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Io Eleusis!

This extended Easter weekend I spent my time at Ft. Flagler on the tip of the Washington peninsula near the San Juan Islands, where we re-enacted and re-interpreted the Greek Mysteries of Eleusis. We use what we know about what happened at a religious center that continuously presented a yearly rite for almost 2000 years. The initiates take an oath of secrecy, which the state upheld, that called for death if anyone should reveal the content of the mysteries. What we do know that happened there that has been allowed to survive in writings, art and sculpture is what we can definitely say was NOT a part of the mystery there.

We know, for example, that it is based upon the mythology surrounding Demeter the Goddess of Grain, her daughter the Kore/Persephone, and Kore’s abduction/marriage/rape by Hades, the God of the Underworld. While there are many myths about this trio, the one that I think is among the most artful is the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The story tells of Demeter’s loss, and how the Mysteries at Eleusis were founded. Doing a bit of digging, I found some critical essays that talked about how this Hymn was likely written by and for women, the evidence being that Zeus, who is normally made out in the best light with the highest authority, is trumped by women–the writer seems to bite her thumb at Zeus’–and thus male and the state’s–authority. An interesting proto-feminist idea.

The myth explains the seasons, why we have barren times, and takes a mythological look at the growing of food. What makes it magical is that our Priests and Priestesses at the Spring Mysteries Festival will Draw Down or invoke the godform into them. While we know that the original Greeks did not do a theatrical show based on the myth, we use it because it is consistent with Greek culture and still speaks to us today. The rest of our festival is ritual journeying, in which we go into the Underworld to save Persephone, and witness how the events transform everyone, including the Gods.

Because the actors are invoked, the play takes on a whole new dimension. There is real energy being worked that radiates and touches the participants differently. Those who come to the festival come year after year because the Mystery changes and touches them differently. One year, I might really feel strongly about Persephone’s difficult decision between her mother and her new husband. Another year, I might totally identify with Demeter’s loss, victimhood and

A phallic "herma" of Hermes. You can tell it's him by the wand on the side of the block. This is from an Archaic vase painting.

perceived powerlessness. So when Demeter is healed, I am healed. The Mysteries demands a lot of us, and I found myself in tears several times this weekend.

My favorite part of our festival is the Shrine time. The Priests and Priestesses of the Olympian Gods invoke and attend the shrines we have built for them. The site has these individual little buildings that are basically 18×12′ . We decorate them with fabric, rugs, statuary, flowers and foliage, and anything else that might represent the individual godform. The Pan shrine, for example, had a 3 foot phallus made of, well, wood. The shrine also had animal skins, pine boughs, and a gurgling rock fountain. Anyhoo, besides the wonderful shrines, you can visit the Priests and Priestesses that have been working with this energy for months, if not years, and ask them questions. They are bringing divinity in a safe and tangible way, and visiting the shrines is an experience you won’t soon forget. It is something I’m writing and thinking about a lot for my book about invocation.

By the time the weekend is over, you’ve had several days of comradery with other Pagans who witnessed the same rights, visited the shrines, and ate the same food. It’s a fascinating way to create community and recharge your spiritual batteries.

I was really involved this year, and spent several months organizing things behind the scenes, so the end of this weekend represents an end to a great deal of work. The events themselves went off with fewer glitches than I had predicted. I expect that is because of the wonderful cast, crew and staff working so diligently. I’m sad that it’s over, but I recognize it’s time to turn my attention to other projects, like school…and this blog….and work. My inbox misses the attention, though. Every year I leave Ft. Flagler dreaming about next year, making new friends and connections in my practical and spiritual life. It is an event not easily forgotten.

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