The conventional wisdom is that Demeter is an Earth Mother deific – as attested via both the mythology and also, speculatively, via the linguistics.
Now, my contention is that this is not ‘inaccurate’ per se – just ‘incomplete’; and potentially the result of the linguistic analysis only seeing what previous generations of academics thought they should see, expected to see, rather than what might actually have been there.
Conventionally, “Demeter” is interpreted in one of several ways – either with the “De-” of “De-Meter” being some sort of phonetic equivalent to “Ge” of “Gaia” and therefore directly being “Earth Mother”; the “De-” being a contraction for a derivative of PIE ‘Dhghem’ [i.e. ‘Earth’], and therefore “Earth Mother” again when placed in concert with “-Meter”; or, perhaps more interestingly, that the “De-” is supposed to stand for a word for Grain, thus rendering Her as “Mother of the Grain”.
Except here’s the thing. We KNOW that the Indo-European Mother Deific often has a ‘parallel conceptry’, and non-exclusively at that, as BOTH the Earth AND as a Heavenly figure. I have written about this quite extensively with regard to Vedic Aditi – the Brahmana ritual manuals are often quite pointed in observing that Aditi, otherwise the ‘limitless’ and Solar Goddess of the Skies, is also the Earth; and we find a consistent pattern of “Heaven / Aditi” and “Earth” co-occurrences in doublet form in the actual Vedic hymnals themselves.
So, with that in mind – I think it may prove interesting to re-evaluate the “De-” of “De-Meter”, and ask the obvious question: is this in fact the same “De” we so frequently find in reference to the Skies, the Heavens, the Bright and Shining?
We already know that the Wife of the Sky Father may occasionally be hailed in such a manner – Dione, for instance, where the “Dio-” is an intentional equivalent value to that found in the first particle of the Sky Father [Dyaus Pitar , (D)Zeus Pater, etc.]. [The “Ju-” of “Juno” and the “Ju-” of “Jupiter” are another shining co-occurrent example]
Therefore, a “Sky Mother” to go with the “Sky Father” would not seem unexpected. And this is, after all, exactly what we find in at least one Vedic Hymnal wherein Aditi and Dyaus are explicitly pared as the Mother and Father respectively of the Maruts.
We often make the somewhat erroneous presumption that the Gods are ‘bound’ to rather limited portfolio associations and expressions of Their Essence. That an Earth deific MUST only be an Earth deific, and would be almost elementally opposed in a dialectical sense to that of Sky.
The evidence often does little to support this – at least, in the proper and more expansive Indo-European mythic and religious-scriptural canons.
Rather, the deepa revelations as to the underpinning ‘meanings’ and saliency of these Great Gods , is rarely so simple as to be a mere ‘one association per figure’. Although, to be sure, with a complicating-confounding factor that as the mythology develops, there is frequently a ‘forgetting’ that particular ‘Aspects’ of a single Deific are, in fact, Aspects keyed to particular associations … and these become reified into semi-separate deifics all up. We have previously covered this pattern with, for instance, the ‘Three-Three’ split of the Sky Father in the Greek understanding into Ouranos, Kronos, Zeus ; Zeus, Hades, Poseidon ; (and, of course, Dionysus – also co-identified with Hades even into Classical times, as well) .
Interestingly, there is also a degree of mythological support for the supposition that this ‘Celestial’ characterization of Demeter should be there. In my work ‘The Black Avenging Form Of The Earth Mother And The Pursuits Of The Sky Father As Solar Horseman – A Comparative Indo-European Typological Evocation’, I observed the strong coterminity of the myth of Poseidon and Demeter Erinyes and that of Vivasvan [‘Wide-Shining One’] and Saranyu/Chhaya (as well as that of Zeus and Nemesis, Zeus and Leda – but I digress). These links between the Greek and Vedic myths are so strong, and of such demonstrable shared pedigree that they must be describing the same Divine figures.
The conceptry around Saranyu is, entirely unsurprisingly, ‘Sky’ associated – we see this with various of the theonymics for Saranyu, such as “Sauri” [a female form of the Sanskrit for ‘Solar’]; and it is also possible that various of the other associations of Demeter might be similarly explained:
That of the Underworld / Afterlife and cyclical reincarnation, for instance – as there is a strong association of these spheres with the Solar and ‘High Heaven’ in more archaic Indo-European cosmology (as seen not only via the Vedic understanding, but also potentially amidst the Hittites and Norsemen – although more on all of this some other time).
It would not be hard to presume that the same process via which the ‘Underworld’ ‘descended’ for the Greeks to become something consistently under the earth rather than up in the Sky, across the Waters of the atmosphere as liminal sphere, may also have seen this (Earth) Mother deific become far more exclusively ‘Earthy’ and losing Her more overt linkage with the sphere of the Stars and the Sun likewise.
So .. Demeter – De-Meter … Earth Mother? Or Sky Mother.
As is so often the case with the intricacies of the Indo-European mythology and theology – I suspect the answer is, in fact, both.
Hail to the Indo-European Sky Mother Goddess !