Persephone, Apollo and Dionysus

The three great cults of the Greek Mysteries were the cults of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis, Apollo at Delphi and Dionysus all over the countryside.

In the myth, Persephone is abducted by Hades while gathering flowers (she may have munched on a particularly psychoactive one) and becomes his queen in the underworld. Her mother Demeter, distraught with grief, implores Zeus to get her back. Hades eventually relents, but not before tricking her into eating some pomegranate seeds, which magically compel her to return to him for six months of every year for all eternity.

Persephone is a vegetation goddess as well as the goddess of Spring and Nature. The story of her yearly return to the underworld is an agrarian myth about the crop cycle, which is a kind of yearly death and rebirth. The esoteric meaning is not about farming, however, but about spiritual regeneration, which is also clearly what John was getting at in his gospel:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

John 12:22

On an esoteric level, Persephone represents what the transpersonal Chilean psychologist Claudio Naranjo calls “formless meditation”. This results in a kind of ego-death or ego-dissolution, where all habitual “default mode” objects of consciousness disappear. In the Buddhist traditions, this state is known as Samadhi.

The re-emergence from this state of quiescence and suspended animation is like a second birth into the phenomenal world of objects. These objects can take any form, but they can be arranged to include especially harmonious forms in a consciously designed “form meditation”. The newborn consciousness is thus moulded into shape by another Greek god, the god of music, poetry and the civilized arts, Apollo. In other words, you awaken from your death-trance in beauty, and your receptive soul is beautified.

The third type of meditation discussed by Naranjo is “expressive meditation”. This is the kind of full-blooded, full-bodied meditation typical of shamanic rituals in indigenous cultures, typically with lots of drumming and dancing. In the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, this was known as a bacchanal, from Bacchus, the Latin name for the Greek god of (spiked) wine, theatre, madness and partying, Dionysus.

In The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name, Brian Muraresku focuses on the pagan continuity hypothesis, with particular emphasis on the shift from Dionysus to Jesus. He claims that a psychedelically inspired “religion with no name” has accompanied humanity since the Stone Age in the form of psychedelic beer, later replaced by psychedelic wine, and that it was going strong immediately before, during and after the birth of Christianity in the first century AD.

It may have no official name, but there are in fact three names that usefully capture the nature of this secret religion: Persephone, Apollo and Dionysus. Together, they provide a powerful methodology for radical spiritual transformation via the threefold practice of formless, form and expressive psychedelic meditation.

If you are interested in how this works in a contemporary setting, see the Seven Week Psychedelic Course on the Meditation page.