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Living Now - - Living With Spirit -

hos­til­ity and violence. We have lost Baubo and so many of the myths and rit­u­als that can con­nect us to our­selves, each other, and the world.

At the core of the Eleusinian Mys­ter­ies was the myth of Deme­ter and her daugh­ter, Perse­phone. The maiden Perse­phone was pick­ing flow­ers when she was seized by Hades and taken to the Un­der­world. Deme­ter searched but could not find her daugh­ter. In her dis­tress, she stopped tend­ing the Earth. Crops failed, bring­ing famine and suf­fer­ing. Zeus in­ter­vened and sent Her­mes to re­trieve Perse­phone from the Un­der­world. Mother and daugh­ter were re­united, and the land flour­ished again. Each year the cy­cle re­peated, Perse­phone de­scend­ing and re­turn­ing, sym­bol­is­ing the chang­ing sea­sons and the eter­nal re­turn.

It seems likely that the Eleusinian Mys­ter­ies in­volved ini­ti­ates in sym­bolic en­act­ment of Perse­phone’s jour­ney. Sym­bolic en­act­ment in­vites en­gage­ment and sug­gests a pos­si­bil­ity of trans­for­ma­tion. It can also be con­fus­ing and frus­trat­ing. Sym­bols are not static – the mean­ing of a sym­bol changes from per­son to per­son and across time and place. En­act­ment en­sures that the ex­pe­ri­ence is alive in the mo­ment, and rit­ual en­act­ment en­sures a safe place to en­gage the mys­ter­ies.

There re­mains a mystery about what ex­actly took place at the Deme­ter Sanc­tu­ary at Eleu­sis, but it seems likely that the an­cients in­cor­po­rated sym­bol and en­act­ment in an ini­ti­a­tion process. Ini­ti­a­tion al­ways in­volves a cross­ing – from one stage to the next, from one iden­tity to an­other. We like to think we can choose our cross­ings, but life has a way of choos­ing for us, and we are dev­as­tated by loss, shocked by be­trayal, left anx­ious and fear­ful of change. The Eleusinian Mys­ter­ies of­fered the an­cients a map for the jour­ney.

Imag­ine your­self as an ini­ti­ate. You may be­come Deme­ter, griev­ing un­bear­able loss and with­draw­ing from the world. Or per­haps you are Perse­phone, your life abruptly changed by forces out­side your con­trol. As you walk the path of ini­ti­a­tion, guided by story and by those who have gone be­fore, you en­counter the Un­der­world of your own psy­che and you are trans­formed.

Sym­bolic en­act­ment takes us into and be­yond our fears. We cross thresh­olds and re­turn with sovereignty over our­selves. Perse­phone re­turns to the up­per world, and she is also Queen of the Un­der­world.

In the mod­ern world, we en­gage sym­bols through ex­press­ing our cre­ativ­ity, work­ing with dreams, and at­tend­ing depth psy­chother­apy. Just imag­ine how it would be to wake one morn­ing know­ing that to­day you will walk in pro­ces­sion from the city to a sanc­tu­ary by the sea, chant­ing and singing, shout­ing ob­scen­i­ties to Baubo, who laughs loudly and shouts right back. Imag­ine that to­day you will make of­fer­ings to God­dess and be guided through a rit­ual en­act­ment of one of the great teach­ing sto­ries, de­scend­ing and re­turn­ing trans­formed. Imag­ine…

I caught that bus to Elef­sina to walk the mar­ble paths of Deme­ter’s sanc­tu­ary. The sea­sonal rit­u­als of an­cient god­dess re­li­gions, based on the cy­cles of death and re­birth in Na­ture, of­fer a very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive from cur­rent pa­tri­ar­chal re­li­gious and sci­en­tific tra­di­tions. The an­cient myths of­fer us sto­ries of eter­nally re­turn­ing, of re­new­able cre­ative ex­pe­ri­ence, per­son­ally and col­lec­tively. I caught that bus to Elef­sina to visit one of the places where the sto­ries were born. n

Dr Kaalii Cargill was on God­dess pil­grim­age in Greece in 2015. Her PHD re­search ex­plored an­cient women’s mys­ter­ies. She and her hus­band, An­drew, run the Kairos Cen­tre for mind-body heal­ing, en­ergy medicine and Soul Cen­tred Psy­chother­apy, offering both train­ing and per­sonal heal­ing, in Mel­bourne.

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