Peaceful times are always followed by unrest. Eleima had travelled a great distance in order to understand what people sought in their lives. The days and nights were very different for them. Sometimes they were a source of distress but at other times they were times of secret joys. Sometimes the sunset came with a satisfied look at the end of a day full of good deeds, sometimes a day ended in sorrow for the things that had not come. Above all, the people agreed that the night was a time for fear, because they thought wandering spirits could visit them. Eleima had heard these stories but did not understand their fears.
And so it happened that Eleima witnessed a horrendous spectacle. In the glow of the full moon she saw that a young woman had gone out walking. The woman was navigating a rocky path when she noticed a flower in bloom. The flower was of an incomprehensible splendour, with a clear green stem and many golden petals woven into the shape of a nightly sun. It emanated a sweet aroma, reminiscent of the most heavenly days and the salt of the sea. The girl reached for the flower with both hands, but just as she was about to pick it, the earth tore open. The petals formed a ghastly head, the stem was the body of a great snake. The woman was seized by the monster and dragged into the deep. In the dark Eleima saw the bodies of those who had gotten wedged in the earth and trapped deep underground during the great war of the Gods.
The earth closed up again and it was as though no one had ever walked this path. Eleima was very alarmed, also because she had not known of the suffering of the underground people, and because this suffering wounded her as though she herself had been buried alive. Blinded, she went on through vallies and mountains, her head full of worry and her body filled with shivering horror. She neglected her appearance, her clothes became filthy and torn, and she now appeared as an elderly woman, though those who were pure of heart could still see that she was no woman like the others.
Dispirited, she finally sank down at the foot of an olive tree, near a fountain that flowed with fresh drinking water. The daughters of a king by the name of Keleos also came there, carrying golden goblets. They saw her sorrow, and they asked: Why are you sitting here, lonely and old ? Why did you leave your home? Come with us to the palace! There are soft shadows there, and you will be able to spend your final days comfortably, amidst young women. We would love to profit by your wisdom.
Eleima answered in a friendly tone she hailed from Crete and had fled from a mysterious disease that tormented the people there. She would gladly accept the welcome the daughters had extended towards her, and she hoped there might be an infant for her to take care of so she could earn her keep. She could make the beds of the masters of the house or teach the young women certain crafts.
The daughters said their father was a good man and that he would not turn away those who sought his protection, all the more so because they felt that this old woman, battered by life as she was, still carried within her the light of the Goddess. They convinced Eleima that there was room for her at the palace, and they took her along and gave her food and a bed.
Although everyone thought the Queen was already past the age in which women have children, she gave birth to a son. She called him Demophon. The old woman who had been placed under the daughters’ care had by now won the great trust of everyone, and she was proposed to become the newborn’s caretaker.
The daughters brought her to their mother, who was sat in her room with the delicate child in her lap. Eleima stepped over the threshold, and it looked as though her head would touch the ceiling, although she had obscured her divine light behind a veil. The Queen was amazed and alarmed, and she offered her seat, but Eleima refused. She seated herself in another chair, which she took silently, still shocked and saddened by what she had seen in the darkness. Now that the child saw Eleima, it began to laugh and make sounds, so that a new joy appeared in her face.
Only then did the Queen greet her guest. She said that she thought to see in her eyes that she was as regal as herself, even thought the Gods had brought misfortune upon her just as they bring fortune upon others. The Queen offered her wine, but Eleima said that she could not drink. She requested that someone would bring her a glass of water and mint. The Queen decided that her guest would henceforth be treated as an equal and entrusted her with the last-born child.
The people in the palace saw that this old woman commanded special powers and gave her what she asked for. Although Eleima was old now, her breasts gave milk abundantly and she fed the child as though he was her own. Demophon thrived under her care, but still Eleima could not forget the girl she had seen depart for the underworld, and she set out to teach the young prince to help her. Therefore every evening when the people had lain down to rest, she basked the child in the fire of the hearth so that it would become invincible.
But one night the Queen could not sleep. She wandered through the palace and visited Eleima’s quarters unannounced. There she saw the child lying in the fire. Although the prince was sleeping peacefully, the Queen became alarmed. She wailed: What have they done to you? And her clamouring was so loud that Demophon woke up and began to cry. When Eleima entered the room, the Queen shouted at her to take the child out of the fire. Without a word, Eleima took the boy from the flames. Then she flew into a great rage: Why have you no faith? she asked. I have basked this child in the fire so that it might help me conquer a great evil. Could you not see I was causing your child no harm? Now it will no longer be able to do what is needed. Unknowingly, you have plunged someone into misfortune.
The Queen said: I saw danger and I wanted to protect my child. You cannot reproach a mother for loving her child.
But Eleima responded: People are so frightened and ignorant. You cannot distinguish good from evil and you can foresee neither good nor evil. Do not confuse love for weakness, I love this child as well. My love was strong, I had faith in this child and in his strength. Now your child will still achieve great fame, for he has sat in my lap and slept in my arms. Great wars will be waged in his honour. But I, Eleima, am the caretaker of the living and the dead, a Goddess of great goodness, and no evil shall be done in my name.
Eleima had now cast off her guise of an old woman and stood in all her splendour. A sweet-smelling mantle covered her golden shoulders, her long hair flamed around her beautiful face and the light of her godly appearance shone far and wide. She led the Queen to a meadow in a nearby forest, and she said: I shall forgive you because you have offered hospitality to a stranger. Here you shall raise a temple in my honour, with an altar for offerings and a place to sit. I shall teach you the divine rituals, so that your people can message me in ways that can comfort my sorrow. Now go back to your son, wash him in milk and honey, then wash him in water and roses and then let him sleep.
Meanwhile at the palace, the child began to cry. The daughters took him up, wrapped him in soft blankets and sang him friendly songs. But no matter how hard they tried to comfort him, none of them could care for him as Eleima had done. The King was standing by his crib when the Queen came in and told him what had happened. Upon hearing the story, the King immediately assembled his best people and commanded them to build the temple as Eleima had requested.
The builders went to work energetically and they erected a temple that was able to compete with the great house of Babylon in terms of beauty. In front of the temple they made an altar for offerings and it was there that Eleima planted the seed of a tree. The seed sprouted and grew quickly. Then, she placed herself in the tree’s branches, she made its roots pierce deeply into the earth, and she used the tips of the roots to seek out the young woman in the dark abyss, for she had not forgotten her.
At long last Eleima found the nest of the snake in the Valley of Hinnom, where the woman lay unconscious in the coils of the monster’s endless body. She said to the snake: Give me back this girl. She belongs with the people. You should not have robbed them of her.
But the snake said: Goddess of the world, ruler of the living and the dead, you who in your goodness accept the people, accepts their good offerings and returns their bad ones so that they may learn from them, I cannot compete with your greatness. But here in my empire there are those who are neither living nor dead. Those who have rejected your goodness come here, and here I reign alone. I wished no longer to be living alone amidst the lost souls and so I have taken this girl for myself. Do not begrudge me because if you take her from me I will seek out many others for myself.
Eleima answered: That empire is yours, I seek no strife. Let us keep the peace, since she seems esteemed by both of us.
And Eleima and the snake agreed that the woman, whose name was Arethusa, would spend half of the year in the temple aboveground and lead the service of the people there. While she lived there, the trees would bear golden apples who would give eternal youth to all those who partook of them. In winter, Arethusa would be allowed to descend into the roots of the tree and spend this other time with the snake and sleep with him. The snake would teach Eleima of the other world, so that she may know the darkness for her to conquer. Eleima added to the agreement that if the snake were to harm the girl, Eleima would prosecute him with fire, and would not rest until his empire had been entirely destroyed.