According to ancient Greek religion and mythology, Demeter is the goddess of harvest & agriculture. She presides over crops, grains, food, and the earth's fertility. While people know her as a grain goddess, she was also seen appearing as a goddess of health, birth, and marriage. Moreover, it is believed that she had connections to the Underworld. She was called by the name Deo (Δηώ) and was the second kid of Cronus and Titans Rhea in the Greek tradition. And she is sister to Hestia, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus. Her father swallowed her as an infant like her other siblings but Zeus. And she was rescued by Zeus.
She gave birth to Persephone through her brother Zeus. In this regard, you should know that Persephone was the fertility goddess. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter describes the abduction story of Persephone by Hades and the search of Demeter for her. Hades, who was the king of the Underworld, wanted to marry Persephone. So, when Persephone was picking flowers in a field, he abducted her from there. Demeter started searching everywhere to find Persephone, who was missing, to no avail until Demeter knew that Hades had taken her daughter. After knowing that, she neglected her duties as the goddess of agriculture as she planned to plunge the earth into a deadly famine that didn't allow anything to grow. As a result, mortals could die. So, Zeus gave the order to Hades to return Persephone to Demeter so that the disaster can be averted. But the twist comes here as her daughter has eaten food from the Underworld. Therefore, Persephone was unable to stay forever with her mother. That's why she needed to divide the year between her mother and her husband. And according to the seasonal cycle, Persephone had to manage the year because Demeter prevents all plants from growing when her daughter is gone.
Cult titles of Demeter include Sito (Σιτώ), "she of the Grain," etc. Besides, she was the provider of food or grain and Thesmophoros, the "giver of customs'' or "legislator." Apart from being the goddess of the harvest, Demeter was also the goddess of the cycle of life & death and sacred law. Demeter & Persephone were the main figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries. People considered Demeter the same figure as the Anatolian goddess Cybele. In addition, Demeter was identified with Ceres who is a Roman goddess.
Who is Demeter?
According to Greek tradition, Demeter was a goddess of agriculture, grain, and bread. She was described as a mature woman who wore a crown and bore sheaves of wheat or a cornucopia & a torch.
Demeter as an agricultural goddess:
She is considered as the Corn-Mother in epic poetry and Hesiod's Theogony. Hence, Demeter is the goddess of cereals who offers grain for bread, blessing its harvesters. She took help from the wind in Homer's Iliad to separate the grain from the chaff. Thalysia, a Greek harvest festival of the first fruits, was celebrated in Demeter's honor. Prayers to Demeter and Zeus-Chthonios assist crops in growing strong. It was her major function at Eleusis, and Demeter became panhellenic. She was regarded as the zeros arοura, the Homeric "Mother Earth arοura" who has given the gift of cereals.
In most epithets, Demeter was described as a goddess of grain. In literature, she was called Deo, which is related to deai, a Cretan word for cereals. Demeter was known as Haloas in Attica as per her old conception as the Corn mother. In addition, Chloe (ripe-grain or fresh green) was one of his names. Besides, she was called Ioulo. While Chloe was regarded as the goddess of young corn & young vegetation, "Iouloi'' refers to harvest songs which were sung in her honor. She was called Amallophoros (bringer of sheaves) & Amaia (reaper) by reapers. Moreover, she was known by the names: Sito and Himalis. In Attica, Demeter was called Ompnia.
She was the provider of an abundance of food. The bread from the first harvest-fruits was called Malaysian bread in her honor. The sacrificial cakes which were burnt in the altar called "Romania," While people offered these cakes to all gods, they gave big loaves to the goddess on a few occasions. In Boeotia, she was called Megalartos and Megalomazos. Demeter had the epithets eukaryotes, karpophores which means the bringer of fruits, malapropos, and Oria.
Her reunion with her daughter was the main theme in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Athenian rhetoric Isocrates said that agriculture was her best gift to mankind as, in this way, people get a civilized way of life. She is the goddess who taught the laws of agriculture to the civilized people. Eleusinia, the epithet of Demeter, is connected to the Eleusinian mysteries.
Demeter Thesmophoros is connected to the laws of cereal agriculture. It was a festival celebrated throughout Greece and was related to a form of agrarian magic. Demeter was called Demeter-Thesmia near Pheneus in Arcadia. The emblem of Demeter is the poppy, a bright and red flower which grows among the barley.
Demeter as an earth and Underworld goddess:
Apart from being an agricultural goddess, she was worshipped as an Earth goddess. Melaina, known as Black Demeter in the Arcadia Demeter, was represented as a snake that has hair with a horse's head and holding a dolphin & a dove to symbolize her power over the Underworld, the air, & the water. Her cult was connected to Despoina, which is a very old Chthonic divinity. She also shares the function of death & fertility with Persephone. Demeter was worshipped as Anesidora in the cult of Phlya. Anesidora was the one who sent gifts from the Underworld.
Her name in Sparta was Demeter-Chthonia (chthonic Demeter). According to Pausanias, it was Hermione from whom her cult was introduced and there she was associated with Hades. There is a hollow in the earth through which souls can pass easily and enter the Underworld. She was known as Demeter-Chamyne in Elis, and it refers to the goddess of the ground in an old Chthonic cult related to the descent to Hades. She was called Demeter-Europa at Levadia, and she was connected to Trophonius which refers to an old divinity of the Underworld.
The rare epithet Chalkokrotos is used by Pindar. In the mysteries of Demeter, people used Brazen musical instruments and the Great-Mother Rhea-Cybele was worshipped with cymbal music. Demeter was called Amphictyonis in central Greece at Anthele near Thermopylae which is actually a place of hot spring, and an entrance to Hades, since Demeter was considered as a Chthonic goddess in the previous local cults. In addition, she was known as ancient Amphictyony's patron goddess.
The dead were called "Demetrioi" by Athenians. It can reflect a link between Demeter & old dead cult, which is connected to the agrarian belief. As a new plant grows from buried seed, a new life can sprout from the dead body. The initiates in the mysteries of Demeter probably shared this belief. She had the epithets Erinys (fury) and Melaina (black) in Arcadia. These are connected to the myth of the rape of Demeter by Poseidon. Her character's darker side along with the connection to the dark Underworld is stressed by the epithets.
Demeter as a poppy goddess:
Karl Kerényi asserted that Poppies were related to a Cretan cult that was carried to the Eleusinian Mysteries in Classical Greece. The Minoan poppy goddess puts on the seed capsules which are the sources of narcosis in her diadem. Kerényi also said that the Great Mother Goddess, who bore both the names Rhea & Demeter, brought poppy from the Cretan cult to Eleusis.
These are the festivals held in Demeter's honor:
(1) Haloa is a term derived from halōs meaning "threshing floor." This festival started at Athens and finished at Eleusis, where a threshing floor of Triptolemus was seen. This festival took place in December, the month of Poseidon.
(2) Chloia is a festival of grain. It is held at Eleusis in the early spring in honor of the goddess of growing vegetation.
(3) Proerosia is a festival where people need to pray for an abundant harvest, before they plow the land for sowing. It was known as Proarktouria. This festival was held before Arcturus' rise and took place at Eleusis in September.
(4) Thalysia is actually a Thanksgiving festival that took place in autumn after the harvest on Kos island.
(5) The Thesmophoria is a women's festival that improves the seed grain's fruitfulness.
(6) The Skirophoria festival held in midsummer.
Homer rarely mentioned Demeter. Moreover, she was not included among the Olympian gods. However, the roots of her legend are perhaps ancient. The legend centers on Persephone's story, whom Hades carried off. Then, her mother starts finding her. During the journey of Demeter, Demeter revealed her secret rites to the people of Eleusis. They received and welcomed Demeter in a hospitality way. As her daughter was missing, Demeter was very stressed, and her attention was diverted from the harvest, causing a famine. Alongside Zeus, she had a lover named Iasion, to whom Demeter bore Plutus.
Although Demeter is commonly known as a grain goddess, her influence was extended to vegetation and to all fruits of Gaea (Earth), except the bean. Moreover, she was known as the Great Mother of the Gods. Another aspect about Demeter is that as a divinity of the Underworld, she was worshipped at Sparta. At Hermione, she was worshipped at the Chthonia festival, in which four old women sacrificed a cow.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How did Zeus get Demeter pregnant?
Demeter bore Zesus two children: the horse Areion and the goddess Despoine. Demeter mated with the King of gods in the form of intertwining serpents. Then, the goddess Persephone was born.
What is the Demeter god of?
She was the goddess of the harvest of ancient Greek. Demeter farmed plenty of their food, and that's why she was such an important goddess to the people of ancient Greece.
Who was Demeter to Hades?
According to the Greek tradition, she is the second kid of the Titans Rhea & Cronus and the sister to Hestia, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.