The goddess Baubo: Who is this mystery woman? She is Baubo, a
fun-loving, bawdy, jesting, sexually liberated—yet very
wise—goddess who plays a crucial, healing role in the Eleusian
mysteries of ancient Greece.
She remains a much-honored figure today among many
women—celebrated as a positive force of female sexuality and the
healing power of laughter. Her power and energy have survived in
the spirits of women down through the centuries.
Because of the scarcity of written references—and the
contradictory nature of the writings that we do have—she is a
mysterious figure in many ways.
Much of the mystery surrounding the goddess Baubo arises from
literary connections between her name and the names of other
goddesses. Baubo is sometimes referred to as the goddess Iambe, the
daughter of Pan and Echo described in the legends of Homer.
Her identity also eventually became blended with those of
earlier goddesses, such
mother/vegetation goddesses as Atargatis, a goddess originating
in northern Syria, and Kybele (or Cybele), a goddess from Asia
Minor. To avoid confusion, we shall refer to her simply as Baubo
in the rest of this article.
Scholars have traced the origin of Baubo to very
ancient times in the Mediterranean region, particularly western
Syria. Goddess of vegetation, her later appearance as a servant
in the myths of Demeter mark the transition to an agrarian
culture where the power has now shifted to Demeter, the Greek goddess
of grain and the harvest.
This brings us to the wonderful story
in which Baubo and Demeter meet up, as told in the Eleusian
mysteries. Baubo is best known from this story, where she
appears as a middle-aged servant to King Celeus of Eleusis.
According to the myths, Demeter was wandering
the Earth in deep mourning over the loss of her beloved
daughter, Persephone, who had been violently abducted by Hades,
the god of the underworld. Abandoning her goddess duties of
bringing fertility to the land, she took refuge in the city of
Eleusis. The disheartened goddess, disguised as an old woman,
was welcomed into the home of the king.
Everyone in the king's household tried to
console and lift the spirits of the severely depressed woman,
but to no avail—until Baubo showed up. The two women started
chatting, with Baubo making a number of humorous, risqué
remarks. Demeter began to smile. Then, Baubo suddenly lifted her
skirt in front of Demeter.
Different versions of this tale provide very
different images of what Demeter saw under Baubo's skirt, but
whatever she saw, it finally lifted her out of her depression.
She responded with a long and hearty belly laugh!
Ultimately, with her spirits and confidence
restored, Demeter persuaded Zeus to command Hades to release
Persephone. So, thanks to the lewd antics of Baubo, all was once
again right in the world.
|This inspiring story from the Eleusian mysteries
suggests the meaning of Baubo's name. Her name,
according to many interpretations, means "belly,"
indicating the belly laughter that she provoked in
Demeter. According to other interpretations,
however, Baubo's name means "old crone." Although
"crone" has rather negative connotations to us
today, the word was originally used to refer to a
wise, mature woman.
The "belly" interpretation of Baubo's name is
revealed in some ancient figurines of the goddess
that have been found in Asia Minor and elsewhere.
These sacred objects depict Baubo's face in her
belly, with her vulva forming her chin. Other
unearthed figurines of Baubo depict her playfully
exposing an exaggerated vulva between her legs.
Baubo appeared as Demeter's "sacred fool" in
ancient Greece's annual festival of women. At this
festival, initiates were taught the profound lessons
of living joyfully, dying without fear, and being an
integral part of the great cycles of nature—lessons
that are at the heart of the Eleusian mysteries.
As the initiates carried sacrificial piglets
across a bridge, a gallus (castrated priest)
portraying Baubo encouraged them to join him in
making lewd comments and gestures (including lifting
his skirt) to the assembled crowd. The precise
meaning of this lesson to the initiates has been
lost in the mists of time, though it undoubtedly had
great significance at this festival celebrating the
power and sacredness of women. Unfortunately, its
meaning is all too easy to misinterpret as simple
vulgarity in our modern puritanical, patriarchal
Some of what we know about Baubo comes from the
pen of Clement of Alexandria. Clement was a Greek
Christian writer of anti-pagan rants in the second
century of the Common Era. However, his diatribes often
contained revealing information about pagan
beliefs—mainly in his misinterpretations of the
pagan Orphic mysteries of ancient Greece.
The Orphic mysteries reveal that Baubo was
married to a swine-herder. That doesn't sound like
much today, but it was probably considered quite a
lucrative occupation in ancient times. Baubo also
had a son named Eumolpos, who is described as a
"sweet singer." The high order of priests
officiating at the festival of the Eleusian
mysteries claimed descent from Eumolpos. High
priestesses participating in this festival did as
From the ambiguous nature of the surviving
information about Baubo, some scholars have
concluded that this goddess was perhaps a
hermaphrodite—or transgendered in some other way.
According to some interpretations of Clement's
writings, Baubo, when she lifted her skirt to
Demeter, revealed body parts "inappropriate to a
The possibility that Baubo may have had male or
male-like genitalia has been suggested as the main
reason that Demeter suddenly became happy upon
seeing this sight. In ancient times, hermaphroditism
had profound religious significance. It represented
the unification of seemingly opposite and
irreconcilable things—whether those things were male
and female or life and death. For Demeter, a woman
who was worried that her daughter might be dead,
this realization would have been extremely
The story of Baubo and Demeter can still serve as a great
comfort for us. Some women who belong to pagan groups today, for
example, join together to appeal to Baubo for the gift of
laughter, fun, friendship, and spiritual healing. In addition,
certain Wiccan rituals celebrating the diversity of the
gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community invoke the name and
spirit of Baubo.
Of course, you don't have to be a follower of pagan beliefs to
discover the joyful mirth of Baubo.
The goddess Baubo is always there to
remind us to let our hair down and have fun. She tells us to be
proud of, to occasionally flaunt, and to be empowered by our
femininity and sexuality. And Baubo reminds us to be sure to let
out a good belly laugh every now and then! After all, laughter
is one of our greatest gifts from the Goddess!
Article contributed by A.C.
(Sources listed at:
Baubo :: Iambe sources)