Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live in ancient Greece? In a culture flourishing with art, music, political experiments and philosophy? In a time of decadent free-flowing celebrations, the very definition of euphoria, with cults and rituals of sacrifice to a pantheon of gods and goddesses revered for their very wisdom?
The Eleusinian Mysteries
If you were an ancient Athenian, you may have tried to score some of that esoteric wisdom by partaking in the Eleusinian Mysteries, a nine-day initiation shrouded in secrecy. First learning about, and then joining in on the rites, notes Carol Pearson, a scholar of depth psychology and archetypes, in Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within, you’d likely encounter the Mysteries through a story “of the grain goddess, Demeter: how her daughter was abducted, how a famine ensued because of Demeter’s grief, how her daughter returned and then traveled back and forth between the Upper World and the Underworld, and how this mother-daughter team created the Mysteries. You could be encouraged to identify with Persephone, trusting that the world is a safe place and that, even in death, a cosmic motherly presence is always with you…Her story also would affirm that winter always would lead to spring, that famines can be averted and abundance restored, that sorrows will not last forever, and that you can learn the secrets of attaining a happy and prosperous life.”
Gathering with upward of 2,000 people, you’d be baptized, join a processional walk of over 14 miles to Demeter’s temple in Eleusis, and fast and dance with wild abandon. You’d then enter a place of darkness where, some scholars believe, you’d commemorate a sacred story in a choreographed dance and a bright light would momentarily blind you. You’d finish your initiation by emerging into the light of day feeling “as if you had died and been reborn, so death no longer held terrors for you.”
The archetypes cast shadows
Pearson says that although we may not be aware of it, today the archetypes of ancient gods and goddesses live on. “The shadow sides of all the archetypes,” Pearson explains, “reveal a desire to take over the lives of mortals, expecting them to dedicate their lives to expressing the archetype’s goals. This is one of the reasons that women are so exhausted today. Demeter wants us to be the perfect mother and to care for everyone around us who needs help. Zeus wants us to be wildly successful and wealthy. Persephone wants us to be soulful and deep, connected with the mysteries of the universe. And Dionysus expects us to be experiencing and fostering ecstasy all the time.…If we are unaware of archetypes in us, they can possess us in their more negative forms; recognizing them reinforces free will.”
Pearson says Arianna Huffington revealed such a fate in her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being,Wisdom, and Wonder. Huffington, she says, “internalized an attitude from the culture around her that working around the clock in the service of money and power was evidence of being a successful and admirable person. But when she did this for too long, it led to a physical collapse. She then extrapolated from her experience to warn other overworked people of the impending tragic outcome of a counterproductive story. The problem she exposes is a cultural out-of-control Zeus archetype, not balanced by Demeter, Persephone, or Dionysus.”
Directing your inner theater company
Pearson explains that, “Most of us have archetypes that are the stars of our show, but if we let ourselves become one-dimensional, we become walking stereotypes of an archetype in its counterproductive form (as above with Zeus). People under the influence of Demeter can burn out if they cannot stop doing for others as long as anyone needs anything—and there will always be someone in need.”
Awakening to the heroine’s path
Persephone Rising features narratives of each of the four archetypes. Pearson says that “the Eleusinian Mysteries narratives can help you awaken and develop aspects of your psyche essential to the heroine’s path…Living these four stories, even vicariously by reading them, activates these inner psychological resources.… and enables you to avoid the paralysis that strikes when the ego, heart, soul, and body are tugging at you from so many different directions that you cannot find a way to move forward.”
The toolbox of exercises throughout the narratives are aimed at helping readers take control of their lives by integrating or balancing qualities of the archetypes, and protect themselves “from internalizing limiting or harmful narratives, to craft narratives that highlight what is real and meaningful in life, and to reframe stories to transform attitudes and situations.”
Crafting your happy ending
The Eleusinian rites were the self-help movement of their time, Pearson notes, and always promised happy endings. Persephone Rising leads readers down the processional path of the ancients into a modern initiation where the power to change reveals we can all awaken the heroine within.