Demeter, pronounced in English as DH-EEM-EE-T-EER; the ancient Greeks pronounced it as THEE-MEET-EER.
She is the daughter of Cronus and Rhea, born from the Titan goddess Rhea; she was swallowed by her father, Cronus. She is considered the Goddess of the Grain. The ancient Greeks were so much enamored and devoted that multiple cults were formed to worship her.
They considered that the fertility of the Earth depended on her appeasement. Therefore, these cults worshiped her to show gratitude so that the Earth remained fertile lest she was dissatisfied with any behavior of mortals.
Goddess of Agriculture in Greek Mythology: Demeter
The ancient Greek cult Sito referred to her as the Goddess of the grain.
1. Demeter’s Origin – The Name
Demeter’s name consists of 2 parts, the latter of which meter is derived from the Proto-Indo- European conscript, which means Mother.
The origin of the word De is not exactly clarified, but according to Doric texts, De personifies Earth, which means Demeter as Mother Earth in some literature.
Other theories suggest it was derived from the word Deo, from a surviving Epithet of Demeter, a Cretan word that signifies different types of grain. So this word personifies Demeter as a Grain mother instead of Mother Earth.
The giver of grain and harvest, the Goddess of Agriculture, is what Demeter signified to the greeks.
She was one of the six original Olympians, the middle daughter of her parents, Cronus and Rhea, and the second child amongst her siblings. She was born after Hestia but before Hera and her brothers, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.
She would come later on to become one of the 12 major Olympian Gods of Greek mythology.
Epithets of Demeter
For some of the ancient Greeks, she was the poppy goddess.
From the origin of Cyprus and its lore, she was the harvester of grains. In epic Poetry and Hesiod’s theogony, she was the corn-mother, the provider of grain for bread, and the one who blessed its harvesters.
She was also revered as the Goddess of Earth and also a Goddess of the Underworld. The cult of Flya revered her as Anesidora, the one who sends up gifts from the Underworld.
She was also referred to as Tesmophorous, which meant the enforcer or the ruler of laws. The ancient Greek women celebrated a secret festival in her honor called Thesmophoria.
The 7th century BC accounts of Hesiod mention that Demeter had three specified consorts: Zeus, Poseidon, and Lasion.
Her children from her consorts include:
Persephone, Dionysus (Not a popular belief)
Arion (The horse God), Despoina
Plutus/Ploutus (The Bearer of the horn of the plenty) and Philomelus
Demeter and Lasion
Demeter, at a very early period in life, fell in love with the Mortal Lasion, after which they lay together in a thrice-plowed field.
When she went back to Olympus, Zeus saw that her back was soiled with mud from the field and realized what had happened. And as he found it inappropriate for a Goddess to be involved with a mortal, and because she was his love too, in jealousy, he struck down Lasion with a single thunderbolt.
As luck would have it, Demeter became pregnant with twin children at that moment, Plutus, who was the God of wealth, and Philomelus, the God of Plough (or the one who worked hard in the fields).
Demeter and Poseidon
In this myth, it is noted that Demeter disguised herself in the form of a mare in order to escape Poseidon. Still, Poseidon took the form of a stallion and mated, and the union resulted in the birth of Arion and Despoina.
Demeter, who was livid at this union, retreated into a black cave to purify herself of this incident which resulted in a famine outbreak. This resulted in the deaths of crops, livestock, and people who depended on them.
Demeter and Zeus
She became the fourth wife of Zeus and, from the union, was born Persephone.
Demeter and Persephone
Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, and one of the most famous tales of Greek mythology comes from their relationship. It is said that the God of the Underworld, Hades fell in love with her daughter and wanted to marry her.
The God Zeus gave permission to Hades to take her with him as he had promised one of his daughters to Hades, and this resulted in the abduction of Persephone by Hades. This happened when Persephone was gathering flowers. Hades lured her away, took her to the depths of the Underworld, and abducted her.
When Demeter found out about the abduction of her dear daughter, the world shattered for her. She wandered the ends of the Earth searching for her dear daughter, and as she was grieving, nature around her began to wither.
The Seasons halted, the crops began to die, and the trees and nature itself were dying. The very embodiment of nature was distressed, and the result was all green, and the natural life around was either dead or dying.
The Search for Persephone
She transformed herself into an old woman, hoping that a change in her appearance would change the course of her search.
As she was searching, she entered the Palace of Celeus, which was governed by the King of Eleusis of the kingdom of Attica. She asked the king for shelter, and the king agreed but on the condition that she nurses his two sons, Demophon and Triptolemus.
Her search for Persephone halted; for the time being, she was finally able to rest. As she rested, she wished to repay the king for his kindness.
She covered the boy Demophon in Ambrosia and laid him in the flames of the hearth, which would make him immortal. But before the ritual could be completed, his mother Metarina walked in and was horrified to see her son engulfed in flames.
She screamed for her son’s safety and thought of him being dead, and seeing the grief in her eyes, Demeter pulled the boy away from the flames before the ritual could be completed.
Demeter was distraught and then informed the king that the only way he could now win back her kindness was to build a sanctuary or a temple for her worship and establish a festival in her glory.
She taught the other son Triptolemus the secrets of nature and agriculture and how to harvest, which he, in turn, taught to his people.
This is the popular ancient Greek belief where they understood how humanity came to plant seeds, till the soil, and perform the art of agriculture. This was the origin of agriculture in Greek mythology.
Triptolemus was seen as Demeter’s first priest and the ambassador of humanity, through whom humanity learned the art of Agriculture.
The Bitter Revelation
Soon after Demeter leaves the palace, she finds out that her daughter has been abducted by Hecate, who tells it to her on the 10th day of her search, and the titan Helios confirms it when she confirms it.
As she realized her roles played by Hades and Zeus, she grew enraged. During her search for Persephone, Demeter, who now resided in the temple built for her by the King of Eleusis, abandoned her responsibilities. The crops died, and animals and people began to starve and perish.
People prayed to Zeus to help, but he was powerless. He asked Demeter to return to her duties, but she had none of it. Unless Persephone was returned to her, she refused to resume her duties as the Goddess of Earth/Grain.
Faced with the possibility of all life going extinct, Zeus asked Hemes, the messenger God to go to the Underworld and ask for Hades to return Persephone back to Demeter. Hades agreed he would return Persephone, but he tricked her into eating a pomegranate seed, so she could no longer return. Demeter was furious and threatened to extinguish all life on Earth.
This resulted in Zeus striking a deal with Hades, where Persephone would live one-third of the year in the Underworld with Hades and two-thirds of the year with her mother, Demeter.
The ancient Greeks came up with this explanation about the cycle of the seasons, and with time Persephone returned to her mother’s warmth being the Mediterranean summer and spring. And harsh and unfruitful winter was the time when she had to return to the Underworld, and Persephone grieved, and due to her sadness, all plant life fell silent during those months.
The Goddess of the harvest is not really one would associate a great amount of power. But in this case, Demeter refusing to perform her duties almost resulted in the death of all things, which made even Zeus seem powerless, which is not often in Greek mythology.
Ultimately, her ability resulted in even the almighty Gods like Zeus and Hades acknowledging her strength, which resulted in her reunion with her daughter Persephone.
Her Relation to the Greek People
She was one of the most revered and respected Gods of the ancient Greeks. In certain translations, her name itself meant Mother earth, which meant that as a mother (Earth), she made the soil flourish so that her children (Plants) could grow.
The ancient Greeks identified several plants related to Demeter, which were Wheat, Mint, and poppy.
She never demanded respect or worship as those of her siblings. The ancient Greeks revered her out of admiration, gratitude, and for what she provided for humanity. She was worshiped along with her daughter Desponia as some accounts suggest, but she was later replaced by Persephone.
Demeter was caring and protective not only to her children but also of the ancient Greek people, which is why they held her in such high esteem.
Bonus Read – Goddess of Fertility | Myths and Popular Folklore – Dreams and Mythology