Demeter is called the Greek earth god. It is believed that she is the one who “brings forth the fruits of the earth”. She is chiefly responsible for the various grains found on earth. Many refer to Demeter as the “goddess of planned society” because she taught the humans of the earth how to sow and plough the earth so they could grow their own food. This allowed mankind to settle in one area and eliminated the need for traveling around the earth for food.
Demeter is the daughter of Rhea and Cronus. She is the sister of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hera and Hestia. When Demeter was first born she was swallowed whole by her father. He did this because he feared that he would be overthrown by one of his children as he had overthrown his father. Cronus swallowed all of his children, except for the last child born, which was Zeus. Rhea and Gaia tricked Cronus when Zeus was born by switching a rock for the newborn. When Zeus became a young man he returned home and released Demeter and the rest of his sisters and brothers from Cronus.
Demeter had a child named Persephone who was believed to be fathered by Zeus. Hades, who was the lord of the underworld, seized Persephone and took her to the underworld with him to be his wife. Demeter wandered all over the earth looking for Persephone with no avail. This was a bad time for the earth as nothing would grow during this time of Demeter’s grief. Eventually, Zeus sent Hermes to go to the underworld and order Hades to release Persephone so she could return to her mother.
Hades did release her but not without first presenting Persephone with a fertility symbol called a pomegranate. Once Persephone ate from this she was forced to spend a certain amount of time with her husband in Hades. A third of each year was spent there, during which time things on earth would begin to die. However, the rest of the time when her daughter was with her, Demeter would allow things on earth to grow and blossom. This is why the earth’s seasons are connected with Demeter.
Sometimes Demeter is associated with Cybele, Rhea or Gaia because she was also a fertility goddess. Out of all the gifts that Demeter gave to mankind there were two that were considered to be the greatest. One was the cereal or corn as it was sometimes and the other was the mysteries that provided hope in both life and the afterlife for mankind. The reason these gifts were so special was that they separated man from the wild animals that roamed the earth.
Most often when Demeter was portrayed in art, she was pictured sitting down wearing a wreath made from braided ears of corn. She appeared as a serious type of woman. Of course, her characteristics were symbolized by the fruits of the earth. A symbol of the touch was also used to represent the time she spent searching for her daughter Persephone. The snake and the pig were her sacred animals.