Demeter was the goddess of corn, grain, and the harvest. She was the daughter of Cronus and Rhea. It was believed that Demeter made the crops grow each year; thus the first loaf of bread made from the annual harvest was offered to her. She was the goddess of the earth, of agriculture, and of fertility in general. Sacred to her are livestock and agricultural products, poppy, narcissus and the crane.
Demeter was intimately associated with the seasons. Her daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades to be his wife in the underworld. In her anger at her daughter’s loss, Demeter laid a curse on the world that caused plants to wither and die, and the land to become desolate. Zeus, alarmed for the barren earth, sought for Persephone’s return. However, because she had eaten while in the underworld, Hades had a claim on her. Therefore, it was decreed that Persephone would spend four months each year in the underworld. During these months Demeter would grieve for her daughter’s absence, withdrawing her gifts from the world, creating winter. Her return brought the spring.
Demeter was also known for founding the Eleusinian Mysteries. These were huge festivals held every five years and very important events for many centuries. Yet, little is known about them as those attending were sworn to secrecy. It is thought that the central tenet around which the Mysteries revolved was that just like grain returns every spring after its harvest and the winter lull, so does the human soul after the death of the body, reincarnated in a next life.