Demeter is the goddess of summer and harvest. If is she who coaxes the seed to sprout, and she who, if she smiles upon you, can bring a bountiful harvest. Her power is vast, and power is attractive to many. One such was Zeus. Demeter got pregnant (everyone does, with Zeus) and in time had a lovely daughter named Persephone.
Persephone grew up to be very smart, very beautiful, and very sheltered. Many eligible gods tried to court her, but her mother Demeter wouldn’t let anyone come calling. Well, eventually most gods just gave up and went away. They figured at some point Persephone would choose to leave the home and they could try their suits again.
Hades, king of the underworld, didn’t give up so easily. One day, when Persephone was gathering flowers in the field for her mother, Hades opened a hole in the ground and stole her down into his underworld. Now Hades was very pleased with himself, because he thought Persephone would clearly see what a good time he was and would surely agree to be his bride. But poor Persephone just stood there and cried, and would not take any food or drink.
Meanwhile, Demeter searched all over the surface of Gaia, Earth Mother, for her lost child. And as she searched, she cried. She refused to stop her search for any reason. Her tears salted the fields. Without her care the crops stopped producing. Almost everything green turned to brown. This was the first winter.
Finally, Demeter heard that someone had seen Persephone, and she ran to him. This was Helios, who rides the golden chariot through the sky, and sees all things. Helios reported that he had see her daughter many months ago, and she had disappeared into the ground. Now Demeter knew who held her daughter!
Demeter ran to Zeus, tears of sorrow and hope mingled on her face, and she begged him to force Hades to return her daughter. After much crying and pleading, he agreed. Zeus sent Hermes, the swift messenger, to tell Hades he must relinquish the daughter of Demeter.
Hermes stood before Hades at a respecful distance and told him what Zeus had said. Hades was upset, but also secretly a bit relieved. He had no idea what to do with crying people, and Persephone wouldn’t stop crying. But when she heard the good news, Persephone stopped crying and looked so delighted that Hades remembered why he’d stolen her in the first place. He tried to convince her to stay. But Persephone would not be swayed, and Hades knew it was no use.
Now here is the part where lacking worldly knowledge was not good for Persephone. She didn’t know that anyone who eats from Hades’ table must stay with him in the underworld forever. And Hades said “Sure, you want to go, that’s fine. But you haven’t eaten or drank anything the whole long time you’ve been here. Surely you will consent to a farewell feast?” She did not want to stay that long, but he pressed, and finally she felt (for she had not been taught that “No.” is a compete sentence) it would be too rude to refuse.
At the fest, Persephone was too anxious to see her mother to eat much, but she did nibble on a pomegranate, eating 4 seeds. Afterward, Hades returned her to her to her mother.
When Persephone arrived on the surface of Gaia, Earth Mother, the flowers began to bloom to welcome her back. This was the first spring.
Now usually one bite of underworld food and that’s it, no sunlight for you. But no one can defy the word of Zeus, and Zeus had decreed the return of Persephone to her mother Demeter. So return she did. Yet the pomegranate seeds bound Persephone to Hades.
This is why each winter Persephone returns to the underworld, to rule as its queen beside Hades her king while her mother Demeter mourns and refuses to tend the plants. And every spring Persephone rises again to rejoin her mother and breathe the life into the spring.