You've probably heard the story of Persephone's abduction to the Underworld by Hades and her mother Demeter's frantic search for her. But what if the original story was a little different from that? Instead of the young goddess being taken against her will and needing to be rescued, what if she descended to the Underworld of her own free will, to aid and guard the spirits of the dead during the fallow season when she wasn't needed in the World Above? And what if her mother didn't frantically search to find her, but simply went to where she already knew her daughter was, in order to let her know it was time to ascend from the Underworld?

The Persephone-and-Demeter story was enshrined in the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were so popular they survived from classical times several centuries into the Christian era. It's possible that the Eleusinian Mysteries began in the pre-Greek era, perhaps in Minoan Crete and/or mainland Greece among the people who lived there before the arrival of the Indo-European Mycenaeans (check out Karl Kerenyi's book Dionysos for some interesting theories along these lines).

If the Mysteries began among the Minoans, what might that story have looked like? To begin with, the daughter goddess would be Ariadne and the mother goddess would be Rhea. In her book Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, Charlene Spretnak offers a lovely, poetic imagining of just such a tale. And in Modern Minoan Paganism (MMP), we've developed our own mythos for this festival, incorporating it into our sacred calendar.

Our story is not one of abduction, loss, and grief, but of loving responsibility, caring, and compassion. Ariadne is a psychopomp: she escorts the spirits of the dead to the Underworld and cares for them there. But she is also the embodiment of the grain crop, the green growing things in the fields, a gift to the people from her mother, the grain goddess Rhea. So Ariadne splits her time between the World Above and the World Below every year, spending the growing season "up top" and the dead/fallow season (which, in the Mediterranean, is the summer) "down below." She does this not under duress but out of love and compassion.

This time of year in the Mediterranean, the dry season is coming to an end. The rains will begin soon, and the farmers will plow their fields and plant their crops. It's time for Ariadne to come back up from the Underworld and join the dance of life in the World Above. So Rhea bids the young Dionysus bear a torch for her and lead her to her daughter in the World Below - Dionysus can do this because he, like Ariadne, is a psychopomp.

The Underworld is a big place, and it takes a while for Rhea to find her daughter - ten days, to be exact. When Rhea finds Ariadne, the young goddess knows it's time to shift from one set of responsibilities to another, from caring for the dead to supporting the living. Together she and her mother rise up from the Underworld as the growing season begins.

For us in MMP, the Mysteries are a ten-day festival that runs from September 1 to September 10, dates we have chosen based on the time of the heliacal rising of two stars during the Bronze Age. Arcturus, the star that represents young Dionysus' torch, had its heliacal rising on September 1 during Minoan times. And Spica, the grain of wheat in the hand of the goddess (the constellation Virgo) had its heliacal rising ten days later.

So we give thanks for the gifts the Great Mother and her Daughter share with us. We give thanks for the grain that sustains our bodies, for the sacred love that sustains our souls, and for the goddess whose caring and compassion will sustain our spirits in the World Beyond.

In the name of the bee,
And of the butterfly,
And of the breeze, amen.