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Overview Related Information Hymns to Demeter Notes Shrine to Demeter

from Sacred Source

The Greek earth goddess par excellence, who brings forth the fruits of the earth, particularly the various grains. She taught mankind the art of sowing and ploughing so they could end their nomadic existence. As such, Demeter was also the goddess of planned society. She was very popular with the rural population. As a fertility goddess she is sometimes identified with Rhea and Gaia. In systematized theology, Demeter is a daughter of Cronus and Rhea and sister of Zeus by whom she became the mother of Persephone. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, lord of the underworld, Demeter wondered the earth in search of her lost child. During this time the earth brought forth no grain.

Finally Zeus sent Hermes to the underworld, ordering Hades to restore Persephone to her mother. However, before she left, Hades gave her a pomegranate (a common fertility symbol). When she ate from it, she was bound to spend a third of the year with her husband in the infernal regions. Only when her daughter is with her, Demeter lets things grow (summer). The dying and blossoming of nature was thus connected with Demeter.

In the Eleusinian mysteries, Demeter and Persephone were especially venerated. When she was looking for her daughter, in the shape of an old woman called Doso, she was welcomed by Celeus, the king of Eleusis (in Attica). He requested her to nurse his sons Demophon and Triptolemus 1. To reward his hospitality she intended to make the boy Demophon immortal by placing him each night in the hearth, to burn his mortal nature away. The spell was broken one night because Metanira, the wife of Celeus, walked in on her while she was performing this ritual. Demeter taught the other son, Triptolemus, the principles of agriculture, who, in turn, taught others this art. In Demeter's honor as a goddess of marriage, women in Athens, and other centers in Greece, celebrated the feast of Thesmophoria (from her epithet Thesmophoros, "she of the regular customs"). Throughout Classical times members of all social strata came from all parts of the Mediterranean world to be initiated in and celebrate her Mysteries at Eleusis.

from Sacred Source

In ancient art, Demeter was often portrayed (sitting) as a solemn woman, often wearing a wreath of braided ears of corn. Well-known is the statue made by Knidos (mid forth century BC). Her usual symbolic attributes are the fruits of the earth and the torch, the latter presumably referring to her search for Persephone. Her sacred animals were the snake (an earth-creature) and the pig (another symbol of fertility). Some of her epithets include Auxesia, Deo, Chloe, and Sito. The Romans equated her with the goddess Ceres.

Edward A. Beach writes, "Many scholars today favor the view that the cult of Demeter probably derived from Thessaly or Thrace. They base this conclusion partly on references in Homer and other ancient authors to some evidently pre-Dorian temples to Demeter in the Thessalian towns of Thermopylae, Pyrasos, and Pherai; partly on certain etymological links connecting key words in the rites of Demeter to prehellenic dialects from the north (Mylonas 14-20; Kerényi 111, 145). Other scholars point out that Demeter may be the same as a goddess "Dameter," who is mentioned briefly in Linear B tablets from Pylos dating from approximately 1200 BCE. This evidence suggests that the cult of Demeter may after all have originated in the southern Peleponnesus (Ventris and Chadwick 289). But in any case, whether the specific cult of Demeter at Eleusis originated in northern or southern Greece, the undeniable parallels with worship of grain goddesses in other parts of the eastern Mediterranean region point to frequent contacts and the cross-fertilization of religious ideas. "

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Related Information

Pronunciation {dih-mee'-tur}
Etymology Barley-mother


Persephone is the goddess of the underworld in Greek mythology. She is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Persephone was such a beautiful girl that everyone loved her, even Hades wanted her for himself. When she was a little girl, she and the Oceanids were collecting flowers on the plain of Enna, when suddenly the earth opened and Hades rose up from the gap and abducted her. None but Zeus had noticed it. Broken-hearted, Demeter wandered the earth, looking for her daughter until Helios, the all-seeing, revealed what had happened. Demeter was so angry that she withdrew herself in loneliness, and all fertility on earth stopped.

Finally, Zeus sent Hermes down to Hades to make him release Persephone. Hades grudgingly agreed, but before she went back he gave Persephone a pomegranate to eat, thus she would always be connected to his realm and had to stay there one-third of the year. The other months she remained with her mother. When Persephone was in Hades, Demeter refused to let anything grow and winter began. This myth is a symbol of the budding and dying of nature. In the Eleusinian mysteries, this happening was celebrated in honor of Demeter and Persephone, who was known in this cult as Kore.

The Romans called her Proserpina.
Pronunciation {pur-sef'-uh-nee}
Etymology She who destroys the light

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Demeter's Hymn
by Lyn Hubert
Maiden and youth, as fresh as the dew,
new life unfolding, golden in hue.
In the eyes of the young, the wheel never turns,
spring is unending, the lamp always burns.
Youth is protecting, exultant and bright,
his arms encircle his maiden of light.

A chalice of crystal, to the athame a sheath,
the maiden enfolding, new life now beneath.
The seed has been planted, the new life will form,
daughter of promise, Maiden of corn.
Mother and Father, consort and queen,
they dance through the forest, they dance on the green.
They see the wheel as it sins in its ways,
marking the seasons, counting their days.
Their children dance with them, golden and warm,
the harvest is ripening, kept safe from all harm.
Like silver and coer, life burnished bright,
the fruits of the summer, they shine in the light.
Sweet horn of plenty, may your promise be born,
Bountiful Lady, Mother of corn.
Grandmother, grandfather, they stand arm in arm,
their circle near ending and waiting the dawn.
They know well the wheel as they circle about,
their voices speak softer, no need to shout.
New life and old, they faced each in turn,
Knowing that new from the old will return.
He dreams in the night of what he had been,
Lord of the forest, Lord of the green.
But the bones of an old man are painful and worn,
will his Lady remember her Lord of the Horn?
She sees him still as virile and young,
blind to the changes the long years have wrung.
A Chalice of crystal, with the eyes of the wise,
knowing that love that is true never dies.
The harvest is gathered, how full is the horn,
Lady of wisdom, Crone of the corn.
The wheel it has circled, time without end,
old life remembers, and welcomes the grain.
For the corn and the seed are one and the same,
that which has been, will be again.
Demeter our mother, Behold the newborn,
Mother of all, Behold the Corn.

Song of the All-Mother
By Marian Green

I am the Mother Earth, and you're a Child to me,
Discover who you are and seek divinity.
Rocks and stones and clay and peat - all strata are a part of me,
Jewels and crystals, gems and gold are hidden in the heart of me.
Herbs and flowers, trees and shrubs, these are growing green on me,
Mosses, fungi, lichens, vines, all of these are seen on me.
Horses, cattle, pigs and deer, bears and lions roam on me,
Snakes and spiders, rats and slugs, all creatures have their home on me.
Bubbling brooks and silent springs, living rivers flow on me,
Pools and puddles, lakes and seas, salty oceans grow on me.
Tiny toddlers, mighty whales, sacred salmon leap for me,
Sharks and squid and crabs and krill fill the waters deep for me.
Wrens and larks and crows and terns fill my skies with darting flight,
Hawks and eagles, bats and owls catch their prey by day and night.
Creeping worm and flying fox, teeming ants fulfill their lives,
In tune with me, in Nature's way, as honey bees enrich my hives.
Only humans rob their kin, despoil the land, pollute the seas,
Kill for fun, destroy the woods, float poisoned vapours on the breeze.
I shall live, for I can heal, even if you humans die,
But you can learn, as Children should, to grow in peace beneath the sky.
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In Closing

Historian, Gertrude Lerner writes: "Immanence of the divine and the continuity between life and death were the core ideas of the Goddess religion. "

The daughter, Persephone, (grain of corn) is the perfect symbol of the immortality of eternal re-birth. The fruit of life, which nourishes, it is the seed which must sink into the earth and disappear to give birth again and then mown down again. The maiden is ripped from the breast of her mother and initiated into the rites of womanhood. No longer the virgin, she becomes a new person, she is transformed into her mother. Endless renewal, the on-going cycle of birth, death and renewal.

1. According to some sources, Demephon and Triptolemus are the same character, namely Triptolemus.
2. The Encyclopedia Mythica TM Copyright © 1995 - 1999 Micha F. Lindemans. Used with Permission

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