Demeter is the daughter of the titans Kronos and Rhea, and sister to the Olympian deities. The name Demeter comes from de, which is a derivative of the Cretan word dêai, meaning barley, and the word meter which means mother. De could also come from the Greek word da which means earth. Whichever etymology you choose to believe, it means the same thing. Demeter is the earth mother. In the Roman pantheon, she is called Ceres, which gives us the word cereal. She is the goddess of grain and barley. Demeter’s influence was not limited to just grain, but extended to vegetation and fruits in general, and thus fertility. Women, especially, revere Demeter for her attributes of health, birth, and marriage. Demeter taught mankind about agriculture. Through agriculture, cities were created. With cities came law and order. Because of this, she was also thought to be a goddess of justice.
As a mother goddess, Demeter is usually depicted as a mature woman with a chaplet of corn bearing a cornucopia and a torch. Her festivals take place during the harvest season and the first corn was always given to her as an offering. Her symbol is the bright red poppy, which commonly grows among the wheat fields. To ensure the fertility of the crops, pigs were often sacrificed to the goddess. Animals that are sacred to Demeter are pigs, serpents or geckos, and bees.
Perhaps the most well-known story surrounding Demeter is the abduction of Persephone by Hades. In short, Hades, the God of the Underworld, fell in love with Persephone, Demeter’s daughter. Demeter was so heartbroken with grief that she would not allow the earth to bear fruit until she was reunited with her daughter. Fearing that mankind would starve to death, Zeus intervened and told Hades to return Persephone to her mother. However, while in the Underworld, Persephone ate some pomegranate seeds and was bound to spend a third of the year below the earth as Queen of the Underworld and wife to Hades. This myth corresponds to the cycle of the seasons and helps to explain why the earth is barren during the winter months while Persephone resides in the underworld. When Persephone returns to the world and to her mother, she brings the spring and fruitfulness of the earth with her.
Persephone and Demeter are often referred to as one in the same goddess. Persephone would be the maiden form of the earth goddess, Demeter herself would be the mother aspect, and often, Hecate is considered to be the crone aspect of this triple goddess form. This idea of the goddess undergoing a change in herself to correlate with the seasons is one of the Eleusinian Mysteries so often associated with Demeter. The Eleusinian Mysteries are some of the oldest and most famous of the secret rites of ancient Greece. Initiates into the Mysteries would reenact the loss of Persephone to the Underworld, Demeter’s search for her daughter, and finally the ascent of Persephone back to the world. Through this reenactment of symbolic death and rebirth, the initiates would learn that all life springs forth from the generations that came before.
During these modern times, we certainly aren’t going to sacrifice a pig to honor the goddess. Most of us probably don’t have a corn harvest either. If you would like to make an offering to Demeter during her harvest season, you could make corn muffins and share them with the goddess. You could also bake cookies in the shape of any of her sacred animals and share them with friends and family, and of course, the goddess. You could gather some of the best looking fall vegetables you can find and make a nice barley and vegetable stew. Have some friends over and share your stew with the goddess. Leave a seat at the head of the table for her to enjoy the stew with you. The best ways to commune with the gods and to make offerings is just to share your time and effort with them. After all, Demeter is the mother goddess. Don’t you want to spend time with your mother?
by Lady Anwyn
for our Autumn Equinox 2017 newsletter
Sources: The Witches’ Goddess by Janet and Stewart Farrar
The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines by Patricia Monaghan
The Inner Circle Sanctuary is a school for traditional style Wicca and holds eight sabbat festivals every year.