Gaia: Then and Now is a series of ARAS webinars that focus on our relationship to the Earth, as revealed through the study of ancient and contemporary symbolic imagery as it appears in myth, the visual arts, dance, and dramatic story telling. With widely varying but complementary perspectives, the speakers will present commentary, visual images, original videos, and engage with the online audience in interactive dialogue.
THE ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES
In the Imagination of ancient Greece, Gaia was never left behind as a legend at the beginning. Whenever the drive of creation was required to reach a new level, she continued to play an essential role and, crucially, in the movement of the Seasons and the renewal of the year, which involve the rhythmic cycles of life, death and rebirth in all creation. This drama was explored through the myth of Gaia’s grand-daughter, Demeter, and the death and rebirth of Demeter’s own daughter, Persephone. Gaia initiates the drama by growing a magical narcissus with a hundred blooms as a ‘snare’ for Persephone – whose other name, Kore, means ‘shoot.’ So enticing is the narcissus that Persephone picks it (ending its life above ground) and so falls into the dark underworld (herself dropping as the seed) and becomes the bride of Hades (Death). Through Demeter’s rage at the loss of her daughter which turns the land barren, Persephone returns every spring as the reborn shoot to her mother Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. This natural drama was the source of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
The relationship between the ‘Mother of Corn’ and her child, who dies as the seed and is reborn as the new shoot, was also understood as disclosing the possibility of a shared reality with the life, death and rebirth of human beings. This was originally inspired by the monthly drama of the Moon’s birth, death and rebirth, so the timing of the Mysteries also followed the waning and rebirth of the Moon.
In Eleusis, beside the sea not far from Athens, the Mysteries lasted for almost 2,000 years, from around 1500 BCE until 392 CE, when they were proscribed by the Christian Emperor Theodosius. And later the temples were sacked by the Goths. Yet, much was saved: the writings, images and sculptures of many Greeks and Romans – philosophers, artists and poets – so the memory of the Mysteries was never lost.
This film follows the art, poetry, rituals and ceremonies – which brought the participants to their final vision. We will try to explore how and why the culmination of the Mysteries was experienced – by so many people, for so long – as bringing about a radical change in consciousness.