The Great Mother Goddess Demeter is the Greek Goddess of Grain, Mother to Persephone, and one of the focal points of the Eleusinian Mysteries. She is responsible for earthly fertility and regeneration, called “of the greatest use and greatest joy to gods and men”. As the Grain Mother, Demeter controls crops, the seasons as they apply to agriculture, and the practical needs of humanity.
Demeter’s origins are Cretan but Her largest worship center was Eleusis where the Rites of Eleusis were practiced for more than 1200 years. The ancient Eleusinian Mysteries – “the cult of the two Goddesses” – are based around the myth of Demeter and Persephone, Mother and Daughter. Many of us recall the myth from early school days; Persephone is snatched while picking flowers by the God of the Underworld, Hades. The myth is frequently called “the abduction of Persephone” or “the rape of Persephone”, evoking the terror and the shrill screams of a young girl being grabbed from the bosom of her mother as the ground opens to the dark caverns below and Hades emerges to claim his prize.
Following this telling of the myth, we are further horrified by the information that Persephone’s father, Zeus, made a pact with his brother to take Persephone forcefully as his bride. Demeter falls into a deep grief that brings winter to the world as she almost destroys the world searching endlessly for her daughter. Finally, the agreement is hammered out that Persephone will remain with Hades for half of the year and with Demeter for half of the year – also, sometimes referred to as three months in the Underworld and the rest of the year above.The return of the maiden Kore is the herald of Spring and Demeter shows her delight of having her daughter back through the bounty of the seasons and allowing the Earth to flower and produce once again.
Looking at all the aspects of the Goddess Demeter, we are struck by her duality: abundance and lack, life and death, love and rage, understanding and bitterness. She is a Goddess of Transitions and Cycles. Demeter was also a Goddess that was primarily worshiped by women and one of her festivals, Thesmophoria, was restricted to women only.
For modern women, Demeter represents some very important life transitions. As Mother, she reflects the grief that many women experience as ourchildren grow and leave the home. Tied into that and applicable for women who do not have children, there is also a mourning for our younger selves. The saying that aging is not for sissies is reflected in the grief and rage that Demeter displays. Her reaction is an extreme but most women can relate.
Demeter also represents the cycles of women that we go through at all stages of life: productive, fallow, creative, barren. Our bodies – our life events – our personal journeys may all be viewed through a Demeter lens. She is a Goddess who shares our most primal and most human emotions and expresses them, almost to the detriment of destroying the world.
Removed from the Eleusinian Mysteries, Demeter is an ancient Earth Goddess. As a “law-giver”, she provides order to the progression of seasons and life. There is also a more ancient Oracular tradition associated to the pre-Olympian Demeter so we may seek her counsel in matters of life and the heart.
Demeter’s message for us is to recognize the cycles in our lives. While there may be times of difficulty or lack, they will always be followed by times of plenty and abundance. Demeter also calls us to look at our own “harvest”. Have we planted the seeds of that which we truly desire or are we planting the seeds that others believe we should be reaping?
Wishing you a blessed week of harvests and abundance!
Demeter Goddess Mist on Red Wholistic
Long Journey Home: Revisioning the Myth of Demeter and Persephone for Our Time edited by Christine Downing (highly recommended)
Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths by Charlene Spretnak
The Return of Persephone as Kore – The Spring Maiden by Kimberly Moore