The Greek Mother Goddess whose origins may lie in the syncretization of deities of the corn and of the Underworld. In Homeric times she was associated equally with vegetation and with death. In ancient Athens the dead were titled demeteroi, while corn was traditionally scattered on new graves.
Cults of Demeter were particularly strong in ancient Eleusinia, and she was a central figure in the Eleusinian Mysteries of death and rebirth. According to myth, Demeter is the daughter of Cronos and Rhea, and the sister of Zeus and Poseidon. In an incestuous union with Zeus, she bore a daughter, Kore, "the maiden," also know as Persephone. Hades, the god of the Underworld, lusted after Kore, and Zeus promised the maiden to him without telling Demeter.
Hades raped Kore and kidnapped her to his Underworld kingdom. When Demeter learned of this, she went into profound mourning, donning black clothing and searching nine days for her daughter. On the tenth day she encountered Hecate, the Patron Goddess of witchcraft, who had heard Kore cry out. The two went to Helios, who had witnessed the abduction.
Upon hearing the entire story from Helios, De-meter went into a rage. She resigned from the company of the gods and neglected her duties. Crops failed and famine spread throughout the lands. The situation grew worse and worse, but Demeter could not be persuaded to act. Finally, Hermes succeeded in convincing Hades to let Kore go. But the crafty god of the Underworld tricked Kore into eating part of a pomegranate before she left; this partaking of food in the Underworld doomed her to spend at least part of her time with Hades forever.
A compromise was struck: each year she would spend six months above the earth, six months below. The coming and going of Kore is signaled by the equinoxes.
Demeter was so grateful to have her daughter back at least part of the year that she initiated mankind into her mysteries and taught him agriculture, symbolized by com. Many of the secret rites of her cults were practiced only by women, because of their power to bring forth life. In Attica, the rituals were performed by both men and women.
A women's festival, the Thesmophoria, also took place and involved pigs being buried alive in pits. It is believed that young virgins were also Sacrificed to Demeter at this time.
Demeter and Kore were sometimes considered as two aspects of the Com Mother and were called the "Two Goddesses" or the "Great Goddesses."
The Romans identified Demeter with Ceres, the Goddess of the earth, and incorporated Demeter's aspects into their own Goddess.
Today the myths of Demeter, and the ritual by which she is recalled to the upper world in the spring, are central to the practices of the Western Mysteries. They are also are closely relevant to the spring Sabbat of Beltane in Wicca.
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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