In Greek mythology, the goddess Demeter was the most generous of the great Olympian goddesses. The Greek goddess Demeter was beloved for her service to mankind in giving them the gift of the harvest, the reward for the cultivation of the soil.
Also known as the Roman goddess Ceres, Demeter was the goddess of the harvest and was credited with teaching humans how to grow, preserve, and prepare grain. Demeter was thought to be responsible for the fertility of the land.
Demeter And Her Generosity Towards Humans
She was the only one of the Greek goddesses who was involved on a day-to-day basis in the lives of the common folk. While others occasionally “dabbled” in human affairs when it suited their personal interests or came to the aid of “special” mortals they favored, the goddess Demeter was truly the nurturer of mankind.
Demeter also was the only one of the Greek goddesses who could truly empathize with the human experience of suffering and grief, having experienced it fully herself.
Although it was the custom of the Greek goddesses and gods to become very vindictive toward anyone who failed to honor them in a dignified fashion, Demeter was such a kind goddess that she seldom utilized this privilege.
One of the few times was when she stopped on her travels to quench her thirst by drinking from a spring and heard a man named Ascaelabus laughing at the sound of her gulping the fresh water. Embarrassed and angry at the man for being so rude, Demeter turned him into a lizard.
Demeter’s Love For Her Daughter, Persephone
The goddess Demeter is best known for her fierce defense of her daughter, Persephone, who was also known as the child, Kore (or Cora). Persephone’s father was Zeus, the mighty ruler of the Olympians. The goddess Demeter had been one of his early consorts long before marrying Hera.
Persephone was an obedient, cheerful girl who had a happy childhood, playing with her cousins, Artemis and Athena. Reaching adolescence, she was carefree and spirited, often dancing playfully and picking wildflowers in the meadow near her home.
Persephone’s youthful beauty drew the attention of Hades, the god of the underworld, and he could not help falling in love with her. One day as Persephone reached over to pick a flower, the earth opened, and the arm of Hades reached up from the underworld.
And so Hades abducted her, dragging her back to his kingdom.
Demetre’s Journey To Find Persephone
Hearing Persephone’s screams, the goddess Demeter rushed to the meadow but could not find Persephone. Carrying a torch, Demeter traveled the world day and night, never eating or resting, searching futilely for her daughter.
Poseidon, the god of the sea, noticed the goddess Demeter as she traveled and pursued her with amorous intent. Then Demeter tried to fool him by changing herself into a mare and hiding in the middle of a herd of horses, but he was not fooled. Poseidon saw through Demeter’s disguise, turned himself into a stallion, and took her at his will.
When Demeter continued her journey in search of her daughter, she met an old and poor man who was gathering firewood and invited her to return to his home to eat supper with his family and to rest on her journey.
When she told him that she was searching for her daughter, he wished her success and told her that he understood her suffering since his son lay dying at home. Demeter, the goddess of compassion, changed her mind and went with the kindly man, stopping only once to gather some poppies by the path.
Entering his humble home, Demeter went straight away to the boy’s bedside and kissed the boy lovingly on the cheek. Immediately the pallor left his face, and his breathing eased as Demeter’s love restored the son to full health.
Finding Out About Her Daughter’s Fate
Resuming her search, she soon encountered Hecate, goddess of the crossroads, who advised her to speak with Helio, goddess of the sun. Helio had been riding her chariot (the sun) through the sky that day, so she had surely seen what had happened to Persephone.
Helio told the goddess Demeter what she had seen and that Persephone was now ensconced as Hades’ wife and Queen of the Underworld. She also gave her the shocking news that Zeus himself had sanctioned the marriage, giving Hades permission to abduct Persephone.
Understandably, the goddess Demeter felt betrayed. Renouncing her divine duties that included bringing fertility to the land, Demeter left Mount Olympus, swearing that the earth would remain barren until her daughter was returned to her.
She took refuge in the city of Eleusis. Disguised as an old woman, the goddess Demeter met the city ruler’s two young daughters at the well, and liking her immensely, they invited her to return to their home to meet their mother.
There she met their mother, who was cuddling her infant son. This must have stirred Demeter’s longing for her abducted daughter horribly. Demeter became profoundly depressed, almost catatonic, eyes gazing off into the distance and unwilling or unable even to speak.
Demeter Meets Baubo
Everyone tried all that they knew to cheer their guest, but it was to no avail. Eventually, one of the household servants, a middle-aged maid named Baubo, came and sat in front of Demeter and started talking . . . mostly making humorous comments (most likely of the “male-bashing” sort) and some of them quite risque.
Encouraged when she saw the beginnings of a smile forming on Demeter’s grief-stricken face, Baubo hiked up her skirt and “mooned” the goddess. Demeter responded with a deep belly laugh, bringing her out of deep depression. Her good nature now restored, Demeter was soon hired to work as a nursemaid to the infant son of the city’s ruler.
Caring for him lovingly, feeding him on the nectar and ambrosia of the gods, Demeter grew very attached to the young Demophoon and decided to make him immortal. But, just as Demeter was holding his feet over the fire (the ritual which would transform him into an Olympian god), Demophoon’s mother entered the room.
Mistakenly believing that Demeter was about to burn her son, she began to scream. The goddess Demeter then dropped her disguise, revealing the beautiful goddess that she truly was, and berated the mother for her stupidity in stopping the ritual that would have given her son immortality.
In addition, Demeter demanded that a temple be built in her honor. This was done, and the goddess Demeter remained there, sitting alone in the darkness, once again depressed and grieving for her lost daughter.
The Earth Gets Barren Once Again
All this time, with the goddess Demeter refusing to function, the land grew barren, and the harvests ceased. The earth saw a winter that did not end. Zeus finally opened his eyes to what was happening and sent messengers to apologize and coax the goddess Demeter to return.
Demeter, however, remained adamant that she would not return until Persephone was rescued. Finally, Zeus gave in and sent Hermes to command Hades to release Persephone.
Persephone’s Costly Mistake
Persephone, upon hearing the news, rejoiced, for she had missed her mother sorely. As she was leaving, Hades offered her a pomegranate to eat. Persephone had refused all food while she had been in the underworld and was surely hungry.
Although she undoubtedly knew that those who ate anything in the underworld were not allowed to return to the earth, Persephone accepted Hades’ gift, eating only the seeds. Hermes borrowed Hades’ chariot and stallions and flew Persephone home to her mother as Zeus had ordered.
The Mother And Daughter Get Reunited
Demeter was not pleased that Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds and would have to return to the underworld for four months each year, but was otherwise overjoyed to be reunited with her daughter.
Happily, Demeter resumed her divine duties and restored the earth’s fertility. Each year the goddess Demeter longs for her absent daughter and withdraws her favors from the earth for a period. This is the time we know as winter. Every year though Persephone returns in the spring to end her desolation.
Once Persephone was safely returned, albeit, for only one part of a year, the Greek goddess Demeter decided to reside in her temple in Eleusis, where she had enjoyed the welcome and support of her friends during her long search for Persephone.
There she developed the Eleusian mysteries. They are a series of profound religious ceremonies that taught her initiates how to live joyfully and die without fear.
The Lessons That Demeter Teaches Us
The story of the Greek goddess Demeter illustrates the tremendous capacity of a woman to love and nurture within her own family and the world at large.
It also reminds us to stand firm for what is good and right, even in the face of adversity when powerful forces are aligned against us.
The goddess Demeter’s message also reminds us of the seasons of a woman’s life… That even though there are times of great sorrow, there is also a great joy to be found.
Demeter (also known as the goddess Ceres) is often represented by symbols associated with her incredible generosity. It is not surprising that many of our ikons representing a bountiful harvest originated with the ancient goddess symbols of Demeter.
Cornucopia is a goat’s horn overflowing with flowers, grains, and fruits. As such, it is a perfect symbol of Demeter – a goddess of the bountiful harvest.
Demeter’s other symbols include a sheave of wheat, autumn harvest, torch, bread, honey, and acorn.
Cats, dogs, and all domestic pets symbolize Demeter because she represents abundance, and what’s a better symbol of abundance than having pets and other animals in your household?
Other animals symbolizing Demeter are lions, snakes, cranes, and lizards.
Both poppies and sunflowers are packed with many seeds that symbolize abundance. For that reason, these two plants are used as symbols of Demeter.
Other plant symbols of Demeter are cypress, sheave of wheat, foxglove, daisy, columbine, ash, and oak trees.
Perfumes and scents associated with Demeter are also often associated with nature, harvest, and fruits. For example, orange blossom, myrrh, olibanum, civet, patchouli, violet, cloves, and cinnamon are all good scent choices for representing Demeter.
Gems and Metals
Gems and metals symbolizing Demeter are pearls, star sapphire, cat’s eye, silver, ivory, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, amber, mercury, and copper.
Green, dark brown, and gold are colors that are often used to symbolize Demeter because those are the colors of nature, soil, crops, and plants in general.
Other colors that can represent Demeter are navy blue and pink.
Meditations To Invoke The Goddess Demeter
- Grant me your calm strength, Demeter, so I can remain centered, accept life as it is, and know that I have a purpose.
- Great goddess, help me celebrate the abundance of life that I see all around me.
- Demeter, let me be like you today and put the needs of someone else before my own.
- Thank you, Demeter, for helping me to be friendly, compassionate, and generous.
- Goddess, guide me to friends who will help me find fun and lightheartedness in my life.
- Demeter, help me enjoy food that is good for me and to remember that I am in control of my health.
- Goddess, I accept responsibility for my happiness and for meeting my own needs.
- Great goddess, help me share my overflowing love with others every day.
- Demeter, remind me to be a forgiving and loving person, filled with compassion for others.
- Great mother, help me know what it is that others need from me so that I might comfort them.
- Your generosity is contagious, Demeter.
- Let me share my generous impulses with others today.
- Demeter, remind me to set my problems and worries aside for a while and to remember to laugh heartily.
- Remind me that I don’t have to have a partner to be fulfilled, that I can be happy in love with life itself.
- Share your forgiving, nonjudgmental approach with me today, Demeter.
- Great goddess, help me to remain centered and emotionally available to others.
- Lend me your self-assurance, helping me know, as you did, that I deserve to be treated well and with respect.
- Like you, Demeter, I am caring and have a good heart.
Want To Bring More Demeter Qualities Into Your Life?
- Demeter was a most compassionate goddess, always perceptive and sensitive to the needs of others. Practice really focusing your attention on someone else to listen to them with all your heart. Don’t tune out or become distracted by your own thoughts.
- Don’t let those you really care about just wander off, like Demeter’s daughter did. No matter how busy you might be, set aside some time each day to really connect with them. Take just a few minutes to give them your full attention and some quiet appreciation.
- Send greeting cards, write letters, and give thoughtful little gifts to those you care about. Do small things to show your appreciation. Let others know how you feel about them.
- Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and let everyone else know what pleases you (and what doesn’t). Everyone knew just where they stood with Demeter, and they should with you as well.
- You do a lot for others; insist on some gratitude. Call attention to your contributions. Learn to expect appreciation. Ask for it even if doing so makes you uncomfortable at first.
- Once a year, set aside all the hustle and bustle of your routine life and be a bountiful goddess! Surround yourself with family and friends. Invite your favorite people to share a feast you have lovingly prepared.
- Demeter had to learn to not always take life so seriously. Go see a “chick flick” with a friend and have some fun. Your work will still be there when you return!
- Bake bread! Let the kneading rid you of your tension. The solitude and the heady aroma will fill you with pleasure.
- Set a relaxed pace. Slow down and take your time. Rushing can make it difficult to be nurturing and caring.
We hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to check out some of the other goddesses we also write about. You can find the complete list of goddesses sorted across regions and religions here.
Featured Image Credit: Altes Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons