One can’t talk about Sicily without considering the ancient myth of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone (aka Kore). An agricultural society from the time of the ancient Greeks, the 4000-year-old story of mother and daughter and the circle of life and death helped the leadership of the Sicilian colony establish a new civilization and create a sustainable livelihood from which Sicilians still benefit today.
The Mystery Cult of the Goddesses Demeter and Persephone
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On Sicily | Demeter and Persephone with Rosa Rizza
Rosa Rizza, Professional, Licensed Tour Guide
The practices and devotion to the pre-Christian mystery cult of Demeter and Persephone pervaded the ancient Greek world. Historians believe that such veneration existed from c. 1600 B.C.E through to 392 C.E. when it was outlawed and sent underground by the Roman Christian emperor Teodosius. Imagine it: for 2000 years generations of ancient Mediterranean people practiced the Eleusinian rites—observing the cycle of life and death through this Mother Earth goddess and her child and their deep connection. … This vital story told to understand the annual seasons and the cycle of life, supported devotees to no longer fear death, but to live life fully with a significant sacred connection to the earth and understanding their contribution to its perpetuation.
Rosa Rizza invites you to fall in love with Sicily like she has. Although she was born in Palazzolo Acreide in the province of Siracusa, her story isn’t so straightforward. At seven years old, after her first year of school with the nuns at the Church of San Paolo in her town nestled deep in the Hyblean Mountains, Rosa’s parents sold their home and bought their way to the United States. They arrived in New York City on a cold March day on the final voyage of the ship they sailed.
Rosa’s family settled in Connecticut where she received her elementary and secondary education. The day after her graduation from Plainville High School, she returned to Sicily and has never looked back–she immediately fell in love with her homeland. Possessed with moxie and a strong will, in between breast feeding and making mortgage payments, Rosa earned her undergraduate degree in art history from University of Catania. Inspired by Mount Etna, Europe’s largest and most active volcano, she later completed a two-year specialization in volcanology, also at University of Catania.
In 1995, Rosa became an official, licensed tour guide and has since worked for many tour operators and served hundreds of international tourists. A gifted and riveting storyteller, she has led tours throughout Sicily and still today experiences her native land with love in her eyes and with the joy of discovery that her clients possess. “Come visit us,” she says. “And you’ll fall in love too.”
A relief featuring the goddesses Demeter and Persephone from the last quarter of the 5th century B.C.E. on display at the Museo Civico Castello Ursino in Catania. It was found with other buried debris in the 1930s in the city’s St. Nicolelle Square.
Statuette of Demeter wearing a crown and holding in her left hand a torch and in her right hand an offering to the goddesses–a piglet held by its rear legs. This one stands with her weight distributed on her right leg with her left leg relaxed. It’s from the 4th century B.C.E. and housed in the Siracusa’s Orsi archaeological museum.
Siracusa’s Sanctuary for the Madonna of the Tears which sits adjacent to the ancient site of the Temple of Demeter