Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Book Review: Persephone Unveiled

Before the Golden Dawn, before the Rosicrucians, possibly even before the Masons, there was a mystery school in ancient Greece. Since, like most mystery schools, initiates were subject to oaths of secrecy, we do not know what was taught in the school. Persephone Unveiled by Charles Stein investigates the matter. Just to give you an idea of what is involved, I'll give you this quote from the book:
The Eleusinian Mysteries were believed to bestow a privileged afterlife upon those who participated in them. At the climax of the rites performed there, Persephone herself flashed before the celebrants in her form as Queen of the Dead and stimulated an experience so penetrating that the afterlife and death itself were said to hold no further terrors for them.

Powerful stuff, if you ask me. Now, for those of you who don't have Bulfinch's Mythology memorized, I'll give you a brief summary of the story and a hint at an esoteric interpretation: Demeter, the Greek earth goddess, had a daughter named Persephone, who was carried off by Hades to be his wife in the underworld. Demeter was naturally quite pissed and decided to make all the crops stop growing until she got her daughter back. No crops meant no worshipers, so the other gods intervened and a bargain was made. Persephone would spend half of the year on earth with Demeter and half of the year with Hades in the underworld. Now the hint: Demeter could be said to represent the universal soul, and Persephone the individual soul.

The book explores in depth what is known about the mystery school. There is also some speculation about the ceremonies involved. The author conjectures that a psychedelic derived from a naturally occurring fungus may have been involved. An interesting theory, but those of you who have read The Biology of Belief (ISBN and review to be provided later, as soon as I find the damn thing) know that mind-altering drugs are only effective because the molecules fit into receptors in our nerve cells for naturally-produced neurotransmitters that perform the same function. So, given the right setting, the same experience could have been produced without the drugs. So Just Say No!

There is also a chapter about the philosopher Parmenides. You'll like Parmenides, once you get to know him. I have another book about him, which I'll tell you about later. He was not the cold logician he is commonly portrayed as. I think he would have been just as much at home on a mountaintop in Tibet as in his native Italy. Another chapter explores the effects of the work on identity.

I would recommend the book not only for the mythology, but because the rites seem to be a source for the Golden Dawn tradition.

No comments: