Although Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she also presided over sacred law and the cycle of life and death. And she, and her daughter Persephone (Kore), were the central figures of the Eleusinian mysteries, the most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece that were replicated on the Peloponnese in the Andanian mysteries.
The daughter of Cronus and Rhea (and thus Zeus' sister), Demeter is intimately associated with the seasons. When Persephone was reputably abducted by Hades to be his wife in the underworld, Demeter cursed the world by causing plants to wither and die and the land to become desolate. Fearing the end of the world, Zeus intervened and allowed Persephone to return to her mother who joyfully began to care for the earth again.
But Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds in the underworld and was obliged to return to Hades for four months each year. These months correspond to the dry Greek summer, a period when plants are threatened with drought. In the autumn, when Persephone returns from the underworld and is reunited with her mother, seeds are planted and the cycle of growth begins anew.
In Ancient Phigaleia, Demeter is referred to as Demeter Melaina, (black). This is because Demeter, when she was searching for Persephone, dressed in black and sought refuge in a cave on Mount Elaios. As David, a visitor to the Ark, explains: "There is so much history in this area including the local legend of the Goddess Demeter and "the nightmare cave". This tale comes in its original form from the Roman traveller Pausanias. It is a hugely complex mix of different Greek myths ...
Demeter (the Goddess of agriculture, fertility, sacred law and the harvest), fled the amorous advances of Poseidon, a prodigious casanova and also her brother! She hid among the herds of Onkios in the shape of a horse, but Poseidon assumed the form of a stallion and coupled with her.
In another story, Hades, God of the Underworld, fell in love with Persephone (the daughter of Demeter), abducted her, and carried her off to his layer where he raped her. The Rape of Persephone has been shown in numerous sculptures and paintings, most notably by Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
No wonder Demeter wanted to hid away in a cave! And little wonder that the Phigaleians came to worship her as Demeter Melaina ('black'). However, at some point, they neglected her and allowed the wooden statue erected in her honour to burn in a fire. Then there was famine and the Oracle at Delphi said that unless the people appeased her with offerings, "soon will she make you eat each other and feed on your children".
Perhaps through these stories nightmares were born?
I like the image of a hidden cave, still lying undiscovered somewhere in the mountains around Ancient Phigaleia, a place where dreams, visions and nightmares were brought to life! Or perhaps the people of the modern village of Phigaleia still keep the secret, and have passed it down through generations. Well, I can dream no? In such a place myth, history and nature blend together, and mix with modern life. But you can feel there is something special in the air, in the land...in The Earth."
Pausanias Description of Greece