Meetings with the Maiden*

© 2012, John Opsopaus


I. Introduction

This chapter is offered to the Maiden as a token of devotion and gratitude for the aid she has granted me in better understanding her nature and transformative power. In it I will appeal in particular to the ancient theory of the Elements and their Powers as they relate to the Alchemical Rotation as a practice of spiritual development. In this I am drawing from the work of classical scholars, as reflected in the citations. However, I am also a practitioner of Neoplatonic theurgy, the ancient practice of communicating with the gods by attuning the soul to their energies (see, e.g., Shaw). This attunement is accomplished by means of signs and symbols (sunthêmata, sumbola), which are objects, materials, signs, words, actions, etc. that are imprinted by the energies of a particular deity. Theurgy permits us to overcome some of the limitations inherent in the worship of a deity whose ancient religion and lore has been forgotten. In many cases we can fill in gaps in the historical records by simply asking the deity. But we can do better, for the gods change and so should their worship; this is the essence of a living religion. By theurgy we can ask deities how they want to be worshipped in our time and what they can offer for our contemporary spiritual needs. Therefore, in this chapter I have made use of the results of my own theurgical operations with the Maiden. I have taken the somewhat unusual step of including some of the resulting texts in this article where they illuminate the nature of this goddess and her role in our world. The reader may be skeptical, and that is reasonable and appropriate; each must reach their own evaluation by seeing how these texts resonate with their own experience of the Maiden. These texts (lightly edited), drawn from three sustaseis (meetings) with the Goddess, are introduced by phrases such as “the Goddess says” or “the Maiden explains.”

II. Empedocles’ Roots

To understand Persephone and her role in the Alchemical Rotation, we begin with a familiar text from Empedocles, a fifth century BCE Pythagorean philosopher, spiritual teacher, magos (magician-priest), iatromantis (healer-seer, “shaman”), and theios anêr (“divine man”). He wrote,

Now hear the fourfold Roots of everything:

Enlivening Hera, Hades, shining Zeus,

And Nêstis, moistening mortal springs with tears. (DK 31B6)

These Roots (Rhizai) are the four Elements (Fire, Air, Water, Earth), which Empedocles discovered, each being the manifestation of a deity. (I capitalize the names of these spiritual Elements to distinguish them from ordinary fire, air, water, and earth.) Of particular interest to us is Nêstis (“Fasting”), an obscure name by which the Maiden was known in Sicily, whence came Empedocles’ Pythagorean practice, which had many affinities with the worship of the Two Goddesses (the Mother and Maiden). The text clearly associates her with Water, and in particular with subterranean streams and springs, which emerge from the earth and often re-descend; Simplicius, the sixth-century CE Neoplatonic philosopher, derives her name from naein (to flow). However, the correspondence between the other deities and the Elements has been controversial since ancient times. It is likely that this is intentional and that Empedocles, like many spiritual masters, taught in riddles (ainigmata) in order to exercise his students’ minds (analogous to Zen koans). For example, the ancient Stoics said that “shining Zeus” is Fire, for he is Lord of the Lightening Bolt, Hades is Earth because he rules the Underworld, and that Hera is Air because she is the wife of Zeus and in ancient Greek the letters of her name can be rearranged into the word for Air (ΗΡΑ, ΑΗΡ). A pretty compelling case, for sure.

However, in his book Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition the classical scholar Peter Kingsley has presented a strong argument that these correspondences are incorrect (see especially chs. 4, 22). There is not space here to review his arguments in detail (see also my “Ancient Greek Esoteric Doctrine of the Elements”). Briefly, “shining Zeus” corresponds to Air because he is primarily lord of the bright sky (aithêr). “Enlivening Hera” corresponds to Earth because “enlivening” (pheresbios) is a common epithet of earth goddesses, because (especially in Sicily) Hera is oversees the fertility of the Earth as well as of humans, and because Earth (, Gaia) is feminine in Greek. Therefore, Hera is hardly different from Gaia and Demeter (whose name was explained as Dê-Mêtêr, an alternate form of Gê Mêtêr or Earth Mother). Hades is Fire because he rules the Central Fire, which was an esoteric truth of Pythagoreanism (which inspired Copernicus to put the Sun in the center of the planetary system). These are the correspondences that I will use in this chapter.

Given the controversy, I asked the Goddess about the correspondences and she replied that Kingsley’s arrangement

        is correct for this aim:

the Rotation by Descent to my Realm

and the bright return above.

There are other schemes for other purposes.

In fact, each system has a purpose.

They are mandalas with sacred goals.

The Magic Art: to know the purpose for each scheme. (Γ7)

We will get to the Rotation later; for now the important point is that we can proceed with Kingsley’s correspondences, but we should keep in mind that all the possible arrangements have their lessons and their uses. Nevertheless, we can worry too much about correspondences, for the Goddess says:

I am alive down here.

That is the Mystery.

We are joined —

all four of us Gods —

to hold the World together. (A19)

III. The Powers

In the fourth century BCE, Aristotle analyzed Empedocles’ Elements in terms of four pairwise-opposed Qualities or Powers (Dunameis): Warm vs. Cool and Moist vs. Dry. Earth is Dry and Cool, Water is Cool and Moist, Air is Moist and Warm, Fire is Warm and Dry. In each case, the first mentioned Power is dominant in the Element. Elements can be combined if they have a common Quality. For example, Air and Water can be combined because they are both Moist, and the result will be more Airy or Fiery depending on the relative proportions.

Like the Elements, these Qualities or Powers reveal deeper truths than implied by the everyday meaning of warm, cool, moist, and dry. Understanding these truths is essential to seeing Persephone’s role as the Goddess of Water in Empedocles’ text. Aristotle explains that the active Powers are Warm and Cool, and the passive are Moist and Dry. The Warm Power is the power of discrimination, sorting-out, analysis, the separation of things from things of another kind and association with things of the same kind. Think of distillation. The Cool Power has the opposite effect: it unites, combines, mixes, synthesizes, and joins things, no matter what their kind. The Warm and Cool Powers correspond to the two primary forces in the universe, according to Empedocles, which he called Strife (Neikos), which is the Force of Separation, and Love (Philotês, Philia, etc.), which is the Force of Union; I discuss them later.

The passive Powers relate to something’s internal or external determination, as Aristotle explains. Dry things determine their own form; they are solid, rigid, self-defining, self-determining. In contrast Moist things have no form of their own and receive their form from outside; they are flexible, adaptive, fluid, externally determined. This summary must suffice for this chapter; see my “Ancient Greek Esoteric Doctrine of the Elements” for more.

Aristotle’s analysis was extended by Ramon Lull, the thirteenth century CE mystic, occultist, and alchemist. He said that when two Elements with a common Quality were combined in balance, the Element in which the common Quality was dominant would “conquer” the other Element and dominate the combination. For example, a balanced combination of Air and Water would be Airy because the common Quality, Moisture, is dominant in Air; we may say that Air triumphs over Water. The result is a Cycle of Triumphs: Fire overcomes Air, Air overcomes Water, Water overcomes Earth, and Earth overcomes Fire. In each case except the last (about which more later), the more subtle Element triumphs over the grosser Element.

IV. The Rotation of the Elements

Lully’s Cycle of Triumphs suggests a rotation through the Elements, and indeed Aristotle says, “It is clear that generation of the Elements will be circular, and this mode of change is very easy because corresponding Qualities are present in adjacent Elements.” Further, the Circulation or Rotation of the Elements is an important alchemical operation, directed towards producing the Quintessence. As the alchemist George Ripley (d. 1490) wrote,

When thou hast made the quadrangle round,

Then is all the secret found.

We will see that the Maiden, as Goddess of Water, has a crucial role to play in the Rotation as a rite of rebirth.

The Rotation can go in either of two directions, ascending subtlety (Earth–Water–Air– Fire) or descending subtlety (Fire–Air–Water–Earth); both are important as transformative operations. Heraclitus (c. 500 BCE) describes a Descending Rotation:

Fire lives the death of Earth, and Air lives the death of Fire;

Water lives the death of Air, Earth that of Water. (DK 22B76)

A Descending Rotation also appears in Empedocles’ Purifications, where he describes the torments suffered by oath-breakers over successive lives:

The mighty Air propels him to the Sea,

The Water throws him to the Earth, and Earth

To sunlight’s Fire, who yields to whirling Air. (DK 31B115, ll. 9–11)

These examples also show us that we can enter the Rotation at any of the Elements.

The Ascending Rotation proceeds from the denser elements toward the more subtle; thus it ascends from Earth to Water to Air to Fire, with a return to Earth to complete the cycle. As I will explain later, the alchemical operations Nigredo (Blackening) – Albedo (Whitening) – Citrinitas (Yellowing) – Rubedo (Reddening) correspond to an Ascending Rotation in which our Goddess plays an essential role. The Goddess herself says,

Rotation can go either way,

but best is the Descent,

from me to Earth. (Γ2)

Nevertheless, the Ascent is easier to understand, and will be the focus of this chapter. In going from Earth (Hera, Demeter, Gaia) to Water (Persephone) we are ascending in the subtlety of the Elements, but descending under the Earth into the Underworld. Whatever the direction of Rotation, the Maiden is the Goddess of the Element Water, and governs its Cool and Moist Powers. Thus we may call her the Lady of Dissolution.

V. The Lady of Dissolution

The Goddess herself explains her Watery nature in terms of the Moist and Cool powers:

The Cool is joining, mixing, unifying,

primary offices of me as Lady of Dissolution,

and Putrefaction too, the loss of structure,

dissolution, loosening of bonds,

which is the Moist part of the Element.

Both are mine as Water’s Goddess. (Γ9)

The Powers of Water cause a lack of internal determination, of structure, and parts collapse together into indiscriminate chaos. This is especially characteristic of Putrefaction (the first alchemical operation), which is especially appropriate for the Maiden as Queen of the Dead. This disintegration is essential to the Rotation and the process of rebirth to which it is directed, as the Goddess explains:

Water is my Element

and Dissolution is my function.

All things must come apart

before they can be put together once again.

This is the Law of Rotation.

And so I hold the Chalice in which rebirth can take place,

the Grail, the Vessel of Rebirth, the Cauldron;

they are all the same. (Γ1)

Here she alludes to the rich mythology of the Vessel of Rebirth, for example, Medea’s rejuvenating cauldron. The dissolution must be contained in an appropriate vessel — the Goddess’s womb — so the mixture can be cooked and incubated into something new.

To receive the gift of rebirth we must descend to the Underworld through a process of gradual return to the Primal Material from which we were created:

The Dissolution is progressive, step by step,

like going down the stairs into my Realm.

This is how you find me,

where all is dissolved,

there you are at the bottom;

then you are Home,

ready to accept my Gift. (Γ17)

Since we commonly think of Poseidon as the God of Water (or at least of the Sea), I asked the Goddess her relation to him, and she replied:

Poseidon is the more forceful Destroyer;

I am the Passive Destroyer:

all things fall apart. (Γ10)

This seems to refer to Poseidon as the God of earthquakes; he shakes things apart, but the Lady of Dissolution allows them to disintegrate. Can we think of her as the Goddess of Entropy? This is consistent with the Queen of the Dead’s oversight of putrefaction as passive dissolution. She further explains her association with Water and death as follows:

Water is Dissolution and Complete Mixture,

all things in all, as philosophers have said.

This is the Grief — the Death of Particularity —

and so I shed my Salty Tears,

which have dissolving and preserving powers.

For the Spirit needs must be

preserved through dissolution.

This is the challenge of the Rotation.

Turning through all of the Elements,

the Spirit must be well preserved

so that it can be purified and elevated. (Γ4)

Therefore, Water brings the complete loss of structure and identity, of the particular individuality for which we grieve when someone dies. Nevertheless, the Rotation requires this loss of identity and self-determining structure. The salty tears are an important symbol, for salt is paradoxical; brine is both a corrosive and a preservative. As Heraclitus said,

Sea is the purest and foulest water:

for fish drinkable and saving,

but for people undrinkable and destroying. (DK 22B61)

The salt, which is sharp flavored and makes its hidden presence known in many things, is a symbol here for the Spirit, which is embodied in various substances. Since the goal of the Rotation is the elevation of the Spirit through its many rebirths, obviously it must be preserved through the transformations of the Elements. Salt is also a symbol for wisdom, which is purified and concentrated through the Rotation.

When Empedocles told us the “fourfold Roots of everything,” he referred to Nêstis as “moistening mortal springs with tears.” In particular, mythology tells us that when the Maiden was abducted she was taken down through a spring called Kuanê, which was formed from her salty tears. Indeed, the Maiden is virtually identical with the nymph of this spring, also called “Kuanê” (the Blue), whose name derives from kuanos, a Greek word for blue (from which we get our word cyan). Blue is considered the color of divine mourning and grief especially associated with the Mysteries of the Two Goddesses (the Mother and the Maiden); it is the color associated with the Cocytus, the River of Lamentation in the Underworld, which corresponds to the Element Water. Other springs of mortality include a spring that arose from the tears shed by Demeter for her daughter, and the Maiden Well around which Eleusinian Mysteries were founded. Indeed, our Goddess — as Queen of the Nymphs — moistens all the springs of mortality with her tears.

VI. The Queen of Rebirth

The Goddess is the Lady of Dissolution, but she is also the agent of rebirth and spiritual development that follows the death that brings us to the Underworld:

There is rebirth,

and I am the Queen of Rebirth.

I hold the Way.

This you must know. (A2)

This rebirth follows dissolution in her realm, in which everything merges (Cool) until a new principles of organization (Warmth) is born:

After merging in the Blackness

comes the Separation.

This is the Birth of the Child, 

the Separation of the Earth and Sky.

Then Light can appear, the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars,

the re-emergence into Light of Day from down below,

when we the Chthonic Gods become Ouranic.

The Daytime Cycle yields to coming Night. (B16)

The primary separation is into Earth and Sky, splitting the Cosmic Egg to hatch the Child (Phanês, Dionysos) and to reveal the Light hidden in the center of the dark womb of the Goddess. This text also hints that the Chthonic (Underworld) Gods and Ouranic (Heavenly) Gods are occultly identical (as also suggested by A19, above), and that the gods who rule life under the Earth (Persephone and Hades) are the same that rule it above (Hera and Zeus).

The Goddess also describes in brief the Rotation through the other Elements and back to her. The reborn Child ascends from the Goddess’s Underworld of dissolution into the upper Airy realm of Zeus (his hidden father, since Hades is the Chthonic Zeus, Zeus Katachthonios). In moving from Water to Air, the flexible, Moist Quality is retained, but there is an increase of Warmth (separation, determination):

Recrystallization, but it goes in stages.

First, a re-sorting out, re-differentiation,

but still flexible. (Γ12a)

That is, the first stage of the recrystallization is the Warmth, which brings about new, flexible organization in Air. In the next stage, Warmth is maintained, which dries out the Moist Quality, leading to greater self-determination (Dryness leading to Fire), as the Goddess explains:

Then a hardening,

a Tempering by Fire to solidify the Structure —

the organizing of the Psyche —

before Descent below the Earth. (Γ12b)

The greater self-determination impedes the organizing processes, so that its Warmth decreases, and Fire becomes living Earth, which is nevertheless stable and autonomous:

The Earth is Cold and Dry

which is the self-preserving structure and integrity

of life and of the ecosystem. (Γ12c)

This of course is the condition of ordinary life on Earth. To begin another rotation we must descend again to the Lady of Dissolution, for the descent from Earth to Water moves from rigid Dryness to flexible Moistness:

But there is no progress unless this is loosened.

Thus all must again descend unto me.

Death is the Motor of Progress.

Truly, Putrefaction fertilizes —

makes life fruitful. (Γ12d)

This is the great secret, that the Cycle is the means — in alchemy as in Nature — of evolution (from Latin evolvere, meaning to unroll, unwrap, unwind, cause to flow, set free):

This is my Gift to all mortals —

both animal and plant. (Γ12e)

And fungus too —

they know it best.

The plants are further from the truth,

and animals are further yet,

and humans are most far;

that is your burden. (Γ13a)

How can humankind best shoulder its burden? The Goddess says:

Know the truth.

Sink down;

know Death before you die.

This is the Way;

then tell the others, everyone. (Γ13b)

Later I will discuss some of the spiritual practices by which this may be accomplished.

The Goddess informs us that each Rotation through the Elements advances the work of Nature:

It is one Cycle.

You are helping Nature.

I am the one who forces the issue—

 if you are unwilling.

But if you know better

(as I hope you do),

you can cooperate,

accelerate the process,

as the Alchemists did.

This is the Path for you. (Γ14)

It is well known, of course, that alchemists see their goal as the facilitation and acceleration of natural processes — aiding Nature in her work — for even the gradual perfection of lead into gold is understood to be a natural process. The Goddess reminds us, however, that we can willingly descend to her realm to cooperate in the process of rejuvenation, but if we decline, we will eventually be dragged down by our forelocks.

VII. The Reborn Child

As the Maiden was snatched from her Mother’s fragrant fields into the dark Underworld to achieve rebirth, so she calls to us to descend to her:

My role:

I am the Entry Point from fruitful Earth.

Sink into me for Dissolution,

so you can be reintegrated

and ascend above.

You descend from Mother’s Realm to mine:

Earth to Water.

Then ascend again to Zeus,

become the reborn Dionysos.

This is the Rotation:

first descend, and then ascend. (Γ5)

The Rotation begins in the feminine Elements, Earth and Water, corresponding to the Two Goddesses (Ta Thea) of the Mysteries, with the transition from ordinary life on Earth into the Underworld. Earth and Water make the Primal Mud from which new life arises. From it you will be reborn like Dionysos, who is the Maiden’s Child by Zeus and destined to succeed his Father:

Dionysos is the Key to the Return.

He is my Child with the Air Lord Zeus,

and so He can ascend to Zeus

and replace Him as the New Zeus. (Γ23a)

Dionysos is Zeus after one rotation, the same Air principle, but on a higher level. As Dionysos is born on the macrocosmic level, so we each can be reborn on the microcosmic level:

So also you, ascending as Dionysos,

can replace your Ruling Principle

with this: a better balanced one.

This is the complement to Apollo in your personality,

which is imperious like Zeus.

This is for you,

but not necessarily for other people,

although there are many like you, especially in the sciences.

This is your Task, but Dionysos is for all. (Γ23b)

The latter part of the preceding text addresses me personally and my Apollonian tendencies, but the point about balance is universal. The text continues in an interesting vein, for it stresses the importance of the contrasexual spiritual assistant (the Anima or Animus in Jungian terms; the Muse or Hero):

The Universal Child of Spirit:

He will lead the Way Above — with Ariadne.

This is the Deification.

He leads Her upward, and She draws Him up.

Most Holy, Most Pure, that is Her name.

Together They go to the Throne of Zeus,

as you must too,

as did Heracles. (Γ23c)

The name “Ariadnê” means “Most Pure” or “Most Holy” (from Ari + Hagnê; Hagnê, “Pure, Holy,” being a common epithet of Persephone). The text turns from Dionysos and his wife Ariadne to Heracles and his wife Deianeira, for Heracles was a mortal who, after passing through his cycle of Twelve Labors, was deified by Zeus. Perhaps surprisingly, ancient philosophers viewed Heracles not as a bone-headed muscleman, but as a spiritual master, who showed the way to deification through spiritual discipline. He exemplifies the spiritual path of heroization.

And Deianeira too, like Ariadne,

is the Soror Mystica,

who does the poisoning (iôsis) and Work of Fire for him.

The Poison is the Fire-Water.

It is necessary too,

for it’s preserving and destroying,

purifying and contaminating,

like Brine as well, and Brimstone.

They’re all dual and Symbols of Divinity.

The complements must be applied to achieve the End,

the Great Work. (Γ23d)

The Soror Mystica (Mystic Sister) is the alchemist’s assistant, who is essential to the Great Work because she provides the necessary gender balance and complements his abilities with her own; together they engender the Alchemical Child. In the present case Deianeira soaked Heracles’ cloak in a tincture made of the poisonous blood of the centaur Nessus. Wrapped in this cloak, Heracles’ mortal flesh burned away until he immolated himself upon a funeral pyre and was welcomed among the Gods. Iôsis is a paradoxical alchemical process; in ancient Greek it means refinement or the making of a tincture, and refers to ios, which means poison, verdigris, and rust; it is the destroying, corrupting substance. However, ion is the Greek word for violet, and so alchemists also understand iôsis as the final stage in the Great Work, characterized by a violet (ion) or rusty (ios) color (the Rubedo, discussed later). The Tincture is a paradoxical union of the opposites Fire and Water (Hades and Persephone). In the ancient world brine and brimstone (burning sulfur) were used for purification, but brine is also a poisonous water and brimstone produces poisonous air (sulfur dioxide). (Salt and Sulfur are, of course, two of the alchemical Tria Prima, representing Body and Spirit, which are united by poisonous Quicksilver, representing Soul.)

The myths of Heracles and many other heroes should give us pause before we follow their footsteps, and in this text the Goddess contrasts the hero’s path to gentler processes of rebirth:

The Way of Heroization is the same,

but with more dedication.

The Fire is purifying and destroying.

In this way your spirit separates from your body

for a newborn union.

Pay attention! This is important for you to hear.

You die before you die.

All mystics know this, as do you.

Sink back into a sleep-like state —

and come to me. (B14)

VIII. Descent to the Dark-robed Goddess

The Goddess is associated not only with Water but with the dark, dismal, and obscure (Gk. melas), which is apparent from her epithet Melampeplos (“Dark-robed”) and the general description of the Underworld as a gloomy place. This is obvious from many of the Goddess’s statements. For example, when I asked her to explain the methods for approaching her, she replied:

There is no method; there is an attitude.

No mystery but the Deepest Mystery.

You must hear me in your heart.

Then you will understand.

This is what I tell you:

you go below, you go inside.

This way you will find your heart.

Go inside, go deep.

There is the Darkness.

There is the richness,

the richness of Hades, my Husband.

The Dark reveals the Inner Light. (A3)

The Inner Light is presumably Hades as Lord of the Central Fire. This is symbolized by volcanic fires erupting from the bowels of the Earth.

The Goddess has explained the descent not so much as an active journey into the Underworld as a passive sinking down into the darkness facilitated by attitudes of patience, receptivity, and surrender. She says,

You are impatient; the key is patience.

Especially on Earth you must wait for the Season.

Then you can go below —

but maybe not return.

This is the common way,

but you don’t need it now. (A11)

I interpret waiting for the season to mean that we should wait for the time when the blessings of the Goddess are needed, or when we’re prepared to undergo the Rotation. In terms of the Elements, the passage from Dry Earth to Cool Water corresponds to the transition from Autumn to Winter, which is symbolically appropriate; rebirth, emergence from under the Earth into the Air, occurs in the Moist Spring. The last three lines refer to physical death — the journey below without return — which is the usual way to get to the Goddess, but not an immediate prospect for me.

We are inclined to try to take active control of the process, even if its essence is surrender, and so the Goddess reminds us that we must be patient and wait:

You can’t facilitate your own rebirth.

It’s all about Passivity and Receptivity.

You put yourself in the place and wait.

This is done by the Descent. (B17)

The descent itself is accomplished by reclining, like a corpse, and waiting to sink into the Darkness, into the Maiden’s realm:

Listen and watch for the Darkness.

It will lead you —

through the Portals —

into the Night.

This is the Way. (A12)

A sinking down.

Surrender, but into the Darkness.

I am below, by the River.

This you must tell.

These are the Conditions.

This is my Rule. (A14)

The specific descent is through her Tree:

The Way of Persephone is the Way of Darkness,

down through the Tree, through its Roots. (A4)

“The Tree of Life?” I asked.

The Tree of Death! (A5)

It’s not grim, it’s gentle,

it’s comforting, like velvet night,

soft and comforting.

This is how you sink down.

Like falling asleep.

You wake up —

not in this world but another. (A6)

Listen! You are too impatient!

The way down is dark but not unpleasant.

Cool too, as you think.

But it’s the Darkness that’s important. (A7)

The Goddess further describes what we may experience in her realm:

Look into the Black.

Feel it.

I am in the Depths.

There is my Statue and my Throne,

and the Tree to the Underworld.

It is upright, not inverted.

Go through its Roots.

You have the Invocation. (A15)

These texts allude to various features of the Underworld, including her statue and throne, the Rivers, and the Tree, which I’ll discuss later. Also, later in this chapter I will present the Invocation, which she had previously provided. The Inverted Tree is an image from Neoplatonism and some other spiritual traditions. It symbolizes the fact that the ordinary material world is rooted in the archetypal Ideas, and ultimately in the Ineffable One beyond the Heavens. Thus the Tree grows downward from the One and ramifies into the many branches and leaves, which represent the multitude of forms and ideas that organize the material world. However, the Goddess’s Tree is upright, rooted and growing from her Underworld realm to support the heavens.

The mention of these Underworld images raises the question of whether some sort of guided visualization is necessary for the Descent. Her answer is that it is unnecessary but possibly helpful:

Sink into the Blackness

and descend as you have done. (B6a)

I asked whether I should descend through a cleft in the rock:

That’s not necessary;

no image is necessary, but it may help. (B6b)

I also asked what invocation we should use to descend:

Nothing — just call my name — any of them.

It is like a mantra. (B6c)

Therefore, although she does provide an Invocation (presented later), the basic procedure is passive sinking into her dark realm.

IX. Obscurity

I wondered why the Underworld is dark, obscure, misty, and confusing? The Goddess said,

The Dark is best explained by Water’s Coolness. (Γ15)

That is, Coolness causes everything to merge and become indistinct due to the absence of the Warmth’s active separating and discriminating power. I also asked the Goddess about the features of the Underworld, such as the trees, springs, rivers, etc. She replied,

It is as you expect and as you wish it to be,

for it is Nothing. (B7a)

I remarked that her answer was not clear.

Of course not,

the Underworld is the place of obscurity.

You must see what you want in the Mists. (B7b)

“Whatever I want?” I asked.

No, whatever you expect,

which is not the same thing. (B7c)

She says that I will see “what I expect and wish it to be,” “what I want,” and “whatever I expect,” but not “whatever I want.” I think this means that the Underworld will be as I expect and wish it to be on a deep, perhaps subconscious level, but not however I choose to construct it in my conscious mind. In any case, in reply to my comment, “This sounds trite,” she said:

Perhaps, but it’s the truth. (B7d)

When I expressed my confusion with some of the Goddess’s statements, she replied:

This cannot be clarified too much,

because I am the Queen of Obscurity

and my Husband is the Unseen. (Γ18a)

Here she refers to the ancient etymology explaining “Hades” as meaning “Unseen,” for it was said that “Hades” derives from an older form “Aïdes,” which comes from a- (not) + eidô (to see).

The Goddess has revealed what is, I think, a crucial aspect of the obscurity of the Underworld:

All is Dark and Misty here, as you can see.

It must be  — for Transformation to take place.

Distinctions must be hidden,


so they can become

other than what they are

without a contradiction.

Fluid Darkness —

that is the Law of my Realm.

But you don’t like it because you’re Apollonian. (Γ18b)

I think this is an important point: that fundamental transformation requires differences to vanish so that contradictions are possible. Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle must become the Law of the Included Middle. In any case, I said, “I see,” and the Goddess replied:

Your goal should be not to see it.

If you can keep from seeing things,

then transformation can take place.

You must look away.

Let things change behind the scenes and out of sight.

Seeing it makes it too rigid; nothing will change.

Don’t try to understand too much.

A Mystery should be mysterious. (Γ18c)

This is difficult for those of us that have an academic and analytical approach to problems, but I think she has made a good (rational!) argument that precisely this mindset blocks the magic of transformation. It also raised the issue of how I could express the process of transformation in words.

You can explain through poetry

(as Parmenides and Empedocles did).

They understood in the only possible way.

Work with the material, but intuitively, not rationally.

I will help.

Look, you need to loosen up and let it flow.

This is the wisdom of Heraclitus too:

the loss of distinction and identity. (Γ18d)

Although I have not taken up the challenge of expressing the Goddess’s teachings through poetry, as much as possible I have allowed her to speak in her own words in this chapter. Presumably in the last sentence she is alluding to Heraclitus’ statement that you cannot step into the same river twice, for over you “other and other waters flow” (DK 22B12), an apropos reference for the Lady of Dissolution. Heraclitus faces the fundamental paradox of identity and change: in what sense is a changing thing the same and in what sense different? Flow and Fire, and the paradoxical union of these opposites, were essential to Heraclitus’ view of the universe, as the Goddess says:

This is why he knew that Fire and Water

both must needs be present.

The Fire dries out Water, turning it to Earth,

or boils it, turning it to Air.

The Water quenches Fire,

so only ash — or Earth — is left.

The Transformation goes both ways;

both are useful for the spirit’s progress. (Γ18e)

Since Fire and Water are opposites, their union must be by means of one of the mediating elements: Air in the Descending Rotation or Earth in the Ascending Rotation. Recall that Heraclitus mentions the Descending Rotation (“Fire lives the death of Earth,” etc., quoted above).

X. The Eleusinian Mysteries

The Maiden also explained the myth of her abduction by Hades as a descent into darkness and dissolution in order to be transformed:

The Myth is a Myth of Rebirth.

Rebirth is achieved by following the Path that I’ve laid down —

me and my Mother — who is me.

Descend to the Dark, the Blackness,

the Emptiness, where all things merge.

This: my Realm of Dissolution.

I am the Queen of the Dark Regions

and the Mistress of Transformation,

which must take place in the Dark.

Distinctions must be lost so transformation can take place.

All colors agree in the dark, as you know.

This is the Center, the Prime Material,

where all Elemental and Qualitative distinctions


The Blue Coolness is just a weaker form of the Black. (B5)

Yellow and blue are the intrinsically brightest and darkest color and are naturally associated with the Qualities Warm and Cool, respectively (see my Pythagorean Tarot, pp. 292–3); they are weaker, chromic forms of the primary opposites, Bright and Dark.

I expressed a desire to learn more about her abduction, and she replied:

It’s what everyone is interested in,

but the Mystery itself is what is central.

We are all the same,

dividing and recombining in flux.

As we Gods do, so do you mortals.

The Mystery is this Dividing and Recombining,

into Opposites that unite.

I am Persephone and Zagreus,

Zeus and Demeter,

Dionysos and Ariadne,

all these opposites.

Body and Spirit that divide and recombine.

Two halves ever in flux.

This, the Mystery that you learn

when you descend to me. (B1)

Zagreus is the name by which Dionysos was known in the Orphic Mysteries, but also an epithet of Hades, which seems to be the sense here, since the other two pairs are spouses.

I asked the Goddess to help me understand the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries, and she explained:

It’s about Rebirth, in the Dark.

The Telesterion.

The Light blazes forth within the Center. (A21)

The Telesterion was the main hall of initiation, and it is reported that at the nocturnal climax of the ritual a great light blazed out of its roof, presumably with an epiphany of the Goddess to the initiates. Here the Goddess connects it with the Central Fire erupting in rebirth from the Underworld. I also asked her about the claim that the Hierophant displayed an ear of grain and about its meaning.

The old interpreters got it right:

rebirth under the earth.

You must rot first. Dissolve.

It’s not easy.

You must take yourself apart,

with no commitment to putting back together. (A22)

The notion that, like Humpty Dumpty, you might not be able to be put together again, raises the question of why it should be risked. She said:

Because the rewards are so great.

It is rebirth, after all. (A23)

The result is to be Whole.

Light and Dark.

Firm and Soft. (A24)

It is like the Four Qualities.

Rotation is proper, but you must go into each. (A25)

Light and Dark are analogous to Warm and Cool, and Firm and Soft are analogous to Dry and Moist. The last line seems to make the point that the Qualities or Powers don’t need to be united simultaneously; they can be unified by transforming through them cyclically, but none must be omitted.

How is it done?

Meditation on the Darkness.

Meditate on your own death.

You will awake and then it will be done.

But it is not as simple as you think. (A26)

I interpret this to mean that a simple meditation on death is not sufficient; rather, you must in your soul descend into the Underworld, dissolve into nonexistence, and complete the Rotation, perhaps many times. In any case, the Goddess discouraged me from dwelling on the ancient Mysteries:

Don’t worry about the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Emphasize the fundamental process for your time —

not long ago.

This is the Descent into Prima Materia.

These are like the steps in alchemy,

but not so literally.

You will have to think them through. (B18, part)

I think she means that we should understand the gist of the Rotation but not try to duplicate antique alchemical procedures, which like the Eleusinian Mysteries were appropriate for another time, but not for ours.

XI. Invocation

Undertaking the Rotation (in either direction) requires descending to the Goddess’s realm, and so I asked her how she should be invoked:

Just listen!

The Way is dark. Go through the Gates.

No fountains will be seen.

Approach the Throne, where you will find me.

Offer me a Pomegranate, which I’ll take.

Then say:

“I am the Child of Earth.

This is my offering.

Take it so I may return,

as You have returned

for ever and ever.”

Then I will say:

“And this is my gift to you,

the Gift of Return,

so many times

as the Pomegranate has seeds.

So I shall help you too

to live on Earth in the face of Death.

This is my gift.

I accept your Pomegranate.”

And I shall eat of it, which will be painful —

but you will be renewed, as Hades is renewed.

For He must ever be renewed to do His task: (A8)

to lord it o’er the Dead: the Dead on Earth

as well as in His Realm Below. (A9)

There are several things to observe about this invocation. First, she says “No fountains will be seen,” which I take to mean that we should not expect to see the Lakes of Memory and Forgetfulness, which are described in a well-known Orphic golden grave tablet (Zuntz B1), which guides deceased initiates in their journeys to the Underworld after death. This same tablet instructs initiates to say, “I am a child of Earth and starry Heaven.” Why in this invocation are we instructed to say only, “I am the Child of Earth”? Perhaps because this practice is specifically a descent from Earth to the Watery realm of the Maiden, and she is a child of Earth (Demeter), so likewise the initiate, in imitating her descent, becomes the Child of Earth. Then, when the initiate is reborn as Dionysos, he or she becomes a child of starry Heaven (Zeus, Lord of Air).

I asked the Goddess the best way to call her, and she said:

Call me by my name, “Perseponeia,”

and use my Symbol [see figure]

the fruits of the Spring Season.

This is the way to call me

and the invocation I gave you. (A27)

The name “Perseponeia” is unusual, both in its spelling and in its accent (on the penult), and is unattested in ancient texts, so far as I can determine. (CIG 4588 shows “Phersephoneíê” and it is conceivable that I misheard the aspirated-p sound of the φs as unaspirated πs.) The symbol is also unfamiliar to me, and I could not find it in Liungman’s Dictionary of Symbols. However I did find a similar symbol, which is a capital Π surrounding an inverted triangle of six dots; it is described as “[a]n old Germanic time sign for winter” (Liungman, p. 124, citing Koch, p. 57). The same page shows the symbols for the other seasons, but none of them is similar to that shown by the Goddess. Perhaps in some variant or predecessor of the German system it was the sign for spring. In any case, the Π seems to refer to the Goddess’s name.

It is interesting that by the rules of Isopsêphia (“Greek gematria”) the name “Perseponeia” and the title Hê Kourê (The Maiden) have the same value, 606, which reveals a symbolic connection and supports this spelling. This fact suggests that we explore other equipotent words, and we find that Hê Entelês (The Perfect) also equals 606, and telos (end, death) equals 605 (which is equipotent according to Isopsêphia because it differs by only one). Telos is connected with Hê Entelês and words relating to initiation in the Mysteries (e.g., teletê, telein), which is considered a process of completion, fulfillment, and perfection.

XII. Orphism

According to Orphic mythology, there is an occult relation between Zeus and a Triple Goddess: Rhea, Demeter, and Persephone. First Rhea, the Mother of the Gods, drew Father Zeus to her and they mated as Serpents. (This is symbolized by the entwined serpents on the Caduceus.) Demeter, the Earth Mother, was born of this union, and in her turn she drew Father Zeus to her, and they too mated as serpents. Persephone the Maiden was born of this union, and in her turn she drew Father Zeus to herself, and they mated as serpents. Dionysos, the Reborn Zeus, was the result of this last union. I asked the Maiden whether this Orphic myth of the generation of the gods is correct:

Of course!

except it orders things in time that aren’t in time.

So Rhea, Demeter, and I all are one,

as are Kronos, Zeus, and Dionysos —

and Aiôn too.

We are all One,

but our parts separate and remix,

as do yours.

This is what you must learn. (B3)

This is in accord with Neoplatonic understanding of the gods, who are in the timeless realm of the Ideas. Therefore, Zeus’s relations with Rhea, Demeter, and Persephone are not sequential but simultaneous; he has a triad of different relationships with the Goddess represented by the aspects Rhea, Demeter, and Persephone. The Goddess here reveals that there is a corresponding Triple God comprising Kronos, his son Zeus, and his son Dionysos. They are also husbands, according to some myths, of Rhea, Demeter, and Persephone, respectively. Aiôn (Eternity) is the primordial, bisexual god who is the essence of everything. For more, see my “Summary of Pythagorean Theology.”

I asked the Goddess to explain more about the aspects of the God:

The male Gods are all the same:

different manifestations of the Prime Duality

and of the Ineffable One.

They go in a cycle,

as do the Goddesses,

for they’re defined by their positions in the Cycle.

There is a periodic Separating and Joining

as in the Serpents on the Caduceus.

(And like Pingala and Ida.)

The Circle collapses into its Center,

which is my Realm.

And Hades’ too, for we are One. (B11)

In yoga, Piñgalâ and Idâ are the Sun and Moon channels (nâdîs), respectively, which spiral around Shushumnâ, the central spinal channel, like the serpents around the caduceus.

Zeus and the Triple Goddess form an Elemental Quaternity, which helps us understand their relation. Zeus the Sky Father, as we’ve seen, governs the Air, and Persephone the Abyssal Maiden governs Water. Demeter the Earth Mother is clearly Earth. This leaves Rhea the Celestial Crone to correspond to Fire. Rhea, Demeter, Persephone, and Zeus define an ascending Rotation of the Elements. She says that the gods, like the goddesses, have their unique characters from their positions in the cycle of Elements.

In an ironically profound passage in Goethe’s Faust (Part II, Act I, “Dark Gallery”), Mephistopheles informs Faust that to retrieve Helen from the Underworld, he must journey to “The Mothers.” The mention of their names penetrates Faust to the core, as it does many readers (“The Mothers! Still it strikes a shock of fear./ What is this word that I am loath to hear?” — lines 6265–6). Having given Faust the Key, Mephistopheles instructs:

Well then, sink down! Or I might call it: soar!

It’s all one and the same. Escape the norming

Of what has formed, to forms unbounded swarming! (ll. 6275–77, tr. Arndt)

Faust will sink into the formless realm whence all forms arise, the fount of existence. When Faust has reached the “deepest, nethermost shrine,” he will behold the Mothers:

… Formation, transformation,

The eternal mind’s eternal recreation,

Enswathed in likenesses of manifold entity;

They see you not, for only wraiths they see. (ll. 6287–90, tr. Arndt)

In the realm of the Mothers, the Eternal Mind does its work of Formation, Transformation, and Re-creation (Gestaltung, Umgestaltung, Unterhaltung). Much has been written about the Mothers in Goethe’s Faust; although they have profound and archetypal resonances in our souls, no direct source or inspiration for them has been found in mythology (see, e.g., Arndt & Hamlin edn., pp. 409–415, and Jantz). Rather, they seem to have arisen from Goethe’s own contact with the sources of existence. (Known to his contemporaries as “the great Pagan,” Goethe was also a practicing alchemist.) Bishop (p. 158n201) suggests that their origin may lie in the German Hermetic tradition, for in Qabalah three Hebrew letters are called “the Mothers” (corresponding to Fire, Earth, and Water, according to Agrippa, Bk. I, ch. lxxiv). Could Formation be governed by the primordial Mother of the Gods, Rhea (Fire); Transformation by Demeter (Earth); and Re-creation by Persephone (Water)? That would make Zeus (Air, Spirit, Logos) the Eternal Mind.

XIII. Trees and Rivers

The prominence of the Tree and the remark in the Invocation (A8) led me to ask about the relation between the Tree of Death (A5) and the Tree of Life. Her answer led to an exploration of Orphic themes:

The Tree of Life and the Tree of Death:

the same but different —

White Cypress and Dark Cypress.

The Dark one is mine and the Way to me.

The White one is Dionysos’ and the Way back above.

This is the meaning of the mysterious statement. (Γ20a)

This obviously refers to Orphic golden tablets (e.g., Zuntz B1), which instruct the deceased initiate’s soul to avoid the White Cypress and the Spring of Forgetfulness and to approach the Dark Cypress and the Lake of Memory, flowing with Cool Water. One interpretation might be that by drinking the Water of Forgetfulness you are born into a new life with no memory of the previous. On the other hand, by drinking the Cool Water of the Lake of Memory by the Goddess’s Tree, you preserve your memory as you enter her realm of dissolution and rebirth. In this way the Spirit is preserved through the Rotation (Γ4). As she says, the way out of her realm is by the White Cypress into the realm of Dionysos. The Goddess added:

You do not need to know more,

for Orphism is not for this time.

It was not even for Pythagoras’ time,

but for long before.

Each time has its Way, each epoch its Mysteries.

The Way for this time is the Rotation,

not alchemical but analytical,

and the Union of Spirit and Matter,

more alienated now than ever before.

They war against each other,

but must be reconciled. (Γ20b)

Thus the Goddess informs us that a contemporary version of the Rotation is what we need in our times for a reunification of Spirit and Matter. She also made this point in another text (B18); here she continues:

This is your Task, your Destiny,

but not yours alone.

There are many.

You are just a pebble on the beach.

But you still have much to do,

for your special community. (Γ20c)

I asked the Goddess about the Four Rivers of the Underworld enumerated in Plato’s Phaedo according to Orphic doctrine: Pyriphlegethon (Fire), Acheron (Air), Cocytus (Water), and Styx (Earth), according to Damascius’ correspondences (Kern, Orph. Frag. 125); she replied:

There are Four Rivers.

Behold them coming from the Roots of the Tree.

They nourish the Four Corners of the Earth,

each in its own way.

How is that? By the Elements,

but they all go everywhere,

not to particular geographical quarters.

It is all spiritual.

This is the realm below matter,

on the other side of matter. (B9)

I understand this to mean that although each river is associated with an Element, and the rivers flow off to the four quarters, we should not think of each Element going in just one direction. Rather, because this is a spiritual process, the Four Corners of the Earth should be interpreted non-materially; the Rivers and the Elements reach everywhere. There is also the interesting idea here that the Underworld is the “other side of matter.”

In connection with the Rivers the Goddess made a surprising assertion:

Tell them the structure: the Four Rivers.

I sit by one. It is Pyriphlegethon.

“Isn’t that Fire?” I asked.

It is, but I am there with Hecate. (A16)

We are Fire and Water.

So we are the Opposites who are not opposites.

This you must tell them.

We work together to bring about change. (A17)

So apparently her seat is not by the blue Cocytus, the River of Lamentation, associated with Water, where we would expect to find it, but by the fiery Pyriphlegethon. She is there with Hecate, who is called Purphoros (Fire-bearing), Daidoukhos (Torch-bearer), Phôsphoros (Light-bearer), and Puripnon (Fire-breather). Aside from being associated with the opposed Elements Fire and Water, they may be opposed in the sense that Persephone is more concerned with dissolution and Hecate with reconstitution, for Hecate witnessed the Maiden’s abduction and negotiated her return.

These Goddesses are part of another Elemental Quaternity, for Hecate (Fire), Demeter (Earth), and Persephone (Water) were associated in worship and magic (Kingsley, pp. 243–5, 270–1). The Hidden Fourth is Dionysos (Air). Hecate, who is also called Phulada (Guardian), Propulaia (Before the Gates), Kleidophoros (Key-bearer) and Kleidoukhos (Key-holder, Priestess), opens the way into an Ascending Rotation of the Elements, which follow her in three generations (Demeter, Persephone, Dionysos).

The Maiden confirmed the correspondence between Hades and Fire and added some additional interesting information:

Hades is also a Lord of Fire.

We are Husband and Wife.

He deals with the generalities,

me with the specifics —

like those refusing to return home. (A18)

I can’t add anything to explain the roles of the King and Queen of the Underworld.

Since the Goddess had mentioned the Serpent several times, I asked if it had a particular connection to her as governor of Water:

The Ouroboros is not particularly related to Water,

except that he dwells in the Water at the base

of the Tree of Death. (Γ19)

Mythologically, sacred trees are often guarded by dragons or serpents. Another time she said,

The Ouroboros Serpent is both male and female,

devouring and producing,

entering into the body and coming out of it.

The Serpent is the Key to Rebirth. (B2)

Here we see the Ouroboros Serpent in an alchemical context as a symbol of the Rotation.

XIV. Love and Strife

Empedocles taught that behind the Elements there were two fundamental cosmic forces of change, which he called Love (Philotês, Philia) and Strife (Neikos), or sometimes Aphrodite and Ares. We may also add Eros (Love), whom some myths make the son of Aphrodite, and Eris (Discord), who is the sister of Ares, according to some sources. Strife is the force that separates things in the cosmos and Love is the force that unites them. According to Empedocles (DK 31B17) they alternate dominance in the great cosmic cycles, but most of the time they interact to create the world we know. They are obviously closely related to the Warm and Cool Powers. Ares the War God has a familiar connection with Hades, Lord of the Dead, who governs Fire. Aphrodite has connections with Water for her name was derived from aphros (sea foam), and she was called Anaduomenê (Emerging from the Sea) and Pelagia (She of the Sea). Perhaps surprisingly, she also has Underworld connections: among her epithets are Melaina (Black One), Epitumbia (Over the Tombs), and Tumbôrukhos (Grave-robber, Grave-digger). (Melas, the masculine form of Melaina, was also an epithet of Hades and Ares; Melampeplos, Black-robed, is an epithet of Persephone.) Aphrodite is directly identified with the Queen of the Dead when invoked under the name “Persephaessa,” one of the ancient forms of “Persephone.” It’s also worth pointing out that although Aphrodite’s lover is Ares, her husband is Hephaistos, Lord of Constructive Fire. For these reasons I queried the Goddess about these primal forces:

Love and Strife are less important.

They stand in the background,

the Engine of the Rotation.

I have my part to play in Love, as you have seen;

I am an aspect of Love —

the Affinity of All for All —

indiscriminate Love —

undiscriminating Love —

promiscuous Love.

This is my hidden side, for which I send Eros.

Merging together, one into another,

like the Ouroboros.

This sounds sexual and it is sexual.

Love and Death.

“The Little Death,” remember?

It is a loss of ego in the other.

[Ego in altero?]

Just pay attention!

The Dissolution takes place, each in the other:

the Salt in the Water but also the Water absorbed in the Salt.

The Salt is Spirit, as you know, the Quintessence.

The body becomes imbued with spirit

and the spirit is embodied.

This is the Union that you seek.

Then it can become more differentiated

in the higher Element. (Γ16a)

In the preceding, the mixture of salt and water is used as a symbol of a higher integration of spirit and matter. We have a double image: the salt being dissolved in a larger volume of water and disappearing in it, and the water being absorbed in a larger volume of salt, which it moistens but does not dissolve. Although the correspondences are not completely clear, it seems like the goal is that the spirit permeate the body but that the body also permeate the spirit.

This is the Way that I teach.

Others teach others, but this is for you.

For you personally, but also for others of your time.

Look at it carefully,

and you will see that it’s for your entire culture.

For all [people] of this time —

except a few exceptions.

They will find their own Way.

Don’t worry about them. (Γ16b)

That is, there is a minority of people for which this is not the best Path, but they are not a concern, for they are able to forge their own path. For the rest of us, this is the Way recommended by the Goddess.

XV. The Alchemical Rotation

In answer to a question, the Goddess explained the theurgical signs and symbols by which she may be invoked, which led into a description of the first stage of the alchemical Great Work:

You already know about the Pomegranate.

All things black and blue are mine,

all things rotten. Get over your disgust!

That’s the Reduction to Prima Materia,

Qualitative Blackness,

the first stage, Nigredo, as you know. (B15)

Typically, the stages of the Great Work are Nigredo (Blackening), Albedo (Whitening), Citrinitas (Yellowing), and Rubedo (Reddening). She explains the last three as follows:

The Albedo is the Whitening, return through the White Cypress,

featureless, reborn, a new babe, ready for the Fire!

The Citrinitas is the Fire — hardening, strengthening.

The Rubedo is either sinking into cynical old age

(no matter what your age)

or spiritual elevation,

until you glow like the Ruby. (B19a)

This is, I think, an important point: the Rubedo (corresponding to Dry-Cold Earth) can go in either of two directions. It can become rigid, inflexible, frigid, and incapable of change; we can think of the reddish-brown leaves of autumn as they fall, leaving the trees bare. Or the Rubedo can establish a new, solid, autonomous, and integrated foundation for a return to the Lady of Dissolution and elevating rebirth. This is symbolized by a vibrant ruby red: gemlike, crystal clear, and internally illuminated.

This Cycle repeats, forever:

the Circular Distillation.

But I am the crucial step,

for all qualities must be destroyed

before they can be created anew.

You must spiral in towards the Center

before you can spiral out again.

Like a Labyrinth. (B19b)

The image here, I think is winding forward and backward while ever spiraling toward the center of the labyrinth, and then the central reversal, which starts one spiraling back outward, over similar paths to those that brought you in, but not the same.

The benefit is continual elevation,

so you can live your Destiny more fully

and know your place in the Great Cycle of Nature.

This is the Boon.

You can view it as a Hero’s Quest,

a good way to understand it.

The Myths will help you. (B19c)

When asked to offer additional information, the Goddess described a Double Rotation, which was a new concept to me and is not described in the alchemical literature, so far as I am aware.

Here this from me!

The Way Up and the Way Down:

These are the Dual Rotations,

which may even be simultaneous

for better balance. (Γ21a)

The idea, I think is like two counter-rotating disks, one representing an Ascending Rotation, the other a Descending Rotation. As a consequence, the process may be passing through two Elements at one time.

You must think of the pairs of Elements

through which you go as you go both ways.

They are contradictory

and thus require a Higher Union,

a Paradoxical Union,

an Unknown Third,

which you must discover. (Γ21b)

For example, the Ascending Rotation takes Water to Air, and the Descending takes Water to Earth. Thus the Double Rotation takes Water simultaneously to the opposed Elements Air and Earth, which have no Quality in common. Rather than canceling each other out, we must seek a higher, paradoxical union of the opposites by means of an “unknown third.”

The Double Rotation is an Ascent toward the Heavens —

the Fifth Element —

but also a Descent into Oblivion.

You spend more of your time Above and Below,

but not in the center.

This is the Spindle of Necessity. (Γ21c)

Normally we think of an alchemical rotation as a gradual approach to the Quintessence in the center, which unifies and transcends the individual Elements. In this case, the Double Rotation simultaneously ascends toward the infinitely high and descends towards the infinitely deep, the two extremes meeting at infinity (see figure). The center, which is to be avoided, is the mundane plane of the unintegrated four Elements.

This symbol shows you both Ways,

to the Place where the Highest and Lowest coincide.

Spirit and Matter.

They must be the same

or there would be no Unity in the Universe. ...

This is the Secret that must be discovered experientially. (Γ21d)

I think the point is that such processes cannot be adequately expressed in words, and so they must be experienced to be understood.

XVI. Coda

When I asked the Goddess how we should worship her, she answered:

Sink into the Darkness.

Come to me, for I am lonely.

You will come to me eventually —

but come while still you live upon the Earth.

This is my desire. (B12)

We have seen that there are various paths to her realm: passive sinking, the hero’s quest, the alchemical rotation, etc. Therefore I will leave the last word to the Goddess:

There are many ways to come to me.

Into the Dark! (B13)


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Shaw, Gregory. Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

Zuntz, Gunther. Persephone: Three Essays on Religion and Thought in Magna Graecia. Oxford, 1971.

* Published in Queen of the Sacred Way: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Persephone, edited by Melitta Benu, pp. 190–220. Neos Alexandria, 2012.

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