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Demeter is a goddess of fertility, grain, and agriculture. She is pictured as a mature motherly figure. Although she is the goddess who taught mankind about agriculture, she is also the goddess responsible for creating winter and a mystery religious cult. She is usually accompanied by her daughter Persephone.
The family of Origin:
Demeter was a daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, and so a sister of the goddesses Hestia and Hera, and the gods Poseidon, Hades, and Zeus.
Demeter in Rome:
The Romans referred to Demeter as Ceres. The Roman cult of Ceres was initially served by Greek priestesses, according to Cicero in his Pro Balbo oration. For the passage, see Tura's Ceres. In "Graeco Ritu: A Typically Roman Way of Honoring the Gods" Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 97, Greece in Rome: Influence, Integration, Resistance (1995), pp. 15-31, author John Scheid says the foreign, Greek cult of Ceres was imported to Rome in the middle of the third century B.C.
Ceres was also referred to as Dea Dia in connection with a three-day May Ambarvalia festival, according to "Tibullus and the Ambarvalia," by C. Bennett Pascal, in The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 109, No. 4 (Winter, 1988), pp. 523-536. Also see Ovid's Amores Book III.X, in an English translation: "No Sex -- It's the Festival Of Ceres".
The attributes of Demeter are a sheaf of grain, a conical headdress, a scepter, a torch, and a sacrificial bowl.
Persephone and Demeter:
The story of Demeter is usually combined with the story of the abduction of her daughter Persephone. Read this story in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.
Demeter and her daughter are at the center of the widest spread Greek mystery cult -- the Eleusinian Mysteries -- a mystery religion that was popular in Greece and in the Roman Empire. Named for the location in Eleusis, the mystery cult may have started in the Mycenaean period, according to Helene P. Foley, in The Homeric hymn to Demeter: translation, commentary, and interpretive essays. She says that substantial remains of the cult begin in the 8th century B.C., and that the Goths destroyed the sanctuary a few years before the start of the fifth century A.D. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter is the oldest record of the Eleusinian Mysteries, but it is a mystery and we don't really know what transpired.
- "Mystery Cults of the Ancient World" Review
Myths Involving Demeter:
Myths about Demeter (Ceres) re-told by Thomas Bulfinch include:
- The Rural Deities
- Cupid and Psyche
Orphic Hymn to Demeter (Ceres):
Above, I provided a link to the so-called Homeric Hymn to Demeter (in public domain English translation). It tells of the abduction of Demeter's daughter Persephone and the trials the mother went through to find her again. The Orphic hymn paints a picture of the nurturing, fertility goddess.
O Universal mother, Ceres fam'd
August, the source of wealth, and various nam'd: 2
Great nurse, all-bounteous, blessed and divine,
Who joy'st in peace, to nourish corn is thine:
Goddess of seed, of fruits abundant, fair, 5
Harvest and threshing, are thy constant care;
Who dwell'st in Eleusina's seats retir'd,
Lovely, delightful queen, by all desir'd.
Nurse of all mortals, whose benignant mind,
First ploughing oxen to the yoke confin'd; 10
And gave to men, what nature's wants require,
With plenteous means of bliss which all desire.
In verdure flourishing in honor bright,
Assessor of great Bacchus, bearing light:
Rejoicing in the reapers sickles, kind, 15
Whose nature lucid, earthly, pure, we find.
Prolific, venerable, Nurse divine,
Thy daughter loving, holy Proserpine:
A car with dragons yok'd, 'tis thine to guide, 19
And orgies singing round thy throne to ride: 20
Only-begotten, much-producing queen,
All flowers are thine and fruits of lovely green.
Bright Goddess, come, with Summer's rich increase
Swelling and pregnant, leading smiling Peace;
Come, with fair Concord and imperial Health, 25
And join with these a needful store of wealth.
From: The Hymns of Orpheus
Translated by Thomas Taylor 1792