A to Z Challenge Folklore

Earth Mother Demeter #folklore #AtoZChallenge

E is for Earth

I’m doing folklore and book review posts to reach and please a larger audience. Previous years have shown select interest in both and to minimise blogging throughout the year, I’m focusing my efforts on April.

If you’d rather check out my book review for today, go here.

Learn more about the challenge here.

Ignored a lot in modern culture, even in books about mythology, Demeter is a lot more powerful and important than most would give credit.

Demeter. Image credit.


Orpheus, Myths of the World by Padraic Colum [1930]


Once when Demeter, daughter of Kronos and Rhea, was going through the world, making men’s fields fertile, she heard a cry that came to her from across high mountains and mounted up to her from the sea. Demeter’s heart shook when she heard that cry, for she knew that it came to her from her daughter, from the maiden Persephone.

She stayed not in the fields, but she hurried, hurried away to Sicily and to the fields of Enna, where she had left Persephone. All Enna she searched, and all Sicily, but she found no trace of Persephone, nor of the maidens with whom Persephone had been playing. From all whom she met she begged for tidings, but although some had seen the maidens gathering flowers and playing together, no one could tell Demeter why her child had cried out nor where she had since gone.

There were some who could have told her. One was a nymph. But she, before Demeter came to her, had been changed into a spring of water. And now, not being able to speak and tell Demeter where her child had gone and who had carried her away, she showed in the water the girdle of Persephone that she had caught in her hands. And Demeter, finding the girdle of her daughter in the spring, knew that she had been carried off by violence. She lighted a torch at Ætna’s burning mountain, and for nine days and nine nights she went searching for her through the darkened places of the earth.

Then, upon a high and a dark hill, the Goddess Demeter came face to face with Hekate, the Moon. Hekate, too, had heard the cry of Persephone; she had sorrow for Demeter’s sorrow: she spoke to her as the two stood on that dark, high hill, and told her that she should go to Helios for tidings–to bright Helios, the watcher for the Gods, and beg Helios to tell her who it was who had carried off by violence her child Persephone.

Demeter came to Helios. He was standing before his shining steeds, before the impatient steeds that drew the sun through the course of the heavens. Demeter stood in the way of those impatient steeds; she begged of Helios who sees all things upon the earth to tell her who it was who had carried off by violence Persephone, her child.

And Helios, who may make no concealment, said, “Queenly Demeter, know that the King of the Underworld, dark Hades, has carried off Persephone to make her his Queen in the realm that I never shine upon.” He spoke, and as he did, his horses shook their manes and breathed out fire, impatient to be gone. Helios sprang into his chariot and went flashing away.

Demeter, knowing that one of the Gods had carried off Persephone against her will, and knowing that what was done had been by the will of Zeus, would go no more into the assemblies of the Olympians. She quenched the torch that she had held in her hands for nine days and nine nights; she put off her robe of Goddess, and she went wandering over the earth, uncomforted for the loss of her child. No longer did she appear as a Goddess gracious to men; no longer did she bless their fields. None of the things that it pleased her once to do would Demeter do any longer.

Persephone had been playing with the nymphs who are the Daughters of Ocean in the lovely fields of Enna. They went to gather the flowers that grow there in the spring-time irises and crocuses, lilies, hyacinths, and rose-blooms. As they went gathering flowers in their baskets they had sight of the pool that the white swans come to sing in.

Beside a deep chasm that had been made in the earth a wonder-flower was growing–in colour it was like the crocus, but it sent forth a perfume that was like the perfume of a hundred flowers. And Persephone, as she went towards it, thought that having gathered that flower she would have something more wonderful than her companions had.

She did not know that Hades, the Lord of the Underworld, had caused the flower to grow there so that she might be drawn by it to the chasm that he had made.

As Persephone stooped to pluck the wonder-flower, dark Hades, in his chariot of iron, dashed up through the chasm, and, grasping the maiden by the waist, set her beside him. Only Cyane, the nymph, tried to save Persephone, and it was then that she caught her girdle in her hands.

The maiden cried out, first because her flowers had been spilled, and then because she was being reft away. She cried out to her mother, and her cry went over the high mountains and sounded up from the sea. The Daughters of Ocean, affrighted, fled and sank down into the depths of the sea.

In his great chariot of iron that was drawn by black steeds, Hades rushed down through the chasm that had been made. Into the Under. world he went; he dashed across the River Styx, and brought the chariot up beside his throne. And on his dark throne he seated Persephone, the fainting daughter of Demeter.

No more did the Goddess Demeter make fertile the fields of men: weeds grew where crops should be growing; men feared that in a while they would famish for lack of bread.

She wandered through the world, her thought all upon her child, Persephone, who had been taken from her. Once she sat by a well by a wayside, thinking upon the daughter whom she might not come to and who might not come to her.

She saw four maidens come near; their grace and their youth reminded her of her Persephone. They stepped lightly along, carrying bronze pitchers in their hands, for they were coming to the Well of the Maidens beside which Demeter sat.

The maidens thought when they looked upon her that the Goddess was some ancient woman who had a sorrow in her heart. Seeing that she was so noble and so sorrowful looking, the maidens, as they drew clear water into their pitchers, spoke kindly to her.

“Why do you stay away from the town, mother?” one of the maidens asked. “Why do you not come to the houses? We think that you look as if you were shelterless and alone, and we should like to tell you that there are many houses in our town where you would be welcomed.”

Demeter’s heart went out to the maidens because they looked so young and fair and simple and spoke out of such kind hearts. She said to them: “Where can I go, dear children? My people are far away, and there are none in all the world who would care to be near me.”

Said one of the maidens, “There are princes in the land who would welcome you in their houses if you would consent to nurse one of their young children. But why do I speak of other princes beside Keleos, our father? In his house you would, indeed, have welcome. But lately a babe has been born to Metaneira, our mother, and she would greatly rejoice to have one as wise as you to nurse little Demophon.”

All the time that she watched them and listened to their voices Demeter felt that the grace and youth of the maidens made them like her Persephone. She thought that it would ease her heart to be in the house where these maidens were, and she was not loath to have them go and ask of their mother to have her come to nurse the infant child.

Swiftly they ran back to their home, their hair streaming behind them like crocus flowers, kind and lovely girls whose names are well remembered–Kallidike and Kleisidike, Demo and Kallithoe. They went to their mother and they told her of the stranger woman whose name was Doso. She would make a wise and kind nurse for little Demophon, they said. Their mother, Metaneira, rose up from the couch she was sitting on to welcome the stranger. But when she saw her at the door, awe came over her, so majestical the stranger seemed.

Metaneira would have her seat herself on the couch, but the Goddess took the lowliest stool, saying in greeting, “May the Gods give you all good, lady.”

“Sorrow has set you wandering from your good home,” said Metaneira to the Goddess, “but now that you have come to this place you shall have all that this house can bestow if you will rear the infant Demophon, child of many hopes and prayers.”

The child was put into the arms of Demeter; she clasped him to her breast, and little Demophon looked up into her face and smiled. Then Demeter’s heart went out to the child and to all who were of that household.

He grew in strength and beauty in her charge. And little Demophon was not nourished as other children are nourished, but even as the Gods in their childhood were nourished. Demeter fed him on ambrosia, breathing on him with her divine breath the while. And at night she laid him on the hearth, amongst the embers, with the fire all around him. This she did that she might make him immortal, and like to the Gods.

But one night Metaneira looked out from the chamber where she lay, and she saw the nurse take little Demophon and lay him in a place on the hearth, with the burning brands all round him. Then Metaneira started up; she sprang to the hearth, and she snatched the child from beside the burning brands. “Demophon, my son,” she cried, “what would this stranger woman do to you, bringing bitter grief to me that ever I let her take you in her arms?”

Then said Demeter, “Foolish, indeed, are you mortals, and not able to foresee what is to come to you of good or of evil! Foolish, indeed, are you, Metaneira, for in your heedlessness you have cut off this child from an immortality like to the immortality of the Gods themselves. For he had lain in my bosom, and had become dear to me, and I would have bestowed on him the greatest gift that the Divine Ones can bestow. I would have made him deathless and unaging. All this, now, has gone by. Honour he shall have, indeed, but Demophon will know age and death.”

The seeming old age that had been upon her had fallen from Demeter; beauty and stature were hers, and from her robe there came a heavenly fragrance. There came such light from her body that the chamber shone. Metaneira remained there, trembling and speechless, unmindful even to take up the child that had been laid upon the ground.

It was then that his sisters heard Demophon wail. One ran from her chamber and took the child in her arms; another kindled again the fire on the hearth; the others made ready to bathe and care for the infant. All night they cared for him, holding him in their arms and at their breasts, but the child would not be comforted; the nurses who handled him now were less skillful than was the Goddess-nurse.

As for Demeter, she left the house of Keleos and went upon her way, lonely in her heart, and unappeased. And in the world that she wandered through, the plough went in vain through the ground; the furrow was sown without any avail, and the race of men saw themselves near perishing for lack of bread.

Once again Demeter came near the Well of the Maidens. She thought of the daughters of Keleos as they came towards the well that day, the bronze pitchers in their hands, and with kind looks for the Stranger–she thought of them as she sat by the well again. And then She thought of little Demophon, the child she had held at her breast. No stir of living was in the land near their home; only weeds grew in their fields. As she sat there and looked around her there came into Demeter’s heart a pity for the people in whose house she had dwelt.

She rose up and she went into the house of Keleos. She found the king beside the house measuring out a little grain. The Goddess went to him; she told him that because of the love she bore his household she would bless his fields so that the seed he had sown in them would come to growth. Keleos rejoiced; he called all the people together; they would raise a temple there to Demeter, they vowed. She went through the fields and blessed them, and the seed they had sown began to grow. And the Goddess for a while dwelt amongst the people. The place was Eleusis.

But still she kept away from the assemblies of the Gods. Zeus sent a messenger to her-Iris with the golden wings–bidding her to Olympos. Demeter would not join the Olympians. Then, one after another, the Gods and Goddesses of Olympos came to her; no one was able to make her cease from grieving for Persephone, or to go again into the company of the immortal Gods.

And so it came about that Zeus was compelled to send a messenger down to the Underworld to bring Persephone back to the mother who had grieved so much for the loss of her. Hermes was the messenger whom Zeus sent. Through the darkened places of the earth Hermes went, and he came to the dark throne where Hades sat, Persephone beside him. Then Hermes spoke to the Lord of the Underworld, saying that Zeus commanded that Persephone should come forth from the Underworld that her mother might look upon her.

Persephone, hearing of the word of Zeus that might not be gainsaid, uttered the only cry that had left her lips since she had sent out that cry that had reached her mother’s heart. And Hades, hearing the command of Zeus that might not be denied, bowed his dark, majestic head.

She might go to the Upperworld and rest herself in the arms of her mother, he said. And then he cried out, “Ah, Persephone, strive to feel kindliness in your heart towards me who carried you off by violence and against your will. I can give to you one of the great kingdoms that the Olympians rule over, albeit that it is a dark kingdom. And I, who am brother to Zeus, am a fitting husband for you, Demeter’s child.”

So Hades, the dark Lord of the Underworld, said, and he made ready the chariot with the deathless horses that Persephone might go up from his kingdom.

Beside the single tree in his domain Hades stayed his chariot. A single fruit grew upon that tree, a bright pomegranate fruit. Persephone stood up in the chariot and plucked the fruit from the tree. Then did Hades prevail upon her to divide the fruit; having divided it, Persephone ate seven of the pomegranate seeds.

It was Hermes who took the whip and shook the reins of the chariot. He drove on, and neither the sea nor the water-courses, nor the glens, nor the mountain-peaks, stayed the deathless horses of Hades; soon the chariot was brought near to where Demeter awaited the coming of her daughter.

And when, from a hilltop, Demeter saw the chariot approaching, like a wild bird she flew to clasp her child. Persephone, when she saw her mother’s dear eyes, sprang out of the chariot, and fell upon her neck and embraced her. Long and long Demeter held her dear child in her arms, gazing, gazing upon her. Suddenly her mind misgave her. With a great fear at her heart she cried out, “Dearest, has any food passed your lips in all the time you have been in the Underworld?”

She had not tasted food in all the time she had been there, Persephone said. And then, suddenly, she remembered the pomegranate that Hades had asked her to divide. When she told how she had eaten seven seeds from it, Demeter wept; her tears fell upon Persephone’s face.

“Ah, my dearest,” she cried, “if you had not eaten the pomegranate seeds you could stay with me, and always we should have been together. But now that you have eaten food in it, the realm of Hades has a claim upon you. You may not stay always with me here.

“Again you will have to go back and dwell in the dark places under the earth, and sit upon Hades’ throne. But not always will you be there. When the flowers bloom upon the earth you shall come up from the realm of darkness, and in great joy we shall go through the world together, Demeter and Persephone.”

And so it has been since Persephone came back to her mother after having eaten the pomegranate seeds. For two seasons of the year she stays with Demeter; for one season she stays with her dark lord. While she is with her mother there is spring-time on the earth. Demeter blesses the furrows, her heart being glad because her daughter is with her once more. The furrows become heavy with grain, and soon the whole wide earth has grain and fruits, leaves and flowers. When the furrows are reaped, when the grain has been gathered, when the dark season comes, then Persephone goes from her mother; going down into the dark places, she sits beside her mighty lord, Hades, upon his throne. Not sorrowful is she there; she sits with her head unbowed, for she knows herself to be a mighty queen. She has joy, too, knowing of the seasons when she may walk with Demeter, her mother, on the wide places of the earth, through fields of flowers and fruit and ripening grain.

Demeter. Image credit.

Myths of Greece and Rome, by Jane Harrison, [1928]


The name Demeter means not Earth-Mother, but Grain-Mother. So long as man was a hunter only, the Lady-of-the-Wild-Things and the Earth-Mother who, unbidden, sent up flowers in the spring and fruit in autumn, these were adequate to express his needs. But there came a time when man settled down to plough the earth, to sow seeds and reap grain, and then he needed a Grain-Mother, Demeter…

The Athenians called the Dead Demetreioi, Demeter’s People. Not only did she bring all things to life, but, when they died, she received them back into her bosom. “Dust we are and unto dust we shall return”; and Æschylus says:”Yea, summon Earth, who brings all things to life,
 And rears and takes again into her womb.”

A ghost is to primitive man always a terrifying thing, a bogey, and so the Earth-Mother, as guardian of the Dead, becomes a gorgon.

Demeter. Image credit.

Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe, by Donald A. Mackenzie, [1917]

Pre-Hellenic Earth and Corn Mothers

The specialized form of the goddess most closely associated with crops was Demeter. Meter signified “mother”, but the meaning of the prefix is uncertain. According to W. Mannhardt deai was the Cretan word for “barley”, and the goddess was the “Barley Mother”. 1 Others hold that the prefix is a dialectic variant of the word for “earth”.

But although the etymology of her name may remain doubtful, her real character is otherwise revealed. Melanippides and Euripides identified her with Rhea when they called her “mother of the gods”, and the fact that the “earth snake” was invariably associated with her shows that she shared the attributes of Gaia, the elder “mother”, and resembled closely the snake-goddess of Crete. She was associated with tree-worship, and the story was told that she punished Erysichthon by causing him to suffer dreadful hunger for cutting down trees in her sacred grove. In one of the hymns she is petitioned to gift the apple crop. As tree-goddesses were also water-goddesses, it is interesting to find that springs were dedicated to her in Attica and elsewhere, and that Euripides referred to her wanderings over rivers and the ocean. This poet also associated her with mountains, so that she must have been a guardian of animals like the primitive Scoto-Irish Cailleach, and a mountain-goddess like the Cretan “lady” who was depicted on the summit of a high peak.

It was chiefly, however, as a provider of the food-supply that Demeter was addressed. She was asked for gifts of cattle and corn and fruit, and bulls and cows were sacrificed to her. Consequently she was a deity of fertility and a love-goddess. The pig was also sacrificed to her as to other earth spirits. As has been stated, pork was tabooed in Crete, and appears to have been eaten sacrificially only. Demeter’s connection with the underworld emphasizes her character as a Fate–a goddess of birth and death, who controlled and measured the lives of mankind.

Demeter. Image credit.

Further Reading:

Demeter. Image credit.

Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

Demeter, daughter of the Titans Rhea and Kronos, sister to Zeus, Poseidon, Hades and Hera, is best-known as the mother of Persephone. In that role, she is seen scouring the earth, looking for her daughter who had gone missing while out with a couple of nymphs. She keeps on searching, asking the other gods for help. Only Helios, the sun god at the time, told her who had taken her daughter: Hades, King of the Underworld. And, of course, Zeus was of no help. So Demeter walked the earth, bereft, and no longer helped humans with crops. Instead, weeds thrived where once grain stood. After some time of everyone grieving – and probably starving because they never had to prepare for winter – Zeus finally sent Hermes to retrieve Persephone. She had of course eating pomegranate seeds, and so can only stay with her mother for half the year. Demeter was fine with that: the ground will lie fallow until her daughter returns to her when the flowers bloom.

For a long time before things changed and people started tilling the fields and Demeter became more of a grain mother than an earth mother, the hunter-gatherers revered her as an earth mother because of the flowers and fruits she provided them. And many others still saw her that way, even after crops became the way of the world.

Of course, there is a story about Demeter that is brushed aside in favour of the one of Persephone: how she became pregnant. And it’s not a nice story. Zeus, the most famous womanizer and rapist of the ancient world, decided that it’s not enough to have Hera as his wife and any mortal woman he wants to warm his bed, he also lusted after Demeter. She continuously rebuffed his advances, even going so far as to shape-shift into various creatures to escape him. But he did finally corner and rape her. And so begot Persephone. Despite how she became pregnant, Demeter was a good mother.

And yet, there aren’t many tales about this woman who had endured so much – she is just part of the tales of others.

Demeter mourning the loss of Persephone. Image credit.

Demeter in Modern Culture

American Gods TV show

Demeter was summoned by a desperate mother on a farm in Pennsylvania, 1765. As the goddess of harvest, grain, nourishment and the giver of life, she bestowed a bountiful corn crop. She established a modest home where she stayed until the American Independence War, when she was wooed by two war gods: Odin and Tyr.

Learn more here.
Demeter. Image credit.

Disney’s Hercules

Demeter (voiced by Florence Henderson) is the Goddess of Agriculture. Nemesis to smite the satyr Pan for his inadequate offerings at her harvest festival and building a temple to himself. She is also seen among the gods congratulating Hercules.

See more here.
Demeter. Image credit.

Demeter is the Olympian Goddess of Nature, the Season, and the Harvest. She is very forgiving compared to the other Gods, even if someone hasn’t made an offering to her all year she is still willing to forgive them, however, she detest those who pose as Gods and take credit for her fruitful bounties.

Learn more here.

Percy Jackson book series by Rick Riordan

Demeter is the Greek goddess of the harvest, grain, and fertility. Her Roman counterpart is Ceres.

Possessing a very caring nature and an obsession for cereal, Demeter insists upon advising eating healthy and hard work as every mother would (as shown when she talks to Nico). While Demeter always rewards everyone who shows her kindness (like Triptolemus and Metanira), she is extremely severe to those who disrespect her and agriculture (like Erysichthon).

Learn more here.
Demeter. Image credit.


Goddess of Spring by P.C. Cast

Lina’s trendy bakery in Tulsa is proving to be less than lucrative, and she must come up with a plan. When she stumbles upon an Italian Goddess cookbook, Lina can’t help but think she’s found the answer to her problem—even if it means invoking a goddess to save her business.

Soon enough, Lina finds herself face-to-face with Demeter, who has a plan of her own. She proposes that Lina exchange souls with Persephone, the Goddess of Spring, who will breathe new life into the bakery. In return, Lina must set order to the Underworld.

Before all this, Lina’s problems mostly involved sourdough and second dates. Now that she embodies the enchanting Persephone, Lina has weightier things on her mind—like the formidable task of bringing Spring to a world of spirits. But when the handsome, brooding Hades kindles a spark in her heart, Lina wonders if this Lord of the Underworld might be the man of her dreams.

Check it out on Goodreads.

Demeter in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: Demeter

Demeter is the goddess of all growing things. And though she likes animals well-enough, it is plants that really matter to her. She can shape-shift into any form she chooses, though she prefers looking matronly to keep the lustful gaze of Zeus and his ilk away from her – for obvious reasons. She has no issue going to the Underworld to visit her daughter, though she still dislikes Hades for the way he took her girl as his queen. Unlike a lot of other immortals who have decided to retire, she is still running amok among humans who think to abuse the earth.

See them in action:

Origin of Irascible Immortals (Irascible Immortals #7) by Ronel Janse van Vuuren

What do you think of Demeter? Where did you hear about Demeter for the first time? Any folklore about Demeter you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

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No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.

9 thoughts on “Earth Mother Demeter #folklore #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Thanks for sharing Demeter’s story! I didn’t know all the details of it. Particularly, I had never heard of the part about Metaneira.

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