Sacred Days

The women-only Thesmophoria honored Demeter and Persephone. Some scholars date this festival to the Stone Age. Her Eleusinian Mysteries were inaugurated in approximately 1500 BCE and lasted until 396 CE. Other festivals dedicated to Demeter include the Chloeia (festival of sprouting grain), the Haloa (a harvest festival), and the Thalysia (a thanksgiving festival).

Corn Mother

Demeter is a great magician with a particular talent for transformation. She bestows healing, fertility, protection, and prosperity. There is virtually nothing she can’t do for those she loves. If she is angry, she punishes by causing insatiable hunger.

Etymology

Greece

Symbols

Torch; ear of wheat; scythe (lost while searching for Persephone); basket

Demeter is not an Earth goddess; she is very specifically the spirit of cultivation and crops. De refers to divinity, as in deity, dei, or deva; Meter is literally Mother, and so Demeter is the “Divine Mother” or the “Deified Mother.”

Another theory is that her name derives from deai, the Cretan word for barley, and thus her name would mean “Barley Mother.” Barley was among the very first grains cultivated in that region and frequently the most successful; Crete was a particularly early area of cultivation. Demeter’s myth credits her as being the founder, inventor, and promulgator of agriculture. She is a very great and powerful goddess.

The myth for which Demeter is now most famous involves the abduction of her daughter, Persephone, but it is only one of a wide canon of myths in which she features. She was a tremendously important goddess, an ancient indigenous spirit of Greece incorporated into the Olympian pantheon. Instead of residing in Olympus, however, Demeter preferred to live on Earth. Demeter was a goddess of the masses and the elite.

She presided over Mysteries, most famously the Mysteries of Eleusis near Athens, where she was venerated alongside Persephone. She was venerated with her daughter, Despoena, in Arcadian Mysteries and presided over the Mysteries at Lerna, one of the entrances to Hades. (See the Glossary entry for Mystery for further details.)

Manifestations

Demeter is a shape-shifter and can take any form. Famous manifestations are as a horse, hag, or beautiful woman with golden hair resembling a field of ripe wheat.

Offerings

Do not give her wine; Demeter drinks mint-flavored barley water. She accepts wreaths of grain; votive pigs; images of women carrying piglets; foccacce bread in the shape of genitals

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