Mighty Demeter, the seed's cycle you know;
From your tears of deep mourning, spring's flowers grow.
CHAPTER VIII: LUST or STRENGTH
The story of the abduction of Demeter's daughter, Persephone, and her subsequent
resurrection and return, fascinated the ancient world for more than 2,000
years. This mystery religion was celebrated at the meadow in Eleusis
where the original rape occurred, continuing the Egyptian tradition of
promising life after death to initiates of the cult.
The major motifs of this myth-theme include pristine virginity, betrayal,
rape, lust, abduction, depression, and reunion of the mother and daughter.
The initiate to whom these mysteries were revealed underwent a profound
spiritual transformation. The experience was so awesome that no one
ever broke their vow of silence concerning the climax of the rite.
This vital element has been open to philosophical speculation ever since,
but it is strongly suspected to involve a psychedelic brew called the kykeon.
This ceremonial drink was used to produce the visionary experience known
as epoptia. The real glittering vessel is the body of light
and the kykeon is light. The inner child must accept becoming
Queen in this story of feminine empowerment, and overcoming the fear of
being consumed by the unconscious, much as the heroine in the fairytale
In Wonderland, who innocently partakes mind-altering substances.
Demeter is the earthiest variation of the Mediterranean Great Goddess.
She represents not only fertility, but also brought the gift of agriculture
to ancient Greece. Therefore, Demeter is considered the fertile,
or cultivated soil while Persephone is the virgin soil. The transition
from hunting and gathering to cultivation of crops such as corn and wheat
marked a dramatic change in early civilizations. Persephone, as Kore
or Virgin, is also our inner child, our divine child that lives half in
the light, half in the subconscious dark. Through this child we are
subject to fears we don't understand, trapped and raped by life, and expected
to master it without any help.
The establishment of the Eleusinian Mysteries is related in the HOMERIC
HYMN TO DEMETER. After the abduction of her daughter by Hades, Lord of
the Underworld, the mourning Demeter traveled to Eleusis (near Athens),
and took refuge by the Well of the Maidens. She demanded that the
local inhabitants build her a sanctuary there. After she was reunited
with her daughter she revealed the rites and began teaching her mysteries,
including the cultivation of wheat.
The early history of the cult reports two types of initiations. All
initiations prepare the aspirant to receive the vision of light, to release
subconscious fears and master them. One was concerned with the reunion
of the goddesses; the other concerned the possibility of man's immortalization.
The Great Goddess has always been considered able to grant immortality
to humans, and initiates experienced revelations which assured the soul
a blissful existence after death.
Mircea Eliade recounts how the symbolic death of Persephone had great consequences
for mankind: "As the result of it, an Olympian and benevolent goddess
temporarily inhabited the kingdom of the dead. She had annulled the
unbridgeable distance between Hades and Olympus. Mediatrix between
the two divine world, she could thereafter intervene in the destiny of
Archaeologists have established that the colonization of Eleusis occurred
in the fifteenth century B.C. Celebrants came there regularly for
the next 2,000 years. their footprints can still be seen where they
wore grooves in the stones by dancing around the well. Because of
social and cultural changes during this period, the Mysteries altered somewhat
over time, but the basic message remained the same.
Psychologically, it means that down times are part of the natural cycle.
Depressions which feel like death, and feel like we have one foot in each
world must simply be endured. Persephone endured passively, embracing
this feeling by willingly deepening it even further. It is not just
time-out from real life, but an archetypal Way of Being which is just as
real as extroverted life.
Plumbing the depths means a genuine transformative experience, and naturally
induces fears and shrinking. The power of death transfixes us--it
is fear of death, fear of dying which grips us and it is mad to resist.
We can let go of our negative evaluation of "underworld" experience, become
one with the mystery and undergo the shamanic initiation it implies, becoming
at home in the underworld.
Demeter's pathology is extreme grief, mourning, endless suffering of overwhelming
loss which overwhelms all life-giving, nurturing energy. It is felt
as a loss of self that is also a self-indulgence if it never ceases.
A mother's rage and grief can wound her children. Her animus may
be a enslaved by patriarchy which she grudgingly serves. If she is
not free of her own father-complex, how can she protect her children from
this ravaging masculine force? So she insists on a false image of
control, perfectionism and an idealization of family roles. She is
passive-aggressive, but appears docile because of the severe degree of
Demeter is clearly an earth-mother, like Gaia, the original Greek progenitor.
She is represented physically as the seed (Persephone) which is planted
beneath the earth (abduction to the underworld) and returned once again
in the spring, with the sprouting of the grain. But she is also so
much more than an agricultural metaphor.
The rape of Persephone by Hades is one of the most celebrated myths.
On account of Persephone's relationship with Hades we have a fallow winter
for 1/3 of the year, representing that time she is in the underworld.
The ancient Greeks had a habit of storing grain in great earthen jars in
large holes in the ground as a natural form of refrigeration.
Her abduction by Hades, or forceful removal to the dark underworld, also
symbolizes the fact that we are asleep and unconscious for 1/3 of the time
each day. Persephone is dragged daily under the surface of the earth
(day-world), below the threshold of consciousness, into the profound depths
of the unconscious. Sleep is like a "little death," and dreams come
from the perspective of soul or psyche, not ego.
Hades' realm of darkness and death is that of our instinctive memories
and bondage to the collective past of mankind. He rules over the
deepest levels of the unconscious of mankind. Persephone falls into
a state of identification, symbolized by her marriage, with this substratum
of human consciousness. Through the violent metaphor of rape, she
is permanently altered from being merely maiden, (Demeter's daughter),
into Hades' wife, austere and awesome Queen of the Underworld.
Psyche's final task, stealing some of the beauty of Persephone, means finding
the beauty of death as the counterpart to birth and the life force.
They are natural complements and to appreciate that assuages some of the
agony of grief and bereavement which, paradoxically, also separate one
from active life. Psyche's descent into Hades is like a shamanic
journey into the underworld. It heralds a later resurrection, or
rebirth. The descent may come through the death of a beloved,
sucking us into the underworld. Locked in this phase, we instinctively
or compulsively retreat, withdraw, or curb our availability to others.
It may result from grief, betrayal, physical molestation, or depression,
or addiction. Chemical addictions force one into congress with the
underworld, the criminal element, reprehensible though it may be.
In particular, intravenous drug use is a thinly-veiled sexual substitute
with predictable gratification. Characteristically, because she suffers
so deeply, Psyche becomes suicidal. Yet, this underworld is an immortal
realm. In the dark descent into ourselves, the challenge is to remain
mindful and conscious of the experience.
In the myth, Zeus planned this entire affair by offering Persephone to
his brother Hades. He conspired with Gaea and Hekate to bring it
about and they betrayed her trust. But when Zeus saw how distraught
Demeter became at the loss of her daughter, he intervened. His heart
was softened at the sight of his powerful sister's depression and lack
Zeus sent Hermes to retrieve Persephone, and she had a blissful reunion
with her mother. Because she had eaten several pomegranate seeds
while in Hades, she is compelled to return for a portion of each year.
This cyclic "burial and resurrection" turns the whole process into a meaningful
cyclic ritual which indicates that the individualized consciousness has
assimilated the experience of man's common roots, the instincts of the
collective unconscious, but returns to the day world at the summons of
Demeter/Persephone expresses the mystery of mother and daughters--MY
MOTHER, MY SELF--which is a union of sames. Demeter is Persephone
in her renascent form. Modern women experience this force in the
continuity of generations. The matrilinear line extends back to one's
grandmother and mother, and forward in one's daughters. It isn't
quite the same for the birth of sons; they are distinctly other, as our
fathers are. There is an essential blood-bond between female members
of a family who share the mystery of the generation of life from their
own substance. Thus, a woman's essential self is reborn in her daughter,
and the paradox of the eternal Virgin-Mother lives on.
The Value of Biodiversity, David Takacs, and Value in Diversity,
by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin state that the causes of diversity
are as diverse as diversity itself. A first factor is that the forest
has retreated into many separate sanctuaries during drier spells in ice
ages and then been repeatedly reintegrated again. Another factor for diversity
is the rise of forest to climax in an environment of damage through storm
and fire creating a fractal dynamic of destruction and regeneration over
evolutionary time-scales. Diversity minimizes crises caused when a pathogen
mounts an attack on a dominant species (New Scientist , 23 March
Nostradamus predicted: "The great famine which I sense approaching will
often turn up (in various places) then become universal. It will
be so vast and long-lasting that people will grab roots from the trees
and children from the breast." Nostradamus C1 Q67 (Hogue 213).
The next few decades will witness a wildlife holocaust, a great extinction
numbered among the five most serious threats to life in earth during its
entire history. By the turn of the millennium, over a million kinds of
animals, plants and fungi are expected to be driven to extinction; by the
year 2050, half of all the species alive today could be lost forever. The
disaster threatens to surpass the mass extinction of 65 million years ago
when the dinosaurs disappeared. The causes are diverse, but they all come
down to human impact without foresight. Overhunting and overfishing, pollution
and the trade in wildlife all play a part. But by far the greatest cause
of the extinctions is the destruction of wild habitats for farming, fuel,
industry and a host of other uses.
The world's tropical rainforests, which contain at least half the world's
species, are failing fast: little more than half of their original expanse
still remains, and an area as big as Romania is cleared each year. The
temperate forests are likewise under siege in Siberia. Half the world's
wetlands - other abundant habitats - have been drained or developed and
species-rich coral reefs are being destroyed throughout the earth's warmer
seas. Species are now becoming extinct at 25,000 times the natural rate
(Lean 127). Currently there is a species being lost about every 12 minutes
and the rate is steadily increasing as remaining areas of high diversity
become fractured. The loss of one plant can cause the loss of as many as
30 kinds of animals and insects which depend upon it, so the whole process
has catastrophic potentiality.
Even the loss of a single species can be a tragedy, because each form of
life is a storehouse of irreplaceable substances. Every civilization has
been rooted in the wealth of nature the local environment has provided.
The collection of seeds and domestication of wild animals made the first
agriculture and shepherding of flocks possible. Selective breeding has
subsequently made our domesticated and food species more productive; and
abundant natural resources enabled the agricultural and urban social revolutions
to take off, later leading to the industrial revolution whose consequences
so effect biodiversity today. Despite these changes, genetic resources,
taken from the wild, still sustain modern societies, providing medicines,
food and raw materials for industry. They also form the foundation resource
for genetic technologies of the future. Without biodiversity, biotechnology
is a destitute science.
Wasting the Sheaf of Demeter: The Dwindling Diversity of Food. The
health of the world's food resources and harvest productivity is even more
dependent on genetic resources. We are utterly dependent on our domesticated
food plants and animals for our own survival. Many of these are dwindling
in diversity as diverse local types of produce give way to large industrial
productions for world markets. The number of different species being used
is dropping rapidly and even more worrying the genetic diversity of even
our major staples is being reduced rapidly by major production of low-diversity
and even frankly monoclonal genetically-engineered varieties. "Just
three species - wheat, rice and maize - provide half the world's food;
another four - potato, barley, sweet potato and cassava - bring the total
to three quarters. Such overwhelming dependence on a few crops is dangerous;
disease can spread rapidly through monocultures - as it did through the
Irish potato harvest in the 1840s, causing a fifth of the country's people
to die" (Lean et. al. 127).
Crops need to be given new protection every few years, because pests and
disease develop ways around their existing defenses, requiring one to interbreed
them with other strains, often wild ones to introduce new traits. It is
believed that the evolutionary race between parasite and host is a principal
reason for sexuality in higher organisms. "In the 1960s an epidemic
of the wheat disease, stripe rust, struck the US; the state of Montana
repeatedly lost a third of its harvest. Genes from a wild wheat from Turkey
saved the situation, providing resistance to this and 50 other diseases.
In 1970 an even more virulent plague spread by up to 150 kilometers a day
across the American corn belt. lt devastated a sixth of the maize crop,
wiping out half the harvest of some Southern states, at a cost of some
$2 billion" (Lean 127).
Nevertheless modern industrial agricultural and forestry processes are
depending ever more recklessly on monoclonal genetically-engineered varieties.
Indonesia plans to plant 250,000 hectares of forest in genetically-engineered
monoclonal teak in a single operation. The burning question is where the
next generation of such trees will come from once they succumb to parasite
adaption if the wild areas containing the genetic diversity from which
these varieties come are converted to plantation use. Such short-term thinking
could become an evolutionary terminal condition for humankind.
Maize has been particularly vulnerable to such disasters, as inbreeding
has given it an almost uniform genetic pattern - and new genes from wild
varieties have been urgently needed. Two ancestors of the plant were found
in Mexico in the late 1970s; they can confer resistance to seven of the
domestic crop's major diseases, and can turn it into a perennial crop,
allowing it to spring up every year like grass, without resowing. These
maizes have been called the botanical find of the century; ominously, just
a few stalks of them were discovered in a tiny area now threatened with
destruction, (Lean et. al. 127).
The diversity of many of our essential food plants is thus at best marginally
conserved. The growing of commercial hybrid stocks of low diversity
over vast productive areas of the earth's surface has a catastrophic effect
on the diversity of the very species on which we depend. The original ecosystemic
variety of locally-adapted types is lost as entire populations convert
to only a few types. Disease resistance is often only later to be discovered
to be missing in all but one or two of the cultivated varieties. Wild varieties
in their original habitat are frequently under threat. Plant patenting
drives diversity down further, placing legal constraints on free propagation,
reducing the entire world market to a few patented varieties, which often
have low biodiversity because they are developed from a few highly selected
individuals, or even a single parent.
Twenty years ago a group of nine leading American biologists warned that
destruction of wildlife habitats and their genetic and species diversity
was a threat to civilization "second only to thermonuclear war". Since
then their concerns have largely gone unheeded but their dark prophesies
are being fulfilled. Life on earth may, at best, take millions of years
to recover. The forest is burning 34% faster and the seas are being overfished.
In the next 25 years, if we don't take decisive action the greatest species
extinction for 200 million years will in all probability occur. An irreversible
loss which will severely compromise both the future prospects of humanity
and the future evolutionary potential of the biosphere, for which we will
be condemned by our descendents for untold centuries to come. There is
still time to turn the tide of ignorance and inertia for the future of
The value of biodiversity is that it provides us with a more robust biosphere
more likely to sustain humanity long into the evolutionary future. Our
long-term survival prospects are intimately connected to the richness of
biodiversity. The more we reduce it to a fragile skeleton the greater the
danger we will ourselves expire as a species through even a mild disruption
to the earthly environment. The better integrated our food plants remain
with their natural sources of biodiversity the more likely we will continue
to have them to depend on in future evolutionary time scales. The more
diverse the more adaptable to unforeseen stress.
Occupations and preoccupations for Demeter/Persephone include,
The Demeter woman is an earthy, feeling type of woman. She is emotional
and perceives time as circular or cyclic. Her experience of time
is continuous. Therefore, she compares the present with past events
so that their emotional content is revealed. Time itself seems less
important to her than the emotional content of daily experience.
She has a more positive mothering capacity than the other goddesses because
of her ability to be emotionally responsive to others. She has a
warm personality and expresses love easily. She is not the emotionally
unavailable Ice Queen, nor the raging Dragon Lady. But her pathology
can come through the roles of the "Saint Mom," or Sick Mother, who bind
their children to themselves incestuously through guilt or other emotions.
Either a man or woman can express the Demetrian qualities. She nurtures;
she is acceptant and has the ability to endure despite great pain and suffering.
It is her nature to give of herself to excess, and even though it may be
a codependent pattern, her motivation is love.
Her involvement in eternal cycles even gives her the capacity to cope with
death (Hades). She is strongly empathetic. Since she is sympathetic,
she can frequently be a comfort to those around her. She is an excellent
nurse, whether baby-sitting her grandchild, tending the wounded, distraught
individual, or perhaps as counselor or psychotherapist.
On the negative side, she may be possessed by the spirit of motherhood,
tying others to her to fulfill her compulsive need. They must always
play the "child" to her "mother." The relationship is role-bound.
This of course impairs the growth potential of both. Those who receive
from her bear an ever-increasing burden of guilt from a debt that can never
be repaid. In reality, her over-emotional nature is feeding off the
children with whom she refuses to break off her identification.
In this respect she is like Sekmet, the Egyptian child-devouring lioness.
In the tarot trump STRENGTH this lion is the instinctual nature which becomes
tamed by feminine spirit. Love ("smother-love") can be devouring
and its primal nature requires a degree of humanizing to tame its destructive
element. Patience, fortitude, faith, and strength are distilled from
the raw life force. When we can observe our destructive patterns
accurately and actively change the patterns of codependence, we change
the result, thus taming the lion and becoming a moral force.
True strength is spiritual, not just physical, and we must learn to use
this strength of spirit to sustain ourselves in times of trouble, to lift
ourselves above wordly turmoil. We must realize that spiritual nurturance
is always there if we just reach for heavenly comfort.
In the myth, when Hades rapes Persephone, he destroys her lifestyle and
her naive psychological state. It derives its strength from innocence
and the life and growth promoting energy of her mother. This state
mandates that she is raped out of the unconscious identification with her
mother to find her own individuality, to find and express her inner passions
and reconcile with her primal instincts. In doing so, she becomes
a survivor with fortitude -- the mixture of strength, patience and courage.
The paradox is that this symbolic rape is either creative or destructive.
When it is literalized in a life, it is certainly destructive, usually
taking several years to resolve. She is violated by the cold, brutal,
pathological forces which lie in the very pit of human existence--the dark
side. Who wants to think about the brutal necessity of death when
cavorting with one's friends in a flowery meadow on a beautiful spring
day? In a sense, we would all like to remain close to the nurturing
bosom of the mother. But the transpersonal force of life (Zeus) and
material reality (Gaea) conspire to initiate the process of transformation.
Yet, the mythic meaning of Hades is not only "bad." Hades is also
the depths of the soul which are certainly sacred. We need not be
physically raped in order to come into close association with Persephone's
essence. "Initiation" contains images of being seized or suddenly
rapt away into a different state of consciousness. We therefore partake
of Persephone's initiation into the underworld life through our sudden
depressions, our revulsions, or passionate hatreds.
When we feel cold and numb, or lifeless, or would like to flee but cannot,
we experience aspects of her plight. Initiation to the underworld
transforms our relation to it. It may come through the inescapable
clutches of a Demon Lover, such as addiction, or codependence.
We resist being sucked down into the underworld life, thrashing and fighting
our own darker natures, trying to recapture days when our disposition was
sunny and warm. When we are invaded by the dark power of the subconscious,
we come face to face with the inevitability of our own demise, and recoil
in anguish, resisting the abduction.
Persephone is a Kore, or archetypal Maiden, like Athena, Artemis, and Psyche.
The Korae represent the budlike quality of the naive, virginal psyche before
its encounter with and transformation in the underworld of the unconscious.
We are the archetypal virgin bride when we are torn our of our union with
what is familiar and forced into congress with what is alien and repugnant
to our consciousness.
Whether truth or fiction, this feeling is reported by UFO abductees, who
certainly have the symptoms of post traumatic stress. They are forcibly
ripped from the fabric of ordinary life and thrust into an alien world
where all their boundaries are violated at will, perhaps for the rest of
their lives. A primary aspect of the current UFO mytheme is that
they inhabit secret underground compounds at various places on the globe.
Victims report both literal and mind-rape as typical abduction experiences.
Like the daughter Persephone, they are doomed to die to their old condition,
and this is experienced as an act of unconditional surrender. There
are many ways the ego undergoes psychological rape, overpowered by the
contents of the collective unconscious. One never truly recovers
from this experience, but lives forevermore with "one foot in each world,"
in each reality. Victims of stalking or hostages experience much
the same trauma, feeling they can no longer control their lives.
Some come to identify with their captors--the Stockholm syndrome.
Meanwhile, the conscious day-world perspective mourns and endures.
It may suffer a neurotic, depressive suffering for the sake of suffering
with no further aim. There is no motivation for pursuing other interests
except to seek refuge in the routine of everyday reality. Jung has
said that "...by entering into the figure of Demeter we realize the universal
principle of life, which is to be pursued, raped, to fail to understand,
to rage and grieve, but then to get everything back and be born again."
There is a third element to Demeter/Persephone, called Hekate, which completes
the image of the life-cycle of women: maidenhood, motherhood, and old woman.
This Hekate part of us can watch the soul's struggle with the dark forces
impassively. Hekate is that part of woman's consciousness which is
at home in the dark. She is an old hag who dwells in caves and has
the power of foreseeing the future. She knows the necessity of the
abduction and its purposeful value. She provides us with an objective
viewpoint on our own catastrophes which sees them as an integral part of
the cycle of life and death. Her perspective is from that of the
Grief is the primary emotion associated with Demeter when she is mourning
her daughter's absence.
Keywords for the cycles of Persephone/Demeter include,
The myth of Demeter/Persephone reflects the condition of the feminine spirit
in a patriarchal society. Women have their own mode of being, distinct
from that of men, based on biological rhythms, and the woman's mysteries
of blood and birth. It is reflected positively in "Fertility Spirituality"
or gender reunion. Feminine values, present in both men and women,
tend to be repressed or "put down" into the underworld of the subconscious.
They fall into the chasm, or netherworld, which sucks them down into the
void. It is then that we feel that our feminine natures or sensitivity
have "gone to hell."
Hence, we suffer an emotional woundedness, or a rupture in the fabric of
our personalities. The healing of this wound comes from reuniting
with that which we are most like, not through the union of opposites.
We must mourn and nurse our own woundedness with a descent into the depths
to experience our innermost feminine Self. This reunion with the
Kore is also the reunion with the core of one's essential being.
Persephone's resplendent beauty is her uniqueness.
The concept heuresis, the finding of one's lost self, or the mother/daughter
reunion, relates to the resurrection of personal creativity. When
energy is building in the subconscious for a new idea or creative project,
it is much like gestation. We go through an incubation period where
we feel unfruitful or non-productive. We feel sterile, and then the
unconscious energy wells up, offering us a treasure we have been seeking.
"Spring" is not only a season, but a state of mind. We flower in
our own time.
We can find reconnection with the feminine source of life. This myth
of Demeter and Kore is the feminine counterpart of the Horus-Osiris myth
which reconciles division in the male psyche. Feminine consciousness
is an experience of our own sense of interiority. First it is narcissistic
(Kore was enraptured with the narcissus flowers in the field). The
mode is subjective, almost auto-erotic in its self-love and self-appreciation.
Like Psyche, Kore must get past the stage of "nothing but projection" of
her idealistic fantasies.
By relating to Demeter/Kore, we come to understand that feminine consciousness
extends both upwards and downwards, and this widens our conscious perspective.
We come to share in the eternal cycle with an awareness newly risen from
the depths. Through the catharsis and rejuvenation demonstrated in
the myth, we gain a sense of our uniqueness in the tide of generations
of man, abolishing our isolation and returning our sense of wholeness.
Paradoxically, we are mature female and child in one being. We always
remain our mother's child, no matter how old we are.
The climax of the Demeter mystery is not revealed historically, since it
cannot be told. It must be lived and requires "being," not just knowing
about it. It requires a very personal entry into the depths of the
unknown self, searching for our own lost soul. Her mystery is now
lived out as a process of psychic transformation, if not celebrated in
rite. Just ask the mother whose last child has recently "left the
nest." It is instinctual, for mothers to guard their children from
being seduced out of childhood, from being "captivated" by another, and
spirited away from her domain.
The tenderness of maternal love is a key characteristic of Demeter's personality.
However, in her negative phase she ravages the earth herself with drought.
Withholding the life giving waters kills most of the remaining plant life,
opening the bare earth to erosion. Maybe this was her revenge on
Gaea for yawning wide to accept the pair into the bowels of the earth.
Denied her preferred mode of expression, Demeter becomes her alter-ego
(shadow-self), a goddess of death and destruction.
We are like Demeter when we grieve for our dead relatives (like the Pieta,
Mary mourning Christ), or anticipate the fear of death. The rape
of Persephone and her passiveness show how helpless we are when confronted
with death. But lust, decay, death, and birth are all parts of the
world of the mother, and she must endure her suffering patiently.
Persephone is also passive when confronted with overt sexual aggression.
We are like Persephone if we have anxiety and hostility toward an aggressive
spouse. Persephone is passive-aggressive, because she cannot consciously
assert herself. Poor Persephone could not even call for her father's
aid, since he had betrayed her. She had a naive, over-idealized conception
of him. Even parents cannot understand the rape victim, and her "being-in-hell"
can represent the psychological distance which separates the victim from
Women experience themselves as the biological and spiritual source of life.
When the mother finds the daughter again, it annuls the suffering and violence
of the rape and restores the unity of mother and daughter after her "marriage
of death." The fundamental change is that a male has encroached on
the female world. Kore has been initiated into and fascinated by
the male earthy sexuality. She is penetrated by and infused with
this male spirit of the depths and becomes pregnant. She becomes
identical with her mother Demeter when she is transformed into a mother
The birth of the divine son marks the center of the myth; Kore is transmuted
from girlhood to womanhood through the process of childbearing. Through
her self-sacrifice, she learns what it means to be a woman on a personal
level. Then, her mother's emotional suffering becomes her own.
She achieves union with a higher spiritual aspect of feminine life, and
is transformed. She is no longer confined passively in the underworld,
but becomes one of the regal queens of heaven, the earth, and the underworld.
Through her male son, the masculine spirit is integrated into herself and
is no longer foreign. She sees it as an extension and variation of
The male initiate to the Eleusinian mysteries identified himself with Demeter
to contact his own feminine aspect. This is a stepping-stone in the
male spiritual quest. A man seeks his anima to function as a bridge
to the unconscious. He did, of course, come from the mother and also
needs to re-connect with her life-giving creative powers and instinctual
body-knowledge. Her myth gives him access to a formerly impassible
region, and she guides his process of maturation. According to Jung,
an infantile man has a maternal-type anima figure, while an adult man's
anima is symbolized by a younger woman. An elderly man may have dreams
of an unknown young girl, or child, depicting his soul-image.
The primary ritual of Demeter is the Thesmophoria. Part of this rite
includes a mass sacrifice.
"The piglets are thrown into the chasms of Demeter and of Kore.
The decayed remains of things thrown in, women known as Bailers fetch up;
they have maintained a state of purity for three days and they descend
into the forbidden rooms, bring up the remains and place them on the altars.
It is believed that whoever takes of this and scatters it with seed on
the ground will have a good harvest. It is said that there are snakes down
below in the chasm that eat most of what is thrown down; for this
reason a noise is made when the women bail up and then again when those
forms are laid down, so that the snakes will go away. . . Unspeakable sacred
things are made of dough and carried up, models of snakes and male membra;
they also take pine branches. . . This is thrown into the so-called 'Megara,'
and so are the piglets, as we have already said" (after Burkert, Greek
Religion, pp. 242-43).
This celebrates primeval female energy, bringing under control the fiery
burning kundalini serpent energy. The ancient Hebrew word "to consume"
"ABLH" also meant "mourning. In Qabala, Binah mourns for us like
a faithful mother. The power of the serpent energy is controlled
by the feminine principle, as depicted in the Tarot trump "Strength."
Other activities later in the festival involve ritual fasting followed
by a meat sacrifice and feasting.
--goddess Kalligeneia, "beautiful birth."
--dough models of female genitalia.
--blood smeared on the body.
--hostility to men.
--eating of the pomegranate.
Possible functions of the Thesmophoria:
--menstruation taboo (Kerényi)?
--female cult to celebrate issues of concern to women
(and hence at the instigation of women)?
While Demeter is searching, there is no fertility (cf. Isis searching for
the body-parts of her husband-brother Osiris in the Egyptian fertility
myth). Carrying torches, Demeter searches for Kore. After 9 days,
Helios (who sees everything above the earth, during the day) tells Demeter
where her daughter is. a) While searching Arcadia Demeter is raped
by her brother Poseidon (horse cult?); (b) In Elis, Tantalus
prepares a cannibalistic banquet to test Zeus and the gods: his son PELOPS
is the dinner. The other gods perceive the trick, but Demeter is so distracted
that he eats Pelops' shoulder. Although Pelops is reassembled and reanimated
by Zeus (resurrection; Osiris story ?) , his shoulder is replaced by a
carved piece of ivory.
Taking the form of an old woman (crone), Demeter sits down to rest near
a well called Parthenion (`Maiden'), where she is approached by the daughters
of King Celeus, who have come to fetch water. They treat the disguised
goddess sympathetically, and invite her to come to the Palace, since their
mother needs a nanny for their young brother; the most amusing of the girls
is Iambe(`Iambic verse'). Offered hospitality, Demeter refuses wine, but
accepts a drink called kykeion (barley water with pennyroyal). Queen Metaneira
is impressed with the 'woman' and gives her employment. Demeter anoints
the baby Demopho(o)n every evening with ambrosia, and puts the baby in
the fire of the hearth to burn away its mortality. But one evening Metaneira
spies on Demeter and interrupts the rite. Demeter drops the child in surprise,
resumes her divine form, and rebukes Metaneira for interfering with divine
secrets which would have made the baby immortal. But Demeter does promise
to teach her sacred rituals to the Eleusinians.
On the intervention of the older Earth-goddess RHEA (grandmother crone),
Demeter (mother) is reconciled with ZEUS (father) and HADES (husband),
and has her daughter KORE (`Maid') restored to her--at least part-time.
Demeter teaches King Celeus' son TRIPTOLEMUS to cultivate wheat (there
is a sacred field of grain at Eleusis, the Riarian Field). He becomes the
ancient version of Johnny Appleseed, spreading the knowledge of wheat-cultivation.
In Scythia (the Ukraine ?) he visits KING LYNKOS (`The Lynx'), who tries
to murder Triptolemus so that he can become the sole possessor of the secret
of wheat, and therefore its patron/manipulator. Demeter intervenes, however,
and turns Lynkos into a lynx (Ovid, Metamorphoses V. 648 ff.)
Further reading on this Demeter/Kore myth can be found in the following:
MY MOTHER, MY SELF
THE GODDESS, Christine Downing
GODDESSES IN EVERY WOMAN, Jean Shinoda Bolin
THE CINDERELLA COMPLEX, Colette Dowling
MEETING THE MADWOMAN, Linda Leonard
RAPE & RITUAL, R. Paske
THE RAVAGED BRIDEGROOM, Marion Woodman
ADDICTED TO PERFECTION, Marion Woodman
ELEUSIS, ARCHETYPAL IMAGE OF MOTHER AND DAUGHTER, C. Kerenyi
THE MEANING OF APHRODITE, Paul Friedrich
THE GREAT MOTHER, Erich Neumann
ESSAYS ON A SCIENCE OF MYTHOLOGY, Jung and Kerenyi
THE MOON AND THE VIRGIN, Nor Hall
"The Rape of Demeter/Persephone and Neurosis," SPRING 1975, Patricia Berry
M. Detienne, "The Violence of Wellborn Ladies: Women in the Thesmophoria,"
in M. Detienne and J.-P. Vernant (eds.), The Cuisine of Sacrifice
Among the Greeks (Chicago 1989), pp. 129-147.
L. Foxhall, "Women's Ritual and Men's Work in Ancient Athens," in R. Hawley
and B. Levick, Women in Antiquity. New Assesments (New York 1995),
L. Nixon, "The Cults of Demeter and Kore," in R. Hawley and B. Levick,
Women in Antiquity. New Assesments (New York 1995), pp. 75-96.
Hofmann, A. (1997) The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Forte, R.
(ed.) Entheogens and the Future of Religion. San Francisco: Council on
Wasson, R.G, Hofmann, A. and Ruck, C.A.P (1978) The Road to Eleusis. New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Hofmann, A. (1997) The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Forte, R.
(ed.) Entheogens and the Future of Religion. San Francisco: Council on
The Greek myths come from older Egyptian counterparts. And in every
sense, Persephone is Isis. When the Greek (Ptolemy) dynasties ruled
Egypt, syncretism returned active worship of this archetype in Greek form
back to its native soil. She is most popularly spoken of in Jungian
circles now as the Black Madonna, the sensuous feminine power of the body.
The body knows instinctively how to be born, give birth, and how to die.
In Greece, the Eleusinian festivals, the Lesser Mysteries were celebrated
in the spring, and formed a preliminary probation period of the Greater
Mysteries conducted in the Autumn (September and October). Initiation
was open to both men and women providing they spoke Greek, had killed no
fellow being, and had passed through the Lesser Mysteries. The rites
involved processions, sacrifices, dances, and songs. The frolicking
in the lush, flowering meadows by the sea must have been a breath of fresh
air for the Athenians. They lived in squalid hovels with dingy, dirty
streets, even though the magnificent Parthenon with its temples formed
the heart of the city. They were like our typical city-dwellers who
long for revival in a heavenly pastoral setting.
A third stage of initiation was open to those who had been initiates for
a year. It culminated in a supreme vision, the nature of which we
may only guess. It was probably the revelation of identity between
Persephone's son and the ear of corn. But some have speculated that
it involved a graphic enactment of the rape of Persephone. Attempts
have been made at reconstructing the rites, but only fragments are available.
Included were ritual fasting and imbibing of the sacred drink or kykeon,
a mind-altering beverage. What is known is that after a sacramental
meal (which represents a sacred marriage like communion), the final vision
took place in a dazzling light, and included an invocation of Kore.
The Eleusinian Mysteries opened a new religious dimension for the Mediterranean
world, with the promise of immortality. Through them, the initiate
perceived a continuity between life and death. It opened speculation
concerning the underworld which was suppressed by the predominant Olympian
religion. The same dynamic happens in the modern psyche, obsessed
by sexuality, power, and the day-world. Trauma may lead us into the
underworld, and we seek a shaman or therapist to help guide us through
these dark realms.
Demeter/Persephone became the most popular of Greek goddesses during this
period. Initiation into her cult guaranteed a sort of "adoption"
by her. A major characteristic of the cult which became paradigmatic
for most other Mystery cults was the strict emphasis on silence and secrecy.
Thereafter, it became stylish for Masters to reveal their secrets only
to their initiates.
In the third century B.C. this Greek cult became amalgamated with the Egyptian
cult of Isis and Osiris. Isis was identified with the Great Mother,
Demeter, and Osiris was identified with the initiated individual who attained
"salvation." Osiris was also identified with Dionysus (sometimes
called Demeter's divine child) who was also killed, dismembered, then resurrected.
In the Hellenistic period, the Mysteries of Isis provided a ritual rebirth
at Eleusis as its central purpose. The object was for the initiate
to become Osiris, raised from the dead by the magical power of the goddess
Isis. Thus the best of Egyptian religious tenets was incorporated
into Greek life. Accounts of this are found in Plutarch's ISIS
AND OSIRIS, and THE GOLDEN ASS OF APULEIUS, by a Roman initiate.
After fasting and meditation, the mystes took part in a mystery drama where
he personified Set, Aphophis, or Typhon in the form of a red ass.
He was tormented, and his lust and desirousness transformed through fully
experiencing his instinctual nature. The deep religious intensity
of the aspirant produces transformation and the identification with the
dead Osiris. he journeys to Hades and sees the midnight sun shining
brightly. He also sees the revelation of the celestial and infernal
Gods, or becomes acquainted with the archetypes of the collective unconscious.
After this ritual death, he is raised by the power of Isis (Demeter).
The Isis of Hellenistic times, as Nature and the Moon, was creator, mother,
nurse, and destroyer, just like Demeter. She also embodied Wisdom
or Sophia; Osiris was Knowledge, Reason, and Logos. Through acceptance
by Isis, the initiate caught in the instinctual level of passion and lust,
is raised to a spiritual life. The initiate believed the goddess
Isis could prolong life beyond the term fixed by Destiny, or fate.
But this process involved a metamorphosis by undergoing a voluntary ritual
death in order to obtain a spiritual birthday. The living individual
became "divinized" through the powers of the goddess. This Hellenistic
mystery theology expresses the deepest Egyptian religious genius.
Man's anima, as Psyche is sent to Hades to see Kore-Persephone who is a
variation of Venus-Isis in her underworld aspect. She opens the box
and tries to secure the special "beauty" for herself. This means
the man's anima equates beauty with goodness. He cannot believe a
beautiful woman is capable of wickedness. This is a naive attitude
which expects a real woman to enact his anima projections. A woman
acquires the psychic, rather than physical) beauty which results from being
herself--the human soul that knows it isn't the goddess.
Psyche falls into a death-like sleep, but a transformed Eros appears to
redeem her. The Greeks corresponded Eros with Osiris, who taught
men and women genuine mutual love. Eros here is a psychological symbol
of the Self. Further transformations of the man's relationship with
his anima are required before he can experience the final Isis initiations.
In these, Osiris is the secret ruler of the underworld, or personification
of the collective unconscious. He is much more than a simple vegetation-god.
When he is reborn as the Horus-child, he represents restored wholeness
or totality. He is the secret spiritual goal of the Isis Mysteries.
The initiate passes through the three psychic stages toward a unification
of the personality. It is produced through the image of one all-embracing
Goddess. Isis is the symbol of the Self in feminine form.
A religious experience must be accepted in its totality, and therefore
is lived as a lifestyle, publicly. But this does not imply telling
one's inner secrets to everyone, producing an ego inflation. The
Self counsels us on the hiding or exposing of secrets. The conscious,
religious attributes of the secret Self, Osiris, underwent transformations
until he became identified with the reborn human soul. Like Osiris,
the human soul tends to fragment into several individual parts, represented
by the pantheon of gods.
Isis is the only divinity which keeps her unity. She is an emotional
and feeling of totality which leads the way to conscious individuation.
But to participate we must be more than an intellectually involved armchair
philosopher. This mental interest doe not transform the divine inner
nucleus like experiential initiations do. Isis is the guide to the
experience of oneness. The psyche is the only reality known through
immediate experience. Isis gives meaning to suffering, and initiates
the healing process. Man's fate is similar to that of Osiris.
The religious pattern revealed in the mysteries was that first comes the
realization of the anima, and then of the higher Self, Isis and Osiris.
A positive relationship to the goddess produces psychological transformation
in earthly life, which produces immortality analogous to that of the philosopher's
stone in alchemy. The aloofness of the Olympian gods is transcended
through personal experience.
Jung spoke of five forms of rebirth:
1) Metempsychosis. The transmigration of souls by passing through
different bodily existences.
2) Reincarnation. Continuity of personality (ego-form) through
rebirth in different human bodies.
3) Resurrection. Raising of the dead in a glorified or incorruptible
4). Rebirth. Renewal within the span of individual life with
a change in functionality (healing), not essential nature. Or essential
5. Participative transformation. Indirect rebirth through witnessing
ceremony or rite, such as Mass or Eleusinian mysteries.
The shadow side of this Demeter/Kore/Hades myth has penetrated our society
and our spirituality as the real and imagined fear of the organized and
unorganized criminal element in our society. The enemy is no longer
way out there, such as the Communist threat. It is right within our
precincts, operating with no respect for boundaries, violating us at will.
Spiritually, it means our naive well-meaning selves can no longer trust
that most people will treat us honestly and well. The injunctions
of mistrust are simple: "Don't go out after dark; lock your doors at all
times; don't walk in many neighborhoods," etc. We are terrorized
in our own communities, and not safe within our very homes.
There is no sanctuary. Our society is being penetrated by an underground
life whose violations of our being feel like rape--mind rape, which instills
constant fear and stress. It promotes coldness and mind-numbing cynicism.
It even enters our dreams. We feel helpless before it, both externally
and internally, because of our seeming incapacity to deal with this reality.
The demon has us in his embrace, and our victim mentality takes over.
Another form of spiritual domination is effect of the collective power
animus--the masculine power drive--on women (and sometimes men), which
enslaves them in service to the patriarchy. Out of touch with feminine
feeling values, we inflict meaningless suffering on one another.
It results in broken relationships, drivenness, judgmentalness, and high
tension. Sometimes the unconscious inflicts its own autonomous form
of mind-rape by overwhelming the ego with its contents.
Marion Woodman speaks of the psychological implications of the mytheme
in modern life:
...Where the woman is caught in unconscious identification with the
mother...she has to be raped our of that identification before she can
find her own individuality. This is the meaning of the Demeter-Persephone
myth, where the Kore is carried off to the underworld by Hades. If
Demeter is out of touch with her inner Persephone, she is out of touch
with her own essence. Persephone is a maiden who looks in the looking
glass and goes through to other side, opens herself to the wealth of that
inner world, experiences the ravishment and returns with a wealth of sensitivity
and a sense of her own uniqueness--bearing new life. Without Persephone,
Demeter is barren.
Modern Demeters are beginning to realize that their own earth has been
ravaged and they are becoming so aware of the violation that they are trying
to do something about it, not only for themselves but for their Persephones,
their own biological daughters and psychological daughters. They
realize they have been raped by the one-sidedness of the masculine principle
that thrusts toward the goal without enjoying the pleasure of the journey.
Ultimately, the feminine mysteries have to do with the sanctification of
matter, and being aware of ourselves and others as human beings in the
reality of the moment.
Throughout history mankind has employed psychoactive agents to heighten
the experience of reality. The shamanic journey is classically conceived
as a descent to Hell and ascent to divine realms. The cult of Demeter,
one of the original Mystery schools, at Eleusis was no exception to this
widespread pattern. Its secrets are only now being revealed through
modern research and informed speculation. In the Demeter cult, this
drink was called the Kykeon. Three thousand years ago in ancient
Greece a mass religious event took place every year in which a magical
sacred brew was drunk by initiates in a ritual setting. Pindar said,
"Blessed is he who, having seen these rites, undertakes the way beneath
the Earth. He knows the end of life, as well as its divinely granted
One such sect was centered in Greece, and in the year 395 A.D. Alaric the
Goth and his band overran and destroyed the Temple at Eleusis, the holy
place where the famous and two-thousand-year-old Eleusinian Mysteries had
been practiced. The central feature of that yearly celebration, initiation,
and revelation was the partaking of a powerful and mysterious potion, the
kykeon. Far from being a minor and obscure sect, the Mysteries had been
for centuries a central and important religious experience and inspirational
revelation whose initiates included essentially all the great names of
Greek antiquity. Its importance, along with the secret of the divine and
psychoactive sacrament used in the yearly celebration, has remained to
this day almost entirely ignored by scholars.
Kykeon: KUKEW/N. Normally translated: I. "potion"; II. "mixture"
(From the verbkuka/w "to mix, stir"). When Nestor's slave Hekamede
is called upon to provide a restorative medicinal drink for her master
and the wounded Machaon, she brews a kukeiw\n. An onion and some
honey are provided as relish (it is not clear whether these are important
to the recipe), then she mixes Pramneian wine and sprinkles over it goat's
cheese and bruised barley meal. The kykeon brewed by Kirke (when
she drugs Odysseus' sailors) contains wine, cheese, barley, and honey,
and the drugs she adds are said to be in si/twi, the food or specifically,
the grain. This then seems to be a particular and recognizable drink.
The famous reference to kykeon is of course in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter,
where the goddess asks for a mixture of water, barley meal and mint (or
pennyroyal) because she can not drink wine while mourning her daughter.
This is the potion drunk by initiates preparing for the Eleusinian Mysteries,
although Richardson argues that it was merely an invigorating drink and
not central to the mysteries, and there is certainly no reason to argue
that it had hallucinogenic or psychotropic qualities as some have suggested.
Different qualities of the herbs (pennyroyal, or soft mint, is the most
popular) added to the kykeon have also been suggested by the various commentaries,
but it seems likely that the perceived invigorating effect is the same
as that of Barley Water today. He also observes that different types
of kykeon are listed in the Hippocratic writings, with various medicinal
qualities ascribed to them. It seems safe to say that any specific chemical
effect of the drink would be limited to its refreshing quality in preparing
tired initiates for the important ceremonies to follow. It is unclear
whether there is further significance to initiates partaking of grain during
a ceremony to the goddess of the harvest.
A fragment records Herakleitos saying that the kykeon "disintegrates if
it is not stirred"; this tells us that in his time at least, the kykeon
was made up of thick grain mixed with water, and not a smooth, porridge-like
paste (incidentally, Barley Water also needs to be stirred before drinking).
This etymology is interesting in the light of discussion on the mixing
of herbs; however, in the case of magic drugs (fa/rmaka) it is the combination
which is significant.
These references may give us some clue to the particular use of the kykeon
in h.Cer., which became important as part of the Eleusinian ritual.
The kykeon potion that interests us, however, that which Kirke mixes in
the Odyssey, seems only to be the refreshing, mixed drink of Homeric epic,
which has no ritual attached except perhaps the greeting and feeding of
guests at the end of a long journey. It is this which Kirke (Circe)
feeds to the sailors and then to Odysseus, the difference being the drugs
she has secretly added to it.
The Mysteries were celebrated at Eleusis, from around 1500 BCE to the fourth
century CE. After Persephone's abduction by Hades, god of the underworld,
Demeter left Olympus and vowed never to return, nor to allow crops to grow
on earth until she and her daughter were reunited. Demeter found refuge
in the palace of the king of Eleusis, Keleos, and as a mark of gratitude,
she founded a temple there. Fearing that humankind would become extinct
without food, Zeus ordered that Persephone be returned so that Demeter
would also go back. Before Demeter returned to Olympus she instructed the
kings of Eleusis, Keleos and Triptolemus on how to celebrate the rites
in her temple, which were to be 'Mysteries' (secret teachings).
Up to three thousand people were initiated each year - any Greek-speaking
person who had not committed a murder could present themselves once for
initiation. Among those underwent the rite were Aristotle, Sophocles, Plato,
Cicero and a number of Roman emperors such as Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.
The celebration of the Mysteries began in the autumn, with four days of
rites and festivities in Athens. On the fifth day, a solemn procession
to Eleusis began, during which rites, sacrifices and purifications took
place. On the sixth night, cloaked in secrecy, the climax of the Eleusinian
ceremony took place in the inner sanctum of the temple, into which only
priests and initiates could enter.
"The initiates often experienced in vision the congruity of the beginning
and the end, of birth and death, the totality and the eternal generative
ground of being. It must have been an encounter with the ineffable, an
encounter with the divine..." (1) Before the climax of the initiation,
a sacred potion made of barley and mint and called the kykeon was administered.
The possible psychoactive ingredients in kykeon have been hotly debated.
It has been suggested that the mint in the mixture might have provided
the mind-altering element as the mint family contains the plant Salvia
divinorum, used by the Mazatec Indians of Mexico in a divinatory context.
Terence McKenna has suggested that Stropharia cubensis, or another psilocybin-
containing mushroom, might be the key.
The most convincing theory about the nature of kykeon, results from extensive
research by Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann and Carl Ruck. In 'The Road
to Eleusis' (2) they argue that the parasitic fungus ergot, found on
particular wild grasses, is the psychoactive component of kykeon. It would
have been simple for an Eleusinian priest to collect the ergot from the
wild grass growing near to the temple, grind it into a powder and add it
to the kykeon. The theory is further supported by the fact that ergot is
commonly found on grain, Demeter was the goddess of grain, and ears of
grain featured prominently in the ritual. (Hofmann, A. (1997) The
Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Forte, R. (ed.) Entheogens and
the Future of Religion. San Francisco: Council on Spiritual Practices.)
LSD is a modern product of ergot, providing an intriguing link between
the Greek religious rituals of many thousand of years ago, and today's
entheogenic explorations. As Albert Hofmann - inventor of LSD and
investigator of the Eleusinian Mysteries - puts it: "If the hypothesis
that an LSD-like consciousness-altering drug was present in the kykeon
is correct - and there are good arguments in its favour - then the Eleusinian
Mysteries have a relevance for our time in not only a spiritual-existential
sense, but also with respect to the question of the controversial use of
consciousness-altering compounds to attain mystical insights into the riddle
of life" (1999, Michelle Pauli)
An Excerpt from Pharmacotheon (1993) by Jonathan Ott
POSTSCRIPTUM: THE SECRET OF THE ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES UNVEILED
In a most exciting recent development in the study of LSD and other ergoline
entheogens, R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann and Carl A. P. Ruck have advanced
the startling new theory concerning the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient
Greece. The theory was first presented on the morning of Friday, 28 October
1977, at the Second International Conference on Hallucinogenic Mushrooms"
held at Fort Worden, near Port Townsend, Washington (I organized this conference;
see Chapter 5, Note 11). A full-dress presentation followed in May 1978,
when these three distinguished scholars published The Road to Eleusis:
Unveiling the Secret of Mysteries (Wasson et al. 1978; Wasson et al. 1980b).
That the reader may appreciate the significance and meaning of this theory,
I will review the history of the ancient Mysteries of Eleusis.
The Eleusinian Mystery was an annual celebration of a fertility cult, over
which the goddess Demeter presided. Anyone speaking Greek could be initiated
into the cult, but only once in a lifetime. The "Greater Mystery" was celebrated
in the autumn, in a sanctuary at Eleusis, bordering the Rarian Plain, near
Athens. For nearly 2000 years the annual celebration was held, but never
was the secret of the mystery revealed. Initiates passed the night
together in the darkened telesterion or initiation hall, where they beheld
a great vision which was "new, astonishing, inaccessible to rational cognition."
Of the experience, they could only say that they had seen ta hiera, "the
holy"--it was forbidden by law, under penalty of death, to say anymore
(Wasson et al. 1978).
Most of our information about the Eleusinian Mystery comes from the so-called
Homeric Hymn to Demeter, an anonymous seventh century B.C. poem. The poem
describes the mythical founding of the Mystery by Demeter, who was grief-stricken
at the abduction of her daughter Persephone (also called Kore) by the god
Hades, of the underworld. Demeter caused all of the plants on the Earth
to die, and fearing humankind would also die and there would then be nobody
to make sacrifices to the gods, interceded with Hades, and forced him to
return Persephone to Demeter. Persephone, however, had eaten a pomegranate
seed in the underworld, and was therefore condemned to return to Hades
for part of each year. This always saddened Demeter, who would again cause
the plants to die, to be reborn again in the glory of springtime, with
the return of Persephone to the world of light. The lovely myth symbolized
for the Greeks the natural mystery of the changing seasons and the miracle
of the springtime rebirth (after burial in the cold Earth) of cultivated
grain on which their civilization depended.
Demeter ordered the construction of the Eleusinian sanctuary and, refusing
wine, directed the preparation of a special potion, the kykeon ("mixture").
The ingredients of the kykeon are spelled out in the Homeric Hymn: barley,
water and blechon (or glechon, a mint, probably Mentha pulegium, a plant
burned as an offering by shamans to Pachamama in Peru; see Appendix B;
Wasson 1967; Wasson 1979). From fragmentary ancient reports, including
the remains of a fresco at Pompeii, it is known that initiates to the Mysteries
drank Demeter's potion as a prelude to experiencing a soul-shattering vision.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were driven into extinction by the Christians
in the fourth century of our era. The "secret" was not vouchsafed to us
by the Christians, if in fact they themselves knew it, which is extremely
Much has been written concerning the Eleusinian Mysteries, but apparently
it had never occurred to anyone before Wasson that the potion, the kykeon,
have had something to do with the vision. Classical scholar G.E. Mylonas,
for example wrote a detailed book on Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries,
and concluded that: "the act of drinking the kykeon was one of religious
remembrance, of the observance of an act of the Goddess, and implied no
sacramental mystic significance," (Mytonas 1961). Three years before Mylonas
made this pronouncement, Wasson had connected Plato's "ideas" and world
of "archetypes" with entheogens (Wasson 1958) and just the year before,
Wasson had tentatively suggested in a lecture that was subsequently published
(Wasson 1961; Wasson 1972d):
"I predict that the secret of the Mysteries will be found in the indoles,
whether derived from mushrooms or from higher plants or, as in Mexico,
from both." This idea was first suggested by Wasson in a lecture on 15
November 1956, shortly after his experience of mushroomic ecstasy (see
Chapter 5). A recent book (T.K McKenna, 1992) wrongly credited Robert Graves
with first proposing that the kykeon was entheogenic in 1964 (see Graves
1957; Graves 1962; for examples of his speculation regarding entheogenic
mushrooms, inspired by his collaboration with the Wassons) A 1936 book
published in French (Felice 1936) first explored the concept of ivresses
divines ("divine inebriations," obtusely characterized as "inferior forms"
of mysticism!) and mentioned the Eleusinian Mysteries, but advanced no
specific theories on the nature of Demeter's potion. With the elegant
and exciting proposal advanced by Wasson, Hofmann and Ruck in 1977-1978,
this perspicacious prediction has been placed on a strong and specific
It is the thesis of The Road to Eleusis that Demeter’s potion, the
kykeon, was entheogenic, and elicited the ineffable vision experienced
by thousands each year. According to the theory, it was ergot growing on
the barley which accounted for the potion's entheogenic properties. Hofmann
argued that by making an aqueous extract of the ergot-infested barley,
the ancient Greeks could have separated the water-soluble entheogenic ergot
alkaloids (ergine, ergonovine, etc.) from the non-water-soluble toxic alkaloids
of the ergotamine/ergotoxine group (Bigwood et al 1979; Hofmann 1978b).
Hofmann further suggested that the Eleusinian priests may have employed
ergot of the wild grass Paspalum, which produces only the entheogenic alkaloids.
Hofmann pointed out that the psychotropic properties of ergot were known
in antiquity, and that such folk knowledge of these properties lingers
in Europe, as evidenced by the names for ergot: Tollkorn ("mad grain")
and seigle ivre ("inebriating rye"; Hofmann 1978a).
This simple and elegant theory is buttressed by examination of the rich
symbolism attending the cult. Eminent Greek scholar Ruck meticulously showed
how the ergot theory fit the available evidence. One of the more telling
pieces of evidence is the fact that Demeter was often called Erysibe, "ergot,"
and that purple, the color of ergot, was her special color. Furthermore,
an ear of grain was the symbol of the mystery. Ruck has adduced further
evidence in support of the theory presented in the book. He has proposed
that Socrates was executed for profaning the Mysteries by making the kykeon
in Athens with his disciples, and that Aristophanes escaped legal problems
by burying hints of this in Birds and Clouds (Ruck 1981). We know from
Plutarch that Alcibiades was sentenced to death for the same crime--profaning
the Mysteries in Athens.
In a paper analyzing Bacchae of Euripides, Ruck later discussed the use
of wines in ancient Greece as a vehicle for the ingestion of entheogens
and other drugs, and discussed the "cultivated" (grain and civilization)
versus the "wild" (ergot, thought to represent the degeneration of cultivated
grain to its wild precursor; Ruck 1982). This fascinating study illuminates
some linguistic curiosities of the Bible, in which "wine" (yayin in Hebrew)
is repeatedly compared and contrasted with "strong drink" (sheker in Hebrew),
evidently an entheogenic potion (Ruck 1982; Wasson 1914). Finally, Ruck
identified the Hyperboreans as Aryans, and proposed that their first-fruit
offerings were none other than the miraculous soma—entheogenic mushrooms
(see Chapter 6; Ruck 1983). The amrta, the Soma potion, is etymologically
identical to the Greek ambrosia, which we now know, thanks to Ruck, Hofmann
and Wasson to have been an entheogenic potion.
Hofmann has often described the "magic circle" of his research on entheogens
starting with the discovery of LSD, a derivative of ergot alkaloids, he
was later brought into contact with R. Gordon Wasson, who supplied him
with the sacred mushrooms of Mexico, leading to Hofmann's discovery of
psilocybine and psilocyline, and who then supplied him with ololiuhqui,
another Mexican sacred durg in which Hofmann found the same alkaloids he
had begun working with two decades earlier (Hofmann 1966; Hofmann 1967).
Now it appears that Hofman’s "magic circle" has undergone a second revolution,
again leading back to ergot, a sacred drug of ancient Greek culture, which
is unmistakably our own, IndoEuropean culture.
Former Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, was influential in the metaphorical
rape of virgin territories and wilderness areas by wealthy (Hades' keyword)
oil, mining, and timber conglomerates. He was accused of breaking
the law in 1985. This lack of concern for the integrity of the soil
continues to occur through the raping or mining of our nation's agricultural
soils. Piling on chemical fertilizers makes a big short-term profit.
But in the long-run, soil is drained, depleted, and left barren by these
tactics. eorge W. Bush, as President has implemented ecologically
disastrous oil drilling, carpet bombing, and nuclear weapons policies.
Another expression of this myth-theme happens in stalking, stealing, and
kidnapping of children. It robs them of their childhoods, their innocence.
Of course, when their children are stolen from right under their noses,
parents are inconsolable. They mourn, search, and grieve endlessly,
since there is no emotional closure. No one knows if the child is
dead or not. Kidnap victim, Patty Hearst was literally sucked into an underworld
life of crime and violence when she was abducted by the S.L.A. (Persephone).
Golda Meir was known as the Earth Mother of Israel (Demeter).
These are vulnerable goddesses more like Hera in consciousness than the
virgin-goddesses Artemis, Athena or Hestia. In contrast to the focused
consciousness of the virgins, these goddesses are typified by "diffuse
awareness," which can be described as "an attitude of acceptance, an awareness
of the unity of life, and a readiness for relationship."
This quality of consciousness typifies the relationship-oriented people
of both sexes. Diffuse awareness allows the mother to maintain awareness
of her children even when they aren't in her immediate presence, and enables
a wife to known when her husband is upset. Negatively this means
she can be easily distracted by others. Try to notice when you experience
this type of awareness over focused consciousness.
Unfortunately the vulnerable goddesses were also subject to victimization
or abuse. When have you been victimized or had an uninvited intrusion?
Jung has said, that what is unconscious comes to us as fate. When
has fate opened a chasm in your life, and dragged you into the underworld?
How did your state of consciousness contribute to this event?
Those who feel unprotected will have frequent anxiety dreams of hostile,
aggressive, or threatening men. It is characteristic of the Demeter/Persephone
personality to have a happy or fulfilled phase, a phase during which she
is victimized, suffers and is symptomatic, and a phase of restoration or
transformation. A susceptible personality can learn to predict its
own problems and save some suffering. They gain balance through learning
judgment and independence. How have these cycles unfolded in your
The main psychological issues here are victimization, power and control,
expression of anger, depression, and possible lapse into a psychotic breakdown.
An exaggerated need to nurture can also lead to "burnout," fatigue and
apathy. Exploitation due to lack of personal assertiveness can lead
to passive-aggressive reactions, which appear as forgetfulness or lack
of responsibility. Then we should "mother" ourselves, giving our
concern to our own well-being. If we are too passive and compliant
we are dominated by other, and need more self-determination. Speak
with the goddesses on these issues, as well as concerning ecstatic religious
DEMETER/PERSEPHONE IN YOUR LIFE
1. Man or woman, have you ever been gripped by the intense desire
to engender offspring?
2. Were you narcissistic as an adolescent or during any later phase
of life? What aspects of life and relationship did your self-absorption
keep you unconscious of?
3. Describe a particular instance in which your "maternal instincts"
were aroused. Could you relate to the fierceness of a lioness or
bear defending her cubs?
4. Describe your understanding of how mother love can become smother
love. Were you ever a victim or victimizer in this sense?
5. Have any of your profound depressions revolved around the loss
of a loved one?
6. When grieving Demeter stopped functioning, nothing would grow.
Famine threatened to destroy mankind. This is manifest in today's
Africa. How do you react to this knowledge and the media coverage?
Has it awakened your desire to nurture or provide food?
7. The destructive side of Demeter is expressed by withholding what
another person needs, rather than being actively destructive. When
and with whom have your enacted this pattern in the past or present?
8. Have your ever been in a nurturing or helping profession such
as nursing, teaching, social work, physical therapy, rehabilitation, or
pediatrics? Perhaps you've volunteered at a nursery school, hospital
or nursing home.
9. Is your inner Demeter fulfilled, having learned to foster independence,
or is she unhappy, betrayed, and disappointed by unfulfilled expectations?
10. How can you learn to mother yourself with special care to keep
you functioning at an optimal level? Do you get the treatment you
deserve, or extend yourself beyond your time and energy reserves in the
service of others? Try reading WHEN I SAY NO, I FEEL GUILTY
if this problem is severe.
11. After her initial abduction, Persephone became a guide to the
underworld as well as its Queen. Since the underworld represents
the deeper layers of the psyche where memories and feelings, images, patterns,
and instincts lie buried. Persephone the Guide is the part of our
psyche which is responsible for the sense of familiarity with symbolic
language, ritual, madness, visions, or ecstatic mystical experience.
Have you experienced Persephone as inner guide, perhaps through grief,
depression or mental illness?
12. The collective unconscious appears in dreams as underground images,
a basement or underground corridor, or a labyrinth. It may also appear
as a deep cave where one might encounter beings, objects, or animals.
One is awed, afraid or interested, depending on whether this realm is feared
within ourselves. Can you remember any of thee images in your dreamscape?
13. Persephone the Queen and Guide represents an ability to move
back and forth between the ego-based reality and the unconscious or archetypal
realm of the psyche. When she is activated we can pass to either
level and integrate both in our personality. Describe how you might
enhance your contact with this mighty Queen.
14. The diffuse consciousness, with generalized receptivity and lack
of focus facilitates receiving ESP, or psychic ability, or mediumship that
is unafraid of the uncanny, at home in the underworld. They may be
intoxicated, ecstatic, charismatics who "speak in tongues," also.
Have you ever received an ESP message, or a communication from the dead?