Ancient Cultic Associations
of Saffron Crocus


Part III:
Crocus as Cretan All-mother Kar

It is not likely to be coincidental that according to Lycophron, Eos the Saffron Mother had her bedchamber in the mythic land of Kerne, as this is one more of the many connecting threads between Eos & the Cretan Earthmother Kar, for whom Kerne was named.

Kerne was the homeland of Eos's husband Tithonos, who in other sources was a king or prince of Ker, or Phrygia, where Minoan cultic formulas persisted long after Cretan high culture had collapsed.

Snake MotherThe name Saffron is usually said to have been derived from an Arabic word meaning "to be yellow." But the Arabic is derived from the Greek krokos, which in turn is a word older than the Greek language of unknown meaning. When Homer mentions Krokos, he means the spice-giving saffron crocus. I have a theory of my own that Krokos is a corruption of a forgotten Cretan epithet for the Mother Goddess & only later for her Attis-like fertility daemon as represented in this flower, much as Attis did not exist in the earliest level Cybele worship, & his title Papa was initially derived from "Pot Pot," Cybele's breasts, her name being written in Hittite pictographs of two small-necked jugs. Her name was enunciated Kubaba, or Ku-papa, & only at a much later level of myth did Papa & Mama come to be distinguished male principle & female principle. So too Krokos, a minor fertility daemon resembling Attis, Dionysios, Hyacinthos & Narcissos, may have received his name directly from the name of the enlightening, cthonic, celestial, & phallic All Mother.

The Crocus Goddess may have been the very Snake-mother of Knossos whose serpents were rays of the morning sun, but also the dawning of all enlightenment. It is no contradiction that these snakes were celestial light but simultaneously cthonic symbols of the Earthmother & her Underworld dwellingplace. Nor is it coincidental that the long thin buds of autumn crocuses look uncannilly like little purple & white serpents worming upward from under the earth. The Earthmother was as much the cause of horrors, death, & confusion as she was of bliss, life, & enlightenment, & could be maidenly or a crone, hence Kar as Ewe-lamb had forms seductively sweet, but as Doomful Fate was a fanged demoness, nightmarishly cruel.

In the far-ancient world, the Earthmother & the Sun-mother were a single All Mother. The pinwheel of stars lifted Her out of the ocean, or out of a cavern, carried Her across the sky, & at evening She went back into her nation below the earth. The Semitic Sun-mother Shapash is the best documented of the type, called All Seeing, & ruler of rephaim ("ghosts" or "shades," but the word also means "healers"). She was also called Allatu & was the most high divinity at Mecca before she was displaced by Allah, though Allatu occurs also as a semitic Queen of the Underworld, a name for Sumerian Ereshkigal, the dark sister of Inanna. Such divinities as Peresphone who is Black Aphrodite, or Hecate as the dark form of Demeter or of Cybele, or Ereshkigal as the dark Inanna, were not individuated, the All Mother having this dual nature within her singleness, best conveyed by the great Sun-goddesses who ruled the underworld by night.

Among Greeks, however, one of the few cultures who imagined the Sun as usually male, these associations were transferred to the Dawn, or even to the Moon. Semele originated as a northern Sun-mother with a propensity for kidnapping youths for her sexual excesses, but the Greeks made her a Moon-goddess. Crete's exceedingly ancient Kar was very likely an All Mother of an earlier type, for she is older than Minoan high culture.

Later Greeks seem to have subsumed her into the Titaness Metis ("Wisdom") who was the mother of Athena (for which reason Metis, like Kar or Carme, lends her name to one of the moons of Jupiter). Kar was the same as Carmenta, "Kar the Wise," whom Pliny says was the Goddess of Augury, associating her with Fate or Destiny. The later Sibyls & the Pythia likely reflect something of Kar's vastly more ancient cavern cults. But Kar or Ker of the Iliad is Doomful Fate & not so pleasant as Carmenta. Homer makes her fanged & clad in a red rob (or a deep saffron orange-red), & shows her dragging the dead from the battlefield. Hesiod added that she was Black, & as an Indo-Cretan divinity, it is not surprising that in Dravidian sanskrit, Kar means "Black," & is a name of Kali. So too in Gaellic kar means "black," which indicates that such modern girls' names as Carrie or Karen provide the final vestages of Kar worship in the western world.

Kar, Cybele, Hecate, & Demeter appear largely to be fragments of a common All-mother of prehistoric origin, & to have all possessed associations with saffron from a very early date. Einodian Hecate, an Orphic goddess, wore a saffron veil in order to obscure her visage, the implication being that her visage was the Dawn, or was sunlight so bright it could not be seen as she walked among her devoted shades in the underworld. Some knew Her hidden face to be lovely, & others knew her to possess the three-fold face of Hekate Trivia, queen of Earth, Water, Sky. Water, or Ocean, was regarded as one & the same with the Underworld.

Her Hekate-like attributes are most exaggerated & awful in Homer's version of Ker mentioned above. She was well known to Hesiod & many other early writers as well. She had with her a sisterhood called the Keres who were also known as "the hounds of Hades," making one wonder if they were sometimes literal hounds, such as ran at night with Hekate. The Keres were close associates of the Erinyes & Harpies. They dressed all in saffron-red & were thoroughly vampiric, were sometimes associated with deserts in the manner of semitic Lilim. They carried out the worst conceivable destinies as orchestrated by their sisters, the Three Fates, so that the Keres were regarded as punishers in service of the Fates, as the Erinyes were punishers in service of Hekate.

The Keres were additionally said to be the cause of plagues, & the reason why none of their names is reported, except Ker's, may have been because to invoke them by name was to call down the very diseases they were named for. Ceris means "Plagues" or "Misfortunes," but is also "Multiplicity of Kar," as many divinities had plural names, including even Adonai, whose name means "Multiplicity of Adonis." Ker & her sisters closely resemble the doomful-seeming Pox-mothers of India who are simultaneously protective against the very illnesses they can cause, & like Anath or Eos, their blood-stained lips & fingers may well turn out to be healing saffron.

Ker & her vampiric sisterhood had Chaos as their grandmother, & their mother was the Titaness Nyx, who was sometimes said to have birthed demonic spirits without a consort, elsetimes said to have bore these offspring to her twin brother, Erebus, who was primordial darkness or void. Other of the sisters of the Keres, besides the Three Fates, included Mora a wan morose maidenly personification of death; Great Nemesis; Eris the violent & fiery companion of Ares; the doomful river-nymphs Lethe & Styx against whom even Zeus dared not stand; the Hesperides who marked the dawn for Eos the Saffron-mother; Apate the spirit of deceit; Lyssa who instigated helpless raging madness; & Smilax who was the nymph that doomed the fertility daemon Krokos. Some few believed even Hekate was a Nyx's daughter. Kar's brothers included Thanatos, Charon the Ferryman, & Hypnos who escaped Zeus's outrage only because Hypnos invoked his mother's name, against whom mighty Zeus was helpless. Not quite all Nyx's offspring were such gloomy sorts, as Aristophanes would have it that Eros was her son, hence Kar's brother, & Latin authors believed Nox had some very pleasing daughters, such as Friendship & Constancy, & the eldest sister of the Keres, Erinyes, Moirai et al, was Hemera, the cause of daylight, & thought by Quintus Smyrmaeus to have been one & the same with Eos of the Saffron Light.

Many of Nyx's daughters were associated with the morning sun, notably the Hesperides who dwelt far away on an island beneath which Eos had her bed, guarding the Golden Apples of the Sun. Little bits of Eos's saffron light is shown among many female powers of darkness that may at first seem malevolent, but are akin to Hekate upholding a lit torch as Light-bringer. One of the frightful Graia was Enyo, who according to the Theogony of Hesiod wore saffron robes. It is interesting to attempt to assess the light-giving qualities this may indicate for a triad of such gloomy aged nymphs. The Graia with secret knowledge dwelt in a cavern in the island of their sisters, the snake-haired Gorgons, which some have said is the same as the island of the Hesperides. The Graia & Gorgons were born of the monstrous sea-divinities Phorkys & Keto (who resemble Bohemeth & the female Leviathon). They were born grey & elderly, & between them, they possessed only one eye & one tooth, which were shared in turns. But Lycophron notes that their shared "eye" was actually an illuminating lamp, & the Graia may once have represented an actual cavern cult overseen by just such aged priestesses, kin to the Sibyls. The Graia were certainly not menacing despite their strangeness, & may have been a triadic Dusk-goddess whose eye was the Sun itself, which they kept safe whenever it was diminished by Nyx.

By the name Carya this combination demoness & Cretan All-mother resurfaced as the tutelary goddess of Caria, & by this name was the beloved of Dionysios, reclaiming her position as a Wisdom Goddess. Carya or Caryae was Goddess of hazels & walnuts, having sometimes the form of a walnut tree, or worshipped in a walnut grove. The Caryatids were a group of nymphs devoted to Caryae. The Laoconians made Caryae a companion to Artemis Caryatis & built a temple to her seven-fold (or possibly nine-fold) form, the Caryatids. These Walnut Nymphs were depicted as seven or nine temple columns carved in the shape of women. These are alluded to in Proverbs as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom belonging to the goddess Hokmot (Mother Wisdom). At Uruk of Abraham's youth (biblical Erech) the kharimati were the Sacred Daughters, equivalent of the Hebrew kedeshot ("sanctified ones" modernly represented as temple prostitutes).

If it may be speculated that Krokos was at one time enunciated Karokos, then this would have referred either to a Goddess herself, or to her fertility daemon as being of Kar, she that was worshipped at the earliest level of Minoan culture, mother of the key Cretan Artemis-like goddesses Britomartis & Dictynna. Britomartis/Dictynna were two goddesses who converged into a single Cretan cult, hence two names of a single goddess, but simultaneously twin sisters with their dominion over Crete divided by mountains. These were huntress-goddesses reminiscent of Artemis or Anath of the Saffron Fingers.

Though later said to be a bride of Zeus who fathered Britomartis, Kar seems really to have been an ancient divinity when Zeus was still regarded as an infant god nursed by a she-goat in a Cretan cavern. As a form of Cybele, Kar was much more likely to have been the mother of Zeus rather than his bride. It is probable that Kar was symbolized by the Karokos or Crocus, just as Demeter wore a mantel of white crocuses, as Persephone was kidnapped from the world while gathering purple-petalled orange-stigmas of saffron crocuses, & was returned to the living land just before spring with the arrival of yellow snow-crocuses.

Robert Graves noted that Kar as Sun-mother lent her name to the city of Carthage. She drove Her war-chariot across the sky, baring with her the Sun, though in a later age still called Kar she may have been reduced to baring the Moon by night. Not inconceivably her cult once assumed she bore the Moon by night & the Sun by day, as a tireless & all-seeing ruler of Light & of Dark, even as does the Tantric, Hindu, & Taoist divinity Marici, goddess of Sun & Moon. Leto, a Greek variant of Allatu the Great Sun-mother of Mecca, was by the Greeks categorized as a Moon-goddess, but she was in reality the mother of the Sun (Apollo) & the Moon (Artemis), hence queenmother of both the Night & the Day.

Whether baring Sun or Moon, Kar's chariot was drawn by winged horses or pegasi. In Greece it was sometimes assumed that Pegasus himself was one of the steeds of the Saffron-mother Eos, she that prepared the morning for the arrival of Helios, having inherited that portion of Kar's rule that was associated with the reborn light.

Kar's worship once extended as far as the Sahara desert, & she undoubtedly resembled Allatu or "All Seeing" Shapash, these having been the Arabic & Semitic Sun-mothers respectively. When Queen Dido, founder of Carthage, ended her life in fire, such pyres represented the anihilation of the material self so that the spirit could return to the Sun-mother, who was simultaneously a Fire-goddess.

The flower-name Krokos is related to the ancient Hebrewkarkom, by which it is referred to in the erotic Song of Solomon 4:14. Solomon's bride was Divine Wisdom, whether called Metis, Kar, or Hokmot, & in the fourth chapter where She is celebrated as a Crocus, she is also all other fragrant flowers & spices , with lips that exude nectar, providing choice fruits, for "a sealed garden is my sister, my bride." That this is a divine song of the hieros gamos of Goddess & God, who become parents of the plant world, can be found with exact parallels in the tale of Inanna bringing Dumuzi back from the dead, laying with him, & giving birth to the world's flora. That Solomon married his sister is the same as Baal marring his sister Anath, who stained her face & hands & arms with henna & saffron before restoring the life of her brother, laying with him, & birthing all the fauna of the world. Even Sarah, matriarch of all nations, wedded her half-brother Abraham, who took all his knowledge from her [Gn 16:2; 21:12; Genesis Rabbah 47:1].

Kar may also be detected in the Hebrew words karam which was a vineyard such as that which Noah first planted upon the receeding of the Flood; karmel which is a garden within an orchard, or any fertile fruit-giving place; or karah which is the pasture or meadow, where crocuses bloom, or a pasture, such as where sheep were sustained. The root word here is kar, borrowed from an unknown language. Kar's name meant "Lamb" in Akkadian, Ugaritic, & in the Bible, though it is a word of non-Semitic origin. So too was name of Rachel an Ewe-lamb, though I will forgo noting some specifics between Kar & Rachel, there being already too much ground to cover. But Kar as Lamb & Meadow is meaningful in a cultic as well as a practical context where sheparding cultures are concerned.

Ashtaroth means "a sheepfold enclosure," & these exceedingly ancient earthmothers were frequently symbolized by gated sheepfold enclosures (as was Sumerian Ki), impenetrable or inescapable labyrinths (as Gaea), or gated city walls (as Cybele, whose very crown was an encircling city wall). The gate symbolized Her vagina, & the first of all vaginal gates were the entries to naturally existing caverns, which were the first homes & temples of Stone Age humanity. Such caverns were regarded as gateways between this world & the underworld, routes to & from the endless cycle of life, death, & renewed life.

"Karah (the meadow) for shepherds, & Gederah (the fold) for flocks" [Zeph 2:6] refers to such goddesses as Kar & Ashtaroth, who had in fact a converging Semitic cult as a single Goddess named Ashtaroth-Karnaim [Gn 14:5].

In Phoenicia, the place of Carthage named for Kar, the edible saffron corm as well as some of the spice was pounded & cooked to make sacramental crescent-cakes for the goddess Ashtoreth (or Ashtaroth), whose name in Greek became Astarte, & in earlier Syria, Canaan, & Israel she was Anath, who is alluded to in the book of Jeremiah, a native of Anathoth ("Daughers of Anath"). Jeremiah reports the use of Moon-cakes prepared by Jewish women for "the Queen of Heaven."

The name of Kar furthermore meant "Bee," & the Greek word for honeycomb, cerion is actually a Cretan word alluding to Kar's rule of bees, those inveterate pollinators of the flower kingdom. Because Kar additional meant "Heart," "Fate," "Doom," & "Destiny," the Crocus may ultimately have the same word-origin as Karma & Cardiac, alluding to the ancient All-mother's rule of Fate & Time (Kar's grandfather was Khronos, or Time).

Kar was remembered in Rome as Carne the wife of Janus & Goddess of internal organs. There arose an affectation among Christians to identify Janus & Karna with Noah & his wife. As Karna & Janus were survivors of the Dark Age brought about by the Sea Peoples, so too Karna & Noah were survivors from a vanquished antedeluvian world. Karne was also identified with Vesta as Fire-goddess; so too among gnostics, Noah's wife was the Fire-goddess Norea. Vesta was but a byform of Rome's warlike Magna Mater, who was none other than the Phrygian Cybele. Even today, Karni of India, a form of Kali or another name of the saffron-colored goddess Gauri, are honored by staining a boulder with saffron (the poor would use ochre). Boulders or rocks worshipped as manifestations of the Mother Goddess would seem to be the most primitive type of Stone Age worship predating even the fashioning of idols. Such boulders representing Ammas or Village Mother Goddesses can be spotted stained with saffron & ochre in all corners of India.

The male equivalent of Kar's Maidens the kharimati were the kari, "Kar's Men," who were the same as the Curetes and Corybantes who served variously Cybele, Hera, & Kar. The Corybantes were sometimes said to be the sons of fatherless Corybas who was the product of Kore having given virgin birth. Kore ("Maid") was probably a late identification that confuses Persephone (Kore) with the very ancient earthmother Kar; & again no mere coincidence that the Curetes were appointed guardians of Persephone.

The Kari were well known in ancient Israel as a noble caste of mercenaries famed for their willingness to lay down their lives for whoever they were sworn to protect. These kari, or curetes, took an oath with the high priest Jehoiada to protect the child-king Joash during the revolt against Queen Athaliah [2 Ki 11:4-12, 19].

Jehoiada selected the Carites as little Joash's personal guard so that he would be safe from Athaliah's assassins even on the Sabbath [11:9]. The Carites were of Cretan origin, & of Philistine stock, & may have been the very ones who brought the goddess Kar to a region later to become Israel. Since these Karites were not worshippers of Yahweh, they were valued by Israel's royalty from King David's day onward not merely because of their extraordinary faithfulness as mercenary vassals, but for their freedom to serve soldierly functions even on the Sabbath, as no Jewish soldier could.

They were alternatively called Cherethites, such as protected Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, & young Solomon at his anointing during the threat posed by Adonijah [1 Ki 1:38, 44], exactly as, in a later generation, they protected the high priest & young Joash at his anointing during Athaliah's threat. Johanan ben-Kareah, commander of the remnant of the armies of Judah at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity, was similarly charged with protecting King Zedekiah's daughters, who were the only survivors of the Davidic bloodline [Jr 43:5-6].

Given the Philistine origin of the Carites or Cherethites, it is more than coincidence that this caste of protectors of Israel's infant kings is so nearly identical to the Cretan role of the Corybantes or Curetes in protecting the infant Zeus, who was said to have been fashioned entirely of saffron, or to have the odor of saffron in his infancy.

According to the hymn of Palaikastro of Crete, infant Zeus was king over his daemonic guardians, the Curetes, a band of superhumans only slightly below the gods. Cretan Zeus was chosen to be a sacrificial grain-god (just as Athaliah intended to sacrifice Joash, whose Yahwist cult not coincidentally had its Temple founded by Solomon upon a Threshing-floor purchased by David). Zeus was hidden in a sacred Cave (Joash in the Temple) where he was nursed by the Goat-goddess Amalthea (akin to Joash's nurse who was hidden with Joash in the ruined Temple). Her biblical name was Kerenhappuch, "Horn of Kohl," Kohl being a common eye cosmetic. The horn was thought to be the same as "Amalthea's Horn," the horn of a she-goat, hence Amalthea is Karenhappuch's name in the Septuagint & the pseudonpegraphic Testament of Job. This can all be reconnected to the Cretan/Phrygian concept of Karites & Caryatids as priests & priestesses of Kar or Rhea, & conceivably Job's sacrifical sons & daughters were similar in type. Job's daughter Amalthea, whose name means "Divine Tenderness," together with her sisters, were credited with having produced important sacred texts & hymns which were used by the Montanists but subsequently lost. The Montanists originated in Phrygia, coopting much from Cybele worship, Cybele being one & the same with the Cretan Kar.

Zeus's cavern nursery in sometimes Crete's Mount Ida, sacred to Cybele Idaea, while other versions call it Mount Dykte, after Kar's daughter Dictynna, & a name for Crete itself. That Kar, Rhea, Gaea, Cybele & Demeter are to large extent diverging versions of the same Mother Goddess explains so many connections between their cults.

Whenever Zeus whimpered, the Curetes kept his cries from being heard by the constant din of their celebratory war-dance across the mountainside; it is not so strange then that another meaning of Kar, or karar in Hebrew, is "Dancing," a maenadic propensity, Curetes to great extent being the male equivalent of the raging, dancing, whirling maenads.

Lucrecius likewise speaks of these Curetes as defenders of infant Jupiter against Saturn. He says they were both Cretan & Phrygian, & were the armed guard of "the Mighty Mother," vis, Cybele, tramping warlike over the mountains as She rode in her lion-drawn chariot. He said they went about "With flowers fallen like snow upon the Mother & her bands of companions," reminiscent of the white snow-crocuses that formed Demeter's mantel. These snowfall flowers may well have been both autumn & spring crocuses which were the source of the bee's honey that was brought to the cavern to feed infant Zeus. Virgil explicitely states that Saffron flowers were essential for the maintenance of these sacred bees. The bees were themselves armed warriors that loved flowers, even as were the Curetes.

The magic of the Crocus & its association with the birth & sustenance of infant Cretan Zeus survived in later myths of the adult Zeus & his bride Hera. When they made love upon a river bank, as told to us in the Iliad, a bed or saffron crocuses rose up around them in full bloom. The saffron spice that issued from these crocuses was a "golden dew" so bright that had anyone passed by the riverside nuptial bed of the God & Goddess, all that would have been seen was the shimmering light.

Return to:
Part I:
The Crocus as Fertility Daemon to the Mother Goddess


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