Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Blood Spatter and Persephone’s Pomegranates

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.

Pomegranate - Just look at that beautiful color!

Pomegranate - Just look at that beautiful color!

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.

Pomegranate seeds - again - look at those colors!

Pomegranate seeds - again - look at those colors!

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

[edit]Judaism
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).[31]

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.[32] It is also a symbol of fruitfulness.[33] 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.[33] 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.

[edit]Christianity
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.[33] 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.

[edit]Islam
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.[33] The Qur’an also mentions (6:99, 6:141) pomegranates twice as examples of good things God creates.

[edit]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.[34] 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.[31] 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[citation needed] 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.[35]

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.

Serves 6.

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November 9, 2008 - Posted by | Cooking, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Food, Health Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions |

15 Comments »

  1. Ohhh ‘Tis the season! I will start having pomegranates’ juice now heehee

    Comment by Ansam | November 9, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] finishing touches that don’t take long that can add enormous color and taste to a dish.  Pomegranates are in season (somewhere) and adding in a sprinkle of these red jewels into a salad can brighten it […]

    Pingback by Heart of Cooking » Blog Archive » Why timing is everything | November 10, 2008 | Reply

  3. It is SO good for us, Ansam! 🙂

    Love your blog, Heart of Cooking! 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 10, 2008 | Reply

  4. lovely! I enjoyed reading this! 🙂

    Comment by cixousianpanic | November 10, 2008 | Reply

  5. I am so happy every time I see you, cixousianpanic. Wish you were still blogging.

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 10, 2008 | Reply

  6. Nice… I’ll try that water trick 🙂

    Comment by Bu Yousef | November 11, 2008 | Reply

  7. I just wrote a post on pomegranates and how unbelievably amazing they are 🙂
    I was a Greek Mythology nut too, and that’s when I begged my dad to buy me a pomegranate. They weren’t in season in Canada then, but I went down to Syria that summer and had my fill. AMAZING fruit. And so interesting that all 3 Abrahamic religions mention them in one way or another!
    I’ll definitely try the water trick next time though… should make for an easier treat!

    Comment by souvenirsandscars | November 11, 2008 | Reply

  8. I still haven’t tried the water trick, but at a local juice shop, I ordered the pomegranate juice and what I got was a cup full of pomegranate seeds in cold water. It was unexpected – and delicious! 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 12, 2008 | Reply

  9. She ate the pomegranate:
    http://fourthreichisrael.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/she-ate-the-pomegranate/

    Comment by fourthreichisrael | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  10. Fourth – I am so sorry for your troubles. I pray one day once again the Palestinians and Jews will find a way to live together in peace.

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  11. Comment by fourthreichisrael | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  12. Wow. Thank you, Fourth. I always check out anything posted on this blog – and that song is a WOW. Here is the story:

    “Shamai Leibowitz | How do you make this song a reality? To be sure, singing songs about peace will not bring peace. But reading about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, visiting the conflict area and talking to the people on the ground are concrete steps that can make a difference.
    In this song, Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian singers and musicians joined together to perform the Hebrew-Arabic song “Hevenu Shalom Aleinu” (We Brought Peace Upon Us) – “Ma Ana Ajmal Min Salam” (There is Nothing More Beautiful Than Peace). Sung in both Hebrew and Arabic, this Middle Eastern, Sepharadic-style, jazzy and inspiring song challenges us to rise above the propaganda, renounce hatred, supremacy, violence, and terrorism, and “rock the boat” until Israelis and Palestinians understand there is only one path to security and peace, and that is through sharing the land and upholding the human rights of all inhabitants of the Holy Land.

    This song is dedicated to the thousands of ordinary people around the world, including many Jews, who are helping to promote human rights, equality and justice.”

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  13. I am glad that you liked the song and message.
    Here is another one that moves me to the core of my being:

    Comment by fourthreichisrael | January 15, 2010 | Reply

  14. Fourth, what has always struck me as so obvious is how much the Jews and the Palestinians have in common – even their language is SO CLOSE, and the customs are so close – closer to one another in many ways than Christianity is to either.

    If the Palestinians and the Jews ever find a way to live together in peace, their cooperation can produce a nation unparalleled in history – smart, hard working, self-sacrificing, unbeatable, a power to be reckoned with. It is so clear to me what it would look like and how powerful they could be – united, a synergy.

    What a waste of time, energy and resources this fight is, “us” against “them” when together, they could be a mighty force for good in the world.

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 16, 2010 | Reply

  15. You make some very good points, Intlxpatr In my opinion, they are idealistic.

    I saw your comment yesterday and thought about it a lot, it got me thinking and so I just finished posting my view on the points that you brought up.

    If you feel inclined to watch the video and read what it says and also click on the words that are all hyper-linked to another post that also goes into your points in poetic detail and let me know what you think, I would really appreciate it; I’m very interested in discussing the issue of non-violence and resistance, the two are not opposed to each other.

    http://fourthreichisrael.wordpress.com/2010/01/17/resistance-is-not-terrorism/

    Comment by fourthreichisrael | January 17, 2010 | Reply


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