Baubo - Goddess of Mirth
In the first biography of a goddess who captured the wise woman / crone spirit, I’d like to present Baubo, a minor goddess in the Eleusinian story.
As the Eleusinian story goes...
Demeter was an Olympian and the goddess of grain, agriculture and motherhood. Demeter's only daughter, Persephone, was abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld. Demeter searched for her daughter ceaselessly and became more and more distraught. When she found out that her brother/ consort Zeus had given Hades permission to abduct Persephone, Demeter went into a deep depression causing the skies to go dark and the fields to become fallow. The goddess of agriculture, nurturance and creation, in her despair and anger, would not let anything grow.
Demeter left Olympus and traveled in disguise as an older woman. She arrived in Eleusis and met the daughters of the King who invited her back to the castle to work as a nursemaid for their younger brother. As Demeter entered the castle room where the mother and child sat, she filled the doorway with light. The mother, a Queen, knew she was amidst brilliance and offered Demeter a comfortable seat and fine wine. But Demeter never took the seat, for as soon as Demeter took in the sight of the mother and child, she became grief-stricken, mute and despondent.
Baubo, the maid servant, brought her a simple chair and Demeter sat. Seeing Demeter's unbearable grief, Baubo engaged Demeter through bawdy jokes and jests. Her antics began to make Demeter smile. Baubo, sensing the depth of Demeter's grief, raised her skirt exposing herself fully and danced around the room. This act unleashed a roar of laughter in Demeter and ignited in her the strength she needed to challenge Zeus to command Hades to release Persephone.
Baubo, whose name comes from the word "belly", was known for evoking belly laughs. She used her mature, older woman’s form to make, what we would call today, “unseemly” gestures and bring hilarity to the moment. As you read above, in order to lift the spirits of the grieving Demeter, Baubo lifted her skirt, an act the Greeks called anasyrma, exposing her most feminine, earthy essence ... her vulva.
In pre-patriarchal times, female goddesses were worshipped as deities. Women’s bodies were not seen as dirty or unclean or lewd. Many of the figurines found in the centuries before common era (BCE) depicted women’s full breasts, bellies and vulvas. Vulvas were carved into the entrances of caves, on cave walls, and on artifacts. Baubo was depicted in stone as a woman with a large belly, a face on her belly and the clef of her chin forming the vulva. She reminds us of a time when women’s bodies and sexuality were sacred.
Baubo represents using the unselfconscious feminine form to bring levity, laughter and healing to other women in the midst of unbearable grief, loss or betrayal. She often appears as the sacred fool, her bawdy antics belying her noble intentions and wisdom. According to Winfred Milius Lubel, the connection has been made between women’s laughter, sexuality and the restoration of balance to ease stressful times and set painful matters in perspective. Lubel also comments on the nature of the mirth, “References to Baubo usually carry a special quality of laughter. It is a chuckling, wry sort of humor, compounded of irony, compassion, and shared experience between women… it is Baubo’s sacred belly laugh.”
My personal encounter with a Baubo.
About 5 years ago, I was introduced to Baubo while reading Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book, Goddesses in Older Women. I brought the book with me to read on vacation at a resort that my husband and I frequently visited in Carmel Valley, CA. While I was at the resort, I used the fitness facility. It was there that I noticed a woman working out who I recognized from a prior visit to the resort.
The woman was in her early 90's and had long white hair that was loosely held back by a rubber band. She wore baggy sweat pants and a loose, bright orange t-shirt. Under her t-shirt she wore nothing at all, no bra, no fitness top or tank top. The woman was large breasted and her breasts swayed from side to side and up and down depending on the machine she was using. At first I found her appearance a little too raw, indecorous in fact and it was hard not close my eyes. Yet my eyes were drawn back to her. After awhile I noticed how she seemed to move from machine to machine with the gentle rhythm of a dance whose music only she could hear and I was quite captivated by her.
I happened to get on a machine that she had vacated a few minutes before. Her towel was on the floor. She came over and asked if the towel was hers and I told her that I thought it was. I piped up and said, “I was here about 6 months ago and I saw you exercising here at that time. Tell me, how often do you work out?” The woman came very close to me, looked around the room and then back at me and said, “Every fucking day!” I burst out laughing and so did she. Then she asked me my name. I said, “Patricia.” She replied, “Oh! I love that name. My best friend was named Patricia and I lost her not too long ago. I’m Priscilla…I knew I’d like you.” Then she simply flitted off.
Synchronicity at its best! I found my earthy, bawdy, sensual, vivacious, hilarious Baubo!
Questions to ponder as you let Baubo’s story sink into your depths …
Who among your circle of friends has been your Baubo in stressful times?
What is it about encounters with a Baubo and laughing until our sides hurt, that you find most healing?
If we don’t view our women’s bodies, especially older bodies, as unseemly, what gifts can we grant ourselves and others by embracing our form?