Kerenyi, Carl. Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter. Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967)
ISBN: 0691019150

Though the Demeter/Persephone myth has captured many imaginations, serious scholarly work on the goddess of grain and fertility is harder to find. This lengthy treatise covers a multitude of archaelogical and classical literary evidence about Demeter, Persephone, and their worship center at Eleusis. Demeter, goddess of agriculture and earth fertility, was also connected with the dead, who were called "Demeter's people", though her daughter Persephone was the Queen of the Dead in her role as the wife of Hades (god of the underworld).

Those who were initiates of the Eleusian Mysteries were promised an afterlife in the pleasant Eleusinian Fields, rather than the tedious gloom of Hades. The mysteries are the best-kept secret of the ancients; though many participated, none left a record of the events therein. Some scholars believe that the ribald mysteries performed in Alexandria under the same name-- and scornfully recorded by Christian critics-- accurately represent the original. Kerenyi, however, believes that the mysteries remained a secret, but that they had some significant connection with the sacred marriage of Persephone and Hades and the birth of a child to Persephone, as well as to the Rape of Persephone and Demeter's search for her stolen daughter.

In this volume is the most thorough detailing of the rites of Demeter, Persephone, and related deities, that I have ever come across. Where feminist interpretations and male Jungian interpretations tend to overplay the significance of the Rape of Persephone and her mother's subsequent pursuit-- often to the point of morbid entanglement with modern familial psychology (see, for instance, Bolen's Goddeses in Everywoman) -- Kerenyi lays out simply what he believes the significance of the rites may have been to the participants themselves. In the process, he shows Demeter and Persephone as the multifaceted goddesses they must have been to their original worshippers.

Anyone who is interested in Demeter, Ceres, Persephone, ancient mystery cults, or the roles of the Grain Mother or the Goddess of Death, should read through this scholarly work. A certain tolerance for uncertainty is required, for the author draws no firm conclusions from his investigations, content only to lay out suggestions. Nor is this a blueprint for modern faith; modern worshippers would have to take these details and build a ritual for themselves. On the other hand, once possessed of this background, it is easier to tell fact from willful fantasy.

Abundantly illustrated with photographs of artifacts and illustrations from archaelogical digs. There is an index and a list of works cited, though since the original publication was not in English, one is not surprised that the cited works are generally not English either.


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