The Eleusinian Mysteries centred around initiation into an ancient agrarian cult founded on an early myth about the origins of agriculture and why the seed lays dormant underground through the winter months.
The myth describes how Hades opened up a chasm in the earth through which he abducted Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, goddess of fertility, and Zeus, god of thunder. Poor Demeter was stricken with grief for the loss of her daughter, but she didn’t give up. She scoured the earth, looking everywhere and finally, exhausted, arrived in Eleusis where King Keleos and his family showed her great kindness. Despite the hospitality, Demeter remained inconsolable and, trenchant in her determination to recover Persephone from Hades, she withdrew her gift of fertility, hiding the seed under the earth so it could not grow. At this point, Demeter’s loss of Persephone became a shared problem with the other gods: with no food, the mortals would die, and with no mortals, the gods would be largely out of business. Zeus wisely intervened. He persuaded Hades to release Persephone, which Hades agreed to, but while in the underworld, Persephone had eaten the seeds of the pomegranate, thereby triggering a clause that said anyone partaking of food in the underworld can no longer return to the land of the living. What to do? A deal was struck with Persephone being allowed to live above ground for most of the year as long as she returned to Hades for four months each year, during which time, the seed remained hidden under the earth, only reappearing in the spring. As we sit out the cold January weather, or brave it as many must, perhaps we can find solace in knowing that spring is just around the corner.