The Gods and Goddesses of Greece, and t Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein 4 - Gods of Earth and of the Mysteries Two other deities it is important to remember are the two most closely associated with seasonal change, the coming of spring, and the dying of the earth’s plant life in the autumn. These two deities are also associated with the mysteries of Eleusis.  One was Demeter/Ceres, goddess of grain, and the other was Dionysus/Bacchus, god of vineyards/wine.  Both are associated with death and rebirth, though in the myth of Ceres, it was her daughter Persephone/Proserpina who was the subject of that rebirth. She was carried off by Hades to be queen of the underworld; Ceres went to get her, but she had eaten six pomegranate seeds and was forced to remain underground for six months of the year as a result.  Hence, we have an explanation for the seasonal changes. (Also, some researchers have pointed out the similarity between the shape and color of the pomegranate  and the apple in the Garden of Eden, and between the judgments as a result of eating these fruits: Persephone was condemned to remain underground (dead) for half the year; Adam and Eve were condemned to toil by the sweat of their brows and eventually to die as a result of their tasting adventure. (Many of the following concepts concerning Dionysus are drawn by Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess (New York: Viking Putnam, 1998) Dionysus/Bacchus was one of the ancient vegetation gods whose birthday was celebrated on December 25th.  Among the Greeks, Dionysus took over many of the aspects of the natural world and the right brain that originally were under the aegis of the Great Goddess: sacred to him were the moon, dance, music, art and image, moisture, serpents, guiltless sexuality, bulls, the regeneration of the earth, the cultivation of plants, and the expressions of creative insight.  His retinue included women who called themselves “menders” (the Greek word for nurses), priestesses known as the “maenads” (or madwomen, driven mad from the influence of wine and possibly mind- altering drugs), and the Muses of all the arts. His story is as follows: Zeus desired a liaison with the virgin princess Semele. Hera, out of jealousy, came to Semele disguised as a crone and suggested that before she gave in to Zeus, she should ask him for the fulfillment of a wish, that being that she might see him in all his divine glory.  Semele thought this was an exciting idea, so she agreed. Hera went away satisfied, knowing that if Zeus showed himself to Semele in his glory the girl would be burned to a crisp!  Zeus showed up in disguise and Semele agreed to have sex with him provided he’d grant her wish. Zeus agreed but distracted her from actually asking it by appearing to her as a serpent and licking her with his forked tongue.  And so she became pregnant with Dionysus. Toward the end of her pregnancy Zeus came to her again, and this time Semele remembered that she was supposed to ask to see him in all his divine glory. Reluctantly Zeus granted her wish, and sure enough the vision of his divinity turned her into a crispy critter. But he stood by and removed the still-living fetus of their child from her womb, and sewed it into a sac on his own belly.  When the fetus of Dionysus was mature, he was born—again!—from the body of Zeus.  So, like Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, Dionysus was born not of woman but of his divine sire. (The Greeks referred to Dionysus as the “twice born.”) Dionysus was worshipped in the Greek mysteries as the god who wrought pleasure, sexuality, divine inspiration, creativity, intuition, prophecy, and madness—and as Shlain notes, all these attributes are very right-brained dominant concepts.  Drama, the art form that included poetry, music, spectacle, dance, and masking, originated as part of the spring planting and fall harvest festivals and the fertility rituals associated with the worship of Dionysus; the twin masks of tragedy and comedy are an acknowledgment of the duality of human nature. Because of the sexual nature of the worship, Greek comedy is probably closer to the roots of the religious dramatic theater than is Greek tragedy, though because these performances began at festival times, they were times both for sacrifice and for celebration.  So there was a serious element to the festival, with worship, prayer, and ritual.  And there was much revelry, with drinking, dancing, and raucous horseplay. (The closest thing we might have today is the carnival atmosphere of Mardi Gras, with the recognition that the revelry is to be followed by a day of religious obligation.) Drama began with mime, either of a battle of people with each other or with beasts or monsters, or as enactments of sacrificial fertility rites, or as the telling of raucous jokes. Sometimes the mime show included performers dressed in costume, who came out and danced, either to drumming or the playing of stringed instruments, or to singing and chanting. Fertility was extremely important to early cultures, connected as they were to the seasonal rituals in which they could see the regenerative power of nature, and they would connect the ritual with their own sexuality, so men sometimes strapped on gigantic false penises and danced around in them. Or men would dress up in goat skins like satyrs (half- goat, half-men—the word “tragedy” comes from the Greek word for “goat song”) and sing about the sexual glory of the god Pan, who was seen as the regenerative power of all of nature, or sing to Dionysus, god of grapes and wine, who was often pictured as red-faced and red-bodied. There is clear evidence that the iconographic image seen in the Medieval period of a red goat-headed or horned devil was in fact the church’s way of condemning these early pagan rituals, which survived in a variety of forms into the Middle Ages. Eventually the miming and singing performance developed into a chorus of singers or chanters, and then into a speaking chorus, like the one in Oedipus Rex, and eventually a narrator told a story, with the chorus responding, then with characters miming the actions of the narrator, and finally with the characters taking speaking parts themselves. At this point they had made the transition to being actors. For more information on the Greek tragic theater, see the following book: Baldry, H.C. The Greek Tragic Theatre. New York and London: W.W. Norton Co., 1971. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily