Demeter is chiefly associated with springtime through the story of Hades and Persephone, but this isn’t her only domain. She’s also a powerful Goddess of the harvest, grains, agriculture, and much more.
Even before Persephone became Queen of the Underworld, Demeter had connections to the afterlife through her role as a presider over sacred law — the cycle of life and death.
Demeter is the second child of Cronus and Rhea, the Titans who gave rise to Zeus, Hestia, Poseidon, Hades, and Hera. Like all of her siblings with the exception of Zeus, she, too, was eaten by her father.
This was Cronus’ misguided way of thwarting a prophecy that said that he would one day be overthrown by his child. Unfortunately for him, Rhea tired of her husband eating every one of their newborn children. She hid baby Zeus away after his birth, and tricked Cronus into eating a stone. Zeus was able to grow up, return, and free his siblings from Cronus’ body.
With her brother, Zeus, Demeter conceived Persephone. At first, the girl was known as Kore (“maiden”). When she came of age, Hades asked Zeus for her hand in marriage. Zeus agreed, but knew Demeter never would. So, he gave Hades permission to abduct Kore and take her to his kingdom in the Underworld.
Demeter searched everywhere for her daughter. When she was told that she had been taken to the Underworld, Demeter refused to allow plants to grow. She shirked her duties as an agricultural goddess, and famine ravaged the land.
Realizing that there would be a catastrophe if Kore wasn’t returned to her mother, Zeus ordered Hades to bring her back.
Unfortunately for Demeter, Kore had eaten some pomegranate arils while she was in the Underworld. This bound her to the Underworld for at least part of the year. This is why, as Persephone, she stays with her husband for part of the year and returns to her mother for the other part.
Every year, when Persephone returns to the Underworld to resume her role as Queen, Demeter mourns for her. When she mourns, the plants don’t grow and the weather grows cold. This tale explains the cycle of the seasons, which is connected to Demeter’s role as arbiter of the sacred law.
Scholars believe that it also serves as an illustration of marriage customs. Demeter serves the role of the bride’s mother, who may not want her child to leave home but must if her daughter is going to be able to grow up. This is emphasized by Persephone’s original name, Kore, and the fact that she sheds it to become Persephone upon her marriage.
Demeter may have served as a Mother Goddess and Goddess of grain to multiple cultures. Some theories about the etymology of her name connect her to the idea of a deity of families or households.
She may have been the same figure as the goddess Damatura, which came from the Messapic people of the southeastern Italian peninsula.
Other theories hold that her name may have originally stemmed from words for rye, spelt, or grain, and a word for mother. This would make her literally a “Grain Mother.”
As the Grain Mother and mother to Persephone, Demeter is one of the chief figures who rules life and death. While Hades welcomes people to the Underworld, Demeter is the cause of famine and winter.
She has the power to give forth food, and the power to take it away. In Arcadia, she was worshipped as a goddess with dominion over the Underworld, sea, and sky.
Though Demeter is perhaps best known through her connection to Persephone, Persephone isn’t her only child. Different groups and cults have also connected Demeter to Hecate, Dionysius, Arion, Despoina, Acheron, Eubuleus, Chrysothemis, Corybas, Plutus, and Philomelus.
Symbols & Associations
Demeter is connected to all symbols and images related to the harvest, like sheaves of grain, flowers, and fruit. She is associated with the constellation of Virgo, who appears as a girl holding a sheaf of wheat in one arm.
She is also associated with horses. At one time, she turned herself into a black mare to escape from her brother, Poseidon, when he ravished her.
According to Theocritus, Demeter is also a Goddess of poppies.
Like the other Greek gods and goddesses, Demeter is immortal, able to change shape, and able to transform people and things. She also has power over the harvest and is able to cause crops to flourish or wither.
There are several stories of Demeter’s wrath. In one, she turns a boy into a gecko for making fun of her.
She’s also said to have turned the nymph Minthe into the mint plant for sleeping with Hades. One man, Colontas, refused to allow her in his home and was burnt alive within it.
She also turned Ascalaphus into an owl for reporting that Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds in the Underworld and made the sirens into half-bird creatures for not helping Persephone during her abduction.
Suitable offerings for Demeter include:
- Grains and grain products, like bread, cakes, or oatmeal.
- Flowers, especially poppies.
- Fresh fruit or fruit juice.
- Sweet oils.
Signs Demeter is Calling You
Demeter may be calling to you if you dream of her. She will most likely appear as a beautiful adult woman surrounded by her symbols, like poppies, fruit, and fields of grain.
You may also be hearing Demeter’s call if you feel drawn to her story.
Persephone tends to get more attention in the story of Persephone and Hades, but Demeter is a very powerful, ancient goddess in her own right. She’s taken lovers, born many children, and shown her share of wrath and favor on mortals.
If you feel drawn to gardening or agriculture, that may also be a call from Demeter. Even if all you have is a pot of herbs on a windowsill, the desire to nurture things and help them grow can be a sign.
Crystals Associated with Demeter
All green, golden, or red stones are connected to Demeter. These mimic the colors of plants, grain, and fruits. Specific stones include:
Herbs Associated with Demeter
Demeter is associated with all plants, particularly those used for food. Some specific herb associations include:
- Foxglove. (Caution, this flower is poisonous!)
- Ash trees.
- Fig trees.
- Oak trees.
- All grains, like wheat, oats, or rye.
Working with Demeter
There are tales of Demeter’s wrath, but she’s chiefly a compassionate goddess. She is said to have taught agriculture and sewing to humans, and there are many stories of her taking mercy on them as well.
Before you start working with Demeter, you may want to read more of her stories. This includes scholarly interpretations of her connections to other ancient goddesses, like Cybele and Ceres.
According to some sources, Demeter is also connected to other Mother Goddesses like Isis. It may be helpful to dive into interpretations of the Mother Goddess as an archetype, as well.
Once you have a good handle on who Demeter is, it may be a good idea to dedicate an altar to her. You can do this simply or elaborately, indoors or out. As long as the space is dedicated to her and her alone, kept clean, and used frequently, it’s fine.
You may wish to include images of her, crystals associated with her, a vase for fresh flowers, a bowl for offerings, and a burner for incense. Visit this altar often to meditate and leave offerings for her.
Gardening is another great way to connect with Demeter. Even if you aren’t growing entire fields of grain, becoming in tune with the way things grow from seed, the cycles of the seasons, and the progress of sowing, growing, and harvesting can bring you closer to her.
Demeter is connected to an unbelievably ancient, primordial energy. She is tied to the seasons, all plants used for food, and the cycles of life and death.
To many modern Pagans, she is the Mother Goddess. She brings together the contrasts of feast and famine and life and death through her association with the seasons and the Underworld.
To connect with her is to connect with something that’s both generous and wrathful, fertile and barren, and abundant and scarce.