Demeter, The Goddess of the Harvest, had a daughter named Persephone, whose gay laughter was the delight of all the gods. Whenever Demeter went down to earth to tend the trees and fields, Persephone came dancing alone. Flowers sprang up from the earth wherever Persephone’s feet lightly touched down. Her mother loved her dearly and kept a very close watch on her.
Hades, the god of the underworld, rarely noticed much that happened on earth. But he could not help but fall in love with Persephone, whose beauty pierced even to the dark depths of his world. He wanted his delightful young goddess for his queen. One day, while persephone was collecting flowers in a meadow far away from her mother, Hades saw his opportunity. The earth trembled and cracked. Hades raced up to the surface of the earth in his dark chariot drawn by four black horses and grabbed Persephone. She was terrified. But before she could scream, they were already racing back through a cleft into the cold, dreary depths of the underworld.
Down and down they went until at last they reached the realm of the dead. There, in that joyless realm, Hades made Persephone his queen. He gave her gold, fine jewels and a throne made from black marble, but none of this brought her any joy. She longed to return to her mother, the sunshine and the world where colorful flowers bloomed.
All was grey in the land of Hades. There was no sun, moon or stars. There were no flowers and no birds to sing of the delights of nature. There was in fact only one tree that bore fruit, a pomegranate. But, Persephone knew she dared not eat any food from the realm of the dead. For she had heard that if she did so, then she would never be allowed to leave. Gradually all hope left her in this dismal grey place, and her heart turned to ice.
Meanwhile, above on the earth, Demeter looked everywhere for her lost daughter. She searched high and low, but could not find her anywhere. Wracked with grief, she could no longer tend the fields and forests of the earth. All of nature wept with her. The flowers wilted, stalks of grain bent to the ground and trees lost all of their leaves. Nothing would grow while she grieved. Soon the animals and the people were starving for lack of food. The gods begged Demeter to bless the earth once more, but she was too sad. Nothing would grow until she found her beloved Persephone.
Demeter’s search lasted many moons. In her misery she grew old and grey, until at last one day she met a swineherd who had seen Hades abduct Persephone. Her great sadness then turned to anger. Demeter hurried to Zeus and demanded that he command Hades to give Persephone back. Without her daughter, Demeter would never be able to give her blessings to the earth again. Zeus could not let the entire world turn cold and die, so he ordered Hades to send Persephone back to her mother. Hades new better than to defy Zeus. So he released Persephone.
The reunion of mother and daughter was a beautiful sight. The entire world celebrated. Persephone skipped once more and flowers sprang up wherever her feet touched the earth. And Demeter was once again a radiant and beautiful goddess blessing the bountiful land. All throughout the land grain and fruit grew in abundance.
However, during her long wait, Persephone had forgotten the warning about not eating in the realm of the dead. She had mindlessly tasted six of the sweet seeds from the pomegranate fruit. When Zeus rescued her, Hades demanded justice for the fruit that she had eaten and Persephone realized that she would have to return to his realm. Zeus, in his fairness, decided that Persephone would spend one month in the underworld for each of the seeds she has eaten. Every year she would spend six months with Hades, and the other six with her mother Demeter.
And so, every year when Persephone goes down to be queen in the realm of hades, Demeter grieves and nothing grows. It is winter on earth. When Persephone returns six months later, all the earth bursts into bloom. It Is Spring. Mother and daughter rejoice and the fields are fertile once more. So progresses the cycle of the seasons on earth.
Demeter, however, is a loving goddess and does not like to see the people suffering during the cold winter months. So she scattered her golden grain over all the fertile lands and taught people how to tend it, to sow it in the spring and to reap it in the autumn. Then she showed them how to grind it and knead it into dough. And lastly, she taught them how to bake it with fire into tasty loaves of bread so that they would have plenty to eat throughout the entire year.