Ceres, the Eleusinian Mysteries
And Spirit Plant Medicine
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The empowerment that Ceres offers us in this Age of Perpetual Crisis is not just a revolution of renewed interest in local, grassroots political activism – although it is that. It is also a spiritual revolution, as well. For learning to be a part of the weave does not just mean participating in the world in a more egalitarian way. It also means identifying with the entire web of Life, rather than just our own small personal lives, or even the larger lives of our communities or our species.
Knowing – in our hearts and bones – that the web of Life with which we identify has a life of its own that will survive the worst possible damage that humans could ever do it, potentially frees us up on a very deep level. For regardless of what happens to the world – if we can remember that we are part of this web of Life, then whether we slowly rot and turn to food for worms or self-combust in a blinding flash of light – the web goes on, and in some mysterious fashion we cannot perhaps truly grasp with our rational minds, so do we.
This is the true gift that Ceres bears to us in this age of overwhelming and insurmountable global issues tending toward catastrophe. It is clear that in her championship of bees, and the symbiotic relationship between plants, animals, and humans, she is our teacher about what it means to be part of the weave. For those who are ready for the initiation, the opportunity to enter the weave – while also transcending the fear of death, and attaining a certain state of immortality – is there.
That Ceres presides over this deeper spiritual process arises from her mythological initiation of the Eleusinian mysteries. The Eleusinian mysteries began during Demeter’s wandering phase, in the wake of Kore’s abduction, when she took a job as a nanny to Demophoon, heir to the throne of King Celeus. The secret ritual she conducted at night – anointing him with oil, and dipping him in fire – was an attempt to make him immortal, to turn a human into a god. When her ritual experiment with Demophoon was discovered, Demeter declared herself and demanded a temple be built for her on the spot. At this temple, she taught the Eleusinian Mysteries – a initiatory process, still shrouded in mystery, but essentially a transformation of human into divine immortal – to countless numbers of initiates over several thousand years.
Although scholars continue to speculate about the true nature of the Eleusinian mysteries, the chances are that it included the ingestion of a hallucinogenic brew called kykeon, made from barley ergot. According to the late neo-psychedelic anthropologist Terrence McKenna, the Eleusinian Mysteries were the last bastion of a ten-thousand-year tradition in which an egalitarian culture, Goddess worship and the mainstream embrace of hallucinogenic forms of communion facilitated a symbiotic relationship between humans, plants and animals – that is to say, the weave itself.
The rise of this symbiosis – which McKenna considered the essence of Archaic (primeval indigenous) culture – paralleled the rise of agriculture and, he would argue, the evolution of human consciousness (1). As humans began to domesticate cattle, they also started to harvest the psilocybin mushrooms that grew in the dung of the cattle. Psilocybin in turn stimulated a rapid increase in brain size, the sexual-communal bonding that constellated humans into tribes, and the development of language. It also became the basis for the first shamanistic religions that sought hallucinogenic ecstasy as a regular stimulation of enlightened understanding about the appropriate place of humans in the larger web of Life.
Since these early origins of human consciousness, the use of what has become known as spirit plant medicine has flourished in one form or another, on to the present day despite vigorous suppression by Christianity, and the legal apparatus of what McKenna called “dominator culture” – the modern corporate state engaged in a systematic, routine, institutionalized Plutonic rape of Ceres’ natural order as a way of life.
As noted by Steven Gray, author of Returning to the Sacred World, and one of the presenters at this year’s 4th Annual Spirit Plant Medicine Conference in Vancouver (2):
"What remains of the anthropological, historical, and archaeological record clearly shows that visionary, healing, spirit-invoking plants have been widely used since time immemorial. The evidence is extensive: from the archeological findings of Neolithic shamans buried with their pipes and plant residues; to the spirit-flight iconography of ancient cave paintings; the use of soma in the Rig Veda of ancient India; mushroom stones of Kerala from over two thousand years ago; the visionary sacrament at the heart of the annual ceremony at Eleusis in pre-Christian era Greece; Byzantine era religious frescoes in Northern Africa, and a great deal more. The spiritual, medicinal, therapeutic, and divinatory use of these plants has continued right up to the living traces of practices still employed by indigenous groups tucked into the jungles, forests, plains, and mountains, as well as with the determined personal and scholarly explorations of the 'new people'.”
With the demotion of Pluto and concurrent promotion of Ceres to dwarf planet status in the middle of the last decade, and in the wake of Terrence McKenna’s untimely death in 2000, there has arisen a renewed interest in plant spirit medicine. The new people – a new wave of pioneers seeking the use of plant entheogens as a point of entry into an experience and understanding of the rightful place of humans within the weave – is spawning what one of the new people, James Oroc calls a Second Psychedelic Revolution (3):
"In the decade following his death, the focal points of Terence’s McKenna’s life’s work have become, for better and for worse, something of a blueprint for the rise of a global neo-tribal, techno-shamanic culture . . . Terence McKenna’s enthusiastic advocation of the shaman as a spiritual psychedelic guide . . . has resulted in thousands of Americans and Europeans journeying to Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil in search of that guidance."
While the downside to the Second Psychedelic Revolution – which Oroc is not shy in illuminating – is the inevitable cheap imitation of the real thing as faux-fashion that accompanies any genuine cultural phenomena – one cannot also suspect that there is a deeper process at work, for which the embrace of spirit plant medicine by a new generation is only one of many possible avenues of expression. As Buhner concludes his latest book, Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm (4):
". . . there are those among us who remember deep in some part of themselves – a part that will not let them rest – the forest and the livingness of green things. It was said that it’s time for them to come home. Time for them to take up their work – the work that resides in the deepest parts of themselves. Time for them to speak for the green things, to teach their children the way of the Earth. Time for humans to think in new ways."
This dream – which fueled the First Psychedelic Revolution where Buhner received the vision for his life work – is still alive, and now fuels a Second Revolution, not just a psychedelic revolution, but a revolution in consciousness very much in the tradition of our primal ancestors discovering for the first time the weave of plant intelligence, the pollinating magic of bees, and the willingness of animals to cooperate with humans – all blending in the symbiotic weave that gave birth to agriculture, shamanism, and human language.
As more of us become willing to step out of dominator culture and into this deeper awareness of our place within the weave, the legacy of Ceres is carried forward in ways that will meet the desecration of the world with an immortal wisdom capable of surviving it and thriving in the aftermath.
This is not a given, but an opportunity – and a choice that each of us must make individually, and all of us must make collectively. It is a choice with important consequences for the future of our species, if not the future of the planet. Or as Homer cautions us in his Hymn to Demeter (5):
"Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiate and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom."
This is the last post in this series.
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