The goddess Demeter

In Greek legend Demeter was the Corn Goddess and equivalent of the Roman Ceres. Demeter was also goddess of fruit, crops, vegetation, grain and agriculture. She was the daughter of Cronos. According to Robert Graves she was also a barley mother. According to Frazer she was involved in the great mysteries that were solemnises at Eleusis during September. A ceremony seen as a union with the Sky God Zeus and Demeter the Corn Goddess.

Represented by a hierophant and a priestess of Demeter she took part in a fertility rite with symbolic intercourse. This involved the descent into a mirky place. Revelation of reaped corn by the hierophant. The harvest ritual was the wedding of the corn goddess to the sky god. Thus – fertilisation of bare earth with showers.

The legend of Demeter and Persephone is the decay and renewal of vegetation. The myth is identical with the Sumerian one of Aphrodite (Astarte) and Adonis. Also the Phrygian myth of Cybele and Attis, and the Egyptian Isis and Osiris. In the fable the goddess mourns the loss of a loved one. The loved one personifies vegetation (more especially the corn). The corn dies in winter and revives in spring. In oriental versions it is the dead lover or husband, in the Greek it is a dead daughter.

The oldest literary source is Homer ‘s ‘Hymn to Demeter’ in the 7th century before our era. The object of the poem is the elucidation of the Eleusinian Mysteries which are pre-Athenian. At this time Eleusis was a petty, independent state. Persephone was youthful. Carried off by Pluto (lured by earth). Demeter has yellow tresses which change into an old women or crone form. Zeus and Persephone is two thirds Demeter and one third Hades.

Explanations of origins of particular rituals are the preliminary fast of the initiation of the candidate, a torchlight procession, an all night vigil, candidates sit veiled and silent, as well as having a draught of barley-water from a holy chalice. Sacred drama of the mysteries of Eleusis. Demeter and Persephone are the personification of the corn. Persephone equates with the embodiment of the vegetation and young corn. Demeter is the old corn.

Ancient art monuments depict Demeter and Persephone with crowns of corn, holding stalks of corn. Demeter revealed the corn secrets to the Athenians. Triptolemus spread the discovery. Triptolemus was Demeter’s missionary who was constantly seen with Demeter on vases holding corn.

Greek cities celebrate the first fruits of the wheat and barley harvests with offering to Demeter and Persephone. Offerings are made to the granaries of Eleusis. Faith in Demeter persisted in her sanctuary at Eleusis. In antiquity Sicilians also worshipped Demeter at Hanna. Proserpine was associated with the fecundity of seeds. Corn has a double aspect which is its seed-corn and its ripe ears. Hence the substantial unity of mother and daughter. This is the title of The Two Goddesses.

Demeter [see Frazer] with reference to name etymology first part means ‘deal’ or barley. Hence Demeter means ‘barley mother’ or ‘corn mother’. Worship of Demeter is an ancient Cretan ritual. Therefore Cretan origin? Roots of the word are applied to different grains in Aryan languages. Barley is the staple food of the Homeric Greeks and the oldest cultivated cereal. Barley has an ancient religious ritual with the Hindus, the ancient Greeks. Cultivation was practised by lake dwellers in Stone Age Europe.

[Corn Mother correspondences – Europe = 526-542; other lands = 542-557. See also Ceres, 528, Lilyertes, 558].

Demeter, the Pig, and the Horse. European folklore the pig is the embodiment of the corn-spirit. Pig has close association with Demeter. Pig = Demeter in animal form? This the pig is sacred to Demeter. Portrayed with or carrying a pig. Pig sacrifices in Demeter rituals and mysteries. Pigs injure corn and so an enemy of Demeter. Sacrifice of god as his/her own enemy.

Demeter festival is the Thesmophoria (pig = embodiment of Demeter – or of Persephone, double Persephone). The Attic Thesmophoria is the autumn festival (October – women alone celebrate). Represents the mourning rites (descent of Persephone) plus her return. Thus Day is descent, Day 2 is ascent, and day 3 is Kalligeneia (fair born). Throwingpigs, cakes, into caverns. Remains are planted with corn to get good crops. [Legend of Thesmophoria, 616-17 plus northern European analogies].

Black Demeter – Phrygian Cave in Arcadia – head of horse plus woman’s body. Phrygian Demeter – horse is animal form of the corn-spirit. Mare form legend (618). Black Demeter is the personification of wintry earth.

[World of Odysseus.  Finley]. Remained major figure in Greek religion for many centuries after Homer. Rites celebrate succession of seasons, mystery of plants and fruits. The annual cycle is coming into being and passing. Demeter worship – is outside the formal Olympian religion. It was common, popular, like Dionysos. Demeter – mentioned 6 times in Iliad, Odyssey. Homer rejected Demeter. Homer = bard of aristocratic, warrior class. Homer also ignored Dionysos.

[The Nature of the Greek Myths.  Kirk]. Demeter was the sister of Zeus and hades, plus Hestia, Hera, Poseidon. Hades was the uncle of Persephone. Presephone = Kore (the maiden, the girl). See Hurrian myth – Telepinn’s disappearance. NB – pomegranate seed. Hierophant = revealer of sacred things. Eleusinian Mysteries include chants (p 46). Poseidon and Demeter = Arion [For myth see 249-53].

Arcadia – Demeter was Hippia or horsery plus Poseidon = Hippios. Hence horses heads [I Pausanias]. Skira (fertility rite) was a mystery festival. Skiron = ancient bordering with Eleusia. Thermophoria = Demeter and Kore. Demeter stands in place of drought among causing deities (Inanna, Dumuzi, Telepinn = Mesopotamian ritual). Persephone is Asiatic Adonia.

[The First Philosophers.  Thomson]. Agrarian feast of Demeter (the Attic Haloa) = month of Poseidon (December to January). Haloa means fertile land. One of numerous correspondences between Greek and Babylonian festivals is the common basis of two calendars (p 11). Greek 3 year festivals are Demeter and Dionysos for agriculture and viniculture. Base on the interaction of a month in the calendar.

Temple to Demeter is in Pergamon (Crete). Demeter Eleusia is the royal privilege of the priesthood. Demeter – Minoan goddess. Associated with Kadmeioi in Thebes and elsewhere in Boetia. At Labadeia is Demeter as Europa. Thebes – Mykalessos = Tenmesos (a village) with Europa hides by Zeus. A local variant of Demeter’s deposition in Crete. Thebes to Thespian and at Anthedon are joint cults of Demeter and the Kaberoi. Similarly Lemnos, Samothraki. Mykale is the cult of Potniai thus Demeter and Persephone. The Theban cult of Demeter is the palace cult of Kadmeioi.


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