Demeter: The Bountiful Greek Goddess of Agriculture and Growth
Demeter, goddess of harvest in Greek mythology, is representative of bounty and growth in agriculture. She is also the symbol of a mother’s love, and it shows in her main mythology. She is one of the 12 major gods of Mount Olympus. Read on to find out how the loss of her daughter helped to change the seasons.
Who Is Demeter in Greek Mythology?
Demeter was the goddess of agriculture and one of the most beloved and revered gods in all of Greek mythology. Demeter’s personality was not very controversial at all, and she didn’t get involved in many matters. But she was the one who was in charge of the change of seasons and how it affected agriculture. She was also one of the deities with the most long-standing worshippers.
Demeter’s name can be separated into two base words. One base word, “māter” which means “mother” in Greek. The other word is “da” and might mean something like “earth,” making Demeter’s title like “earth mother.” But there is some thought that “da” might mean “barley” which would make Demeter something like “barley mother.”
Demeter was never married, and her mythology didn’t make her appear promiscuous by any means. She did, however, have a few lovers, along with several children. But it was her daughter Persephone who was the most famous and made Demeter famous as well. She was the embodiment of motherly love, and she was a paragon of motherhood.
What Is Demeter Known For?
Demeter is known for her link to the seasons. When she lost her daughter, she was so sad that it caused the “winter” or the barren time in agriculture in the Greek world. Demeter’s powers included those she held over the world of growing things.
The Lovers and Progeny of the Greek Goddess of Fertility
Demeter never married, but she did sleep with both gods and mortal men. Oddly, she had two children with her amorous brother, Zeus. Some other Demeter’s children were with another brother, Poseidon, and a mortal man named Iasion. He was actually a son of Zeus and a nymph.
Zeus and Demeter had Iacchus and Persephone. Iacchus was kind of like a spirit or demon, and he assisted his mother. Persephone is the daughter who was also linked to agriculture and the changing of the seasons. She was taken by Hades to the underworld, and Demeter mourned for her loss. Poseidon and Demeter had Arion, a horse that could fly as well as talk.
With Iasion, she made love in a plowed field. Together, they had Philomelus, a god of agriculture, and Plutus, a god of wealth.
– The Greek Goddess of Harvest: How Was Demeter Born?
Demeter was one of the six children born of the union between the Titans Cronus and Rhea. She had a very interesting origin story. Her father, Cronus, overthrew his father Uranus for control of the universe. Because of that, he was always afraid that one of his children would overthrow him.
When Rhea was pregnant, he decided that the best way to avoid overthrow was to swallow each of his children in turn as soon as they exited the womb. Demeter was the second to be swallowed by her father, and he swallowed each one until Rhea tricked him with the final baby, Zeus.
She took Zeus away to an island to protect him, and she gave Cronus a rock to swallow instead. The other five children stayed inside Cronus until Zeus grew up and returned to overthrow his father and force him to throw up his siblings.
So, Demeter became the second youngest child as she was the last to be “born” again. After they were returned to the world, they had to fight against the Titans in the Titanomachy for control of the universe. After they won, they were each given a role in the universe, and Demeter was given the role of controlling agriculture. Some records state Demeter was worshipped as a goddess of agriculture even before the other gods were worshipped.
Myths of Demeter: The Greek Goddess of All Growing Things
Demeter was involved in a few myths in the Greek stories, but she wasn’t one of the deities who would turn volatile or violent. She was a pretty consistent character, and that’s why she was so loved and revered. Her most famous stories are that of the loss of her daughter Persephone and her escapades with her lovers. But her reigning characteristic, the one that she’s remembered for, is her dedication to her daughter and her love for her children.
– Demeter and Iasion: A Goddess’ Love for a Mortal Man
Demeter’s story with her lover Iasion represents her power over and connection to agriculture. One day, Demeter was attending a wedding of a man named Cadmus, king of Thebes, and a goddess named Harmonia. She saw Iasion there in attendance, and she thought him very handsome. During the wedding dinner, she pulled Iasion away from the crowd and took him to a plowed field.
It was there they made love, and when they returned, Zeus noticed what had gone on between them. He and his sister were already lovers at this point, and he flew into a jealous rage when he saw mud on her back. He knew that she’d had sex with Iasion, and so he decided to kill the man with a thunderbolt. Don’t forget, Iasion was his own son!
But what Zeus didn’t know was that making love with Iasion had made her pregnant.
– Demeter and Her Children, God of Wealth and God of the Plow
Demeter gave birth to twins: Philomelus and Plutus. Plutus was a very wealthy god of riches, but he was stingy with it, and he wouldn’t even share it with his brother. Philomelus took after his mother, and he became another god of agriculture as well as the plow. But, since Philomelus wasn’t as wealthy as his brother, he had to work to earn his livelihood.
Instead of money, Philomelus used his brain. He invented the first plow, and he was the one to give it to humans to help ease their harvesting troubles. Another myth, however, states that Demeter actually adopted a prince of Eleusis named Triptoleumus, and he was the one who gave the plow to humans.
– Demeter and Poseidon, Forced Incest Between Siblings
While the relations between Zeus and Demeter appear to have been consensual, the one between her and Poseidon was not. This god has many stories of him taking what he wanted without consent. Poseidon began to show interest in his sister, and she kept running away from him, hoping that he would leave her alone. It’s possible she also didn’t want to deal with another situation of Zeus getting jealous again.
She kept running, but Poseidon kept following her. She even turned herself into a horse to disguise her location, but Poseidon eventually found her. However, Poseidon was a god of the sea as well as a patron of horsemen. He knew horses well, and he transformed himself into one before he found her and raped her.
Because of this union, they had a horse-child together named Arion. Arion could both talk and fly. This horse would later become a part of Hercules’ stories of completing his famous labors.
– Demeter and Persephone: The Famous Family Love Story
Demeter had Persephone with her brother, Zeus. But Persephone, while beautiful, had a tragic tale, and it was all because of her uncle, Hades. Demeter and Hades were siblings, and he was the god of the underworld. One day, he saw Persephone dancing, and he was so lonely and thought she was so beautiful that he took her away with him.
He took her back to his home in the underworld, and he wanted her to stay with him and become his wife. Demeter didn’t know what happened to her daughter, and all she knew was that she disappeared. She began actively searching for her, and she was frantic that her daughter was lost forever. As she traveled, she visited the city of Eleusis, dressed as an old woman.
It was there that the people took pity on her, and she was taken in by the king and queen. Because of their kindness, she helped them by nursing their child Triptoleumus back to health. She used her breast milk which made him grow so fast that he quickly became an adult. She even tried to turn him immortal, but his mother caught her trying, so she stopped and then revealed herself to the Eleusians.
– Demeter Hid Away and Brought Winter Upon the World
Now that the Eleusians knew that she was a goddess, she asked them to build her a temple. They did, and she entered there to hide away from the world. She hadn’t found her daughter, and this only served to further her despair. But while she was hidden away, she had no more connection to agriculture, and crops began to die.
The rain stopped, and the world went barren. Both humans and gods suffered, and the gods eventually decided to take matters into their own hands. Zeus knew what had happened to Persephone, so he sent Hermes, the messenger god, to go to Hades and ask for the return of Demeter’s daughter. Hades didn’t want to agree, but he said that she could go if she hadn’t eaten anything from the underworld.
Unfortunately, Persephone had already eaten some pomegranates, so the gods came to a compromise. Persephone would stay half the year with Hades, and then the other half of the year she would come up to the world to be with her mother. It was not a perfect solution, but it was something. Her return to her mother matched the growing season, and her time in the underworld matched the cold season where nothing could grow well.
– The Goddess of Agriculture’s Travels: Journey to Attica
Demeter is usually portrayed as a consistent goddess unlike the volatile Aphrodite, there are a few stories of her anger. In one story of Demeter, while she was traveling around in search of her daughter, she came upon the city of Attica. There, because she was thirsty, she was brought into the house of a woman named Misme and offered a drink. The drink was a mixture of pennyroyal and barley.
It was a very hot day, and she had spent lots of time traveling, so she drank it swiftly and a little awkwardly. After he saw that, Misme’s son Ascalabus teased her for drinking so foolishly. Furious and embarrassed, she poured her drink over his head. It turned him into a gecko, which was a creature supposedly hated by both men and gods.
The stories go that Demeter would show favor to those who would kill geckos. Thus, her revenge on the mean-spirited Ascalabus was complete.
– The Mother Goddess Protects Her Beautiful, Trapped Daughter
Like many gods, Hades had other lovers before he fell in love with Persephone and kidnapped her. One of them was a nymph named Minthe. But after he got married, he focused only on Persephone, and he didn’t keep any other lovers. Minthe was jealous and sad that Hades no longer wanted her.
She tried to undermine his new relationship. She claimed to anyone who would listen that Hades would eventually get tired of his new wife, and he would come crawling back. She also told everyone that she was far more beautiful than Persephone ever could be. Demeter eventually heard about this.
She was so angry on behalf of her daughter that she trampled Minthe into the ground. From where her body had been crushed into the ground, a tree grew upon which a lovely-smelling herb sprung. It was called Minthe, after the nymph. But in other myths, Persephone is the one who does the killing by turning Minthe into a plant.
Demeter and Persephone, Symbols of Life and Worship
Because of this connection to the seasons, this pair of deities were often worshipped together by the cult of Demeter. Their relationship symbolized the constant cycle of life and death associated with agriculture. They are both revered and celebrated in Demeter’s most popular ritual, the Eleusian Mysteries. The ritual would take place every year, celebrating the gift of growing things from the hand of Demeter.
What Is Demeter’s Symbol?
As can be expected, Demeter’s symbols are anything that has to do with agriculture. Most of the time it is wheat or cereal grains or even a cornucopia. Anything that represents bounty in agriculture could be a symbol of the goddess Demeter.
The Goddess of Fertility and Harvest in Pop Culture
Demeter appears in:
- The Great Seal of North Carolina along with Persephone. Demeter is holding wheat in her arms and is sitting upon a cornucopia.
- Her name also appears in the name of a certification organization for biodynamic farming called “Demeter International.”
- There is the “Demeter Fragrance Library” which has cosmetics that smell like herbs and other agricultural items such as dirt or vegetables.
Take a look at the main points about Demeter covered in the article above:
- Demeter is the goddess of fertility, harvest, and agriculture. She is one of the 12 major gods on Mount Olympus. She is one of the most revered and important goddesses in all Greek mythology.
- She is representative of both bounty and growth in the Greek world. People depended upon her to have a good harvest. Depending on the way scholars look at it, Demeter’s name could mean something like “earth mother” or “barley mother.”
- Demeter was not a very volatile or controversial goddess, and that’s part of what made her so popular.
- Demeter never married, but she did have some lovers. Those included Zeus, Poseidon, and a mortal named Iasion, who was Zeus’ son. With Zeus, she had Persephone; with Poseidon, she had Arion, a horse; and with Iasion, she had two gods named Philomelus and Plutus.
- Demeter was one of the six children born of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. Zeus gave her control over agriculture and all growing things.
- Zeus seemed to have a consensual relationship with Demeter. But Poseidon, her other brother, raped her when they were both in the forms of horses. They had a talking and flying horse who Hercules would later ride.
- When Zeus found out that she was sleeping with Iasion, he killed him.
- Her most famous myth is about the loss of her beautiful daughter, Persephone. Hades kidnapped Persephone and took her back to the underworld. Demeter, so sad that she couldn’t find her daughter, hid away in a temple in Eleusis, causing “winter” to fall upon the land. The gods demanded Hades return Persephone to the world. But she had to stay half the year because she’d eaten some of the food there.
- Demeter had other stories in which she showed her anger and protectiveness toward her daughter. These included trampling one of Hades’ former lovers.
- Demeter’s image, along with her daughter, can be found on The Great Seal of North Carolina.
Demeter is one of the most central goddesses in the Greek myths. She was likely worshipped even before the other Olympians came into being. Greece was a very bountiful land in terms of agriculture, so it’s no wonder Demeter was so popular. She graced the country with her blessing of fruitfulness, and she continues to do so.