Demeter. Goddess of grain and agriculture.
She was known mostly as the Giver of Food and Grain or “She of the Grain” for short. However since she presided over something as vital as the cycles of plants and seasons the Ancient Greeks also referred to her as Tesmophoros or “The Bringer of Laws” and organized a women-only festival called Tesmophoria to celebrate her as such. Other epithets include: “Green” “The Giver of Gifts” “The Bearer of Food” and “Great Mother.”
She is one of the original Twelve Olympians. Her grief over her daughter Persephone – who has to spend one-third of the year with her husband Hades in the Underworld after being abducted by him – is the reason why there is winter, her joy when she gets her back coincides with the fertile spring and summer months. (read my Persephone post for more on this story)
At its most fundamental level the story of Persephone ans Demeter is a story about a mother’s grief at the loss of her beloved daughter. Told from the perspective of the mother, it is more Demeter’s story than Persephone’s. At once powerless and inconsolable Demeter appears more mortal than divine.
Initially Demeter is impotent to set things right. It is this sense of helplessness that sets off her sorrow at the loss of Persephone mirroring the anguish that must have been felt by mortal mothers who lost their daughters to marriage each day. But it is Demeter who does something never seen before in Greek mythology - she dares to defy the will of Zeus her husband.
After all for most of the year Persephone lives with her mother in the light of her mother’s earthly domain. Though life can never return to the way it was before the abduction most mortal women could envy Demeter’s achievement. In this way the story was liberating for ancient women an example of a mother’s triumph over all else.