What are the women’s mysteries?

Statue of Greek mother goddess Demeter from the British Museum, 4th century b.c.e. Demeter had her own women's mystery cult in ancient Greece. It is hard to find an intact statue of this beloved goddess because the Christians were particularly zealous in their destruction of her statues and religion.

Statue of Greek mother goddess Demeter from the British Museum, 4th century b.c.e. Demeter had her own women’s mystery cult in ancient Greece. It is hard to find an intact statue of this beloved goddess because the Christians were particularly zealous in their destruction of her statues and religion.

No, we’re not talking about Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky here. Women’s mysteries echo back to the Greek mystery schools, which were religious groups centered around a deity or group of deities connected by an epic story. To become a member of the mystery school a person had to study and undergo a complex initiation ceremony. The mystery schools emphasized knowledge that could not be comprehended solely by intellect but could only be understood through certain religious experiences–these were the mysteries.

The most famous of the mystery schools was the Eleusinian mysteries, which flourished well into Christian times and had initiates of many ethnicities from across the Mediterranean world. Other mysteries were more obscure, and it was possible to be an initiate in more than one school. There were separate mystery schools for women and men as well as schools open to all. Probably there were schools that had other requirements for admission. While the word mystery has a Greek origin and our knowledge of the mystery schools comes from the Greeks, the concept of mystery schools itself is much older and more universal.

Today women’s mysteries refers to Goddess-focused ritual that acknowledges women’s bodies and life cycle. This is expressed as the stages of maiden-mother-crone. Maidens have not yet taken on the burdens of adult responsibilities, but are preparing for the important mother phase that comes next. Mothers bring forth physical life or use their womb-energies to nurture in other ways. Crones accept greater responsibility for leadership in the community, as their wombs are no longer constantly preparing for conception and childbirth and this energy is freed to move in other directions.

Women often ask how hysterectomy impacts participation in women’s mysteries. Removal of an organ from the physical body does not remove it from the etheric body and women are still able to participate in the mysteries post-hysterectomy. Cessation of menses is a necessary requirement for cronehood but age is also important, and a woman who experiences early menopause does not automatically become a crone. However, cessation of menses, whether through hysterectomy or natural means, is a critical life event that is honored through ritual within women’s mysteries. Mystery schools are experiential, and our religion is closed to males because the experience of “bleeding for days without dying” is integral to the knowledge we carry.

Some women say, what if I don’t like my body? What if I hate my period? Women’s mysteries are especially important for women who dislike their bodies or women who have difficulty coming out of their minds to fully inhabit their bodies. We are spirits who have chosen to occupy this women’s body that is such a source of pleasure and pain. We don’t have to always like it, but the goal of women’s mysteries is to gather wisdom from it.

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