This Little Piggy Went to the Thesmophoria


Terracotta statuettes of Demeter holding a piglet have been found at archaeological sites throughout the landscapes of ancient Greater Greece. Such statuettes often indicate that at the site where they were found, there was once a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess of the earth, agriculture, and fertility. In archaeological museums throughout Sicily you will see dozens and dozens of such statuettes. I tell you this to illustrate just how pervasive and potent Demeter’s cult was in ancient Greece/Sicily.

This image of Demeter holding a piglet, which I photographed at Palazzo Branciforte in Palermo, recalls the rites celebrated during the important Thesmophoria agricultural festival. The Thesmophoria festival was an annual feast that was held during the planting season and was practiced by married women in order to promote fertility. Scholars believe that in the provinces of Siracusa, the ritual–during which women went into the countryside sequestered from men–lasted for ten days. Not much else is known about the practices of the Thesmophoria because women didn’t have writing skills to document it; however, what is known is that the sacrificing of pigs is among the religious rituals practiced.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Claire walsh says:

    Always fascinating to learn about the fertility rites and celebrations in other cultures. People were so connected to the Earth and it’s natural rhythms in ancient civilizations. It seems we have lost this in modern times. Let us celebrate spring this year and honor all of the new life around us 🌷🌷🌷

    1. Yes, Claire, it’s true. Know that Sicilians are still very much connected to the Earth’s rhythms and seasons. This is part of the joy of travelling there: reconnecting with the earth and connecting with a culture and its people who are so aware of Mother Nature’s gifts. Sicily remains a very agricultural land; hence the connection to the Earth and their recognition of it through festivals and sagras.

  2. Wow, really fascinating. And a bit alarming. Always good to know history…and I’ll never look at piglets in people’s arms the same way!

  3. Glad to know that Demeter’s beliefs are alive and well in Sicily. I think I’d feel right at home there. More reasons to go!

    1. They hold fast to these ancient deities, if even wrapped in more modern clothes.

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