Earth Goddesses – DEMETER
Demeter is the Greek goddess of the grains, agriculture, and fertility. She is the daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. She is an Olympian.
Demeter is so prevalent in the Greek myths that she is even responsible for the changing of the seasons. In Homer’s Hymn to Demeter, he relates the tale. Demeter, whom Homer describes as a stately goddess, had a child with Zeus named Persephone. Unbeknown to Demeter, Zeus had planned with Hades to ensnare the young Persephone so that Hades would have a wife and therefore a queen of the Underworld. Zeus cunningly brought forth the brightly colored narcissus flower in an attempt to lure Persephone away while she was at play in the fields.
As Persephone set about gathering a bouquet of lovely irises, roses, hyacinths, violets and crocuses, she caught sight of the most magnificent flower in the field – the narcissus. Persephone, stunned by the flower’s beauty, reached out with both hands to pick it for her bouquet. As she did, the Earth opened wide and Hades, riding upon his golden chariot led by immortal horses, snatched the beautiful Persephone and took her wit him into the Underworld. Persephone cried out for her father to save her. Her cries echoed across the countryside, yet no one except Demeter heard her.
Demeter searched the Earth for nine days, grieving so desperately that she touched not a single drop of drink or bite of food. On the tenth day, at the crack of dawn, Hecate spoke with Demeter. She sent Demeter to speak with Helios, the sun god. Demeter begged Helios to tell her who had taken her beloved daughter. Helios replied that it was Zeus himself and explained the role of Hades in the plot.
Demeter was furious and grief stricken. She left Olympus and wandered to Eleusis. For a year she stilled the Earth from fruitfulness. In her grief, the flowers no longer bloomed and the gardens withered and died. The Earth was barren. Zeus sent Iris to try to persuade Demeter to come home, but Demeter would not budge. One by one, each of the gods tried to talk Demeter into returning to Olympus. She refused them all, saying that she would never return until she could lay eyes again on her beloved daughter.
Zeus upon hearing this, sent Hermes to speak with Hades and attempt to cajole him into releasing Persephone. Hades agreed and asked only that Persephone keep him in her heart fondly. With that he tricked her into eating three pomegranate seeds, thereby assuring that she had to return to him. Persephone happily ate the seeds and went on her way back to her mother. When Demeter was greeted by the sight of her daughter, the Earth was once again fruitful and the people rejoiced. Afraid, Demeter asked her daughter if she had eaten anything while in the Underworld, to which Persephone replied that she had eaten the seeds of a pomegranate. Demeter explained that she must live in the Underworld for one third of each year. She swore that while Persephone was on the Earth, she would hold it in bloom for her daughter’s pleasure., but that while Persephone was in the Underworld, it would be barren and cold. Thus, the season were born.
Demeter, with her somewhat ironic sense of humor, placed the poppy in the corn and barley fields. She put all of her sweetness into the fig, which grows alongside wild herbs. As the poppy and the fig grow around the base of her more substantial foodstuffs, they represent the dark side of Demeter. The dark side is the side that holds the life and death of mortals in her hands and carries the seeds of each in her womb. Demeter represents both hunger and abundance.
In one myth, Demeter condemns a man to eternal hunger for daring to attempt to chop down her sacred grove to make a roof for his hall from the wood. The man subsequently eats until there is only one thing left to eat – himself. He devours his own limbs.
Demeter was also a goddess of fertility and, in one myth, coupled with a human in the field. The pairing produced a child. Soon after Demeter became known as a goddess who guarded marriage and was included in ancient marriage rites. Concubines and the like were condemned to her stone gardens, where no plants could ripen and bloom. Demeter’s festival, held in late autumn was celebrate by legitimate wives and included a ritual sowing of the field. It was conducted with the hope of a harvest of beautiful children, a bounty borne from human seed.
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