Demeter, in Latin, Ceres, the daughter of Saturn and Rhea, was at one time married to her brother, Zeus, by whom she became the mother of Persephone. By her other brother, Poseidon, she is said to have borne the winged horse, Orion, which is but another name for Pegasus. As her younger sister, Juno, represents the Church Specific, so Demeter represents the Church Universal; or as Juno, the queen of heaven, represents spiritual good, so Ceres, the patroness of agriculture and the fruit of the earth, represents natural good. And genuine natural good is the mother of natural intelligence on the one hand, (the horse), and of the natural affection of truth on the other, (Persephone).
The most prominent event in the history of Ceres is the rape of her daughter, Persephone, by Pluto, which evidently signifies the separation of the affection of truth from natural good in the Church universal, whence results that sadness and mourning and lack of spiritual progress and increase which are characteristic of the gentile nations, and which are depicted by the woeful mourning of Ceres for her lost daughter, for whom she sought in vain in her roamings through all regions of the earth, while the soil itself everywhere refused to yield its increase.
The name "Ceres" is explained by philosophers as coming originally from the same root as the word Terra, the earth; and it is also identified with the ancient German "Hertha," the goddess of nature, from which name, again, comes our English word "earth;" and if we go far enough back we shall find all this connected with the Hebrew Eretz, the earth. The Greek name "Demeter," on the other hand, is derived by some from "gemeter," the "earth mother" or mother earth; by others from "di-meter," the "god-mother," the great mother of the gods, identical with Gaea, Rhea, Cybele, and Ops. In any case she still represents the Church in its widest sense, the Church universal, which is diffused throughout all the earth, and all the earths.
The fact is that Ceres, in the Ancient Church, occupied the same place and to a great extent held the same attributes and meaning as Gaea in the Most Ancient Church, and as Rhea or Cybele in that Church in its decline; that is, as modern interpreters put it, "personifying not the dead matter which composes the earth, but the passive productive principle which pervades it.'' This passive and at the same time living ''principle'' is the receptive and at the same time reactive power inherent in the earth, which, on the spiritual plane, is the same thing as that receptivity of spiritual life from the Lord which constitutes the fundamental or most universal characteristic of the Lord's Church with all mankind.
The bewildering multitude of heathen gods and goddesses will be greatly reduced and simplified when we realize that many, nay most of them are simply so many different names for the same spiritual principles, regarded in different aspects or planes, and by different ages and nations. Thus the Phrygian goddess Cybele, whose worship later on spread throughout Greece and Italy, is clearly the same as Ceres; like the latter she is the goddess of nature or of the earth; like the latter she is called "the great mother,'' who has taught agriculture to mankind, and who is roaming through all the earth, grieving and seeking for a lost love. The Roman goddess, Ops, or ''Wealth,'' is another form of Ceres, the ''Bona Dea,'' who gave fruitfulness to the earth, and who was especially celebrated on the first of May, which was indeed named from her.
Demeter and Ceres were, however, the most honored names under which the goddess of the standing corn and the harvest, and of agriculture and common civilization in general, was most universally worshiped. She it was who first taught uncultured men how to plow and sow and reap, and she is represented as continually travelling over the earth, teaching these most useful arts to distant nations, often accompanied by Persephone and Bacchus. Her worship was therefore universal among the ancients, especially among farmers and the simple country people, by whom fanes were erected in her honor in every village. Virgil thus describes her rustic sacrifices:
Her annual celebrations, the Cerealia, included the peculiar custom of hunting a fox to whose tail a torch had been attached. This curiously reminds us of the story of Samson in the Bible, who caught three hundred foxes, and, turning tail to tail, put firebrands between the tails and, setting them loose, burnt up the "standing corn" and vineyards and olives of the Philistines. (Judges 15: 4, 5.) The Roman custom and the Hebrew story may have the same original meaning, expressing the antagonism of genuine natural good for the falsities of faith alone. (See New Church Life, 1893, pp. 179, 180) It is self-evident that Ceres, as the patroness of the corn and the harvests, represents genuine natural good, or good works on the natural plane, such as are to be found not only among the intelligent members of the Church itself, but also among the simple in the Church and among all gentiles throughout the earth.
In form the representatives of Ceres resemble those of Juno,—fair, matronly, and majestic of aspect, but with a milder and often somewhat melancholy countenance. She is clad in flowing robes and wears upon her head a wreath of the ears of corn. In one hand she holds a staff, and in the other sometimes a bunch of poppies, sometimes a sickle, or a sheaf of grain, or a cornucopia from which a wealth of fruit and flowers is falling upon the earth,—the noble personification of genuine natural good, or good works, in the Lord's universal Church on the earth.