In Japan as in many other civilizatons, the theme of the death of children, forbidden desire and demonic temptation is a recurrent theme in pomegranate lore.
In Japan, Kishimojin or Kariteimo, is worshiped by infertile women to bring fertility to their wombs, for she is regarded the Buddhist Goddess of Easy Delivery, Giver of Children, & Guardian of Children. Often depicted suckling an infant and holding the Pomegranate in Right Hand – a symbol of fertility due to its many seeds (and is often compared to Athena often depicted holding a pomegranate in her left hand as well as the Madonna in Christian iconographic paintings, where the Virgin Mary often holds Persephone’s pomegranate, symbolizing Mary’s authority over the death of her son). The deity is particularly venerated by Japan’s Nichiren Sect and to Devotees of the Lotus Sutra, and has its origins in the Hariti (Sanskrit = Hāritī), the Protector of children; wife of Panchik, who is regarded to have originally been the Hindu Mother of Child-Eating Demons who repented and converted to Buddhism.
In Buddhist lore, the demoness Hariti was originally a child-eater like Lilith. The Buddha cured her of child-eating by teaching her to sublimate her forbidden desire by eating, instead, crunchy bloody pomegranates. She became thereafter a protectress of little children.” ”
Kariteimo and the Indian Hariti recall the similar-sounding Harutha found in a Jewish legend:
The Jewish legend “associates the pomegranate with death & with the menstruant or polluted woman, a Lilith or a harlot. The Talmud tells us of a time when the wife of Rabbi Hiyya ben-Abba disguised herself as Harutha the Forbidden Maiden to test her husband’s will-power. When he saw the gorgeously bedecked demoness, he became most excited, & cried out, “Who are you?” She replied, “I am Harutha. If you desire me, you may have me for the price of a pomegranate. Fetch me the one at the highest bough of that tree.” Rabbi Hiyya hurried to climb the tree & obtained the pomegranate, but upon his return, he found only his wife, who reassured him, “You were only tempted by me.” But her husband felt so guilty, he said, “Nevertheless, I would have done evil,” & he fasted unto death.” — The pomegranate of ancient myth (Paghat’s Garden)
Extracted below from “Pomegranate Lore and Legend”
“The pomegranate is a focal symbol in the legend and lore of many different cultures. Some hold that it was the pomegranate which was the fruit of temptation (remember the Punic apple?) leading to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden in the Bible.
With its abundance of seeds, the fruit has long been a symbol of fertility, bounty, and eternal life, particularly to those of the Jewish faith. Many paintings of the Madonna Virgin and Child prominently display a pomegranate. Ancient Egyptians were buried with pomegranates in hope of rebirth.
The Hittite god of agriculture is said to have blessed followers with grapes, wheat, and pomegranates. The seeds were sugared and served to guests at Chinese weddings. When it was time to consumate the marriage, pomegranates were thrown on the floor of the bedchamber to encourage a happy and fruitful union.
Berber women used pomegranates to predict the amount of their offspring by drawing a circle on the ground and dropping a ripe pomegranate in the center. The amount of seeds expelled outside the ring allegedly prophesied the number of her future children.
Mohammed believed pomegranates purged the spirits of envy and hatred from the body and urged all his followers to eat goodly amounts.
When Persephone was held captive in Hades, the Greek goddess of spring and fruit swore she would not partake of food until her release. However, she could not resist the tempting pomegranate, consuming nearly the entire fruit before halting herself and leaving only six seeds uneaten. It is from this story that believers think our yearly cycle of six months of growth and harvest followed by six months of winter is derived.“
It was the fruit of Kore the Maid, or Persephone, whom even as an underworld divinity was beautiful & kind … and also of …
“the maidenly Side (“Pomegranate”) who in Greek myth vied with Hera in a competition of beauty. She was a very ancient divinity of Boeatian origin. As the wife of Orion she was, like Orion, both a stellar & cthonic divinity, though dwindled in Greek myth to little more than a failed rival of Hera. For her audacity she was punished, being made to believe she had caused the death of her own children. In consequence she threw herself from a high cliff upon a rock. Where her blood spilled upon the rock, the first pomegranate tree arose. In another version, she was cast into Hades for pretending to the beauty of Hera, & lived as a gloomy nymph of an underworld pomegranate forest from which Persephone’s only winter meal was plucked.”
The pomegranate had close associations with the soil, agriculture, fertility and in particular Earth mothers, symbols of renewal life & death and of the awakening of the earth and cyclical seasons (and of the Underworld):
In ancient Syria the god Rimmon [2 Ki 5:18], whose name means “Pomegranate,” was (like Tamuz & Baal Hadad), a sacrificial divinity who passes temporarily through death, & whose resurrection is either instigated by or attended exclusively by women, nymphs, or goddesses. Rimmon seems for a while to have been a national deity overseeing lamentations for the death of Israel’s kings [Zech 12:11]. “
“In the ancient & medieval worlds, pomegranates symbolized birth & death, being itself capable of bleeding. It was frequently associated with maidens & maiden-goddesses, for its bloodiness was often identified with the menses of an underworld goddess.”
“In India, Kali & Durga after devouring demons was said to have teeth like pomegranate flowers, which is to say, red with blood.
But in her quiescent mood Mahadevi sat beneath a pomegranate tree distributing wealth to the world. Kali’s son, elephant-headed Ganesha, or Ganapati, is frequently seen holding a pomegranate in one of his many hands or in his elephant trunk.“
“To ancient Persians the pomegranate symbolized invincibility in battle, extending the fruit’s authority over death. Many biblical personages & locations were named for this very god, who seems to have continued to be worshipped in the lands aportioned to Simeon [Josh 15:32] & Zebulun [19:13]. Rimmon seems for a while to have been a national deity overseeing lamentations for the death of Israel’s kings [Zech 12:11]. Rimmon had also a sacred site in Benjamin, where the name Rimmon was associated with the father of killers [2 Sm 2-9]. A Benjaminite sanctuary in time of warfare & extreme crisis was named for the Pomegranate Rimmon & for his consort Shala…”.
Pomegranate as Forbidden Desire was also a component of its meaning within Athena’s Parthenon, but the forbidden desire to eat of the fruit also underlays the Persephone myth & numerous Pomegranate legends.
“In Jewish lore it was again the fruit of things forbidden, growing upon the Tree of Knowledge (of sexuality & death) forbidden to Adam & Eve. For the mystic Moses Cordovero, pomegranates represented the divine emanations of God such as dwelt upon the Sephiroth Tree, with both dark & light aspects.
In the Song of Songs Rabbah, we are told that the seeds of a pomegranate represent children studying Torah, which may bear some relationship to an idea from Islamic legend, that each seed of the pomegranate is capable of producing a different fruit from paradise.”
All these elements seem to have come together in the biblical Garden of Eden – the temptation of the fruit/tree of knowledge=wisdom(?), by a snake(demon?), loss of immortality (and consequently banishment from) paradise…except that the fruit of temptation may have been a pomegranate, the “Carthage apple” instead of the malus apple, according to popular folklore. The genus name Punica is the name of the ancient city of Carthage. It has been cultivated since ancient times, & was once known as “the Carthage apple,” apparently after ancient groves of pomegranates.
Source: The pomegranate of ancient myth