The Hymn to Demeter is an ancient Greek hymn attributed to the legendary poet Homer, although the authorship is sometimes (as with most of these things!) debated. This hymn is part of a larger body of ancient Greek religious poetry known as the Homeric Hymns. It tells the story of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, and her daughter Persephone. This story was central to the Mysteries celebrated at Ancient Eleusis, known as the Eleusinian Mysteries.
In the narrative, Persephone is abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld, while she is picking flowers in a meadow. Demeter, her grief-stricken mother, embarks on a quest to find her missing daughter. During her search, Demeter neglects her divine duties as the goddess of agriculture, causing famine and suffering in the mortal world.
Eventually, Demeter is helped by the Goddess Hekate who takes Demeter to Helios, the God of the Sun who sees all. Finally she learns that her daughter had been taken by Hades and appeals to the gods for their help. Zeus intervenes and arranges for Hermes to negotiate with Hades for Persephone's return from his realm. However, because Persephone had consumed pomegranate seeds during her time in the underworld, she must spend a third of each year there, as the wife of Hades and his Queen. When Persephone is returned Hekate offers to become Persephone's guide and companion during the two journeys she has to undertake each year, going down into the realm of Hades and returning again. This emphasis Hekate's role as a Liminal Goddess who is able to travel between the realms, a quality she holds in common with Hermes and one that might account for the frequency we find Hekate and Hermes depicted or mentioned together.
The story of Demeter and Persephone also explains the changing of the seasons, as Demeter's sorrow during Persephone's absence causes winter, and her joy at Persephone's return brings spring and summer. Likewise, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter explores themes of maternal love, grief, and the cyclical nature of life, death, and rebirth. It is also associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, a significant religious cult in ancient Greece that celebrated Demeter and Persephone and revealed to initiates something that took away their fear of death and dying.
Overall, the hymn is a poignant and enduring piece of Greek mythology that provides insight into the ancient Greeks' understanding of the natural world and their religious beliefs.
For those of you who have never read it, go and take some time out to do so! There are many examples available online that are free of copyright or made available by their translators, just do a search. If you prefer to listen to texts such as this, then take a moment to watch or simply listen to Emily Carding's reading of The Homeric Hymn to Demeter which was done for the Hekate Symposium 2021 and which we also share with students who participate in the Torchlit Path with us.