Among my favorite tasks as a producer of our interpreted Rites of Eleusis for Eleusyve Productions are the hours spent in reading and research, intermixed with great conversations with my co-producer, Jon Sewell, into the hidden symbolism of the Rites and how we are going to convey these things.
The Rite of Jupiter has not disappointed in this regard, and I’ve decided that I should share some of that with you. One of my current puzzles is the relationship of Hebe and Ganymede, both as a story unto itself and as it will apply to our treatment of Jupiter. I believe I have discovered an interesting subplot.
Hebe and Ganymede are both known as cup-bearers to the gods of Olympus. Additionally, they represent eternal youth, and Hebe in particular is identified as one who can grant youth/rebirth to the aged. The gods like having her near, as she keeps them young. She is also the patron of brides, which I will further point out, are specifically un-married young women anticipating a change in status in Greek culture (more on that later).
As the daughter of Zeus and Hera, Hebe comes by her role by virtue of her naturally inherited goddess abilities. Alternatively, the her power may have lain in her role as distributor of Ambrosia, which was said to give the gift of immortality to the consumer. Also, as one of Hera’s “legitimate” children born to her by her husband Zeus (depending on who your read), Hera values Hebe as a favorite, as is exemplified by her anger and hatred of Ganymede when Hebe is usurped. Or maybe that’s because of Hera’s trademark wifely jealousy, for, alas, Zeus sets his attentions on the beautiful mortal boy and brings him to Olympus to serve in the place of Hebe, rousing the ire of the other Olympians.
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 31. 252 ff : [Hera the wife of Zeus complains:] ‘Is it not shame enough, an impious thing, that I see the Trojan boy [Ganymedes] cup-lackey to Zeus, disgracing heaven and Hebe cupbearer of Zeus, when he ladles sweet nectar with human hands?’
But, surely, there must have been a good reason for the substitution, even beyond the ever changing lusts of Zeus? Several sources from antiquity, including Nonnus and Satius, point out that Hebe was displaced or usurped from her position because she was married to Heracles. Later writers mention another tale where Hebe is dismissed from her position. Her crime? Tripping and spilling Ambrosia resulting in a wardrobe malfunction and exposure of one or both of her breasts. Apollo, not amused, fires her on the spot. In either case, she is dismissed for having transitioned into womanhood, both in her societal role and physically.
Either scenario leaves a convenient vacancy for Zeus to fill with his newest paramour. Good for him. But, what are the underlying messages, beyond the insertion of the homo-erotic element sent to conflict with hetero-normative marriage which can sidle up beside the infidelity that already has driven a constant wedge into the top echelon of the godly family.
What of Hebe?
On the surface, she is written pretty benignly. One blogger that I ran across in my research for this piece thought she was boring, with no dark side, no depth of character. This is true so far as she is written. Hebe is depicted as a charming youth, helpful in every way, who doesn’t complain about her role in serving the more senior gods. She is hand maiden and chariot maintenance worker for her mother, Hera. She tends the wounds, bathes and dresses her brother Aires. She quietly accepts being given in marriage as a reward to the hero Heracles. The marriage is depicted as a happy one, befitting a great hero receiving his reward (a sweet bride).
In the midst of all of this she loses her job and, presumably, her powers. She is only invited back into service when her replacement, Ganymede, is too sad to work during the Trojan war, which involved his mortal family. She goes on to become a wife and a mother, and, having crossed that threshold, is no longer qualified to be the patron of brides and youth.
All of this story will likely ring true to many women today, who have given up their personal goals and dreams in favor of becoming a wife and mother, or who have resisted that societal expectation only to be criticized for not having children or for taking on all of the identity of a wife and/or mother and a Self. Not to mention anyone who chose to be a parent without the assistance of a partner. It’s a patten that has been developing in human culture since the time of ancient Greece, where women were lower class citizens, lacking legal status, the ability to own property, or even walk outside of their homes without male guardians.
The list is long that would demonstrate completely the restrictions placed on the women and other marginalized people of ancient Greece. Is it any wonder that, through religion, the one area of life that was more equalized, they found a release from the inevitable mental and emotional pressure that would build, as intelligent people forced to live below their abilities.
Roles in the priesthood were given to both men and women, and the experiences of the Mysteries were available to men and women, including slaves. Among the most popular were the Dionysian Mysteries.
Among the rites celebrated were the biennial nocturnal rites of the Tristeria, held on Mount Parnassus in winter, celebrating Dionysus’ return from the underworld. Facilitated by the Maenads, who embodied Mainomenos (madness), animals were hunted, torn apart with bare hands, and eaten raw. This energy changed to a more sensual bacchanal through the rites. It is thought that the Maenads who resisted the Bacchic urge were driven mad, while those accepted the Dionysian ecstasy kept their sanity.
Thus, in addition to the necessary religious aspects for the community as a whole, the Bacchic rites fulfilled an important function to the repressed women of the Greek community, giving them a chance to channel their anger and frustration in a productive way, perhaps giving them a respite from a building “hysteria” that threatened their home lives.
We seem to have diverged from the topic of Hebe for a moment, but bear with me, for I have merely set the scene. Keep all of this history in mind as I now shift my focus to Aleister Crowley’s script for the Rite of Jupiter.
Enter Crowley, pursued by a Maenad
Among the cast for Jupiter is listed both Hebe and Ganymede and a small herd of Maenads. The primary focus of the Rite is the Wheel of Fortune, with C.I.C.T. at its center and the principal officers Typhon, Sphinx, and Hermanubis attempting to work themselves from the rim to the center in various ways, while the characters of Hebe and Ganymede function as “cup-bearers” in the ever anticipated banquet of Jupiter, which keeps getting put off.
Ganymede is what is known as the “Victor Neuberg” character of the Rite, meaning that his character is the one that dances. The Rites were engineered by Crowley around the abilities of his two most talented friends, Neuberg who danced, and Leila Waddell who played the violin.
Hebe’s main function, as written, is the recitation of the Pisces section of J.F.C. Fuller’s Liber 963 The Treasure House of Images, one of many lengthy visions describing the aspects of the zodiac as filtered through one (in this case Pisces). Our crew and cast affectionately abbreviate these to the “963” and it’s always a challenge to figure out how to present these complex and often confusing poems. We think the incarnation for Jupiter is particularly inspired.
It’s important to note that this particular section of the 963 is called the “Twelvefold Bewilderment of God” and that other than this, she quite literally has two words to say, and these not until the very end of the play, ironically the latin for “the son” which my autocorrect will not accept. Ganymede has even less to say, having one line at the end of the play, and two opportunities to dance (one time, per Neuberg’s style, until he “falls as dead”).
So, what is going on here?
Here is where my interpretive powers activate and I start making connections.
With both Hebe and Ganymede present, we can guess that they are at some point in the transition between their services. Hebe is likely confused and depressed, having lost her position for the error of transitioning to adulthood, gaining the dubious honor of becoming a wife (her husband plays no part in the Rite). Ganymede is likely somewhat confused, himself, having just been plucked from his mortal life and is struggling to live up to expectations that are obviously low for many Olympians.
Hebe is questioning her birthright, her god-hood, and expresses this through the delivering of the Bewilderments, and through our interpretation of the play, I am taking this as an opportunity to build out her story. For what good is a Maenad horde, the only characters in the play who seem able to successfully attain the God and restore his incarnation, if they can’t help a repressed wife get her groove back?
Hebe will sing the 963 for our production, but what will start out as a solo number borne out of a desperate longing to understand why she is no longer God, will be augmented by a chorus of empowered Maenads, with a little help from the Sphinx, who will gradually convince her that she, and they, have always been God, and that this cannot be stripped away. In this way, Hebe will be given the opportunity to transcend the servitude of both the roles of cup-bearer to the Gods and “cup-bearer” to her husband, and learn to drink deeply for herself.
How will Ganymede develop? We’re really not sure yet, but chances are his perspective will take on some life as well. And, herin lies some of the most fun in our development of the Rites, building a story. Crowley’s writing in these plays relies much on the presumed knowledge of the audience as to the significance of magickal relationships and correspondences and does very little to give a story that might capture a new audiences’ imagination. We know that our interpretation says more about our personal relationship to the material than anything, but what we hope it accomplishes is some insight, some entertainment, and an increased interest in the materials.