The Thesmophoria was the most widespread and conspicuous of Greek women’s festivals, celebrated at the end of summer all over the Greek world, its mysteries forbidden to men. In Athens especially, as Aristophanes opportunistically appreciated in setting two of his comedies of gender in and around the festival, 1 it constructed an exclusively-female collective religious space in the very heart of the male city; and in many ways it seems tailor-made to meet certain prevailing modern expectations about the feminine strand in ancient religion. First, its roots seem very ancient, to judge from its early distribution over a wide geographical range; and what we are told of its strange ritual has certainly savoured to many of the primitive, even the primeval. Second, its central rites were ‘mysteries’, secret ceremonies from which the uninitiated-in this case, all males-were excluded, and of which they were forbidden all knowledge. Third, it honoured Demeter, whose complex divine portfolio included not only the earth and its gifts, but the mysteries themselves, and the ancient world’s archetypal narrative of mothers, daughters and the feminine condition-to all of which the Thesmophoria myth and ritual made reference. But perhaps above all, it is the one ancient rite to be explicitly discussed by our sources in terms of ‘fertility’, the manipulation of its symbols and its promotion by supernatural means: a nexus of ideas so powerfully in harmony with the influential nineteenth-century paradigm enshrined in Frazer’s Golden Bough as to ensure its largely unquestioned dominance in modern interpretation of the festival, 2 long after the fertility paradigm itself has been disowned by anthropolo gists. 3 This chapter sets out to question that heritage of interpretation, by taking a closer look at how it has used its central document and, in so doing, to raise some uneasy wider questions about the nature of religious ‘sources’ and their reading, both ancient and modern.