In the years 2010-12, I engaged in lengthy researches into the Eleusinian Mysteries, seeking to penetrate the veil that had descended over those secret rites with a conviction that what had been anciently concealed would have great value for modern humanity. In brief, I found that the experience of the celebrants at Eleusis involved a radical transformation of perception through the inherence of shapeshifting deities, the consumption of a visionary sacrament and a world-healing ritual of such efficacy that the rites culminated in a visio beatifica granted by the visit of Persephone in her guise as Thea, Everliving Goddess as Visionary Event. From this research was liberated a series of artworks entitled 'Eleusis' and an accompanying book of art and essays which is currently out of print. Since that time, my thoughts on Eleusis have developed further, and this essay draws parallels and contrasts with other mythical images in which the male acts as magical helper in female-oriented mythforms.
In the Mexico Room of the British Museum, London, are three lintels (two originals, one archival cast) from the Classic Maya city of Yaxchilan in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. These exceptionally-crafted public artworks depict a fascinating ritual to evoke a Divine Ancestor, thus broadcasting both a sense of royal propaganda and of sacred intimacy, but it is the image of visionary beholding vision which is particularly interesting, disclosing an archaic expression to the scene.
The Classic Maya city of Yaxchilan is one of several archaeological sites located in close proximity to the Usumacinta River along the border between Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas. It sits just on the Mexican side in a meander of the river, likely a vital spot since the river passed through the city and allowed the rulers to control – and perhaps impose duties upon – the trade and river traffic moving from the mountains towards lowland cities such as Palenque.
Anciently known as Pa' Chan ('Broken Sky') or Siyaj Chan ('Born from the Sky'), Yaxchilan's documented history begins around the mid 4th century AD but the city flourished in the Late Classic period (6th-9th centuries AD), dominating nearby Bonampak and the Usumacinta corridor, as well as establishing rivalries with both Piedras Negras and Palenque downstream.
The Land of the Ever-Living is a perennial image across the world's mythologies, and Celtic traditions of northwest Europe are no exception. Indeed in surviving Welsh and British traditions, journeys to such lands form the essential theme of the majority of legends, the most famous of which is the Arthurian Avalon. First recorded in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, Avalon discloses a much more ancient image than the High Middle Age date of Monmouth's account would imply.
The Otherworld is a continuously-appearing theme in Celtic mythology: in the medieval Welsh collection of myths entitled the Mabinogion alone, we see a journey to Annwn, the Land of the Ever-Living in the local traditions of Dyfed; the misty enchanted realm of Llwyd ap Cil Coed in which the protagonists are imprisoned; and a sailing to Ireland, presented as a magical land. Other poems tell of fateful journeys to Caer Sidi – Mound Fortress – from which only seven return alive, and of Ceridwen's island, from which only Taliesin was able to escape.