prayer for stability and nurturance. Thus the myth of Demeter, and later the Roman equivalent, Ceres, emerged. For the sake of order, the Roman terms are used in this article as they correspond to the astrological language.
The Great Mother lived with her daughter Proserpina in harmony and love until one fated day when the mother was away tending her tasks and Proserpina was out plucking flowers. As Proserpina struggled to pluck a narcissus flower, Earth opened up and the king of the Underworld, Pluto, abducted her. The theft was witnessed by Helios, the Sun God.
Ceres, far away across the seas, felt the anguish and rushed home to find her daughter. Unable to find her, she searched high and low, until finally Helios told her what had happened and revealed that Pluto had acted with approval from Jupiter, who considered the young daughter to be a worthy queen for Pluto. Realizing that her daughter was lost and infuriated with the betrayal, she hid her identity and wandered the Earth like a lost soul. Eventually she came to the city of Eleusis, where circumstances made her reveal her identity and she demanded that the people build her a temple. She continued to mourn and sent a curse on earth, a global famine.
Jupiter got worried when he saw that without the Great Mother, no one could live on foodless Earth and decided that her grieving had to stop. They sent Mercury to the Underworld to negotiate with Pluto, and he agreed to let her go. However, cunning Pluto knew that if he could only tempt the young maiden to eat, she would be tied to the Underworld by law. The hungry child had heard her mother talk about this, still she reckoned 6 seeds from the pomegranate would do no harm. When her mother found out, she realized once again that she had been tricked, as the girl still would be a prisoner of Pluto.
“She had showed weakness and fallen for temptation.”
Ceres knew then that she was now bound to the Underworld and refused to lift her curse. Jupiter, worried that the drama between Pluto and Ceres would ruin the world, forced a compromise. Proserpina had to stay 4 months as Pluto’s bride in the Underworld and could spend the rest of the year with her mother. When she had to go underground, the fields withered and nature went into hibernation.
This was the story of nature’s yearly cycle explained through myth, but we can also understand this symbolism as a cycle of the human life. From childhood to maturity, we go through cycles of change, both in mind and in body. It is through this change that ED most often is triggered and the drama of the story explains the pain preceding any deep-seated ED.
Ceres is a polarity archetype with her themes of change and rebirth, and of Mother and Child. The Ceres myth is one of bridging the light with dark, life with death, youth with maturity, sexuality with purity, and spirit with matter. The powerless Proserpina is the inner part of the individual that is both a victim of the adult’s drama and the emerging adult that needs to develop spiritual and emotional strength to move in the world independently. Ceres and Proserpina are thus seen as a whole, both embodied in the planetary position of Ceres in the chart. In terms of rulership, we can only speculate, but the fertility goddess and her child bear a remarkable resemblance to Taurus and Virgo. Astrologer Lynn Hayes writes, “As I work with Ceres more in personal readings, it is becoming more clear to me that Ceres acts as the higher octave of the Moon.” Interestingly, esoteric astrology suggests that the Moon is ruler of Virgo. The festival of Ceres was celebrated in September, and harvesting is part of her mythological signature.
We can divide the Ceres myth into several stages, each one symbolic of the stages that a person with ED can go through.
Stage one: the union
The Mother and the Virgin Child are living happily together in eternal summer. Like the Garden of Eden, nothing is disturbed and fertility abounds. It reminds us of the Neptunian state of bliss, like the naïve state of childhood. Before our brain and hormonal system hits puberty, we are likely to walk around in such a state where love is everywhere, and where we face the dangers of smelling flowers we should stay away from. We are unaware of the perils of the world, and even though children go through challenges, there is an ability to be blissfully unaware of pain. And every parent has felt the immense, deep pleasure of hearing their children safely playing. This is bliss.
The onset of ED usually occurs as the individual is about to hit puberty, just like when Proserpina came of age and got ready for marriage. However, both Mother and Daughter refused many suitors and needed nothing else than each other. This part of the story shows the deep need for status quo in order to feel safe and happy.
Stage two: the trauma and the danger of smelling flowers
The flowers symbolize enchantment and desire, and Proserpina is beyond her comfort zone, when tempted by the narcissus and Earth swallows her.
Pluto, the invisible one, always poses a threat to any parent and any adolescent. The Big World on the outside of the safe haven of the home is filled with sexual seduction, danger, and dangerous people. “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll” meet the teenagers as they step into society. The feeling of not being able to deal with bigger forces in one’s life often precedes ED. Divorce, rape, or rejections act as triggers. Proserpina is swallowed and disappears. Feeling trapped, isolated, and invisible are feelings that sufferers of ED often describe.
Being fresh in the world also means being sexualized and the body is treated as an object. The moment sex enters the stage, through menstruation and emergence of sexual hormones, the Child is abruptly awakened into a complicated world. However, it is unavoidable, The Virgin Child has to grow up at one point.
Stage three: the long painful dis-ease
After the trauma of losing her Child, Ceres despairs and mourns. She releases her identity and goes looking for her invisible child.
After abrupt cataclysmic change, the pain and powerlessness creates mourning. There is depression, despair, and a restless yearning to regain safety. This is an emotionally violent stage where the loss of control is experienced. Ceres is so out of touch with herself that nothing is created and humans get nothing to eat. It is a state of futility. The Mother, the symbol of inner caring and nutrition, is searching for her creative flame, the Child. She is going into a state of symbolic starvation.
ED is a silent demonstration of not being able to deal with the pain of being alive, of being traumatized, or treated as a sexual object. In severe cases of both anorexia and bulimia, menstruation is often lost. Food, thoughts of food, or the protective shield of fat serve as a means of control, and food is used as medicine for the restless state and the violent thoughts. The sufferer is trapped in the condition and the sense of isolation is at a peak. A strong, suppressed rage leads the individual into a deep prison of emotional isolation through their addiction to food. Just like Ceres felt deceived and let down by Jupiter, the ED sufferer feels a deep loss in their life.
Stage four: negotiation and compromise, the ascent
As Ceres once again reveals her identity, she puts forth her demands. She orders for a temple to be built and that human’s sacrifice to her. Inside her temple she continues to mourn and Jupiter starts to listen to her. He demands Pluto to release Proserpina.
Just like Ceres starts to communicate and set boundaries, there is a need to give voice to the core needs of the individual that suffers from ED. This is a stage of healing, forgiveness, and acceptance. Love and true nourishment is brought back into the life of Ceres as she is re-united with her daughter. But she also needed to learn to let go and a wise mother knows she cannot control her offspring forever. The dynamic between darkness and light is part of life, and being authentic and independent creates inner security. The message of wholeness is implied. Feeling whole is being healthy. In ED there is a sense of disruption and disintegration. Seen from a transpersonal psychological view, when the inner mother is merged with the inner child, a wholesome creative being emerges. The ability to nurture oneself is the solution.
The symbol of death and rebirth in the final stage of the myth goes to show that the need to adopt a more flexible attitude to life is necessary to overcome rigidity and anxiety in the personality.
The Spiritual Connection of Eating Disorders
In Roman times Ceres was honored through what we know as the Eleusinian rites, probably adopted from the cult of Demeter, that were intended to “elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him.” The initiates drank kykeon, a mixture of pennyroyal and barley that might have a psychotropic effect.
If we look at the history of ED we find a spiritual association that might be related to the longing for a deeper connection to spirit as a means to overcome the pain of life and the constant hungers and desires of the body. It is a way to feel elevated from the world, and the social isolation that is a consequence of not being able to participate in regular meals, is a drama-free zone. Food is used as a wall to veil a deeply insecure core.
From the book by Anne Roer: “The first few months I was so happy. I had complete control. It was so easy! I felt like I was floating. The others looked at me and I felt elevated.”
The First Famous Anorexic, Catherine of Siena
Fasting is an established part of most spiritual traditions. Mastery of the body is part of being able to touch the higher realms of spirit. When we fast, our bodies are lighter and the energy that is needed to digest is released. Spirituality invites people to raise their awareness to a finer frequency, away from the bodily and sensual life of the body. It is a well-known fact that when we fast for several days, sight can change, perception changes, and we become more ethereal.
Catherine of Siena was determined to reach God from a young age. With Ceres in convinced Sagittarius trine her Mercury, Sun, Pluto, Jupiter and Uranus in Aries, she had the determination to endure extreme fasting and, just like Ceres, she went on a hunger strike when her voice was challenged.
When she was six she had a strong vision of God and in the summer of her 16th birthday her favorite sister died, tossing her into a true Ceres drama. It was then suggested that she should marry her deceased sister’s husband. Catherine opposed this and started a massive fast, protesting the marriage. Her sister had taught her to fast, as she herself had used it as a means to get what she wanted in relation to her husband. The fast became a weapon, and one that Catherine used to mark her power as an individual and a free human being, a yearning deeply embedded in her chart. The family could not do anything but to let her get her will. She was an early Aries feminist with only one weapon, her body. She continued to live a life in spiritual service and extreme fasting to the point where she eventually said that she was unable to eat. She died with the Sun conjunct her Venus and squared by transiting Ceres from a stroke at the age of 33 after not being able to eat nor drink for several months. Noted for her many spiritual visions and strong voice, she set the standard for many followers, who eventually found her strained relationship to food to be unhealthy.
Ceres and Fat as a Feminist Issue
While men also suffer from ED, women are still more likely to develop the disorder. Women’s position in society has traditionally been weaker than that of men, and we can trace this imbalance all the way back to the myth of Adam and Eve. As mothers, women were there to care for the family and to provide kings with their sons. Women had their fertility and beauty as currency.
But Ceres the Mother shows us her rage when she is being deprived. The mythology reveals a power struggle between the feminine and the masculine, represented by Pluto who took what he wanted with the blessing of Jupiter, and Ceres, the Mother, whose opinion is undermined. However, she had a power tool, food, and she used it.
Author and therapist for bulimic Princess Diana, Susie Orbach, wrote the best seller, “Fat as a Feminist Issue” back in 1978 after struggling for years with binge eating, dieting and a negative self-image. In her book she poses the theory that women use fat in order not to be undermined or sexualized. A beautiful woman, Orbach claims, will have difficulty being taken seriously in her profession. Orbach proposes that fat is a result of gender inequality, and that there lies a rebellion inside the eating disorder.
This became a popular thesis in the 80’s and although ED embraces a much wider range of possible causes, ED is often triggered by early hormonal development and sexualization of the body creating a rude awakening close to that of Proserpina when Pluto snatched her.
Orbach has the signatures of Ceres written all over her chart. Her deeply intense Scorpio Sun conjunct Jupiter squares Ceres in Aquarius and provides her chart with the longing for stability and nourishment, yet the potential for an intense and dramatic life is looming in her Ceres psychology. The lack of real nourishment and a healthy sense of self is indicated in this rather intense combination of Ceres and Scorpio. The hunger for love and power that is at the core of Scorpio fused with the loss and deceit that is Ceres, show a potential for many deep changes in Orbach’s life, most likely spilling into her work as a psychologist and her contribution in the field of ED.
Orbach is, as any good Scorpio, extremely cautious to share anything about her own background, but once said, “Mothers unconsciously allow more latitude to sons, and open encouragement, and with daughters they treat them as they would treat themselves.”
The need to break free from the parental influence is part of finding one’s own identity. Ceres gave up her identity when her daughter disappeared and Proserpina is then rendered the invisible one. People with ED lose their true sense of identity as the illness takes over.
She does however embody the image of a healthy Ceres in her work, struggling for women’s rights to have the body that they were given and opening up women’s health centers, just like a mother would care and nourish for her children who are starving emotionally and spiritually. She made Ceres, The Earth Mother, her work.
Karen Carpenter, the Wounded Daughter
Karen Carpenter embodied the core of the Ceres myth in her life. A controlling mother, a fragile self-identity, lacking the ability to reach a secure and mature female expression, she died at the age of 32.
In those 32 years she had experienced things few people do, experiences worthy of a true Pisces. Fame, fortune, and a glossy life on the surface, but underneath, a personal life where she had no real influence or power, and was deeply insecure.
Three years before she died she was engaged to marry a man who had tricked her and was unable to give her the children she wanted, while her mother allegedly forced the marriage through when Karen had wanted to call it off.
Her chart is rich in its Ceres symbolism, a tender and hypersensitive Pisces with Ceres/Chiron square the Sun from the 6th house of health. Her mother was always favoring her older brother, Rickard, and left her feeling unloved and unnoticed. When her mother was confronted with Karen’s poor condition, she responded: “We can take care of ourselves. We don’t need to have someone help. This is a family matter.”
The “I know what’s best for my daughter” attitude resulted in a thwarted development of Karen’s identity. In the mythology of Ceres, we encounter the need for the eternal bond of mother/daughter. None of them are willing to let go of each other, and Ceres would like to have Proserpina forever in her garden.
For ED sufferers, there’s this sense of lacking real control over one’s own life. Carpenter experienced this by having a family who refused her to grow up. The added injustice between her brother undermined her will further. There are different rules for daughters and sons, and the female child is to be supervised and controlled because she is deemed unable to take care of herself in a proper way. The projection on the female as being fragile and incapable is what both Catherine of Siena and Susie Orbach fought against. Karen never got there, although she tried.
ED is a cry for love and attention, and Carpenter’s dieting got her the attention she needed when her family got involved in her eating habits, trying to force her to eat more.
In an attempt to stand for something on her own and to overcome the failing sales of The Carpenters, she hired star producer Phil Ramone in 1979 to produce a solo-album. However, things did not turn out as expected, mostly due to her inability to make her music into the reflection of the mature woman that she wanted to be.
“This wasn’t a woman given to tears,” Ramone says. ‘”When she was upset, she just wouldn’t eat. But when we got out of that meeting and far enough away, she just crumpled in my arms.”
She had failed to make the transition from the “sweet girl next door” to “sexy woman” and the lack of integrity was hard to mask. She just couldn’t pull off the sexy vibe that the producer wanted. In the last years of her life her inability to flow with the changing times became evident. Dwindling record sales, a failed marriage, and deteriorating health finally took its toll. On the 4th of February the Sun opposed her Pluto and sextiled her Ceres, and her heart beat for the last time.
Bulimia, Jane Fonda, Battling for His Approval
Jane Fonda’s got all of the juicy ingredients to make for a real Ceres Drama. A tight Ceres/Mars conjunction sextiles her Sun and opposes her Moon. She was the daughter of a deeply wounded mother and misogynist father.
Her mother, who herself was a victim of incest, killed herself when Fonda was 12. The marriage between the parents had been strained and her father, Henry Fonda, had asked for a divorce just before the suicide. She was brought up thinking that her mother wasn’t pretty enough or healthy enough to keep a man. Her father left her with the impression that if she wanted love, she had to be pretty.
“He was a good man, and I was mad for him, but he sent messages to me that fathers should not send: Unless you look perfect, you’re not going to be loved.”
Thus started a lifelong search for perfectionism ending up in bulimia in her 40’s despite holding on to a strong façade as an actress, producer, and fitness goddess. Growing old and maturing is also a part of the Ceres myth and if love and power is achieved through the perfect look, then ageing will be problematic. Fonda’s relationship to her father reflects the struggle for independence from male influence that the Ceres story unveils through the secret liaison between Pluto and Jupiter, and the feminine rage of being undermined, disempowered, and mistreated.
“A man has every season while a woman only has the right to spring.”
This painfully vulnerable quote goes to show that Fonda has been fighting against objectification all her life. Nobody asked Proserpina what she thought and felt, and her beauty was the reason she was abducted. The trouble with being fertile and sending out sexual signals whether one wants to or not, is that women in particular attract attention from unwanted places. Pluto had had his eye on Proserpina, where she in her juicy beauty unwillingly attracted suitors. The challenge to set proper boundaries has been difficult for women throughout the ages. The response is to adopt an invisible hijab, where the sexuality is completely downplayed, and ED functions as an isolation. One becomes untouchable. Or there is a tendency to not be able to treat the treasure of womanhood with proper self-respect and let others use the body without caring. Or simply use sex as a means to gain validation. Sex, but no love, nor caring, nor any emotional demands.
ED is connected to sexual and intimate challenges in order to remain married to the disorder itself. Proserpina knew that she shouldn’t be eating anything while she was trapped in Hades, but eventually her hunger took over and she accepted seeds from Pluto, thus tying her to him forever, involuntarily. It is the same thing with food. When we yield to the desire, food can trap us. Sugar is highly addictive, and one chocolate easily leads to another.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder, the Mirror is Lying
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental disorder characterized by an obsessive preoccupation that some aspect of one’s own appearance is severely flawed and warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix it. What you see in the mirror is not what is there. In almost every case for ED there is an underlying body dysmorphic disorder. An anorectic thinks she is fat when only the skeleton is left.
Robert Pattinson, the successful actor from such blockbusters as “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” has been open about his BDD. He will not take off his shirt unless he has fasted the whole day, he never liked his body, and he deals with anxiety before having to perform on the red carpet. The shyness with which he smiles reveals a very strongly self-aware man.
Pattinson’s chart has a very delicate Ceres in Virgo in the 3rd house square Saturn in Sagittarius in the 6th house. Although there is not enough traumatic juice in this chart to create a massive ED, it shows a strong mental sensitivity that gives rise to his self-awareness anxiety. Saturn square Ceres could also indicate that his mother was extremely self-aware and this bled over into his personality. His mother was in the fashion industry, and it is probable that he grew up exposed to high ideals and a strong awareness related to beauty.
The rude awakening into a world of criticism and harsh demands on bodily ideals translates into his need to control how he looks when his shirt is off.
ED is a complicated diagnosis that often occurs as a result of numerous stress points in the astrological chart. But Ceres’ connection to food and as a symbol of inner security makes it a potent symbol in the astrological chart to work with related to ED. Either in aspect to the angles, the nodal axis, in stressful aspects to Venus, Mars, Moon or Sun, Ceres will have an impact to be counted on. The solution is to be able to voice one’s core needs, just like Ceres in the final stages of the myth is demanding the return of her daughter. The mystery of the Earth Mother reveals the need to find true spiritual safety, so that we can let go and let the seasons of life unfold without us turning rigid and ill.
- Demetra George: Asteroid Goddesses
- Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion “The Religion of Eleusis” New York: Columbia University Press, 1947. p. 42–64
- Anne Roer “Eating Disorders” p. 25
Chart data source
- Jane Fonda: B.C. in hand (Formerly, Carol Tebbs quoted Peter’s wife, Becky, for 7:57 PM from her http://www.astro.com/astro-databank/Fonda,_Jane
- Francis Seymour death: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Ford_Seymour
- Catherine of Siena : Processus contestationum super sanctitate et doctrina beatae Catharinae de Senis, in MARTENE AND DURAND
- Susie Orbach: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/feb/01/bodies-review-susie-orbach
- Karen Carpenter: BR from Steinbrecher http://www.astro.com/astro-databank/Carpenter,_Karen
- Robert Pattinson: Date of birth from Wikipedia, time from a Youtube birthday video which does not mention the original source. http://www.astro.com/astro-databank/Pattinson,_Robert