The rich scent of soil works its way into my nostrils. The earth fills my hands like fine cloth, smooth & heavy. I let it drift through my fingers as I marvel in its texture. This garden is mine, as is the brand new house that goes with it. In both the literal & figurative sense, I have worked hard to plant the right seeds & asked my Gods to help them to thrive. In this season of harvest I find myself looking forward to sitting back & enjoying the fruits of my labour, to reap the rewards of what I have sewn.
I would like to give thanks, but who should I pray to? My thoughts turn automatically to Demeter. Beyond the rough concept of a goddess of grain & growing things, who was she? She was a child of the Titans Cronus & Rhea, & therefore a sister of Olympian Zeus. Her very name meaning ‘grain mother’, Demeter ruled over the areas of agriculture, fruit & vegetables, grain, fertility, & health. In the past Demeter’s sacred days revolved around harvest-time. Her most important festival was held every 5 years for 9 days, & included processions, sacrifices, & song.
The goddess has long been associated with the changing of seasons, as well. Demeter treasured her daughter Persephone above all things. The girl’s beauty captured the attention of the lord of the underworld. One version of myth told how Zeus sought to please his brother Hades & gave his permission to seize her. When her daughter Persephone was abducted, her grief consumed her attention. She no longer cared for her duties, but without her attention famine threatened all. No green or living thing could grow in the chill of her sorrow; winter would not cease. Perhaps she felt Zeus. In her hurt & anger she allowed the earth to go barren until her daughter was restored to her. The full weight of what he bought into motion struck him hard. The king of Olympus sent messenger Hermes to tell his brother to release Persephone. Outwardly Hades agreed, but not before offering her a pomegranate to snack on. Anyone who ate the food of the underworld must remain there. Eventually a deal was made. The deed could not be undone; Persephone ate of the seeds. However the blow was softened. The girl would only be required to spend part of her year down below. In those months Demeter’s grief would cause the land to wither. In the months she spent above with her mother, the goddess’s joy caused the earth to flourish & be reborn.
Was she a vengeful goddess? Maybe. Although it’s perhaps more correct to say she was a passionate deity lead by her heart. Consider the case of Celeus. During her time wandering the earth as she grieved, Demeter came to the court of Eleusis & gained employment nursing the king’s sons. At one point the elder son accused Demeter of being greedy & she turned him into a lizard in response. Perhaps she felt a little bad about her hasty act. The goddess, as much to honour Celeus for his hospitality as make up for her hasty act, decided to change one of the remaining boys into an immortal. Each night she tried to burn away Demophon’s mortal spirit by anointing him with ambrosia & placing him in the hearthfire, until his mother saw what was happening. Her frightened antics angered Demeter, but the goddess persisted. Instead of making his brother immortal, she chose to teach her knowledge of agriculture to Triptolemus instead. From him all of Greece learned these arts.
From Demeter we learn that the only thing eternal is the Wheel of the Year itself. Seasons change, winter eventually fades. Sorrow becomes rejoicing. From her we learn that tending the earth is hard work but not without reward. Your efforts will yield fruit in the right season. Let her lessons be seeds to plant deep down within & flourish in your soil.