A visit to Hekate’s domestic chapel







By Katalina Lourdes



I rode up towards Mas Castellar on the local train to Cerbère, a town just across the border on France’s Mediterranean coast. Cerbère is French for Cerberus, the Hound of Hades – a three-headed dog that guarded the underworld. I’m amused, because I’m headed to a Hellenistic temple that was also a site of ritual dog sacrifice.

In the ancient Greek world dogs were associated with purification, and sometimes used to cure diseases. A few miles away, dogs would have roamed the underground chambers of the temple of Asclepius in Empúries, licking sick pilgrims who came to be healed by the god through their dreams.

Dogs were also symbols of protection, and sacred to the goddess Hekate. Known as Prytania (“invincible Queen of the dead”), Phosphorus (“the light bringer”), and Soteira (“Savior”) among other epithets, Hekate is a goddess of protection, entrances, crossroads, darkness, light, liminality, birth, death, mystery, herbs, and witchcraft. It was to her the dogs were sacrificed.


Hekate is often depicted with three bodies facing in different directions, which may symbolize the three realms she reigns over: Earth, sea, and sky. It could also represent her role in guiding those at a crossroads, or her ability to see into past, present, and future. Or that she is a triple goddess, representing Hekate, Demeter, and Persephone as one; grandmother, mother, and daughter.

I look out the window and watch the endless fields of grain, thinking about how they’re thousands of years old – eternal, even. This is the mystery I’m searching for.

We pass through pine groves and cross streams. Magnificent mountains begin to appear ahead of us, snow-capped.

I get off the train south of Figueres, where my  accommodation is across from the village’s only restaurant. Everyone greets each other as they enter. They even greet me, out of place as I am. It’s filled with farmworkers and older men who were once farmworkers.

As I look around the room I wonder if any of these farmers’ ancestors lived at Mas Castellar de Pontós. If they drank the Kykeon at the temple there.

I wonder where its inhabitants went when the site was abandoned at the turn of the 2nd century BC.

Did the Romans destroy the settlement as part of their crackdown on the Dionysian Mysteries in 186 BC?

Did the priestesses sacrifice dogs to Hekate for protection before fleeing to the Pyrenees?












The Dionysian Mysteries




The Dionysian Mysteries (or Bacchanalia) was the Mystery of the cult of the god of wine. They were known to meet outdoors, performing their rituals in the mountains where all initiates – regardless of their status in Greek society – became equal, creating an ethos of communitas. The maenads, or priestesses of Dionysus, mixed their wine with god knows what else. The sacrament was equivalent to the god – by drinking it, initiates became one with Dionysus. Music and ecstactic dance were also used to induce trance states. Welcoming everyone, including outlaws, the cult of Dionysus apparently became a hotbed of political radicalism. The Roman senate deemed the cult a threat to state security and issued an decree in 186 BC to outlaw it and its Mysteries throughout Italy. Dionysian temples were destroyed across the peninsula, and thousands of priests and initiates into the cult of Dionysus were put to death.


Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus

“No man is to be a priest; no one, either man or woman, is to be an officer (to manage the temporal affairs of the organization); nor is anyone of them to have charge of a common treasury; no one shall appoint either man or woman to be master or to act as master; henceforth they shall not form conspiracies among themselves, stir up any disorder, make mutual promises or agreements, or interchange pledges; no one shall observe the sacred rites either in public or private or outside the city, unless he comes to the praetor urbanus, and he, in accordance with the opinion of the senate, expressed when no less than 100 senators are present at the discussion, shall have given leave.”



The many figurines and incense burners found bearing the likeness of Demeter or Persephone at the temple at Mas Castellar de Pontós, and a psychedelic sacrament mixed in beer rather than wine, suggest the rites practiced there were an adaptation of the Eleusinian Mysteries – the mystery of the cult of Demeter, not Dionysus. But would the Romans have known the difference? And it was just around this time that the Romans were beginning to settle in the province now known as Alt Empordà.

The Eleusinian Mysteries

The Eleusinian Mysteries were the most famous – and secretive – mystery cult of the ancient world. Symbolized by an ear of grain, they were known for bestowing knowledge of immortality on their initiates and making them “better in every way.” Hundreds or perhaps thousands traveled to Athens to take part in the Mysteries every year for over a millennia. From Athens, they embarked on a 10 day pilgrimage to Eleusis, reenacting the story of Demeter, the Earth goddess, in her search for her daughter Persephone, goddess of the underworld and the Spring.

Once in Eleusis, before entering Demeter’s temple, the Telesterion, initiates would drink a sacrament called Kykeon. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the goddess gives the recipe: barley, water, and pennyroyal. However given the transformational nature of the Mysteries – after which initiates became “god-like” and no longer feared death – it’s long been suspected that an entheogen was in the mix.

The 1979 book The Road to Eleusis proposed that the secret ingredient in Kykeon was ergot, a purple fungus that grows on the ends of grain, from which Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD. Ergot is poisonous, and it will kill you if prepared in the wrong way, but Hofmann concluded that the ancient Greeks could have removed its toxic compounds using an oil extraction method.



It’s a two hour walk from here to the archaeological site, but cutting across fields and highways isn’t always straightforward, and it takes me three. I say a short prayer on my way to the goddesses I’m about to visit.

Across the highway there’s a forest, and I’m invigorated by the peaceful cover of pine trees. I pick up my pace as the light begins to fade from the sky.



The breadbasket of Alt Empordà

Finally I come across the entrance to the site. As I walk up the path a tractor passes carrying farmwood. There’s an old farmhouse with a garden. A kitten poses for my camera, and a bull takes me by surprise, staring me down as I walk past.

Bulls were associated with Dionysus, but they were also sacred to Hekate. She was goddess of the night sky, and their horns, turned sideways, look like the crescent moon. In the Greek Magical Papyrii Hekate is referred to as “Bull-faced and bull-headed,” with “the eyes of bulls and the voice of dogs.” And in the Orphic Hymn to Hekate she is described as “drawn by a yoke of bulls.”


The Orphic Hymn to Hekate

I call Ækátî of the Crossroads, worshipped at the meeting of three paths, oh lovely one.
In the sky, earth, and sea, you are venerated in your saffron-colored robes.
Funereal Daimôn, celebrating among the souls of those who have passed.
Persian, fond of deserted places, you delight in deer.
Goddess of night, protectress of dogs, invincible Queen.
Drawn by a yoke of bulls, you are the queen who holds the keys to all the Kózmos.
Commander, Nýmphi, nurturer of children, you who haunt the mountains.
Pray, Maiden, attend our hallowed rituals;
Be forever gracious to your mystic herdsman and rejoice in our gifts of incense.


Underground grain silos at Mas Castellar de Pontos

The settlement at Mas Castellar de Pontós was more than just a temple. The town was the “breadbasket” of Greek Catalonia, supplying grain to the nearby coastal cities of Empúries and Rhode. The lead archaeologist of the site, Enriqueta Pons, has estimated that as many as 2500 grain silos remain unearthed in a few hectares surrounding the main structures. 

So it makes sense that they would have worshipped the agricultural goddesses Demeter and Persephone here and even, on the edges of the Hellenistic world, carried out an Iberian version of their Mysteries.




The remains at Mas Castellar

The “domestic chapel” of house 1. Ceremonial activities took place in Room 3, while Room 7 appears to have been an entrance hall. 

At the back of the site, two houses from the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC have been excavated. Room 3 of House 1 is a sort of temple, or what the archaeologists call a “domestic chapel” – a temple within a house, which was typical in ancient Iberian communities.

In the center of Room 3 they found an altar made of Pentelic marble, imported from Greece. Incisions in the marble and organic analysis  indicate that it was used to make bloody sacrifices. The charred remains of several dogs were found in pits next to the altar. In front of the altar was a shallow water pit, probably used for ritual purification or ablution, or possibly to create steam baths.


Room 3 of House 1 – the “domestic chapel” where the altar, chalices, and dog sacrifices were found.

The archaeologists found an incense burner in the shape of a woman’s face, representing Demeter or Persephone. Several like it were also found buried near the site.

And strewn across the temple were 11 miniature chalices.

In the 1990s, the archaeobotanist Jordi Juan-Tresserras examined the remains at Mas Castellar with new technology that allowed for the detection of millennia-old organic compounds. He discovered remnants of pine and cedar in the incense burner.

And in one of the miniature chalices he found traces of “ergotized beer.” He also detected ergot in the teeth of a standalone jawbone from an adjacent room. The same ergot Albert Hofmann used to synthesize LSD, and that he hypothesized had been used in the Mysteries.

Miniature chalice that once held ergotized beer. Museo de Arqueología de Cataluña de Girona.

Tresserras knew what he had found, even if no one noticed for 20 years, until Brian Muraresku published his findings in his book The Immortality Key, which makes the case for a psychedelic sacrament in early Christianity. But Tresserras’s finding is the smoking gun, the holy grail – hard evidence that initiates in the Greek Mysteries were tripping on an LSD-like alkaloid.

While the other archaeologists speculated that this was the site of a grain cult, and more specifically the worship of Demeter and Persephone, in the 600 page monograph on Mas Castellar de Pontós published in 2002, Tresserras is the only one to bring up the Mysteries – or Hekate.

Tresserras cites The Road to Eleusis, and suggests the ergotized beer is the same Kykeon that was taken in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and that the people of Mas Castellar were practicing an Iberian version of them.

Subterranean votive silo

In 1992, archaeologists discovered an underground silo not far from the site’s main structures that contained not grain nor waste, but offerings. A fire had been made in the pit, and votive offerings were carefully placed upon the ashes. They found a terracotta head with a feminine face, nine amphora, agricultural tools, and domestic objects including keys. The fact that the offerings were buried suggests that they were left for a chthonic deity like Persephone – or perhaps Hekate.

Hekate in the Mysteries

The Eleusinian Mysteries are known as the cult of Demeter and Persephone, but Hekate has a prominent role in their myth. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, she is the only deity who comes to Demeter’s aid. Torches in hand, she leads Demeter to the sun god Helios, who tells the goddess that Hades has abducted her daughter with the permission of Zeus. When mother and daughter are finally reunited, Hekate is there to celebrate with them. She becomes Persephone’s guide, escorting her back and forth from the underworld each year, and takes Persephone’s place as Queen of the Dead when the maiden is above ground with her mother. Hekate was also recognized in the ceremonies at Eleusis, where initiates carried torches in her honor.

Tresserras suggests the keys found in the votive silo were offerings to Hekate, symbolic of her keys to the underworld and other realms, and her protective role as the guardian of entrances.

He also connects the dog sacrifices to Hekate, detailing many instances of dog sacrifice across the Greco-Roman world.

When I go back to read the monograph after my trip, I discover that Tresserras describes Hekate as carrying two torches – and accompanied by two howling dogs.


Hekate’s dogs

So I’m sitting in this ancient temple of a room where they sacrificed dogs and drank Kykeon. I feel at one with my surroundings; I begin to blend in with them. Until I flip my camera, and I notice how I’ve aged since the pandemic began, and all the rest before it. An existential anxiety creeps in – what am I doing here? The sun is going down, I’m feeling fragile, and I have to start walking back.

Out of nowhere, a dog runs up to me. She jumps on me, trying to lick me. I’m not a dog person, and I can’t remember the last time a dog has been friendly with me. In my experience, Spanish dogs are reserved with strangers. I ask her what she’s doing in this temple, a site of ritual dog sacrifice, and she digs furiously at the ground in front of me. I call her “Gosso,” from the Catalan word for dog. Her joy is infectious, and before I know it I’m laughing with her. It’s as if she’s come to comfort me, and to remind me that this is the point of life.

Gosso waits for me to depart, and I’m glad to have a companion. Walking past the farm again, now there are four bulls. Standing in a row, their heads are turned at the same angle, and they’re all watching me with equal intensity. But they don’t make me so nervous this time, because I have a protectress.


Two guides

Gosso meets up with her friend, and they begin chasing each other through the fields, unbridled in their happiness.

I turn to take the road into town, and they follow me. Luckily, cars are few, and Gosso begins to heed me as she and her friend guide me along the road to the town, occasionally disappearing from sight to frolic in the sunset.

Nightfall descends as we come upon the town of Pontós. The sound of sheep bleating comes from a nearby stable, and the dogs make our presence known as the lanterns light up the tiny, medieval village. I look for its only restaurant.

As soon as I find it, a car pulls up in front of us and a man gets out.

“Did they follow you?” he asks me.

Gosso doesn’t want to leave; she lies down in front of the restaurant in protest. The man picks her up and carries her back to his car.

Bolivian energy

I call a taxi and a Bolivian man arrives from Figueres and takes me back through the valley, lights sparkling about us in the night, the sensation of flying. Bolivia makes me think of lithium mining and the 2019 coup d’etat that ousted Evo Morales. And I think of how the energy carrying me and manifesting as light around me has been mined from the Earth. I think of how Morales returned from exile and Jeanine Añez was jailed. A victory for Bolivia’s indigenous peoples and the Earth. A rare glimmer of hope in a world growing dark.

Hekate as the feminine principle

I felt Hekate was with me, guiding me during this journey, bringing me safely to my destination.

Back at the villa I sit in the garden, looking up at the starry night sky that is Hekate’s domain. I could feel her presence with me still, looking down from the heavens.

My experience with Hekate reaffirmed my belief in communism and put it in an ancient, feminist, Earth-based context. As triple goddess over all realms, dark and mysterious but carrying torches, Hekate is Yin, the feminine principle.

Hekate is at once a goddess of the underworld, the heavens, the Earth and the sea. Her priestesses Medea and Circe have been portrayed as wicked witches. However in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, her role is totally benevolent. And in the Chaldean Oracles, a neoplatonic poem (Plato himself was deeply influenced by the Eleusinian Mysteries), Hekate is the World Soul, and the guardian between the spiritual and physical realms.

The Earth goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone are also aspects of Yin, though Hekate encompasses both of them. As in the Eleusinian Mysteries, these goddesses remind us that we live by the Earth. In traditional societies, like the simple farming community at Mas Castellar, what we took from the Earth served to sustain us more or less equally.

As society grew and became more complex, more was extracted. As long as what is taken from the Earth serves the good of all equally, it’s in balance. However evil men take more than their share, and use what they extract from Hekate’s realms and the toil of the working classes to create structures that secure their power and oppress those beneath them, destroying everything around them in a quest for power. Quo vadis? Ad quam finem?

This imbalance reaches an apex with nuclear weapons. Uranium is extracted from the Earth and the underworld, concentrated into the ultimate destructive force that’s wielded by men for the purpose of world domination. It’s a supreme expression of evil. An extreme disequilibrium and an affront to the feminine principle – extracting from her realms, poisoning and threatening to poison Earth, sea, and sky, and enslaving the world’s creatures to a gang of men who care for nothing except their own power – their power over women, other men, and the Earth itself.

Feminine justice

Hekate is an empowerer of women. Some of her followers, like Circe and Medea, take revenge on powerful men through witchcraft. Even Demeter brings the world to the brink of starvation in her grief. In doing so she spites the patriarchy and brings Zeus to his knees. It’s a feminine wrath, and sometimes necessary to restore balance.

In Essays on a Science of Mythology Carl Jung analyzes the myth of Demeter and Persephone. He concludes that the secret of the Eleusinian Mysteries was that we live eternally through reproduction. Hekate is Demeter and Demeter is Persephone. Mother and daughter are one, just as an ear of grain houses its descendents in seeds that fall to the ground, and is born again in Spring.

Carl Ruck, who coauthored The Road to Eleusis, suggests that inside the Telesterion, initiates witnessed Persephone return from the underworld to give birth to a child, Dionysus.

We live on through the Earth. We are born of the Earth, we return to the Earth, through this cycle we give life to plants and other creatures.

It follows that our existence depends on the Earth and our care of it. If we hurt her, she may just starve us all. Balance, respect for nature, and respect for the feminine is necessary for life to continue, for this organic immortality, to live eternally.

In his book, Muraresku describes how the Roman hierophant Praetextatus intervened when the Roman emperor Valentinian sought to shut down the Eleusinian Mysteries in 364 AD. He told Valentinian that the Mysteries “hold the human race together” and that their loss “would make the life for the Greeks unlivable.”

At the end of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Rhea comes to summon Demeter to Olympus. Before setting off, the goddess makes the world fertile again, and teaches the secrets of her rites to priests in Eleusis:




“Straightaway she sent up the harvest from the land with its rich clods of earth. And all the wide earth with leaves and blossoms was laden. Then she went to the kings, administrators of themistes, and she showed them—to Triptolemos, to Diokles, driver of horses, to powerful Eumolpos and to Keleos, leader of the people [lâoi]—she revealed to them the way to perform the sacred rites, and she pointed out the ritual to all of them—the holy ritual, which it is not at all possible to ignore, to find out about, or to speak out. The great awe of the gods holds back any speaking out. Blessed [olbios] among earth-bound mortals is he who has seen these things.

But whoever is uninitiated in the rites, whoever takes no part in them, will never get a share [aisa] of those sorts of things [that the initiated get], once they die, down below in the dank realms of mist.”





If we properly worship Demeter (the Earth) we will be reborn. If not, we die. Hekate is here to guide us towards this worship, to help us find each other, and in doing so be renewed and transformed. I believe she guides women to come into their own power.

She has the keys to unlock our cages, she knows the plants that make us fly, her dogs protect us, and her torches light the way.











Betz, H. D. (Ed.). (1996). The Greek magical papyri in translation, including the demotic spells, volume 1 (Vol. 1). University of Chicago Press.

Juan Tresserras, J. (2000). La arqueologia de las drogas en la peninsula iberica. Complutum (Madrid), No. 11, Ene.-dic. 2000, P. 261-274.

Kallímakhos. 2010. The Orphic Hymn to Hekate. HellenicGods.org. https://www.hellenicgods.org/the-orphic-hymn-to-hecate-aekati—hekate

Muraresku B. & Hancock G. (2020). The immortality key : the secret history of the religion with no name. St. Martin’s Press.

Oberhelman, S. M. (Ed.). (2013). Dreams, healing, and medicine in Greece: from antiquity to the present. Ashgate Publishing Company.

Pons, E. (2002). Mas castellar de pontós (alt empordà): un complex arqueològic d’època ibèrica (excavacions 1990-1998). (Ser. Sèrie monogràfica / museu d’arqueologia de catalunya, 21). Generalitat de Catalunya, Departament de Cultura. P. 548-556.

Taylor-Perry, R. (2003). The god who comes : dionysian mysteries revisited. Algora Pub.

Wasson, R. G., Hofmann, A., & Ruck, C. A. P. (2008). The road to eleusis: unveiling the secret of the mysteries (30th anniversary). North Atlantic Books.





Eleusinian Mysteries Kykeon

Psyche, Jung, LSD, & transformation


The word psyche means soul in Greek, as well as butterfly. Psyche (or Psyke) is also the goddess of the soul.

The butterfly emerges from its dead shell as a new being. Perhaps our souls do the same when we part from this world, or when we undergo a transformation. However what goes on inside the cocoon – how the caterpillar disintegrates and reconstitutes itself in an entirely new form – is a mystery. 

Psyche the mortal

Like the butterfly, the myth of Psyche is transformational. She was a princess, and so beautiful that some began to worship her instead of Aphrodite. Jealous, the goddess of beauty sent her son Eros (Cupid), to sabotage Psyche.

Eros, the god of love, can make anyone fall in love with his arrows. And so Aphrodite instructed him to shoot Psyche ao she would fall in love with a hideous beast. Instead, he accidentally scratches himself with his own arrow and falls deeply in love with Psyche, disobeying his mother.

Meanwhile, Psyche has had no luck finding love or a husband. So her father goes to consult the god Apollo, who condemns her to marry a violent dragon. She jumps from a cliff to escape (or meet) her fate, but is instead safely carried by a wind spirit to a beautiful palace.

Psyche is met by a lover at night, but he won’t let her see him. Convinced he’s a monster, she eventually confronts him with a lamp. She’s startled upon seeing Eros, and brushes against one of his arrows, instantly falling in love with him. In her surprise she drops her oil lamp on Eros. Injured, he wakes up and flees. Psyche goes after him. 

In her search, Psyche runs into Pan and Demeter, but they cannot help her against Aphrodite. She realizes that she must go to see the angry goddess, who subjects her to torture and impossible tests. However nature conspires to help her; an army of ants spontaneously lends her their aid, and Zeus himself intervenes in the form of an eagle to save her. Finally, Psyche is told to go to the underworld to retrieve a gift from Persephone for Aphrodite. She again tries to commit suicide, when the very tower she would jump from speaks to her, giving her instructions for safe passage to the underworld and back.


Psyche, the goddess of the soul

Upon her return from the underworld, Psyche is reunited with Eros. Zeus gives her ambrosia, turning her into a goddess, and she becomes the goddess of the soul. Zeus then presides over the sacred marriage of Psyche and Eros, the union between soul and love. Their story is told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

At every turn, just as Psyche is about to die, nature saves her. Why does nature favor her? 

We are left to think of Psyche as somehow virtuous and blessed. She is motivated in her journey by her love for Eros. Her suicide attempts show her despair at her forbidden love, and that she is more willing to shed her mortal skin than suffer Aphrodite’s despotism or risk her soul in the underworld. She is in this sense pure; true to herself.

Nature recognizes and supports goodness, sometimes even cosmically intervening in our own folly. Her journey and her visit to the underworld are also metaphors for how traumatic experiences, taking risks, despair, and going to dark places are often a part of our transformation. By trusting nature, going towards love, and refusing to live on others’ terms, instead of dying, Psyche is transformed into a goddess.


The soul, butterflies, and neuroscience?


The modern father of neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal took up the symbolism of the soul and butterflies two millenia later to describe neurons. His work drawing neurons and interneurons won him more fame and recognition. 

“I felt at that time the most lively curiosity, somehow romantic, for the enigmatic organization of the organ of the soul. Humans, I said to myself, reign over Nature through the architectural perfection of their brains…To know the brain, I told myself in my idealistic enthusiasm, is equivalent to discovering the material course of thought and will…Like the entomologist hunting for brightly colored butterflies, my attention was drawn to the flower garden of the grey matter, which contained cells with delicate and elegant forms, the mysterious butterflies of the soul, the beating of whose wings may someday (who knows?) clarify the secret of mental life…”

Santiago Ramon y Cajal was right; thought is created by brain activity. Neurotransmitters activate synapses, which then relay a message through a small electrical signal that travels along the neuron’s axon, activating a cascade of downstream synapses, producing thoughts. These thoughts then shape how we see ourselves and the world. 

the brain by santiago ramon y cajal
               Butterflies in the brain, part of a drawing of neurons by Santiago Ramón y Cajal

We’re discovering how the mind works, and this is opening our psyches up to new possibilities. Ideas flitter like brightly colored neurotransmitters at a synapse; catch them.

Since science is useful in explaining and predicting physical phenomena, we’ve been conditioned to accept it as universal truth. However it isn’t the only way of knowing the world.

Antiquity may have understood the world differently, but many myths survive because they continue to offer insight. Neuroscience is exciting to understand, if tricky and even dangerous to manipulate. And the 20th century offers us yet another perennial understanding of ourselves.

The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung distinguished the psyche from the soul, which he understood as the expression of personality. He defined the psyche as “the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious.”

Jung was very critical of the growing materialist, “scientific” trends in psychology. While Santiago Ramón y Cajal was busy searching for it, Jung insisted that even though it couldn’t be seen, the psyche is the most amazing and important thing in the world, saying:

“I am of the opinion that the psyche is the most tremendous fact of human life. Indeed, it is the mother of all human facts, of civilization and its destroyer, war.”

Transformation is a recurrent theme throughout Jung’s works. In Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious he devotes a chapter to rebirth, describing a few scenarios in which it can take place: transmigration and reincarnation (there’s a subtle difference), transmutation (becoming something else entirely, as when Psyche went from mortal to goddess), and psychological renewal and rebirth (the most common form).

However, change needn’t always be positive. In Greek mythology, beautiful women are transformed into monsters as well as goddesses. Jung refers to a South American tradition in which depression is described as a “loss of soul”. Similarly, he describes the anxiety following shock or trauma as “abaissement”, in which the personality “shrinks”. The descriptions feel apt. This is contrasted with the positive transformation we seek, which he calls an “enlargement of personality”.

“Rebirth… suggests the idea of renovatio, renewal, or even of improvement brought about by magical means. Rebirth may be a renewal without any change of being, inasmuch as the personality which is renewed is not changed in its essential nature, but… parts of the personality, are subjected to healing, strengthening, or improvement. Thus even bodily ills may be healed through rebirth ceremonies.”

Jung elaborates on the different means by which a transformation or “rebirth” may occur. 

Rituals as common as communion at Catholic mass can give rise to renewal, he says, though he theorizes that crowds diminish the power of rituals in accordance with their magnitude, and that this is why they must be repeated for their effects to be sustained. Techniques such as meditation or yoga may be used to induce transformation, and visionary or transcendental experiences can also provoke transformation.


The Eleusinian Mysteries

Among the examples of transformation he provides, Jung alludes to are the Eleusinian Mysteries, which connects perfectly to some of the experimental treatments we’re exploring in this journal. 

An ancient psychedelic cult of Demeter, the goddess of harvest and grain, revealed to its initiates the secrets of life, death, and immortality. The guest list reads like a who’s who of the Greco-Roman world: Socrates, Plato, Plutarch, Marcus Aurelius, and Cicero all are said to have participated in this rite, which took place annually over the course of 1,500 years.

The initiates would journey to Eleusis, where Demeter was offered comfort while looking for her daughter, Persephone, after she had disappeared to the underworld, reenacting Demeter’s search. Persephone’s eventual return marks the beginning of Spring. The sprouting of seeds of grain after the winter symbolizes immortality as the eternal continuity of life through generations.

Upon arriving in Eleusis, initiates drank a psychoactive brew made of barley and pennyroyal called Kykeon, and were said to come away with special knowledge of life after death.

Albert Hofmann, the chemist who discovered LSD, would go on to write a book purporting that the Eleusinians had, in fact, been ingesting LSD (or a very similar alkaloid). The theory is logical: Demeter is the goddess of the harvest and grain, and LSD is derived from ergot, a fungus that grows on barley and rye. Though ergot can be quite poisonous when accidentally ingested, apparently its entheogenic properties are water-soluble whereas its most toxic ones are not. So it’s possible that the priests of Eleusis had discovered how to prepare a beverage with ergot in just the right way, as Hofmann happened upon LSD some four thousand years later. 

Traces of ergot were found at ruins of temples of Demeter and Persephone in Catalonia. These findings appear to confirm the theory that these ancient Greek philosophers were essentially taking acid (and that this tradition had spread to Greek colonies across the Mediterranean).

Initiates were sworn to secrecy about their experiences, but some secrets escaped. And some, perhaps, were disguised as myth. Plato’s Republic concludes with “The Myth of Er,” which tells the tale of a man who returns from the afterlife to share his knowledge with the living. 

Er has seen the celestial planes of heaven, those returning from sentences in the underworld (where they must endure 10x the suffering they’ve inflicted upon others in their previous lives before being released), and how the newly dead choose their next lives as animals, good people, or powerful tyrants. Previous lives are forgotten with a drink from a river, and old souls go on to embark on new lives. 

The Delphic priest and philosopher Plutarch described the revelations of the Eleusinian Mysteries in fewer words:

“Because of those sacred and faithful promises given in the mysteries… we hold it firmly for an undoubted truth that our soul is incorruptible and immortal. Let us behave ourselves accordingly.”


Transformation through love

Love is another way we can be transformed. Themes of rebirth and immortality are also prominent in Plato’s Symposium, where the intellectuals of Athens gather at a dinner party, each one delivering a speech on the god Eros, or the nature of love.

The most prominent account is that of a woman philosopher, Diotima. Though she isn’t at the party, Socrates credits her with teaching him the nature of love and recounts their conversation at the agora. 

Diotima says love moves towards the beautiful, which is synonymous with the good. Moved by love, people are filled with the desire to give birth to more beauty, through reproduction or the creation of art, philosophy, and virtuous acts.

Eros, or love, represents longing, and begins with a sense of incompleteness in the self. Through love of the other, the incomplete, needy lover is redirected towards the world and inspired to create. Their vulnerability transforms them from an insecure being into a conduit for creativity. Love begets possibilities for creation and immortality in the form of children, works of art, noble acts, and wisdom and discourse, or, philosophy. Love generates change and creation, transforming both the creator and the world.

For Diotima, love is a process of becoming that is also generative, giving birth to new people, things, and ideas along the way. The final step in this transformation, however, is completely distinct from the process. It culminates in the knowledge and contemplation of beauty itself. Once a person has seen true beauty and is fully transformed by love, they lose interest in the mundane, and lack the inner restlessness that drives creation, she says. They’ve had a transcendental experience that persists, and are then complete, and content to contemplate the eternal beauty of the world in a state of ecstasy. Full metamorphosis, they become their own creation.


Journeying through madness

Socrates describes love in yet another way in the Symposium, which is also in a sense transformational:

“The madness of a man who, on seeing beauty here on earth, and being reminded of true beauty, becomes winged, and fluttering with eagerness to fly upwards, but unable to leave the ground, looks upwards like a bird, and takes no heed of things below—and that is what causes him to be regarded as mad.”

Here we’re reminded that transformation can also take us through or resemble madness, and that our transformations aren’t always accepted by others. It’s possible that we could become detached, or find ourselves emerging with a new identity or perspective not understood or shared by those around us. 

Jung also recognizes the transformative power of madness – which is comforting to hear, now that we’ve all gone mad. Likening it to our shadow – or that part of ourselves which we reject, and therefore remains unconscious and unintegrated – he urges us to embrace it:

“Be silent and listen: have you recognized your madness and do you admit it? Have you noticed that all your foundations are completely mired in madness? Do you not want to recognize your madness and welcome it in a friendly manner? You wanted to accept everything. So accept madness too. Let the light of your madness shine, and it will suddenly dawn on you. Madness is not to be despised and not to be feared, but instead you should give it life…If you want to find paths, you should also not spurn madness, since it makes up such a great part of your nature… Be glad that you can recognize it, for you will thus avoid becoming its victim. Madness is a special form of the spirit and clings to all teachings and philosophies, but even more to daily life, since life itself is full of craziness and at bottom utterly illogical. Man strives toward reason only so that he can make rules for himself. Life itself has no rules. That is its mystery and its unknown law. What you call knowledge is an attempt to impose something comprehensible on life.” 

Ancient Greece keeps circling back to Jung. It’s ironic that he makes reference to the Eleusinian Mysteries, because they hint at how nature may aid us again by allowing ordinary people to experience the sacred. Hofmann’s LSD theory of the Mysteries hadn’t yet been formulated, however psychedelics were just starting to be experimented with in the last decade of Jung’s life. In a letter, Jung expressed that he didn’t think regular people should take psychedelics. He believed that normal people wouldn’t be able to psychologically integrate such intense experiences, or that they wouldn’t be ready to receive the responsibility that would come with the knowledge they offered. However he elsewhere wrote that we are only able to know or become what we’re ready to receive or be.

Perhaps psychedelics aren’t for everyone. There are other means of transforming ourselves. And just like traumatic or psychedelic experiences, or Jung’s embraced madness, they have to be integrated into our psyches, whether through ritual, conversations, journaling, or daily practices like yoga or meditation. 

However we’re transformed – through experience, ritual, yoga, drugs, psychedelics, a vision or an epiphany – experience belongs to people, not the elite whether they be philosophers or millionaires. Individual experiences must also drive cultural transformations.


The collective unconscious

For Jung, individuals were never – are never – islands. Equally important as our individual unconscious is his concept of the collective unconscious; that part of our psyches that is unconscious and shared by all of us – humanity as a species.

The collective unconscious according to Jung is visual, and composed of archetypes that have recurred throughout the thousands of generations of our species. It’s humanity’s common memory, evoking how the Eleusinians saw eternity in the fresh green fields of spring.

Archetypes are symbols. Many correspond to the roles we play in the course of our lives as humans. These archetypes are seen in Greek gods and goddesses and their stories, which individuals across time and cultures can relate to, and structure our understanding of the world.

Jung regards the collective unconscious as inherited, like instincts. Some instincts are ancient, though more recent ones may have reached us through epigenetics. For instance, trauma can leave markers on the genes of their offspring, and be passed down to the next generation. And socially, we repeat abusive behaviors that we’ve learned from others, perpetuating trauma against ourselves and others. Similarly, Jung theorizes that certain patterns and characters are repeated throughout humanity’s history and stored in the collective unconscious, whether it exists in our genes or our culture or both, which finds expression in stories and religious mythology.

Jung roots much modern neuroses in the absence of religious and mythological forces that express these archetypes, and condemns the efforts of psychiatry to individualize mental health problems:

“In numerous cases of neurosis the cause of the disturbance lies in the very fact that the psychic life of the patient lacks the co-operation of these motive forces. Nevertheless a purely personalistic psychology, by reducing everything to personal causes, tries its level best to deny the existence of archetypal motifs and even seeks to destroy them by personal analysis. I consider this a rather dangerous procedure which cannot be justified medically.”

He continues:

“Since neuroses are in most cases not just private concerns, but social phenomena, we must assume that archetypes are constellated in these cases too.”


The individualization of mental health

Jung was right to be skeptical of a psychology that reduces everything to personal causes. Most neuroses are social phenomena.

As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, in a society where wealth equals power, we are necessarily disempowered. These symptoms are then pathologized and collectively called “mental illness”. As if it’s our fault for not being richer, and we all could be if we just tried hard enough. When we are threatened with eviction, underpaid, overworked, or undervalued because of our relative poverty, not only are our livelihoods under threat, but there is a very clear message being handed down: that we do not matter. This is a crucial, overlooked aspect of our collective mental health crisis.

At the same time, through the media, the very wealthy proclaim themselves our archetypal gods.

Similarly, a first step in overcoming the inferiority complexes transmitted to us by the media and a culture controlled by the wealthy is simply to reject these cultural values. We can start with a healthy disrespect. Don’t accept their measures of success, or who other people tell you who are. Be like Psyche – go towards what you love, and live life on your own terms.

While we need large-scale changes and solutions, one way of overcoming the precarity of our economic system and its associated stresses is by getting to know and organizing with people in our communities. This could be by creating neighborhood support networks, community gardens, child care cooperatives, or unions. Or dinner parties with speeches, and elaborate rituals involving psychedelics. Possibilities will arise.


Smartphones & fossil fuels, or LSD & dinner parties?

Technological progress at some point became synonymous with progress itself. So it’s common for us in the 21st century to think of ourselves as somehow more advanced than those that came before. However this is just semantic confusion disguised as common sense.

In American society we’ve not been able to create a culture, having been disconnected from each other by a confluence of structural factors. There’s the media, which controls what we know and what we value. Work culture, which is precarious, competitive, and often sucks out of us the very life force which we might otherwise use to create good in the world. Then there is the physical structure of society, of cars and suburban homes that isolate us, and screens that are supposed to replace the need for human connection. We are not expected to create culture, but consume it. And we’ve been increasingly fed a culture of bad movies, endless news cycles, and social media. In the end, it is less culture than propaganda.

A life with more storytelling, rituals, ceremonies, initiations, mythology, dinner parties, philosophy, and nature begins to sound like a really good deal in exchange for my smartphone and Google. After 11 months of quarantine, I want to tell stories with my neighbors, invite my friends to dinner to give speeches about love, and share my thoughts with them. I don’t want to Google my doubts or read another Wikipedia article. I want to ask my family, my friends, or my neighbor what they think. 

I’m partial to Diotima’s vision of love: that we’re transformed through collective creation. Art, play, celebrations, secret rituals, and dinner parties. These – along with an equitable society where basic needs are guaranteed in a system of mutually owned production – are the foundations of a good human society.

Since our culture is lacking in ritual, we must create it for ourselves. Whether it’s dinner parties, hiking trips, brewing kykeon, searching for artefacts among ruins or sitting in the square contemplating eternal life with our neighbors who are also philosophers, or have the potential to be.

Let the people be the philosophers, and the millionaires, and the psychonauts. Let us all be philosophers and millionaires. It’s your experience, choose. Like a good trip, this task – of being who you are and pursuing what you want, of determining your own experience, of self and collective transformation – is your own creation, and at once very heavy and very light.

And if the economy plays a huge role in our mental health, the environment plays an unseen one. Like Jung’s collective unconscious, nature is visual, and it’s constantly at the back of our minds.

If these butterflies escape us, if our transformation eludes us, so may eternal life escape humanity. Though Demeter’s grass may still turn green, where will the souls go? What will they eat? And what if the river’s water has turned to poison?