I have spent some time deviating from my writing projects by pondering the Eleuisian Mysteries. I’ve been drawn over the past few months to investigate the Mysteries a little bit deeper, and by extension explored other areas such as the World Soul of Plato’s Timeaus, with the aim of creating personal practices which incorporate these themes.
The more I read, however, the more strident I find myself becoming on certain subjects, particularly around the conflation of the Mysteries with the Maid Mother Crone triad of Modern Paganism.
Hekate is not a Crone in Her own time, by which I am referring to the 7th century BC to 5th century AD. The Crone or Hag image began to be associated with Hekate in the late Roman period as her associations with Witches, in particular the Witches of Thessely, deepened. This was built on by later writers, such as Shakespeare and Crowley to name just two, to the point that the image has become an almost canonical view of Her.
As a side note I find Crowley’s treatment of Hekate interesting not least because of the change in his treatment of Her. In the 20 or so years between his Invocation to Hecate, and its devotional tones, and his novel Moon Child, in which he essentially performs a character assassination, something clearly changed in his experience of Her. Knowing what little I do about Crowley’s personality and Hekate as a Goddess I could make some educated guesses but not here and now.
But enough deviation!
By extension, the common presumption that the roles of Maid Mothers Crone are miss applied to Persephone, Demeter and Hekate respectively. A more accurate application would be to place Hekate as a Maiden, as is indicated by her epithet Kore; Persephone as the Mother, recognising her transition from an unmarried state to full womanhood (without reference to fertility and sexual activity); and Demeter as the Crone, recognising Hr excessive of grief resulting in a barren harvest and winter. Even though this is more consistent with a modern interpretation they are not roles which thr Greeks themselves would understand or envisage as to them the Goddesses of Olympus were ageless and beautiful. In this interpretation the role of the two myths is as an explination of the role and reason of the seasons; whilst this is certainly part of the purpose of the Rape of Persephone and Wanderings of Demeter is secondary function within the Eleuisian Mysteries.
The Rape of Persephone and Wanderings of Demeter are, as mystery plays, intended to prepare the initiate to reach the deepest understandings of the soul, it’s condition and existence and how these may be bettered.
Firstly the Lesser Mysteries and the Rape of Persephone purified the soul and prepare it for the Greater Mysteries. During reenactment of the Rape of Persephone the Goddess, representing the Soul, is removed from Her heavenly state and is bound by the material forces of the Underworld. This is used in allegory to explain the fall of the soul from its heavenly origins and why it is impossible for it to rise above the endless cycle of death and rebirth to the mortal realms. That is, unless you truly accept the teachings of the Mysteries and strive for high levels of initiation… of course.
Whilst the Lesser Mysteries are of the physical and material, the Wanderings of Demeter are interlectul and spiritual. They share with the initiate the behaviours, beliefs and techniques which allows the soul to overcome the fetters of physical existence and material concerns in order to ascend towards the heavenly Demeter. With each progressive initiation and participation in the Greater Mysteries (the levels quoted vary, priesthood not withstanding) greater understanding of the nature of the soul and the techniques necessary to release it from its material bonds is achieved. The thing’s seen and heard as part of the Mystery, which is thought to have included the reenactment of the Wanderings to inform the initiated how the soul could break free and return to its heavenly origins. Where as the Lesser Mysteries lead to the Queen of Hades, Persephone of Material Death, the Greater Mysteries carry the initiate forward to a Queen of Olympus/Heaven, Demeter of a Higher Spiritual Death. Through achieving all the spiritual and mundane methods of transitioning to meet this Queen of Heaven during life the initiate would find it possible to achieve the same transition at death because, as is central to the Mysteries, the soul only knows as much in death as it did in life. The purpose of the Mysteries is to give the soul the knowledge necessary to achieve ascension.
What was entailed in the Mysteries is an interesting question and one that is difficult to answer. It appears that the number nine was key; nine days and spheres of descent into the Underworld; nine months and the gestation of new life, but the detail and the meaning behind what little we know about the ritual is lost in the mists of time and secrecy. The mystai of the Eleuisian Mysteries guarded their secrets well. Although the Lesser Mysteries were open to a wide section of ancient society the Greater Mysteries were rarely attained, at least in comparison to the numbers participating in the Lesser Mysteries. Equally the divulging of the contents of initiation and Mysteries themselves was legislated against in the Athenian legal code, with even comedy containing a hint of content being punishable by a large, debilitating fine. No wonder then that what we think we know consists of the broad, allegorical concepts. That means that the ways in which the Mysteries can be incorporated into modern practice is therefore somewhat limited by our knowledge and understanding.
One obvious way is to incorporate the lessons of the seasonal cycles into the modern Wheel of the Year. There is no doubt that the Rape and Wanderings represent an explination of the seasons, and I believe that it is possible to do so without reference to the MMC or misidentification of any of the three Goddesses involved. (I seriously doubt that I am reinventing the wheel with such beliefs, but I want to create my own version of the Wheel from scratch.)
How the presumed deeper meanings of the Mysteries can be incorporated in to modern practice remains to be seen, and should probably be left to greater minds than mine. Not being of a deep philosophical or theological mindset means I lack the qualifications to initiate or participant in great debates on the nature and development of the immortal soul so I will stick to trolling the Rosicrucians and Academia.edu for such insights.
Two texts available online which I initially recommend for reference are
The Eleuisian Mysteries and Rites by Dudley Wright
The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly Palmer Hall. There are many more available and I am increasingly branching out to look at devotional and historical writings about Persephone and Demeter. I feel no particular call from these Goddesses at the moment but it is impossible for me to gain understanding of Hekate within the Eleuisian Mysteries with out giving the Queen of Harvest and the Queen of Hades at least some of my attention.
Initiation into the Mysteries by M P Hall