Ceres, a Roman Grain Goddess

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Ceres was worshiped by the Romans as the Goddess of grain. She is associated with all the aspects of grain growing and had a series of festivals for planting, ripening and harvesting.

Blessing the Seed
The festival of Feriae Sementiva is an important festival in Rome on two separate days in late January and was dedicated to Ceres and Tellus. The dates were moveable but they were announced by the priests ahead of time. The seed was blessed so that the seed planting would be auspicious and the festival was celebrated again a week later in case it happened to be raining on the first day. The festival is described in Ovid’s Fasti on January 24th, although in a somewhat elliptical fashion. We have the invocation in Latin for Blessing the Seed, courtesy of the Roman Catholic Church which carried forward the Roman Pagan liturgy as the Christian liturgy. This version uses masculine forms, but they could just as well be feminine. Agriculture, Yorkshire Banking Co. 1899, photo by Mark Stevenson, used by permission

Benedictio Seminis
Omnipotens sempiterne deus. Creator generis humani suppliciter tuam clementiam exoramus. Ut hoc semen quod in tuo nomine serimus in agros nostros caelestia benedictione benidicere et multiplicare digneris atque ad maturitatem perducas ut per universum orbem terrarum con laudetur dextura tua. per dominum nostrum.

Spelt (Triticum spelta) is a primitive form of wheat that was required for use in the rituals for Ceres and in the Temple of Vesta. There aren’t many myths known about the Roman Gods and Goddesses, but there is a thread of one about Ceres in the Aeneid. Virgil gives a reason for the use of salted spelt cakes as offerings in rituals for her. He tells how when the refugees from Troy finally reached Italy, they made a meal of what little food was left to them, the spelt which had become soaked in salt water from the long sea voyage. However they also had venison steaks and wine, which apparently made up the minimally acceptable meal in Roman aristocratic fantasies. [fuggle26]

In Rome, Ceres is especially associated with the ripening of the grain. Cato gives explicit instructions on how to do an offering to Ceres before harvesting spelt, wheat, barley, beans and turnip seeds. The instructions are given in section CXXXIV of De Agri Cultura. Cato says that one should offer, among other things, cakes to Janus, Jupiter and Juno and he gives the exact recipe for the cakes. Virgil also gives instructions about the ceremonies in the Georgics, here given in the John Dryden translation:

Thus in the spring, and thus in summer’s heat,
Before the sickles touch the ripening wheat,
On Ceres call; and let the laboring hind [harvester]
With oaken wreaths his hollow temples bind:
On Ceres let him call; and Ceres praise,
With rustic dances and with country lays.
Ceres is so important to agriculture that she is one of the best known Goddesses in English, like Apollo or Venus. Shakespeare represents her as saying kind words to a newly engaged couple in The Tempest, Act IV, Scene 1, lines 110-118. [fuggle26]
Earth’s increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty,
Vines with clust’ring bunches growing,
Plants with goodly burden bowing;

Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest.
Scarcity and want shall shun you,
Ceres’ blessing so is on you.

bread loaves, preserved at Pompeii, from an old engraving

This type of bread is reproduced in a short 6 minute video on this Open Culture website. The link is here at Pompeii bread and they also have a recipe, but it's in English or European measurements. It looks really good!

De Agri Cultura, by Marcus Cato, with English translation by W. D. Hooper, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1936. This is one of the Loeb Classical Library dual editions, and gives the exact form of the invocations in Latin.
• The Fasti of Ovid are published as Publii Ovidii Nasonis, Fastorum Libiri Sex edited with translation by James G. Frazer, MacMillan and Co., Ltd., London, 1929.

© 2007, last updated 2/12/2016, piereligion.org/ceres.html