Agricultural cultivation played an integral role in the shaping of human society and civilization. It is for this reason that deities related to agrarianism and, more specifically, to cereal grains, took on roles of importance in pre-Christian, Indo-European consciousness.
In the following article, we will attempt to reconstruct an Anglo-Saxon Goddess related to agriculture and food crops by exploring similar female divinities found in Rome and in Ancient Greece.
Ceres is a complex and rather multifaceted goddess who, alongside her daughter, Proserpina, played a prominent role in the agrarian rites of the Roman people. The worship of Ceres first appears among the Faliscans, where her name is recorded on an impasto urn dating from roughly 600 B.C.E . The inscription, which is written in the Faliscan tongue, reads: “Let Ceres give grain (far),” and refers specifically to the corn crop, spelt.
The etymology of Ceres’ name further elucidates her role as a provider of agrarian abundance via its Proto-Indo-European root, ḱer- , meaning “to grow,” “to make,” or “to nourish” . This root can also be seen in the shifted Proto-Germanic word, hirsijô, meaning “millet” , though the word only survived through Old High German, hirso and its modern descendants, German, hirse and Yiddish, hirzh .
Ceres was also given cult among the Umbrians, where she appeared under a variety of names, such as: Keni, Keri Arentikai, Regina Pia, Cerria Iovia, and Anaceta Ceria . Among the Oscans she was called Kerri and she bore a number of agriculturally-focused epithets, as evidenced by inscriptions on the Tablet of Agnone, dated to 250 B.C.E. While some of these Oscan names are difficult to render into modern English, others show clear ties to both human fertility and fertility of the land and crops.
“The names of these Oscan divinities suggest links to the same concepts that we will see tied to the Roman Ceres. Certain of these divinities are connected to motherhood and children, and hence human fertility: the Daughter of Ceres (Filia Cerealis), Nurse of Ceres (Nutrix Cerealis), and the Divine Progenitress (Diva Genitrix). Others are associated with agricultural fertility, in that they are associated with the water that crops require to grow or with qualities of vegetation: the Nymphs of Ceres (Lymphi Cereales); the Rain Showers of Ceres (Imbres Cereales); the Dispensers of Morning Dew (?) of Ceres (Mati Cereales); Jupiter the Irrigator (Jupiter Rigator); She Who Opens Up (the grain hull?) (Panda Pinsitrix); and She Who Flowers of Ceres (Flora Cerealis). Other divinities may be associated with the liminal/normative aspect of Ceres: She Who Stands Between (?) (Interstita) and She Who Bears the Laws Between (?) (Legifera Intera)” 
While Ceres’ association with crop fertility is, perhaps, her most well-known and most ancient attribute, it is only one of many facets connected to her cultus. As time progressed and new peoples came into contact with an ever-expanding Rome, further attributes were also added to the mix. Her role in human fertility and motherhood was also important and we can see obvious parallels between the proliferation of crops to that of human beings, with the womb acting as something of an analogue to the fertile earth . Ceres is often addressed as mater or “mother,” alma “nourishing” and genetrix “she who has borne children” and Lucretius describes her as being “swollen and big-breasted” . Ceres’ role as mater is further illuminated by her regular artistic depictions alongside her daughter, Proserpina and by her appearance in Ovid’s Fasti where she treats Triptolemus as if he were her own child.
“Nurturing Ceres abstains and gives to you, boy, poppies with warm milk to drink, the causes of sleep. It was in the midst of the night and the silences of placid sleep: she took Triptolemus in her lap and stroked him three times with her hand…” 
Ceres was also associated with wedlock – a role which makes sense given marriage’s obvious connexion to proliferation and, as Stanley-Spaeth so eloquently puts it, to the “encouragement of fertility.”
In her guise as Goddess of wedlock, Ceres was often petitioned alongside Tellus-Mater, Goddess of the fecund earth. This pairing hearkens back to the previously mentioned relationship between the womb and the earth and their analogous function in the Roman consciousness. Ovid provides us with a fairly concise picture of Tellus’ and Ceres’ roles and how the two work in tandem.
“Ceres and Terra serve a common function: the one provides the cause for crops, the other their place.” 
In the Feriae Sementivae- a festival related to the sowing of seeds – Tellus and Ceres are celebrated together, with the first half being dedicated to Tellus and the second being dedicated to Ceres. The Fordicidia, which was a festival dedicated to Tellus and the Cerealia, which was dedicated to Ceres, were only separated by four days and in some cases, the two Goddess were even conflated as being the same deity.
“Indeed if she is Ceres from bearing [gerendo]—for so you said—the earth itself is a goddess (and so she is considered; for what is she but another Tellus?).” 
Servius provides us with some information regarding the specific marriage customs attributed to Tellus and how they were enacted by newlyweds.
“Some . . . hold that Tellus is present at weddings; for she is also invoked in the auspices of weddings: for maidens, either when they first go to the house of their husband, or when they are already established there, make sacrifice to her under diverse names or rite.” 
Virgil makes reference to a similar custom involving Ceres and the sacrifice of sheep in his Aeneid.
“In the beginning they approach the shrines and they seek peace through the altars; they sacrifice sheep chosen according to custom to Ceres who bears the laws and to Phoebus and to Father Lyaeus, and before all to Juno in whose care are the chains of Marriage.” 
Servius deals with the abovementioned passage in his commentary on the Aeneid, where he relates Ceres as a Goddess who favours weddings:
“…because she was the first to wed Jove, and she is in charge of the founding of cities, as Calvus teaches: ‘She taught the sacred laws and she joined the loving bodies in weddings and established the great cities.’” 
The pig was particularly important to the cult of Ceres and her rites pertaining to marriage. Varro provides us with the best literary evidence for this association as well as the supposed reasoning behind it.
“For also our women, and especially nurses, call that part which in maidens is the mark of their womanhood porcus, as Greek women call it choeron signifying that it (that is, the sacrifice of the pig) is a worthy mark of weddings.” 
Based on this passage, the pig was clearly a potent symbol of both fertility and of womanhood as per Roman beliefs and, as such, it makes sense that they would be incorporated into the rites of wedlock – the first step in procreation and perpetuation of the family.
This last point ties into Ceres’ role as a Goddess presiding over liminality and transition. In his work, The Rites of Passage, Van Gennep suggests that religious rituals can be broken down into three stages: separation, transition and reincorporation. The first part, the separation, deals with participants being removed or “separated” from the mundane. The second part, the transition, deals with the participation in or enactment of said ritual which takes place in illo tempore or outside of profane time as per Eliadian thought . The third and final part deals with the reinsertion of participants into society, renewed or changed by their transitory experience. Ceres is intrinsically linked to this transitional experience and called upon during rites related to death, child-rearing, marriage and its dissolution .
Ceres was petitioned during two important funerary sacrifices – both of which dealt with the ritualized slaughter of Ceres’ preferred victim, the pig. The first was a cleansing sacrifice enacted to remove pollutants called, the porca praesentane and the second was called, porca praecidanea and was performed when a person was improperly buried.
“In case [one] is not buried the porca praecidanea must be offered by the heir to Tellus and Ceres; otherwise the family is not pure” 
According to Stanley-Spaeth, these funerary sacrifices were absolutely essential in the formation of the tomb as a sacred site. When the deceased’s heir sacrifices the pig, the area is consecrated and in so doing, removes the site from profane existence and into the realm of the sacred.
“Sacrificing the pig sanctifies the tomb and sets it off as a place held ‘in religious awe’ (religione). This sacrifice enables the religious laws (religiosa iura) whereby the place of internment officially becomes a tomb. This is proved, Cicero states, by the fact that a place of cremation has no special religious significance until the funerary rites, including the sacrifice of a pig, are performed. These rites consecrate the place of burial, making it a sacred place set off from the profane world. They create a boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a threshold associated with Ceres through the dedication to her of the funerary sacrifice of the pig.” 
Ceres was linked to the mundus cerialis, a pit or vault that was ritualistically opened three times a year on August 24th, October 5th and November 8th. When the vault was opened it was believed that the dead left the underworld and ventured into our realm, potentially bringing with them calamity and misfortune. If the dead were appropriately propitiated and Romans refrained from conducting public business or going into battle during this inauspicious time, the dead were more apt to leave the living be when the mundus was again closed.
“The name has been given to the mundus from that mundus which is above us, for its form is similar to it, as may be known from those who have entered into [the matter]. The elders decided that its lower part must be kept closed at all times, just as if it was consecrated to the Manes, except on those days which are written above [i.e., the three specified days for the opening], which days they judged ill-omened for the reason that at the time when those things that were secret and hidden belonging to the cult of the Manes are brought, so to speak, into the light and exposed, they did not want anything to be done at that time in the Republic. And so for those days they did not engage in battle with the enemy, nor was an army enrolled, nor was assembly held: nor was anything else taken care of in the republic except what extreme necessity urged.” 
Ceres played a chief role in the Aventine or Plebeian Triad, where she was worshipped alongside the God, Liber and his sister-consort, Libera, who would later be conflated with Proserpina. The Triad’s temple was either on or near the Aventine Hill and it played a pivotal role in Plebeian life and identity. The plebeians were a class of freemen that made up the general citizenry of Rome and who existed in opposition to the elite patrician class. The temple at Aventine was the lifeblood of the plebeian community and it doubled as a grain store where bread and grain was given to plebeian visitors in an act called frumentatio, meaning the “collection” or “distribution” of corn crops . Ceres presided over the office of the plebeian tribune – an office which gave plebeians a voice in the senate and a means to address the needs of the common citizen. According to Stanley-Spaeth, the body of a plebeian tribune was sacrosanct and an abuse of his person was considered a breach of the law and the penalty for performing such an act was death. Once the perpetrator(s) had been killed, their possessions would be taken to the temple of Ceres and sold .
Ceres’ Temple was also the headquarters of the aediles, a plebeian-only office dedicated to the maintenance and well-being of the Republic. The aediles were responsible for cura urbis, or “care of the city,” which entailed caring for and preserving the public buildings and roadways in Rome. They were also responsible for cura annonae, or “care of the grain stores” and for cura ludorum solemnium, or “care of sacred games,” including overseeing the festival of Ceres, the Cerealia . The aediles and the cult of Ceres were so intertwined that even the name of the office itself is thought to be related to the Goddess through aedes Cereris, or “the Temple of Ceres.” 
In Ancient Greece, the Goddess which closest resembled Ceres, was Demeter. Much like her Roman counterpart, Demeter was a Goddess associated with agriculture (particularly grains), the fecund earth, common/religious law and the transition from life to death.
The full etymology of Demeter’s name is uncertain and there are several competing theories as to the origin of the de- affixed to the beginning of her theonym. Philologist Martin Litchfield West proposed that Demeter’s name may be of Illyrian origin, suggesting parallels between her name and that of the Messapian Goddess, Damatura, or ‘Earth-Mother’ . The de- element may also be a shortened form of Deo, which, according to Orphic Hymn 40, was a byname of Demeter and may have some connexion to the Cretan word, δηά (Dea), which has been identified as a word denoting a variety of cereal grains.
“O universal mother Deo famed, august, the source of wealth and various names”. 
The -meter component is much more straightforward and is widely accepted as meaning “mother.”
As was the case with most Greek divinities, Demeter was provided a large number of epithets which speak to her various functions. Among these epithets, we see descriptive titles such as Chthonia (of the earth), Chloe (Green, first sprouts), Anesidora (She who Sends Forth Gifts), Thesmophorus/ Thesmia (Bringer of Law/ of the Law), Carpophorus (Bringer of Fruits), Xanthe (Golden-Haired), Eucomus (Lovely Haired), Polyphorbus (Bountiful) and Epogmia (of the Furrows) .
The aforementioned epithets paint a fairly detailed picture of the Goddess and recall many of the functions attributed to Ceres. The epithet of Thesmophorus is one of particular interest here, as it provides connective tissue between Demeter and Ceres in her role as Goddess of the Plebeians and their socioeconomic conventions.
“Tell how she [Demeter] gave cities pleasing ordinances; better to tell how she was the first to cut straw and holy sheaves of corn-ears.” 
It should be noted that, while Demeter was the Goddess associated with plentiful harvests and the earth’s bounty, she was also the deity who could bring famine, starvation and hunger. This dichotomous nature is rather common in Ancient Greek religion and is certainly a point of divergence from her Roman analogue, who seems to be lacking in that particular aspect.
As was the case with Ceres, Demeter’s cultus was deeply connected to the pig and they were regularly offered to her as sacrifice alongside bulls, cows, honey-cakes and fruits . The snake also played a prominent role in her iconography, which was quite common for both chthonic (underworld) deities and for deities associated with the storeroom of the home, such as Zeus Ktesios [*]. Demeter is often depicted on red and black figure pottery holding sheaves of grain or a cornucopia and is typically stood next to her daughter, Persephone and/or Triptolemus, the man who is said to have taught agriculture to the Greeks at Demeter’s behest.
This last point leads us to the Eleusinian Mysteries – the single most important mystery cult in all of Ancient Greece and one that was intrinsically linked to Demeter and her role as a Chthonic Goddess associated with both death and the afterlife. It is far too overwhelming an undertaking to try and present this complex and often misunderstood cult in its entirety – especially in a format such as this – so we will try and stick to the rudimentary facets for the sake of brevity and our sanity.
Before we begin, however, it might be worthwhile to explain in simple terms what a mystery cult actually is and how it differs from the more “mainstream” cults observed at the civic, familial or personal level. Cults associated with the civitas or home are typically exoteric in nature, meaning they do not require a special initiationiatory procedure/ ritual in order to be understood by the general populous. Mystery cults differ in that they are intended for initiates (mystai), wherein only they are privy to the particulars associated with the rituals performed and revelations gleaned in said cult.
The Mysteries attributed to Demeter were intrinsically linked to the idea of life, death and resurrection, attributable to the mythic narrative of Persephone’s descent into Hades and her eventual return or resurrection on earth. The cult centre of the Eleusinian Mysteries was at the West Attic town of Eleusis and it was from here that it spread throughout the Greek world. Nilsson states that the cult at Eleusis had its roots in an older, agrarian cult dedicated to Demeter that may have been closed to outsiders. This theory has been supported by the discovery of a private building, dated to the Mycenaean period, which was found underneath the Telesterion or ‘initiation hall’ at the cult site . The hall itself was called the Anaktoron or “royal house”, suggesting that observances related to the Mycenaean period cult likely took place in the king’s house. This idea is bolstered by the involvement of the Eumolpidae family, who were direct descendants of the king and from whom the high priest of the Mysteries was selected. This cult remained the property of the Eumolpidae until the advent of Christianity, when the cult site was abandoned .
As stated above, participants in the Mysteries were sworn to secrecy and only initiates and the priesthood were permitted to know revelatory secrets gleaned from participation in the cult. Those had internalized and understood the Mysteries attained what they called, epopteia, or “revelation” .
The Eleusinian cult possessed a complex body of religious clergy drawn from the initiated and the prestigious families connected to the site. According to Pomeroy, there were six different categories of priests who presided over the rituals, all of whom had differing duties to perform. Pomeroy’s list is provided as follows:
The Hierophantes, or ‘high priest’; the High Priestess of Demeter; the Daduchus, or ‘torch bearers’; the Dadouchousa Priestess, who assisted the torchbearers; the two Hierophantides, who served Demeter and Persepone respectively; and the Melissae/Panageis, who were an order of priestesses who lived apart from men .
The Mysteries themselves were divided into two parts – the Lesser Mysteries and the Greater. The lesser Mysteries took place during the month of Anthesteria and involved the sacrificing of a piglet to Demeter and Persephone. Once this ritual had been completed and supplicants had subsequently washed themselves in the river Illisos, they were considered initiated and ready to partake in the Greater Mysteries.
The Greater Mysteries were more involved and lasted for ten days during the month of Boedromion (approx. September). The rites began with the transportation of sacred objects from Eleusis, to the Eleusinion temple in Athens. Once the ritual items arrived, the Hierophantes would make a sacrifice, which marked the commencement of the rites. The following days consisted of a festival to Asklepios, which involved a procession to the Eleusinion. This observance was followed by a sacrifice and a night-long feast, called the pannykhis .
On the 18th of Boedromion, dedicants started on a procession to Eleusis. During this procession, sticks called bacchoi were swung about and they reenacted aspects of the mythology attached to the Mysteries. Once the pilgrims arrived in Eleusis, an overnight rite was observed, which likely mirrored Demeter’s search for her daughter, Persephone . During this portion of the Mysteries, participants drank something called, kykeon, made up of water, barley and pennyroyal. Some scholars have suggested the barley used in the kykeon may have been contaminated with ergot fungi, which may have acted as an intoxicant and, in turn, induced the ecstatic and revelatory experiences noted during these rituals .
Once inside the “initiation hall,” participants would recite that they had “drunk of the kykeon” and were prepared for the tripartite ritual to follow. The intricacies of this tripartite ritual has been the subject of much speculation, though the basic elements can be broken down as “things done,” “things shown” and “things said.” The first portion likely consisted of the reenactment of Demeter’s and Persephone’s mythology – her descent and eventual return from the underworld. The “things shown” portion of the rite consisted of sacred objects being shown to the mass of initiates and this was followed by the “things said” portion, which consisted of a commentary on the previous two parts of the ritual. This threefold ritual was known collectively as the aporrheta or ‘things forbidden’  and the divulgence of said aporrheta, was death .
After this portion of the ritual, dedicants engaged in another night-long feast, replete with dancing and general joviality. This merrymaking took place at the Rharian Field, which was rumoured to be the first place which grain sprouted and grew and it was here that the presiding priests sacrificed a bull and pilgrims poured libation to their dead.
Finding A Germanic Agricultural Goddess
In terms of Germanic sources, we are provided with a number of legendary characters and deities which might be employed in this role – though few have very much in-depth information attached to them.
The Anglo-Saxon corpus provides us with the personages of Bēow(a) ‘barley’ and Scēaf(a) ‘sheaf’, both of whom seem perfectly reasonable choices as Gods attached to agrarianism and grain – especially given their names. For this reconstruction, however, we will look to the Norse Goddess, Sif, who seems to embody some of the aspects present in both Demeter and her Roman counterpart, Ceres.
Jacob Grimm was the first to propose a widespread Germanic Goddess akin to Sif, in his Teutonic Mythologies.
“The Goth. sibja, OHG. sippia, sippa, AS. sib gen. sibbe, denote peace, friendship, kindred; from these I infer a divinity Sibja, Sippia, Sib, corresponding to ON. Sif gen. Sifjar, the wife of Thôrr, for the ON. too has a pl. sifjar meaning cognatio, sifi amicus (OHG. sippio, sippo), sift genus, cognatio. By this sense of the word, Sif would appear to be, like Frigg and Freyja, a goddess of loveliness and love; as attributes of Oðinn and Thôrr agree, their wives Frigg and Sif have also a common signification.” 
While Grimm’s conclusions regarding Sif as a Goddess of “love and loveliness” are rather dated and lack the nuanced complexity of what we now know of Frigg and Freyja, they are still valuable in their influence on later scholarly theories.
Many scholars since Grimm’s time have recognized the similarities present between the character of Wealhþēow (Hroþgār’s wife in Beowulf) and Sif in Lokasenna– as both provided a similar, mead-serving and peace-keeping function at their respective banquets. In fact, Wealhþēow personifies the Old English word, sib(b), which is the etymological equivalent of Old Norse, sif and means ‘peace,’ ‘kinship’ or ‘relationship’ . In Heathen Gods in Old English Literature, North makes reference to this connexion and suggests that the poet who recorded Beowulf, may well have been making a conscious effort to draw comparisons between the character of Sif and the personification of Old English, sib .
Numerous scholars have also posited that Sif’s hair is representative of sheaves of grain or the fertile earth, suggesting she may have been an agrarian Goddess associated with the earth. Grimm made mention of this association in his work and even went as far as connecting Sif’s name to the Polabian Goddess, Siva – though he makes it clear he is unable to reconcile the etymology . More recently, scholars such as H.R. Ellis Davidson, have supported the idea of Sif as a fertility/grain Goddess.
“The mother of Thor was said to be the Earth herself, and in the earliest skaldic verse he is described in phrases meaning ‘son of Earth’. Of his wife, Sif, we know little, except that she had wonderful golden hair; it has been suggested that this was the sign of an ancient fertility goddess, her abundant, sining hair typifying the golden corn. There was an undoubted link between Thor as the thunder god and the fertility of the earth, on which lightning strikes and the rain falls, causing increase.” 
“Thor’s marriage with Sif of the golden hair, about which we hear little in the myths, seems to be a memory of the ancient symbol of divine marriage between sky god and earth goddess, when he comes to earth in the thunderstorm and the storm brings the rain which makes the fields fertile. In this way Thor, as well as Odin, may be seen to continue the cult of the sky god which was known in the Bronze Age.” 
If we are to assume an Old English Goddess akin to Sif did, indeed, exist, her name would be rendered as either Sib or Sibb, as both forms are attested within the Anglo-Saxon corpus. For the remainder of this article, however, we will use Sib, as the other spelling is more often employed as a suffix in compounds, rather than as a standalone word .
Like Demeter Xanthe and Demeter Eucomus, Sib is a Goddess of agriculture and grain, exemplified by her long, golden hair. Like Ceres, Sib is a Goddess of the common man and those who toil in the fields. This idea is buttressed by her connexion to Sif, who, in Norse Mythology, was the consort of Thor, friend to mankind.
Like Ceres, Demeter and Sif, Sib is a Goddess associated with the common law, hospitality and social cohesion. Sib might also be viewed as a Goddess presiding over rites of passage – particularly those involving womanhood – and periods of transition.
For marriage rites, Sib might receive prayer and offering alongside Folde (or Eorþe), Goddess of the fecund Earth, much in the same way Tellus-Mater was frequently petitioned alongside Ceres.
Sib also possesses a Chthonic/Underworld aspect, which might be inferred from a study of the Eleusinian Mysteries and Ceres’ relationship with funerary rites and sanctification. She may also possess some ties to ecstatic revelation and entheogenic experience for much the same reason.
Just as Folde might be petitioned alongside Sib, so, too, might Þunor. This arrangement is based on the obvious parallels found in the Sif-Thor pairing found within Norse mythology and more broadly, in the Sky-Earth pairing found throughout the Indo-European sphere.
In terms of appropriate sacrifices, one might offer pigs (pork products or votive images of said animal), cows/bulls (the same as above), cakes, fruits, honey and grain.
Sib’s iconography might include sheafs of grain; snakes; pigs/boars; long, grain-like hair; cornucopias and other items associated with agriculture or fertility. One might also opt to depict her as the quintessential hostess, with serving implements or a cup of wine.
If we were to give Sib a particular feast day or festival, we might place it sometime in or around the local harvest. These festivities might include rites of purification, harvesting crops, feasting and/or entheogen induced revelry of some sort.
Ǣwnung – Wedlock
Wedlāc – Pledge/ Security
Feaxede/Fexede – Long-Haired
*Sǣdestre – Sower
*Æcerwīf – Field-Woman/ Plough-Woman
*Sulhhæbbestre – She Who Holds the Plough
Sulh – Plough
Cornmōdor – Corn/Grain-Mother
Tæppestre – Hostess/She Who Serves Wine
Freoþowebbe – Peace-Weaver/ Frith-Weaver
*Rȳnewīf – One skilled in explaining mysteries
Hwǣtegod – Literally Wheat-God. Used as a gloss for Ceres in Bosworth and Toller
 Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 1)
 Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 2)
 Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 2)
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 Ovid. Fasti. 4.547-551
 Ovid. Fasti. 1.673-674
 Varro. On the Latin Language in 25 Books
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 Servius. On Virgil’s Aenid. 4.16
 Virgil. Aenid. 4.56-5
 Servius. On Virgil’s Aenid. 4.58
 Varro. De Re Rustica. 2.4.1
 Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and Profane
 Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 52)
 Varro. On the Life of theRomanPeople, book 3
 Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 55)
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 Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 84)
 Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 86)
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 Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter
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 Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Folk Religion. Pp.45-46
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[*] See my previous article: https://sundorwic.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/warden-of-the-property-thunor-eodorweard/