The Eleusinian Mysteries

June 13, 2020

The Eleusinian Mysteries became the principal religious ritual of ancient Greece, begun circa 1600 BCE. Originally a secret cult devoted to Demeter, the rites honoured the annual cycle of death and rebirth of grain in the fields. The resurrection of seeds buried in the ground inspired the faith that similar resurrection might await the human body laid to rest in the earth. The religious rituals of the Eleusinian Mysteries lasted two thousand years, became the official state religion, and spread to Rome. They laid the groundwork for Christianity’s belief in resurrection and were ultimately overthrown by the Roman emperor in the fourth century CE.

The canonical source of Demeter’s story, the ‘Homeric Hymn to Demeter,’ dates from about a thousand years into the practice of these rituals. It is called Homeric because it employs the same meter as The Iliad and The Odyssey – dactylic hexameter, the rhythm of ‘Picture yourself in a boat on the river / With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.’

The foundation of the Mysteries is Demeter’s power over the fertility of the land. When her daughter Persephone is stolen by Hades to be his lover in the underworld, the mother’s grief is so acute that she refuses to let the fields produce grain. People are in danger of starving, but Demeter resists, saying there will be no crops until she sees her daughter return. When Persephone does come back, after many trials among mortals and much dealing making among the gods, Demeter’s sudden transformation of bare ground into a ‘vast sheet of ruddy grain’ marks the miracle of fruition returning after a fallow time and sparks the fertility cult of the mysteries. This metamorphosis occurs in mythic time, so it is safe to say that it continues in the present moment for the mind embracing its truth.

Alison Hawthorne Deming
Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit

Persephone Kidnaps Him

March 13, 2020

It’s not the death god dragging Spring into the Underworld
to take root, hide in the dark,
and then burst forth again. No.

The story is that Death was in his black cloak,
walking gently across the white tundra of the Earth.
He knew only inertia,
wearing years inside his black eyes,
though his own body doesn’t know time or cold,
his black beard is ringed with frost.
He harvests what he can find,
killing things to feed men.

When he finds the garden,
it’s an oasis inside the snow banks,
hot springs surrounded by green shoots,
pink blossoms, blue, red.
All colours that terrify him in their alien richness.

The woman in the garden is quick, strong, full of vitality,
pins him,
is fascinated by him.

“Please do not leave,” she says in his ear,
wrapping him in vines,
chains he has never known
and therefore cannot break.
“Stay with me.”

And all bursts with life, heat, breath, animals.
No one dies,
which is fine
until maggots breed in infected wounds
and those suffering illness cannot pass.

The gods ask her to release her prisoner,
collared in her garden, kissed and well-fed.
“But he has eaten of my pomegranate,” she says.
“He is my husband, now.”

And he is
but only for half the year
when life pushes through the snow
and consumes death,
triumphs over the dark.

Gillian Daniels


August 4, 2019

What is immortality?

Hera lays her head in the stars. Her fingers dance across the earth, as it spins on and on. Her eyes watch, face after face, as the wounds that once stung from betrayal, dull to a slight pang. Time. Immortality is time.

Hercules drifts between wedges of stone, hands lazily resting atop an engraving long since committed to memory. His ears are fooled by the echoes of laughter from another life. The fate of heroes is the dead they bury. Loss. Immortality is loss.

Persephone wanders in the fields, feet knee deep in the ground; senses ablaze from all the life that hums around her. A wicked grin is quick to dance across her face. A girl Goddess of Life to a Queen over the Dead. Change. Immortality is change.

Athena walks amongst a garden of statues. She remembers hair that was long brown tresses before it was scales. A gift and the power to give them, but no control in how it is used. Was it protection or something else? Punishment. Immortality is punishment.

Prometheus lifts heavy eyes to the heavens where the galaxies wrote fates he thought he could read. A blessing turned into a plague that ravaged mortality, twisting it into something devoid of the purity he once admired. Regret. Immortality is regret.

Ares sorts through rubble. Broken homes. Broken nations. Broken bones. Wars being fought from behind a desk instead of on the ground. Yet history is still being written in crimson, whether by a sword or a keyboard. Blood. Immortality is blood.

Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon sit and watch the end of the world, destruction the song they’ve hummed since birth. There will be era after era, for each end they will see a beginning. There is no Death that can threaten them. Eternity. Immortality is eternity.


Persephone’s behaviour

March 10, 2019

We the daughters of the twenty first century are not mystified by Persephone’s behaviour. In school, we learn that Persephone is frolicking in a field when Hades kidnaps her and take her underground. Persephone’s mother Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, freaks out. Every plant in the world dies. Eventually Persephone is found… she looks anorexic. Hades says that she can leave if she must but first why doesn’t she eat this. It’s not till she emerges into the weird sunlight — it’s not till she’s in her mother’s kitchen sipping pumpkin soup—it’s not till Demeter sighs with relief to know her daughter didn’t eat anything down there — that Persephone makes her confession about the six pomegranate seeds…What Persephone will never mention is the rich unending night, the earthy smell of scotch on his breath, the way he mocked the universe and everyone in it but was so tender with the dead, with her, with beasts and ghosts. How low his voice got when he told her attempts would be made to separate them. Now, we the daughters of the twentyfirst century are going to marry men our mothers don’t quite love. These men seem dark to them, dangerous, lacking in good posture. We sit at our mothers’ tables, trying to explain why we have chosen to settle in distant, inhospitable cities…we suggest to our mothers that they read a certain Greek myth; they raise their eyebrows at us as they always do now-a-days; the grass begins to shrivel in the ground, and in the orchard the apples sicken on the branch.

Helen Phillips
The Mothers
And yet they were Happy

What horrible things –

October 7, 2018

The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, by Marcel Duchamp

Hades raised an eyebrow. When he sat forward in his throne, shadowy faces appeared in the folds of his black robes, faces of torment, as if the garment was stitched of trapped souls from the Fields of Punishment, trying to get out. The ADHD part of me wondered, off-task, whether the rest of his clothes were made the same way. What horrible things would you have to do in your life to get woven into Hades’ underwear?

Rick Riordan
The Lightning Thief