THE LESSER MYSTERIES, THE PRODIGAL SON, & THE GARDEN

Posted by & filed under Adam and Eve, Demeter, Garden of Eden, Greek Mysteries, Hades, Lesser Mysteries, Persephone, Prodigal Son, Zeus.

by Andrew Cort

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Demeter was away, and her daughter Persephone was playing with the other young goddesses in a meadow, filling baskets with beautiful flowers. She had no way of knowing that grim Hades, who had been walking on the surface to inspect the damage from an earthquake, had seen her, had been struck by an arrow of Eros (which Aphrodite had urged him to loose), and had fallen in love with her. Hades had then gone to his brother Zeus, Persephone’s father, and obtained permission to take the girl for his wife. 

Now Persephone had wandered away from her companions, enticed by an extremely large and radiant narcissus plant with a hundred blooms, which Zeus had caused to grow as a snare for the girl. As she reached out her hands to touch the beautiful flower, the ground shook and opened wide beneath her feet, and Hades, charging forth in his chariot, sprang upon her and grabbed her and bore her down into the earth, despite all her screams. No one heard her cries, except for Helios, the Sun, who hears and sees everything, and his sister Hecate, the Moon, the goddess of darkness and the night. But her cries were echoed off the mountains, and Demeter heard them from far away. Yet she could see her beloved daughter nowhere.

In his subterranean palace, Hades forced Persephone to become his queen.
 

The human soul, the Eleusinian Initiates learned, like Persephone, has its real home in the spiritual realm, free of the bondage of matter. Only there is it truly alive. The Lesser Mysteries represented the agony of the soul as it ‘dies’ to its real nature, and descends into the illusions and limitations of ‘life’ within a human body. Entranced by the transient beauty of the world (the narcissus and other flowers), and longing for experience in the world of the senses, the soul is trapped and it descends. The words and images of ‘descent’, however, are only figurative: we have no better language to describe the transition from ‘Heaven’ to ‘Earth’, which is not a change of location but only a change of condition.

The critical teaching of the Lesser Mysteries was that we will only be worse off after death, unless we take steps during this life to turn our longing for the illusions of the senses into a longing for the truths of the spirit – for this is Hades, the descent has already taken place, and if our soul sleeps through our physical life, it may continue to sleep through all eternity, passing back and forth from dream to dream. To drive this home, the Mysteries testified gloomily to the recurring descent into hell, and the endless aimless wanderings of unawakened and unperfected souls. At last, when the ceremonies ended, the participants were given the honorary title of Mystes, which means ‘one whose vision has been unclouded’, implying that one begins to perceive reality and sees what he or she must do.
 

In the Biblical Eden, one has to wonder: is it possible that an all-knowing and all-powerful God did not know the soul had been inverted, did not know that the illusory world of sense had mesmerized the heart’s desire, did not know that the mind had fallen asleep? Was it all just an unfortunate and unexpected accident?

In the Greek story of Hades, the answers are clear. Demeter wanders off passively and loses sight of her daughter, which means, within our soul, that the Mind disconnects and loses sight of the Heart, just as the emotions, i.e., Persephone (or Eve), are being abducted (beguiled) by the world of the senses, i.e., Hades (or the Serpent). But this was no accident! The descent of the soul is an act of choice, a deliberate act of Free Will: Zeus, the Spirit, is fully aware (just as he was when he deliberately gave Pandora her curiosity), he is part of the conspiracy, and he gives his assent that his own child, his own substance, shall ‘Fall’ into the world of matter and illusion.

But why? How does it serve the purpose of creation that we should view reality upside-down? Perhaps the best and clearest explanation is one that was given much later, in Christ’s parable of the prodigal son:

 A father, we are told, had two sons. The elder of these remained always at home, never disobedient or unruly, faithfully working in his father’s fields and vineyards. The younger son, however, took his inheritance early and went far away from his father’s home, where he squandered all he had and wasted his life with riotous living.

 

Eventually he hit bottom, and awoke to find himself penniless, hungry, a hired hand who fed another man’s pigs for a living. He saw that he had sinned against his father and against heaven, and he immediately determined to return home, admit his failures and shortcomings, and beg his father to take him on as a lowly servant, rather than remaining where he was and perishing of hunger.

So he headed home. But while still far off his father saw him, was filled with joy and compassion, and ran to him and kissed him. When the young son admitted his unworthiness, his father ordered servants to bring him the finest robes and to prepare a great feast, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again! He was lost, and is found”

But when the elder son returned home from the fields and saw what was happening, he was very angry and complained bitterly to his father, “This boy, who now returns, wasted everything you gave him on harlots and debauchery. But all these years I have worked for you faithfully, never transgressing, and you have never celebrated with a feast for me!”

The ‘father’ in this story represents God. The elder son represents a child of God who never ventures out into material life. As a result, he has never experienced struggle, failure or sorrow, and he has never experienced triumph, passion or joy. He is ‘good’, he is innocent, but he can never change or learn or evolve. He has no future, he has no potential, his soul was finished as soon as it began, and as such he is of limited interest and limited use to his father. The younger son goes off into life and falls asleep to his father’s world. He is ‘bad’ and he quickly loses his innocence, he squanders everything and cavorts with harlots, he drinks in all the diverse experiences of earthly life, he feels and laughs and suffers and cries. But when he awakens he possesses an inner strength, wisdom, and maturity that can only be acquired through one’s own conscious efforts and one’s own voluntary suffering. He now contains evolutionary possibilities that his innocent brother will never know, qualities that are highly treasured by his father. This son was ‘dead’: his soul had descended into the world of illusion. But now, grown strong with the wisdom of experience, his soul has returned home to God and is ‘alive’ again. There is far greater joy in heaven for this accomplishment than for the bland, static existence of his older brother.
 


Refusing the full experience of this world of sense, pain, and pleasure, is to reject the plan of God! Spiritual evolution cannot take place until involution is complete, and every bit of life has been experienced. For this reason, God created the situation in the Garden of Eden (with the help of His ally, the Serpent). He knew all along that Adam and Eve (and all the rest of us) would have to leave the Garden and could only return when they had drunk their fill of life, hit bottom, and seen the truth for themselves.