DEMETER was the great Olympian goddess of agriculture, grain, and bread, the sustenance of all mankind. She also presided over Mysteries which promised intiates the path to a blessed afterlife.
She had numerous shrines throughout the ancient world, including a variety of regular temples and sanctuaries dedicated purely to her Mystery Cult. The foremost of these were the celebrated Mysteries of Eleusis overseen by the Athenians.
Demeter was usually worshipped in conjunction with her daughter Kore (or Persephone), goddess of the underworld and the spring growth.
In classical sculpture the goddess was portrayed as a motherly woman holding a cornucopia (horn of plenty) brimming with fruit (an attribute which often confuses her with Tykhe), or a bouquet of grain stalks (or fillets) and poppy flowers.
"Nikippe, whom the city had appointed to be her [Demeter's] public priestess, and in her hand she grasped her fillets and her poppy, and from her shoulder hung her key [as priestess]. " - Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter
“Ceres’ [Demeter’s] priest, Ampycus [in the court of the Aithiopian king Kepheus], with the white bands round his brow.” - Ovid, Metamorphoses 5.109
More information on priests and priestesses of Demeter can be found in the regional entries below.
SACRIFICE OF FIRST FRUITS
The first fruits of the season were offered to the gods of farm and field: Demeter received the first corn, Dionysos the first grapes, and Athene the first olives. The Thesmophoria festival of Athens was one such festival celebrating the offering of the first fruits. Similar rites were practised throughout Greece. More information on these rituals can be found in the various regional entries below.
"The king, Oeneus, it’s said, when plenty blessed the year, to Ceres [Demeter] gave the first-fruits of the corn, to Lyaeus [Dionysos] poured his wine, to golden-haired Minverva [Athene] her oil from her own holy tree. The prized oblations, given first to gods of farm and field, reached all the gods of heaven." - Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.272
"The time of Ceres’ [Demeter's] festival had come, in duty kept by mothers every year, when, robed in white, they bring their first fruit gifts of wheat in garlands, and for nine nights count love and the touch of men forbidden things." - Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.431
OMENS OF DEMETER
"Xumbolous (meeting-signs): This is what they called omens through sneezes. These were dedicated to Demeter." - Suidas "Xumbolous"
Presumably sneezes were attributed to Demeter because they were associated with harvest (hay-fever) and milling (from flour dust).
THE ORGIA OR MYSTERIES
The foremost of the Mysteries were those celebrated by the Athenians in the town of Eleusis. See the Eleusinian Mysteries page for more information (still under construction).
Other Mystery cults of the goddess were located at Keleia in Sikyonia; Lerna in Argolis; Andania in Messenia; Megalopolis in Arkadia; and Akakesion in Arkadia. See the various Regional Entries below for more information.
CULT IN ATTIKA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) ATHENS Chief City of Attika
"The Athenians have ... another [harbour] at Phaleron, as I have already stated, and near it is a sanctuary of Demeter." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.1.4
"On entering the city [of Athens] there is a building for the preparation of the processions, which are held in some cases every year, in others at longer intervals. Hard by is a temple of Demeter, with images of the goddess herself and of her daughter [Kore], and of Iakkhos [daimon leader of the Eleusinaian Mysteries] holding a torch." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.2.4
"[In Athens] is a spring called Enneakrounos (Nine Jets) ... Above the spring are two temples, one to Demeter and Kore (the Maid), while in that of Triptolemos is a statue of him ... After I had intended to go further into this story [of Triptolemos and Demeter], and to describe the contents of the sanctuary at Athens, called the Eleusinion, I was stayed by a vision in a dream. I shall therefore turn to those things it is lawful to write of to all men. In front of this temple, where is also the statue of Triptolemos, is a bronze bull being led as it were to sacrifice." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.14.1-3
"[Near the Akropolis of Athens] there is also a sanctuary of Ge Kourotrophe (Earth, Nurse of Youth), and of Demeter Khloe (Green). You can learn all about their names by conversing with the priests." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.22.3
"During the rule of Laodamas son of Eteokles, the Kadmeans were expelled by the Argives and went away to the Enkheleis. The Gephyraians were left behind but were later compelled by the Boiotians to withdraw to Athens. They have certain set forms of worship at Athens in which the rest of the Athenians take no part, particularly the rites and Orgia (Mysteries) of Demeter Akhaia." - Herodotus, Histories 5.61
II) ALIMOS & PROSPALTA Villages in Attika
"The small parishes of Attika, which were founded severally as chance would have it, presented the following noteworthy features. At Alimos is a sanctuary of Demeter Thesmophoros (Lawgiver) and of Kore (the Maid), and ... Prospalta also has a sanctuary of Kore (the Maid) and Demeter." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.31.1
III) PHYLA & MYRRHINOS Villages in Attika
"Phlya and Myrrhinos [in Attika] have ... a second temple [which] contains altars of Demeter Anesidora (Sender-up of Gifts), Zeus Ktesios (God of Gain)." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.31.4
IV) R KEPHISOS River in Attika
"As you go to Eleusis from Athens along what the Athenians call the Sacred Way you see [before crossing the River Kephisos] ... a sanctuary of Demeter and her daughter [Kore]. With them Athena and Poseidon are worshipped. There is a legend that in this place Phytalos welcomed Demeter in his home, for which act the goddess gave him the fig tree. This story is borne out by the inscription on the grave of Phytalos:- 'Hero and king, Phytalus here welcome gave to Demeter, august goddess, when first she created fruit of the harvest; sacred fig is the name which mortal men have assigned it. Whence Phytalos and his race have gotten honours immortal." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.37.2
"[On the Sacred Way from Eleusis to Athens just beyond the River Kephisos] There is a sanctuary in which are set statues of Demeter, her daughter [Persephone], Athena, and Apollon. At the first it was built in honor of Apollon only." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.38.1
V) PHALERON Village in Attika
"The Greeks who opposed the barbarians [the Persian armies of Xerxes] resolved not to rebuild the sanctuaries burnt down by them, but to leave them for all time as memorials of their hatred. This too is the reason why ... the Athenian temples of Hera on the road to Phaleron and of Demeter at Phaleron, still remain half-burnt even at the present day." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 10.35.2
VII) ELEUSIS Town & Sanctuary in Attika
"There are no certainly genuine works of [the mythical poet] Mousaios except a hymn to Demeter written for the Lykomidai [hereditary torch-bearers of the Eleusinian Mysteries]." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.22.7
Aelian, Historical Miscellany 12. 31 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"Let me give you the names of Greek winds that were taken seriously by the ancients. They had one called Pramnian, which was apparently sacred to Demeter."
For the Mysteries of Demeter at Eleusis and the related festivals of Athens (the Thesmophoria and others) see the Eleusinian Mysteries page (still under construction).
CULT IN MEGARIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) MEGARA Chief City of Megaris
"They say that the city received its name when [the mythical king] Kar the son of Phoroneus was king in this land. It was then they say that sanctuaries of Demeter were first made by them, and then that men used the name Megara (Chambers). This is their history according to the Megarians themselves." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.39.5
"Here too [on the citadel of Megara] is what is called the Chamber (Megaron) of Demeter, built, they say, by Kar when he was king." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.40.6
"[In Megara] there is also a sanctuary of Demeter Thesmophoros (Lawgiver)." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.42.6
"Near the Town-hall [of Megara] is a rock. They name it Anaklethris (Recall), because Demeter (if the story be credible) here too called her daughter back when she was wandering in search of her. Even in our day the Megarian women hold a performance that is a mimic representation of the legend." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.43.2
"When you have gone down to the port [of Megara], which to the present day is called Nisaia, you see a sanctuary of Demeter Malophoros (Sheep-bearer or Apple-bearer). One of the accounts given of the surname is that those who first reared sheep (or grew apples) in the land named Demeter Malophoros. The roof of the temple one might conclude has fallen in through age." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.44.3
CULT IN AIGINA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) AIGINA Chief Town of Aigina
"The rich men of Aigina gained mastery over the people, who had risen against them with [the historical rebel] Nikodromos, then made them captive and led them out to be killed. Because of this a curse fell upon them, which despite all their efforts they could not get rid of by sacrifice, and they were driven out of their island before the goddess [Demeter] would be merciful to them. They had taken seven hundred of the people alive; as they led these out for slaughter one of them escaped from his bonds and fled to the temple gate of Demeter Thesmophoros (the Lawgiver), where he laid hold of the door-handles and clung to them. They could not tear him away by force, so they cut off his hands and carried him off, and those hands were left clinging fast to the door-handles [and for this they were cursed]." - Herodotus, Histories 6.91
CULT IN KORINTHIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) KORINTHOS Chief City of Korinthia
"[On the akropolis of Korinthos there is a] temple of the Moirai (Fates) and that of Demeter and Kore (the Maid) have images that are not exposed to view." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.4.7
"What is reported of Plemnaios [mythical king of Korinthos and a grandson of Poseidon], the son of Peratos, seemed to me very wonderful. All the children borne to him by his wife died the very first time they wailed. At last Demeter took pity on Plemnaios, came to Aigialea [Sikyonia] in the guise of a strange woman, and reared for Plemnaios his son Orthopolis." - Pausanias, Guide to Greee 2.5.8
"On the way down to the plain [in the city of Korinthos] is a sanctuary of Demeter, said to have been founded by Plemnaeis as a thank-offering to the goddess for the rearing of his son." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.11.2
CULT IN SIKYONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) Near SIKYON Chief City of Sikyonia
"On the direct road from Sikyon to Phlios, on the left of the road and just about ten stades from it, is a grove called Pyraia, and in it a sanctuary of Demeter Prostasia (Patron-Goddess or Protector) and Kore (the Maid). Here the men celebrate a festival by themselves, giving up to the women the temple called Nymphon for the purposes of their festival. In the Nymphon are images of Dionysos, Demeter, and Kore, with only their faces exposed." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.11.3
II) KELEIA Village in Sikyonia
"Keleai is some five stades distant from the city [of Sikyon, Sikyonia], and here they celebrate the Orgia (Mysteries) in honor of Demeter, not every year but every fourth year. The initiating priest is not appointed for life, but at each celebration they elect a fresh one, who takes, if he cares to do so, a wife. In this respect their custom differs from that at Eleusis, but the actual celebration is modelled on the Eleusinian rites. The Phliasians themselves admit that they copy the 'performance' at Eleusis. They say that it was Dysaules, the brother of Keleos, who came to their land and established the Orgia (Mysteries), and that he had been expelled from Eleusis by Ion, when Ion, the son of Xuthos, was chosen by the Athenians to be commander-in-chief in the Eleusinian war. Now I cannot possibly agree with the Phliasians in supposing that an Eleusinian was conquered in battle and driven away into exile, for the war terminated in a treaty before it was fought out, and Eumolpos himself remained at Eleusis. But it is possible that Dysaules came to Phlios for some other reason than that given by the Phliasians. I do not believe either that he was related to Keleos, or that he was in any way distinguished at Eleusis, otherwise Homer would never have passed him by in his poems. For Homer is one of those who have written in honor of Demeter, and when he is making a list of those to whom the goddess taught the mysteries he knows nothing of an Eleusinian named Dysaules. These are the verses:- 'She to Triptolemus taught, and to Diokles, driver of horses, also to mighty Eumolpos, to Keleos, leader of peoples, cult of the holy rites, to them all her mystery telling.'
At all events, this Dysaules, according to the Phliasians, established the mysteries here, and he it was who gave to the place the name Keleai. I have already said that the tomb of Dysaules is here. So the grave of Aras was made earlier, for according to the account of the Phliasians Dysaules did not arrive in the reign of Aras, but later." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.14.1-4
"The graves of the children of Aras [a mythical king of Sikyonia] are, in my opinion, on the Arantine Hill [near Sikyon, Sikyonia] and not in any other part of the land. On the top of them are far-seen gravestones, and before the celebration of the Orgia (Mysteries) of Demeter the people look at these tombs and call Aras and his children to the libations." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.12.5
III) PHLIOUS Town of Sikyonia
"On the citadel [of Phlious, Sikyonia] is another enclosure, which is sacred to Demeter, and in it are a temple and statue of Demeter and her daughter [Kore] ... As you go down from the citadel you see ... a theater. Not far from it is a sanctuary of Demeter and old, seated images." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.13.5
CULT IN ARGOLIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) ARGOS Chief City of Argolis
"The Greeks who dispute most the Athenian claim to antiquity and the gifts they say they have received from the gods are the Argives ... It is said, then, that when Demeter came to Argos she was received by [the ancient King] Pelasgos into his home, and that Khrysanthis, knowing about the rape of Kore (the Maid), related the story to her. Afterwards Trokhilos, the Priest of the Orgia (Mysteries), fled, they say, from Argos because of the enmity of Agenor, came to Attika and married a woman of Eleusis, by whom he had two children, Eubouleus and Triptolemos. That is the account given by the Argives." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.14.1
”The ritual performed at the pit hard by [at Argos] they say was instituted by Nikostratos, a native. Even at the present day they throw into the pit burning torches in honour of Kore who is daughter of Demeter." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.22.3
"[The historic Makedonian general] Pyrrhos was wounded in the head [in an attack on the city of Argos]. It is said that his death was caused by a blow from a tile thrown by a woman. The Argives however declare that it was not a woman who killed him but Demeter in the likeness of a woman. This is what the Argives themselves relate about his end, and Lykeas, the guide for the neighborhood, has written a poem which confirms the story. They have a sanctuary of Demeter, built at the command of the oracle, on the spot where Pyrrhos died, and in it Pyrrhos is buried." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.13.8
"The bones of [the historical Makedonian general] Pyrrhos lie in the sanctuary of Demeter [in the city of Argos], beside which, as I have shown in my account of Attika, his death occurred. At the entrance to this sanctuary of Demeter you can see a bronze shield of Pyrrhos hanging dedicated over the door." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.21.4
"Facing the tomb of the women [called Haliai in Argos] is a sanctuary of Demeter, surnamed Pelasgis from Pelasgos, son of Triopas, its founder, and not far from the sanctuary is the grave of Pelasgos." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.22.1
“To Demeter Pygaie (of the Gates), to whom Pelasgian Akrisios builded this shrine [in Argos], and to her daughter under the earth [Persephone], Timodemos of Naukratis dedicated these gifts as a tithe of his grains. For so he vowed." - Callimachus, Epigrams 40 (from A.P. 13.25)
II) Near MYKENAI Town in Argolis
"By the side of the road from Mykenai to Argos [in Argolis] ... there is on the left a place called Mysia and a sanctuary of Demeter Mysia, so named from a man Mysios who, say the Argives, was one of those who entertained Demeter. Now this sanctuary has no roof, but in it is another temple, built of burnt brick, and wooden images of Kore (the Maid), Plouton [Haides] and Demeter." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.18.3
III) TROIZENOS Town in Argolis
"Above the temple of Poseidon [in Troizenos, Argolis] is Demeter Thesmophoros (Law-Bringer), set up, they say, by [mythical king] Althepos." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.32.8
IV) EILEI Village in Argolis
"There is a road from Troizenos to Hermione [in Argolis] ... [there is] a place called Eilei, where are sanctuaries of Demeter and of her daughter Kore (Maid). Seawards, on the borders of Hermionis, is a sanctuary of Demeter surnamed Thermasia (Warmth)." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.34.6
V) MT BOUPORTHMOS Mountain in Argolis
"[On the coast between Troizenos and Hermione, Argolis there is] a mountain, projecting into the sea from the Peloponnesos, called Bouporthmos (Ox-ford). On Bouporthmos has been built a sanctuary of Demeter and her daughter [Kore]." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.34.8
VI) HERMIONE Town in Argolis
"[In the ruins of the old city of Hermione, Argolis] there are also circuits of large unhewn stones, within which they perform mystic ritual to Demeter." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.34.10
"[In the new city of Hermione, Argolis] Sanctuaries have also been built of Demeter Thermasia (Warmth), one at the border towards Troizenia, as I have stated above, while there is another in Hermione itself." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.34.12
"The object most worthy of mention [in the new city of Hermione, Argolis] is a sanctuary of Demeter on Pron. This sanctuary is said by the Hermionians to have been founded by Klymenos, son of Phoroneos, and Khthonia (of the Earth), sister of Klymenos (the Famed One). But the Argive account is that when Demeter came to Argolis, while Atheras and Mysios afforded hospitality to the goddess, Kolontas neither received her into his home nor paid her any other mark of respect. His daughter Khthonia disapproved of this conduct. They say that Kolontas was punished by being burnt up along with his house, while Khthonia was brought to Hermione by Demeter, and made the sanctuary for the Hermionians. At any rate, the goddess herself is called Khthonia, and Khthonia is the name of the festival they hold in the summer of every year. The manner of it is this. The procession is headed by the priests of the gods and by all those who hold the annual magistracies; these are followed by both men and women. It is now a custom that some who are still children should honor the goddess in the procession. These are dressed in white, and wear wreaths upon their heads. Their wreaths are woven of the flower called by the natives cosmosandalon, which, from its size and color, seems to me to be an iris; it even has inscribed upon it the same letters of mourning (ai). Those who form the procession are followed by men leading from the herd a full-grown cow, fastened with ropes, and still untamed and frisky. Having driven the cow to the temple, some loose her from the ropes that she may rush into the sanctuary, others, who hitherto have been holding the doors open, when they see the cow within the temple, close the doors. Four old women, left behind inside, are they who dispatch the cow. Whichever gets the chance cuts the throat of the cow with a sickle. Afterwards the doors are opened, and those who are appointed drive up a second cow, and a third after that, and yet a fourth. All are dispatched in the same way by the old women, and the sacrifice has yet another strange feature. On whichever of her sides the first cow falls, all the others must fall on the same. Such is the manner in which the sacrifice is performed by the Hermionians. Before the temple stand a few statues of the women who have served Demeter as her priestess, and on passing inside you see seats on which the old women wait for the cows to be driven in one by one, and images, of no great age, of Athena and Demeter. But the thing itself that they worship more than all else, I never saw, nor yet has any other man, whether stranger or Hermionian. The old women may keep their knowledge of its nature to themselves.
There is also another temple, all round which stand statues. This temple is right opposite that of Khthonia, and is called that of Klymenos [Haides], and they sacrifice to Klymenos here ... Behind the temple of Khthonia are three places which the Hermionians call that of Klymenos, that of Plouton, and the Akherousian Lake. All are surrounded by fences of stones, while in the place of Klymenos there is also a chasm in the earth. Through this, according to the legend of the Hermionians, Herakles brought up [Kerberos] the Hound of Hell." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.35.4-8
“In Aigialos is a descent to Haides, where Demeter got new of her daughter, and, it is said, she granted them a remission of the ferryman’s [Kharon’s] fee." - Callimachus, Hecale Frag 31 (from Suidas "Porthmeion")
“The people of Hermione [in the Argolis] worship Demeter and sacrifice to her in splendid and impressive style; and they call her festival the Khthonia (Festival of the Earth). At any rate I have heard that the largest cattle allow themselves to be led from the herd by the priestess to the altar of Demeter and be sacrificed. And Aristokles bears witness to my statement when he says somewhere: ‘Demeter, goddess of abundance, thou dost manifest thyself both to the people of Sikelia an to the sons of Erekhtheus [the Athenians], but this among the dwellers in Hermione is judged a mighty feat: the bull of surpassing size from a herd, which not even ten men can master, this bull an aged woman, coming by herself, leads by the ear alone to this altar, and he follows as a child after its mother. Thine, even thine, Demeter, is the power. Show us thy favour and grant that every farm in Hermione may thrive exceedingly." - Aelian, On Animals 11.4
"Anth' Hermionos (Instead of Hermione): [Applied] to those who preserving shrines similarly. For Hermione, a city in the Peloponnese, has an inviolate sanctuary of Kore [Persephone] and Demeter, so that it provided protection for suppliants." - Suidas "Anth' Hermionos"
VII) DIDYMOS Village in Argolis (near Mases)
"There is here [in the place called Didymos near Mases, Argolis] a sanctuary of Apollo, a sanctuary of Poseidon, and in addition one of Demeter. The images are of white marble, and are upright." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.36.3
VIII) Near LERNA Village in Argolis
"On returning to the straight road [beyond Lerna, Argolis], you will cross the [river] Erasinos and reach the river Kheimarros (Winter-torrent). Near it is a circuit of stones, and they say that Plouton [Haides], after carrying off, according to the story, Kore, the daughter of Demeter, descended here to his fabled kingdom underground. Lerna is, I have already stated, by the sea, and here they celebrate Orgia (Mysteries) in honor of Demeter Lernaia (of Lerna)." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.36.7
"There is a sacred grove beginning on the mountain they call Pontinos [near Lerna, Argolis] ... At this mountain begins the grove, which consists chiefly of plane trees, and reaches down to the sea. Its boundaries are, on the one side the river Pantinos, on the other side another river, called Amymone, after the daughter of Danaus. Within the grave are images of Demeter Prosymne and of Dionysos. Of Demeter there is a seated image of no great size. Both are of stone." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 2.37.1
- Callimachus, Hymns & Fragments - Greek C3rd BC
- Herodotus, Histories - Greek History C5th BC
- Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd AD
- Aelian, On Animals - Greek Natural History C2nd - C3rd AD
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st BC - C1st AD
- Suidas - Byzantine Lexicographer C10th AD