Deity, Roman Lore

Mother Goddess Demeter: Etymology, Symbols, Festivals


By Morningbird

Demeter is a Hellenic Mother Goddess, Grain and Harvest Goddess, and founder of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

According to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, She withdrew her gifts from the world and brought about a famine when Zeus gave her daughter Persephone to Hades as wife and only relented when Persephone was returned to her.

But, as Persephone had eaten in the Underworld, she must return for some time each year, during which time Demeter once again temporarily withdraws her fertility from the Earth.

Demeter’s gifts to humanity include agriculture and the Eleusinian Mysteries, which removed the fear of death from initiates.

Demeter is often identified with the Roman Goddess Ceres.

Demeter’s Realm of Influence

Although principally a grain Goddess, Demeter’s realm of influence extends to marriage, the household, motherhood and the raising of children, sacred law, the cycles of nature and women’s cycles, and life, death and rebirth.

Demeter’s various epithets give clues as to her reams of influence.

  • Demeter Aganippe – The mare who destroys mercifully (Night mare?)
  • Despoina or Potnia – Mistress of the house, mistress
  • Thesmophoros – giver of (natural/unwritten) law, custom
  • Chthonia – in the ground
  • Chloe – green shoot
  • Erinys – Implacable
  • Anesidora – sending up gifts from the Earth

History and Etymology

It is pretty much agreed that the meter part of her name means “mother”, but there is some disagreement about the first syllable De.

It has been variously translated as “Earth”, “Barley”, “Home” or simply “Goddess”. So her name may mean Earth Mother, Barley or Corn Mother, Mother of the Home, or Mother Goddess variously.

A marble statue of Demeter, National Roman Museum, Rome, Italy

Demeter is the mother of Persephone (and perhaps Dionysus by Zeus (or perhaps Poseidon), of Ploutos by Iasion and of Despoina and Arion by Poseidon. She is the daughter of Cronus and Rhea and had no husband.

Demeter’s Symbols and Correspondences

  • Appearance: Demeter is often depicted as a mature, blonde-haired woman holding sheaves of grain and sometimes poppies and a torch.
  • Plants: poppy, barley


Eleusinian mysteries open to anyone of any race or class.

The Thesmophoria open only to women, October 11-13.

External Links

Written by Morningbird & Witchipedia Team

I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years. As a founder and lead writer on Witchipedia, I’ve been publishing articles since 2006.

It is our mission to provide the most accurate Pagan, occult and magical information.

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