The Mythology of Ceres Revisited
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An unmanned spacecraft launched by NASA on September 27, 2007 is scheduled to explore the dwarf planet Ceres sometime in 2015. Perhaps we will learn something new from this probe that will further inform our astrology. Meanwhile, the astrology currently ascribed to Ceres — a Roman goddess of agriculture — derives mostly from the mythology of her Greek counterpart, Demeter.
Demeter is famous for withdrawing the fertility of the Earth in order to bargain for the return of her daughter Persephone from the Underworld after the young girl was abducted by Hades. The agreement worked out between Demeter, Zeus, and Hades returned Persephone to the upper world for part of the year, an arrangement that is evoked as the mythological basis for the turning of the seasons.
In relation to this myth, modern astrologers associate Ceres with mothering, as well as the wounds associated with meddlesome or neglectful mothering — particularly eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or weight issues; and issues associated with abandonment, child abduction, and/or sexual abuse. On a more global scale, Ceres may be implicated in rising concerns about genetically modified foods, population growth (7 billion and counting), and climate change.
There is another dimension to Ceres’ story, however, that gets less attention but that I think is equally important to consider. After Demeter learns of her daughter's abduction through conversations with Hecate and Helios (Moon and Sun deities, respectively), she doesn’t immediately respond. Instead, she puts on a disguise and wanders incognito through the human world. Eventually, she winds up in the town of Eleusis and gets a job as a nanny to Demophoon, heir to the throne of King Celeus. By day, she goes about her job, but at night, she works in secret to make Demophoon immortal, anointing him with special oils and dipping him in fire.
After a while, she is discovered and reveals her true identity, commanding that a temple be built for her on the spot. It is only then that she retires into the temple to actively mourn for her daughter, and begins to withdraw the life force from the Earth, forcing Zeus, Lord of the Upper World, and Hades, Lord of the Underworld, to the bargaining table. Between her first learning of her daughter’s abduction and her terrible display of power that brought the world to its knees was a process of silent agony, wandering in disguise, secret ritual, and a gradual and largely inscrutable transmutation of deep grief and anger into a primal force for change.
After the dust settled and the seasonal compromise was reached, Demeter's temple at Eleusis became the site of a mystery school, where supplicants learned the secrets of immortality — secrets that largely remain enigmatic to this day. The Eleusinian mysteries were a ritual re-enactment of Demeter’s search for and reunion with Persephone, designed to initiate its practitioners into a mystical transcendence of death. Although the exact nature of these rites remains speculative, it seems likely that they included a period of ritual purification, involving sacrifices, prayer, fasting, and cleansing by water, called the Lesser Mysteries. The Lesser Mysteries were followed by “a simulated trip to the Underworld, with fabricated apparitions of terror and sublimity as the action moved from Hell (Tartarus) to Paradise (Elysium) (1)” – possibly induced by the drinking of a hallucinogenic brew called kykeon, made from barley ergot, “a lysergic acid amide very similar in structure to, but far less psychoactive than LSD” (2).
The next post in this series is Ceres and the Bardo State.
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