On the night of the full moon – that amazing blood moon of January 31st – we hosted an Imbolc-ish ritual. Imbolc-ish because I and Coyvere are not Celtic or Wiccan we are Hellenic Greek. Greeks were not big on Imbolc. It’s hard to squash the Greek god/dess into the Celtic wheel of the year. Sure, I could wax poetic about how there are the archetype of deities found in each pantheon but sometimes you just gotta go Greek.
There is very little written about The Lesser and Greater Eleusinian Mysteries. The lesser took part in the spring tended to be about purification and rededication, the greater in the autumn about the harvest and the abduction of Persephone. The Eleusinian Cults were a secret cult (who doesn’t love a good secret cult?), probably really meaning women’s traditions passed from mother to daughter and not written down. The Golden Dawn and other patriarchal lodges have tried to tie these mysteries to their lodges, but I find that to be a stretch for an agrarian rural society focused on goddess worship. Digging into archaeological sites there is discussion about the city of Eleusis and the cult of Demeter, the Homeric Hymn of Demeter and Persephone and a few ruins but these articles are rather dry. The only way to discover the true spirit of the rituals and mysteries is to go to the source – The Goddess.
With a good bit of brainstorming and meditation Coyvere and I came up with our Ritual. We felt it was important to have three steps in this ritual: a conscious rededication to yourself and your goddess, a stripping or lifting of the mundane so you can see yourself as a magical being and a cleansing of the body, mind and soul/spirit. Our ritual would historically have involved snakes, hallucinogenic drinks and a bath or swim in the river Lethe. In this modern day it included a basket of plush snakes, fairy milk and a simulated river.
We started with casting our circle of protection. It’s lovely here this time of year in South Western Arizona, making outdoor rituals welcoming and letting us be bathe in the light of the full moon. Once we had our circle cast we gathered our participants and explained the symbolism and mechanics of the ritual. Those in the group who were more comfortable calling their own deities were invited to touch on their guides or patrons before we started. Our next step was to call our gods and goddess.
We started with Hades and Persephone.
After all we were making a trip down to the underworld and who better to have at your side then the King and Queen? We lighted a candle for each of the gods and goddess as we called them. Hades and Persephone acted as guides and guardians for the ritual. The next three deities we called as an Orphic triad – Hecate, Demeter and Dionysus. Hecate as the gate keeper of the underworld, Demeter as mother of Persephone and guardian of the mysteries and Dionysus as opener of the divine self. Dionysus is an interesting one to deal with. He is often only thought of in madness or drunkenness. He is in Demeter’s grief as she searches for Persephone when she falls into despairing madness. With the full moon Dionysus is most active. He, like many of the Greeks when you ask, will give you gifts freely – so be careful what you ask for. His lunacy/madness is often a gift allowing us to see deep within ourselves. Not to the shadow side but to the divine side who we are when we are at one with our divine self or daemon. Often the madness his followers experience is the opening of that self-divinity without preparation or protection from its truths.
The last candle we lit was for Lethe herself, Titaness and Goddess of the river Oblivion where mortals bathed to forget their old lives.
With candles lit and deities present we moved on to the next part of our ritual – the rededication of self to your god/dess or as it was known in the lesser Eleusinian mystery a test of faith. In times old – so the archaeologists tell us – a devotee would stick their hands into a basked of snakes as a reminder of their mortality and their faith in their goddess Demeter to watch over them. I’m not really a snake person, but I do have a surprise basket of stuffed snakes! It worked really well to have people stick their hand into a basked and pull forth a deadly snake.
Once our faith had been tested it was time to drink. Ah the old alcohol debate – to have alcohol as part of a ritual or not? Especially one with Dionysus. He is after all the god of wine and madness. Traditionally they would have had an ergot-based drink made with barley and mint. A rotten grain beer, with mint hum…. Not a fan. Both choices made me nervous so we opted for warm almond milk with nutmeg, cloves and a touch of honey. Fairy milk as it’s sometimes called. Almond milk (well a kind of milk and a nod towards the Imbolc theme) because we have members in our group who can’t drink lactose. Nutmeg because it is a mild sedative and hallucinogen, cloves because they help to open the third eye and honey for a touch of sweet to set off all that bitter.
Faith tested, and our sight opened and enabled, we were ready to set into the river Lethe and bathe – washing away what we no longer need, cleaning ourselves of karmic residue we no longer required and stripping away of the human to see the divine within.
Right before the ritual, Coyvere and a few others took strips of blue crepe-paper and created a waterfall for us to walk thought. This gave both the illusion of a river as well as a physical “wall of water” to walk though, lettings us fully enjoy a swim in the river Lethe.
Holding on to Persephone’s energies I stayed in the river until everyone in our group had their chance to bathe. It is Persephone’s job to see that the souls once cleansed are sent off onto their next incarnation. By staying in the river, I could also watch people’s energies and help guide should someone feel overwhelmed or stuck in the river Lethe.
Everyone in our group made it safely back to the mundane world, much cleaner spiritually and karmically. We ended the night with light conversation and snacks.
While I can’t speak for what others experienced in the ritual or in the days following I can speak for myself. When you spend time in the Lethe you spend time really seeing the core of your being which can be intimidating and inspiring at the same time. It has been a rough couple of weeks emotionally and spiritually speaking. Those blinders I had against myself have been stripped away. There is no ignoring them – there is only going forward and upward into my spiritual path.