by guest blogger Nan De Grove

The Eleusinian Mysteries had a long run and spread throughout the Hellenic world. They were thought to have grown out of an older rite called the Thesmorphia which focused on Demeter as Earth Mother, and was only for women. As time passed the focus shifted to Persephone’s descent and return. They were the most inclusive of the Greek cults, open to anyone who spoke Greek and had not shed blood, including women and slaves. The rites were secret and remain so to this day. Part of the rite took place in an underground theatre where the celebrants probably witnessed a symbolic portrayal of Persephone’s descent and return. This psychodrama would have undoubtedly been a powerful catharsis for the community through reconciliation with death and loss as therapeutic epiphanies.

As the centuries passed, Christianity, with its emphasis on transcendence of things earthy and feminine supplanted the mystery religions, though it appropriated many of the symbols and sites of the pagan world. The temple of Demeter and sacred sites at Eleusis were destroyed by Christians with help from the Goths in 396 CE. Only the ruins remain.

Cavern of the Mysteries

Like the broken statues and fallen temples of antiquity the myths and rites come to us incomplete—broken heirlooms of our culture. We cannot know them in their context, and their secrets are sealed beneath the Earth or carried away by the winds.

Mother and Daughter

The myth of Demeter and Persephone is both ecological and cosmological with its obvious focus on death and renewal of vegetation and seasonal rhythms, but it is also psychological in its eternal themes of loss, grief and reunion. In the loss of wild lands, vanishing species and genetic manipulation of seeds we feel the environmental dimension of Persephone’s rape and Demeter’s grief. In experiences of lost innocence we are like Persephone when the secure ground gives way beneath us. She is also present where we find art, ritual, beauty and community forged out of suffering. How often it happens that a descent into “hell” whether personal or societal is the very thing that stirs the soul and wakes the Muses from their sleep. We think of bright Aphrodite as the goddess of beauty and art, but I believe it is Persephone who presides over the forces of creativity and represents the true beauty of the soul.

"Proserpine," Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1874

“Proserpine,” Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874. Proserpine was the Roman name for Persephone.

The Greater Mysteries are said to have taken place on the Fall Equinox. This year the Equinox takes place today (Sept. 22) at 8:29 p.m., MDT

Nan De Grove is a gardener, painter and astrologer. She can be reached at ndegrove@aol.com.

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