October–The Eighth Month
The Saxon name for October was “Winter fylleth” meannig “winter full moon”. The winter was supposed to begin at the October full moon.
In this “eighth” month, a great festival was held at Eleusis, in honour of Ceres [Czares]. She was known as Demeter meaning “The Mother”. She was worshiped as the matron of Agriculture, since the fields and their crops were thought to be under her special care. The name Ceres has given us the word “cereals”, a general name for wheat, barley, rye, and oats.
Ceres had a daughter, Persephone, who spent a great part of her time wandering with her companions on the slopes and plains. One day, Pluto rode by in his chariot drawn by four black horses. Attracted by Persephone’s beauty, he determined to carry her off to Hades and make her his queen. Persephone was thus separated from her companions, and Pluto seizing Persephone, carried her off to his dark and gloomy home, the Underworld.
But he reached a river, whose roaring torrent it was impossible to cross. With his two-pronged fork he struck the earth such a blow that the ground opened beneath him, and thus he was able to reach his dark kingdom of Hades in safety. This Underworld was the home of the dead, the place to which came the spirits of those who had died, there to receive a fitting reward for their deeds on earth.
From Pluto’s throne flowed five rivers:
1. Styx (the Hateful), a sacred river, and one by which the gods “fear to swear, and not keep their oath”. It was also the river which had to be crossed by the spirits before they could reach the throne. They were ferried across by an old boatman named Charon, who charged them an obol, about ½d. of our money. It was the custom, when a man died, for his relations to put an obol under his tongue, so that he might have no difficulty in crossing the Styx. Those who came without their obol had to wait a hundred years, after which time Charon would take them across free of charge.
2. Acheron (Pain), a dark and very deep river that also had to be crossed by the spirits.
3. Lethe (Forgetfulness), which had the power of making all those who drank of its waters forget the past.
4. Phlegethon (Blazing), a river of fire which surrounded Tartarus, that part of the Underworld to which were sent the spirits of evil-doers, in order that they might suffer punishment for their wicked deeds.
5. Cocytus (Wailing), a river of salt water, the tears of those condemned to the torments of Tartarus.
In a distant part of Hades, far removed from the place of torment, were the Elysian Fields. Here dwelt the great and the good, in perpetual day, and amid the ever-blooming flowers of an eternal spring.
Persephone was, against her will, made queen of this sunless kingdom of the dead. Ceres was seeking her daughter in the flower-strewn meadows, but all in vain. After many wanderings, Ceres at last learnt of Persephone’s fate. The joy at finding that she was safe was turned to grief by the thought that Pluto would never allow her to come back to the happiness of the sun-lit earth.
Meanwhile Ceres had neglected all her duties; the flowers withered away, the trees shed their leaves, the fruit was fast falling from the branches, and the crops could not ripen. The time of harvest was quickly passing, and the people, threatened with famine, and finding that their prayers to the goddess were unheeded, appealed to Jupiter to save them from starvation and death by allowing Persephone to return to the upper world.
Jupiter at last consented, and said that Pluto must give up Persephone, provided that she had not eaten anything since the time when she had been carried off. Unfortunately that very day she had tasted a pomegranate which Pluto had given her, and she was compelled to stay with her husband one month for each of the six seeds she had eaten. So for six months she has to live in the Underworld, and there in the thick gloom, never pierced by a ray of sunshine, she waits for the time when she may return to the sun-kissed hills and plains of her favourite land, where, happy in her mother’s smile, she dances with her companions amid the flowers.
At length comes the time when once more Persephone must return to her desolate home, and with heavy heart she leaves the sorrowing Ceres.
Source: The Stories of the Months and Days, By Reginald C. Couzens, 1923, CHAPTER X http://www.sacred-texts .com/time/smd/smd12.htm