This morning I was hulling pomegranates. I’m not very good at it, and I was imagining the cooks at someplace like Shebastan could make quick work of what took me quite a while. My hands were thoroughly stitcky, but I had a nice healthy bowl of seeds, which I now know are called Aril, that I will eat like candy, and pop into my morning oatmeal – makes it edible and it tastes like health in a bowl.
My very cool Mom bought me my first pomegranate – here in Kuwait, they are called Roman’, which my husband said is because they came in with the Romans, but that seems very strange to me because clearly they are Iranian in origin. It took me forever to dig the seeds out. Now I know to just lightly cut the skin in a few places, tear off a hunk and start separating. I read on Wikipedia that it goes faster in water, the seeds sink and the pulp floats. I’ll have to try that next time.
Mom bought me the pomegranate because I was crazy about Greek mythology, and Persephone had to spend six months in hell every year because (it’s a long story, this is just the short version) she had been tempted to eat and she ate just six pomegranate seeds, and so when she was freed from hell she still has to go back for six months and that’s why we have winter (well, I was just a kid and it made sense to me) but I always wondered what a pomegranate would be like.
I’ve loved them ever since. But when I was done, I noticed I had spots and streaks like something out of Dexter all over the walls. I think I have it all cleaned up, but I keep finding places I missed!
But you know how one thing leads to another, and then leads to Wikipedia. I wanted to make sure I got the legend of Persephone right, but instead, I learned that pomegranates have symbolism in all three religions of the book – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Click on the blue type above and you can learn more about Pomegranates. Read below for what Wikipedia tells us about the pomegranate’s symbolism in different religions:
Pomegranates and symbolism
Exodus 28:33–34 directed that images of pomegranates be woven onto the hem of the me’il (“robe of the ephod”), a robe worn by the Hebrew High Priest. 1 Kings 7:13–22 describes pomegranates depicted on the capitals of the two pilars (Jachin and Boaz) which stood in front of the temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem. It is said that Solomon designed his coronet based on the pomegranate’s “crown” (calyx).
Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. For this reason and others, many Jews eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah. However, the actual number of seeds varies with individual fruits. It is also a symbol of fruitfulness. The pomegranate is one of the few images which appear on ancient coins of Judea as a holy symbol, and today many Torah scrolls are stored while not in use with a pair of decorative hollow silver “pomegranates” (rimmonim) placed over the two upper scroll handles. Some Jewish scholars believe that it was the pomegranate that was the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. Pomegranate is one of the Seven Species (Hebrew: שבעת המינים, Shiv’at Ha-Minim), the types of fruits and grains enumerated in the Hebrew Bible (Deuteronomy 8:8) as being special products of the Land of Israel.
For the same reasons, pomegranates are a motif found in Christian religious decoration. They are often woven into the fabric of vestments and liturgical hangings or wrought in metalwork. Pomegranates figure in many religious paintings by the likes of Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, often in the hands of the Virgin Mary or the infant Jesus. The fruit, broken or bursting open, is a symbol of the fullness of his suffering and resurrection. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, pomegranate seeds may be used in kolyva, a dish prepared for memorial services, as a symbol of the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom.
According to the Qur’an, pomegranates grow in the gardens of paradise (55:068). According to Islamic tradition, every seed of a pomegranate must be eaten, because one can’t be sure which aril came from paradise. The Prophet Mohammed is said to have encouraged his followers to eat pomegranates to ward off envy and hatred. The Qur’an also mentions (6:99, 6:141) pomegranates twice as examples of good things God creates.
Greece and Greek mythology
The wild pomegranate did not grow natively in the Aegean area in Neolithic times. It originated in eastern Iran and came to the Aegean world along the same cultural pathways that brought the goddess whom the Anatolians worshipped as Cybele and the Mesopotamians as Ishtar.
The myth of Persephone, the chthonic goddess of the Underworld, also prominently features the pomegranate. In one version of Greek mythology, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and taken off to live in the underworld as his wife. Her mother, Demeter (goddess of the Harvest), went into mourning for her lost daughter and thus all green things ceased to grow. Zeus, the highest ranking of the Greek gods, could not leave the Earth to die, so he commanded Hades to return Persephone. It was the rule of the Fates that anyone who consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Persephone had no food, but Hades tricked her into eating four pomegranate seeds while she was still his prisoner and so, because of this, she was condemned to spend four months in the Underworld every year. During these four months, when Persephone is sitting on the throne of the Underworld next to her husband Hades, her mother Demeter mourns and no longer gives fertility to the earth. This became an ancient Greek explanation for the seasons.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting Persephona depicts Persephone holding the fatal fruit. It should be noted that the number of seeds that Persephone ate varies, depending on which version of the story is told. The number of seeds she is said to have eaten ranges from three to seven, which accounts for just one barren season if it is just three or four seeds, or two barren seasons (half the year) if she ate six or seven seeds. There is no set number.
The pomegranate also evoked the presence of the Aegean Triple Goddess who evolved into the Olympian Hera, who is sometimes represented offering the pomegranate, as in the Polykleitos’ cult image of the Argive Heraion (see below). According to Carl A. P. Ruck and Danny Staples, the chambered pomegranate is also a surrogate for the poppy’s narcotic capsule, with its comparable shape and chambered interior. On a Mycenaean seal illustrated in Joseph Campbell’s Occidental Mythology 1964, figure 19, the seated Goddess of the double-headed axe (the labrys) offers three poppy pods in her right hand and supports her breast with her left. She embodies both aspects of the dual goddess, life-giving and death-dealing at once. The Titan Orion was represented as “marrying” Side, a name that in Boeotia means “pomegranate”, thus consecrating the primal hunter to the Goddess. Other Greek dialects call the pomegranate rhoa; its possible connection with the name of the earth goddess Rhea, inexplicable in Greek, proved suggestive for the mythographer Karl Kerenyi, who suggested that the consonance might ultimately derive from a deeper, pre-Indo-European language layer.
Pomegranate — opened up
In the 6th century BC, Polykleitos took ivory and gold to sculpt the seated Argive Hera in her temple. She held a scepter in one hand and offered a pomegranate, like a ‘royal orb’, in the other. “About the pomegranate I must say nothing,” whispered the traveller Pausanias in the 2nd century, “for its story is something of a mystery.” Indeed, in the Orion story we hear that Hera cast pomegranate-Side (an ancient city in Antalya) into dim Erebus — “for daring to rival Hera’s beauty”, which forms the probable point of connection with the older Osiris/Isis story. Since the ancient Egyptians identified the Orion constellation in the sky as Sah the “soul of Osiris”, the identification of this section of the myth seems relatively complete. Hera wears, not a wreath nor a tiara nor a diadem, but clearly the calyx of the pomegranate that has become her serrated crown.
The pomegranate has a calyx shaped like a crown. In Jewish tradition it has been seen as the original “design” for the proper crown. In some artistic depictions, the pomegranate is found in the hand of Mary, mother of Jesus.
In modern times the pomegranate still holds strong symbolic meanings for the Greeks. On important days in the Greek Orthodox calendar, such as the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and on Christmas Day, it is traditional to have at the dinner table “polysporia”, also known by their ancient name “panspermia,” in some regions of Greece. In ancient times they were offered to Demeter and to the other gods for fertile land, for the spirits of the dead and in honor of compassionate Dionysus.
When one buys a new home, it is conventional for a house guest to bring as a first gift a pomegranate, which is placed under/near the ikonostasi (home altar) of the house, as a symbol of abundance, fertility and good luck. Pomegranates are also prominent at Greek weddings and funerals. When Greeks commemorate their dead, they make kollyva as offerings, which consist of boiled wheat, mixed with sugar and decorated with pomegranate. It is also traditional in Greece to break a pomegranate on the ground at weddings and on New Years. Pomegranate decorations for the home are very common in Greece and sold in most homegoods stores.
The photos, by the way, are of Indian pomegranates, but I bought Indian ones, Iranian ones and Egyptian ones; some are great big and very red, some are more orangey-red. These Indian ones are delightfully sweet!
Google can help you find all kinds of pomegranate recipes, but there is actually an organization called Pomegranates.org that lists lots of recipes in one easy location. :-) This must be pomegranate season, because they are plentiful, and reasonably priced, and oh, what luxury!
Here is one of their recipes:
Chicken with Pomegranate and Walnuts
2-3/4 pound fryer chicken
2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
3 tablespoons shortening
3-1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup fresh pomegranate juice
3 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons tomato sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Prepare chicken for frying. Saute chicken with poultry seasoning in shortening until light brown, set aside. In a large pot saute the onion in 3 teaspoon butter until golden brown. Add tomato sauce and saute for a few minutes. Add walnuts to the onions and saute over meduim heat about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add water, remaining seasonings, lemon juice, and pomegranate syrup. Cover and let cook on low about 35 minutes. Taste the sauce and add sugar if needed. Arrange browned chicken pieces in the sauce, cover and let simmer 20-25 minutes. Serve over white rice.
Usually as I blog I can hear AdventureMan singing, whistling or humming in the background as he showers, shaves and gets ready to go to work. This morning, it was quiet.
“Is everything OK?” I asked? Qatteri Cat must have wondered too, because he got up when I did and went back to ask with me.
“It’s fine.” AdventureMan sighed. “I’m just tired of work. I need a vacation.”
It makes me so sad. Not every day is a great day. I love the days when you jump out of bed, excited about the plans for the day. I love to hear him humming in the bathroom as he shaves. I am going to fix him something special for dinner tonight, something he loves – stuffed green peppers. Of course, by the time he gets home, the morning funk will be forgotten and he will have new things going on – thank God, his work has a lot of variety, a lot of scope for his skills.
The sunrise this morning was spectacular:
It is a beautiful day, Kuwait. :-)