Lynnea Urania Stuart
Author’s Note: This is the second of a 3-part series consisting of the role of transgenderism in the development of Kabbalism including:
Part 1: In a Beginning: the Genesis problem and the resulting dissolution of the gender dichotomy. Please click here to read this series from the initial article.
Part 2: The Hierophants: astral experience and gods of the early Mysteries with trans priestesses, leading to Platonic understanding of reality.
Part 3: The Hermeticists: the development of Hermeticism alongside Berg Kabbalah and modern philosophy with their tenuous relationship to the trans community. Please click here to read this article.
Nine days both sustained and changed the world. They certainly revolutionized the Athenian mind. The Mysteries extend from antiquity and prehistory, providing a second source for future Kabbalists including those who are also transgender. Nobody knows the ultimate origin of the Mysteries except to say that their roots are in the dreaming practices of priests from time beyond memory. Hidden within them, the transgender priesthoods conducted their sacerdotal duties consistent with each tradition. The Mysteries laid the foundation for the Mystery schools that developed underground in Europe, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Anatolia, and elsewhere, springing to fresh life through the guilds and the Rosicrucians of the 17th century.
We read this in an Orphic hymn filtered down to us through Romans:
The birth of Brimo; and the mighty deeds
Of the Titanic hosts; the servitude
Of Jove; and the mysterious mountain rites
Of Cybelè, when with distracted pace she sought
Through the wide world the beauteous Proserpine;
The far-fam’d labours of the Machian Hercules;
Th’ Idèan orgies; and the giant force
Of the dread Corybantes; and the wanderings
Of Ceres, and the woes of Prosperpine:
With these I sung the gifts of the Cabiri;
The Mysteries of Bacchus; and the praise
Of Lemnos, Samothrace, and lofty Cyprus,
Fair Adonean Venus; and the rites
Of dread Ogygian Praxidicè;
Arinian Minerva’s nightly festival;
And Egypt’s sorrow for the lost Osiris.1
Ultimately, all schools of the Mysteries intertwined much like today’s occult schools do, members often taking membership in multiple schools. In ancient times they included the Eleusinian Mysteries, the rites of Mount Ida for Cybele (pronounced ku-BEY-ley), the Kabeiri of Samothrace and the Phoenicians, the Dionysian rites, the rites of Phoenician Aphrodite at Apheca and Paphos, and others. A place for transpeople to officiate in some capacity could be found in many of them in ancient times. The Gallī (Gallae today) Served Cybele but also might officiate in the place of Axieros at Samothrace.2 The presence of images of HermAprhodite at Paphos linked their presence with Aprhodite.3 At the grove of Apheca in Phoenicia it is written of the priests of an earlier version of Aphrodite as one of the Ashtoreth before it evolved to the forms known at Cypress and Cythera:
“The priests scourged themselves or gashed their arms and breasts to win the favour of the god, and similar horrors were perpetrated in the name of Ashtoreth. To her, too, boys and maidens were burned, and young men made themselves eunuchs in her honour.”4
But at Eleusis, a town just west of Athens, the Mysteries perhaps offered the greatest level of refinement, directing their Athenian celebrants to virtue. This was the Age of Pericles and the ascendancy of Philosophy. The Jewish rabbis, disconnected with the Eleusinian rites paralleled the thought the rites generated through the philosophers through the teaching of the Four Worlds, later systematized in the sephirot of the ‘Etz Chayim or Tree of Life.5 It’s a remarkable parallel, providing an impetus for philosophic debate and teaching reaching to modern times.
The Eleusinian Mysteries stand as 2 sets of mysteries, the lesser being performed in the early spring, initially for the benefit of those seeking initiation but who weren’t Athenians. The specifics of the lesser Mysteries aren’t known, though they most likely focused upon the experience of Persephone while the greater Mysteries focused upon that of the Great Mother Demeter. Eventually nobody was initiated into the greater Mysteries who had not been initiated in the lesser.6
The Mysteries at Eleusis were presided over by a Hierophant, a priest as primary expounder of the Mysteries and bringer of the Light. He was accompanied by a priestess, a Hierophantidē who oversaw the initiation of the female candidates but had a role with the Hierophant in the ceremonies generally. Aside from these, the Eleusinian rites employed a host of ceremonial officers, most often from the descendants of Eumolpos who reputedly were first to execute the Eleusinian rites, but certain offices were also reserved to the descendants of Keryx:
Dadouchoi (Dadouchai), or torch bearers, male and female descendents of Keryx.
A Hierokkeryx, a descendent of Keryx, as representative of Hermes as a mediator and executing proclamations (equivalent to the modern Kerux).
Phaidantes, charged with the maintenance of images and vessels.
Liknophoroi, charged with maintenance of the mystic fan.
Hydranoi, charged with asperging the candidates for ritual purity (equivalent to the modern Stolistes).
Spondophoroi, charged with proclaiming sacred truce.
Pyrphoroi, charged with the general maintenance of the temple fires (equivalent to the modern Dadouchos)
Hieraules, flute players who led in sacred music.
Hymnodoi and Hymnetriai, musicians and singers under the Hieraules.
Neokoroi, an altar guild also charged with maintenance of the temple generally.
The class of Panageis, intermediary teachers of initiates that included the Mystagogoi (equivalent to modern Proctors).
Melissae, minor priestesses, equivalent to Melissae in various priestly traditions including those of Artemis and Cybele that included transgender priestesses. Melissae also have recognition among worshippers of Cybele today.7
A summary of what took place in the greater Mysteries follows thus:
Day I: The Agrymos (Gathering): The initial invocation seeking the blessings of Zeus, Athena, Demeter, and Persephone, charging of the mystai (initiates) with their festival duties of silence and fasting from both food and drink during the day from sunrise to sunset much in the same way Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan.
Day 2: The Elasis (Letting Go): The mystai are brought to the sea for immersion at the Bay of Phaleron as part of ritual purification.
Day 3: Heirea Douro (Bring Offerings): Athenian state sacrificial offerings and delegations bringing “first fruits” offerings of grain and fruit.
Day 4: Asklepia/Epidauria: Named after Asklepios (the God of healing) and the healing center at Epidauros sacred to Asklepios, Hygeia (The Goddess of Health) and Apollo. The cult of Asklepios and Hygeia added their sacrificial offerings to invoke blessings for healers and those entering sacred sleep during the night to determine a course of action for healing through dreams, executed through the therapeutes who attended them.
Day 5: Pompe (Procession): A joyful procession from Athens to Eleusis, pausing at the Shrine of the Sacred Son Iakchos; the Kephisos River where youths offered locks of their hair; the temple precincts of Apollo, Demeter, Persephone and Athena at Daphni and the nearby sanctuary of Aprhodite; the Rheitoi where the descendents of Krokos honored them by tying a saffron strand to the right wrists and ankles of the mystai; and just outside Eleusis the Gephryismos (Joking at the Bridge) where a player representing Baubo-Iambe joked in the same way Iambe lifted her skirts and the spirits of Demeter when she searched for her Persephone.
Day 6: The Pannychis (Revelry): Marked by torch lit dancing around the Kallichoron (Well of Beautiful Dances) and offering of the pelanos, the sacred bread at the telestrion of the temple of Demeter. The morning after was reserved to give the mystai repose and time to offer other dedications and offerings.
Day 7: The Mysteriotides Nychtes (Nights of the Mysteries): The mystai enter the telestrion with their teachers the mystagogoi. A Hierophant and Heirophantidē convened the sacred rites themselves that probably included a reenactment of the myth of Demeter and Persephone in the cavern of Eleusis.
Day 8: The Mysteriotides Nychtes (Nights of the Mysteries): These continue for a second day. During these nights the mystai take of the kykeon, a sacramental drink from boiled barley water and pennyroyal. The effect of the rites facilitated 3 things: logomena (things said), dromena (things enacted), and deiknymena (things seen). The rites brought gnostic experience to the mystai called by the Greeks, “epopteia”. Initiates to the third degree Epopta were advanced on this day according to Hippolytus. The rite culminated with a hieros gamos (priestly sexual union) between Hierophant and Hierophantidē interpreted variously between the union of Demeter with Zeus and Persephone with Hades.
Day 9: Plemochoai (Libations) and Epistrophe (Return): Offerings of libations to ancestors to remember the dead, and to transition back from the sacred to the mundane life.8
The transgender role in these rites, apart from Melissae, appears to fall upon the fifth day. The “Joking at the Bridge” features someone playing the role of Baubo-Iambe. Baubo and Iambe often appear in different guise. Figurines of Baubo sometimes feature the face and belly merged into singularity with vulva for a chin. Others depict Baubo with exaggerated genitalia.9 Iambe appears in the Hymn to Demeter thus:
“But Demeter, the bringer of hôrai, (seasons) the giver of splendid gifts,
refused to sit down on the splendid chair,
but she stood there silent, with her beautiful eyes downcast,
until Iambê, the one who knows what is worth caring about [kednon] and what is not, set down for her
a well-built stool, on top of which she threw a splendid fleece.
On this she [Demeter] sat down, holding with her hands a veil before her face.
For a long time she sat on the stool, without uttering a sound, in her sadness.
And she made no approach, either by word or by gesture, to anyone.
Unsmiling, not partaking of food or drink,
she sat there, wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle,
until Iambê, the one who knows what is dear and what is not, started making fun.
Making many jokes, she turned the Holy Lady’s disposition in another direction,
making her smile and laugh and have a merry thûmos (emotion).
Ever since, she [Iambê] has been pleasing her [Demeter] with the sacred rites.”10
The idea, of course, is that the ribald humor of Iambe, taking some form of Baubo, isn’t something many women can consent to do. But a Gallus (Galla), being no stranger to self-mockery, masquerade, and transformation of sex would have been a fitting choice, especially if Baubo was indeed a cross-gender figure. In the opinion of A.C. Smythe:
“From the ambiguous nature of the surviving information about Baubo, some scholars have concluded that this goddess was perhaps a hermaphrodite—or transgendered [sic] in some other way. According to some interpretations of Clement’s writings, Baubo, when she lifted her skirt to Demeter, revealed body parts “inappropriate to a woman.”11
The Mysteries, often approached with utter seriousness, even sanctimoniousness, demanded something different at Eleusis. Most initiatory rites include a moment in which the candidate is left feeling defeated and downtrodden. The Joking at the Bridge also carries this aspect, but in a different way, revealing through ritual obscenity what fools we humans really are and how we all need to lighten up and not take ourselves or the things we do too seriously. Howbeit, the most important aspect of the Eleusinian rites isn’t this aspect but the epopteia itself, that which brings eidetic imagery into a mind expanding realization. Plato, himself an Athenian, relates the following in Phaedrus that might hint at what sort of experience the epopteia might have entailed:
“Justice and self-control do not shine out through their images down here, and neither do the other objects of the soul’s admiration; the senses are so murky that only a few people are able to make out, with difficulty, the original of the likenesses they encounter here. But beauty was radiant to see at that time when the souls, along with the glorious chorus (we were with Zeus, while others followed other gods), saw that blessed and spectacular vision and were ushered into the mystery that we may rightly call the most blessed of all. And we who celebrated it were wholly perfect and free of all the troubles that awaited us in time to come, and we gazed in rapture at sacred revealed objects that were perfect, and simple, and unshakeable and blissful. That was the ultimate vision, and we saw it in pure light because we were pure ourselves, not buried in this thing we are carrying around now, which we call a body, locked in it like an oyster in its shell.”12
So here we have a cave setting, Persephone taken captive by Hades, with initiates facing some of her experience in the lesser Mysteries, followed by the greater Mysteries in which the Demeter experience awakens to a luminous experience. The pattern conspicuously follows similarly with that of Plato’s work Republic, Book VII of which gives us one of the most beloved parables in the annals of Philosophy: The Allegory of the Cave.
To summarize the allegory, picture people living as prisoners, bound inside a cave from childhood, fettered and able only to see in one direction, unable to move. Behind them a campfire projects shadows of puppets that appear like ghosts and voices of those who tend them offering scant reference for the prisoners to discern anything. Consider that one of these prisoners is freed from those bonds and is able to see how those shadows had been cast by a fire, understanding for the first time the true nature of his captivity. In gaining an understanding of that campfire light and the nature of the cave he is able to notice a greater light at the mouth of it. He climbs a rough and steep passage to encounter it, and upon reaching it scarcely can take in the glory of the sun itself. He could go out into sunlight for the first time, but he remembers the other prisoners and returns to affect their liberation.13
The Allegory of the Cave speaks of levels of realization of consciousness. The Lesser Mysteries might be likened to the liberation inside the cave, the Greater to the realization that the cave has an outside and that a greater potential exists. However, Plato doesn’t tell us that it’s possible for a man to live with an “outside the cave experience” in his lifetime. Either he dies or he falls back into the cave again despite the care he takes to climb that steep and slippery slope. It’s like the modern Dasein presented by Martin Heidegger, who experiences angst, not realizing his potential till the very end and then Dasein is no more.14
Instead, Plato proposes awareness resulting from an analogy between the inside and outside consistent with this diagram:
This unfolding of consciousness begins with imagination (eikasia). But sooner or later the mindfulness of a dreamer must latch onto the issue of intent (dianoia). Intent isn’t a matter of having intentions. Instead it’s a trait of how one moves both in waking and within a dream. We exercise intent whenever we walk. We walk where our mind pictures where we will walk. But the impetus for stepping forward, typically an exercise without any conscious thought, is intent. One also experiences believing in this process. Belief and faith are the same word in Greek (pistis). But ultimate awareness arises in discerning the pattern between imagination and faith in comparison with intent. That awareness as “understanding” (epistēmē) is also called “knowing” (nōsis).
The idea easily appealed to those of Gnostic or Telestatic bent in traditions far beyond the Eleusinian Mysteries. It’s easy for anyone to see the similarity between nōsis and gnōsis. Nōsis comes as a matter of human analogy. Gnōsis comes from the divine directly as a revelation. It appeals so much because philosophic thought so clearly articulated a reality beyond our own world of illusory phenomena as a godlike noumenon.
Not the least of those attracted to Plato’s insight through the allegory, articulated through Socrates as a character, were the Hellenic Jews themselves. The developing insights into the Four Worlds augmented further with the allegory. The worlds ‘Assiyah (Action or the Physical Plane), Yetzirah (Formation or the Astral Plane), Briah (Creation or the Mental Plane), and Atzilut (Emanation or the Soul Plane) correspond well with the 4 levels of eikasia, dianoia, pistis, and nōsis.15
This union between Hellenist and Abrahamist would also open the floodgates of mysticism throughout the Medieval period of history. Mysticism was forced underground and beyond Roman borders during the Church Age. But another demographic likewise suffered oppression and erasure: transfolk. When oppression began to lift in the Renaissance, mysticism organized afresh. Transpeople, however, were slow to emerge. But when they did, they found themselves split between the Abrahamists and the various schools with historical ties to the Mysteries, many of them with Hierophants of their own.
- Wright, Dudley. The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites (1919) Theosophical Publishing House, London, Denver, E-book #35087 by D’Hooghe, Marc, Project Gutenberg (January 26, 2011): http://www.freeliterature.org, www.gutenberg.net. Retrieved January 7, 2013. Section IV: The Initiatory Rites.
- Stuart, Lynnea Urania. The Pillars of Gender (2016) Web: Transpire: https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/the-pillars-of-gender/. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- Karageorghis, Jacqueline. Aphrodite, Goddess of Cyprus (n.d.) Web: Kyprios Character: http://kyprioscharacter.eie.gr/en/scientific-texts/details/cult-and-religion/aphrodite-goddess-of-cyprus . Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- Sayce, A. H. The Ancient History (1884). Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY 1884, No ISBN. p. 196 Out of print.
- Stuart, Lynnea Urania. With Gods and Philosophers: In a Beginning (2017) Web: Transpire: https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/gods-and-philosophers-in-a-beginning/. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- Wright, Section II: The Ritual of the Mysteries.
- See also Iles, Linda. Priestesses of the Bee: The Melissae (n.d.) Web: Mirror of Isis – An Official Fellowship of Isis Publication: http://mirrorofisis.freeyellow.com/id576.html . Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- 31-35.Keller, Mara Lynn, PhD. The Ritual Path of Initiation Into the Eleusinian Mysteries (2009) Periodical: Rosicrucian Digest, No. 2. Web: Academia.edu: http://www.academia.edu/22963500/Ritual_Path_of_Initiation_into_the_Eleusinian_Mysteries. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- Frederika Tevebring. Baubo and the Question of the Obscene (n.d.) Web: Society for Classical Studies: https://classicalstudies.org/annual-meeting/147/abstract/baubo-and-question-obscene . Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- Nagy, Gregory, translator. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter (n.d.) Web: University of Houston: http://www.uh.edu/~cldue/texts/demeter.html, Lines 192-205. Parentheses of untranslated Greek and bolding of bracketed Greek word by Lynnea Urania Stuart
- Smythe, A. C. Baubo: Greek Goddess of Mirth (n.d.) Web: Goddess Gift: http://www.goddessgift.com/goddess-myths/greek_goddess_baubo.htm . Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- Phaedrus, 250: b,c. Translation by Nehamas, Alexander and Woodruff, Paul; Cooper, John M., editor and Hutchinson, D.S., Associate Editor: Plato: Compete Works (1997) Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis. ISBN:-13: 978-0-87220-349-5, pp. 527, 528.
- Republic 514-521.
- Cavalier, Robert. The Problem of Death (n.d.) Web: Carnegie Mellon University Department of Philosophy: http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/80254/Heidegger/divisiontwo/Death.html . Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- With Gods and Philosophers: In a Beginning