Ceres: Goddess of the Asteroid Belt

What can this unique dwarf planet reveal about astrology and immortality?

“Ceres was the first to turn the earth with the hooked plowshare; she first gave laws. All things are the gift of Ceres; she must be the subject of my song.”

                              Ovid, Metamorphoses, Verses 341-344


On January 1, 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi pointed his telescope in the direction of the rocky objects that orbit the Sun between Mars and Jupiter and discovered what he thought was a new comet. Piazzi named the object Ceres, after the Sicilian goddess of grain, and Ceres became a planet for fifty years.  Three other objects were discovered in the next few years:  Pallas, Vesta, and Juno, which were also considered to be planets.  Later, William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus, argued that they were too small to be planets, and when the fifth, Astraea, was identified they were all re-classified as asteroids, which means “star like.”  By the end of the 19th century several hundred had been spotted, and at present, several hundred thousand asteroids have been given provisional designations. Thousands more are discovered every year.

Most planetary astronomers believe that the planets of our Solar System formed from a nebula of gas, dust and ices that coalesced around the developing Sun.  Although some have suggested that the asteroids are remains of a proto-planet that was destroyed in a massive collision long ago, and there is considerable mythic evidence to support this view, the prevailing scientific opinion is that asteroids are leftover rocky matter that didn’t become a planet.  It’s believed that insufficient mass, and Jupiter’s strong gravitational influence, caused collisions and captured many small bodies, perhaps placing the Trojan asteroids that precede and follow Jupiter.  Instead of sticking together, the planetesimals shattered, preventing them from becoming a larger planet. Astronomers believe that most of the main belt’s mass has been lost since the formation of the Solar System.

In 1930, 129 years after Ceres appearance, Pluto was discovered, and he was a planet for seven decades.  But in 2006, after the discovery of Eris, who was the tenth planet for a brief time, Pluto was demoted, becoming the first in a new class of objects called plutoids—objects in a 2:1 orbital resonance with Neptune. These events also caused a planet to be defined for the first time. Ironically, it was Pluto’s change in status, and the creation of new categories of objects in our Solar System, that resulted in a promotion for Ceres.  She was reclassified as a dwarf planet in September 2006, placing her on a level playing field with Pluto, and making her unique (so far), in the Solar System since she is the only dwarf planet in the Main Asteroid Belt.  Asteroid Vesta may also be a candidate once the Dawn spacecraft gets a closer look at her in 2011.  Dawn will then visit Ceres in 2015.

The combined mass of all the asteroids in the Main Asteroid Belt is less than that of the Moon, and Ceres contains approximately one-third of the total.  Unlike the lumpy, potato-like objects with lower gravity we normally expect to see, Ceres is spherical, and with a diameter of about 950 km, she is by far the largest and most massive object in the asteroid belt.  Ceres appears to be differentiated into a rocky core and ice mantle with a surface that is probably a mixture of water, ice and various hydrated minerals like carbonates and clays.  Ceres may contain a tenuous atmosphere with water vapor and also harbor an ocean of liquid water that makes her a target in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Ceres and Pluto share several correspondences.  They were both the first objects to be discovered in their respective belts, and both have the distinction of being the first of their kind in recent nomenclature.  Both were considered planets for decades, and both occupy highly populated belts of objects orbiting the Sun. There’s a symmetry between the Main Asteroid Belt and the Kuiper Belt, Pluto’s home, where four planets precede each belt; Ceres follows the terrestrial planets, and Pluto comes after the gas giants.

Ceres and Pluto are also profoundly linked in myth.  In the earlier Greek stories their names were Demeter and Hades. Demeter was the ancient Greek mother goddess of the greening of the Earth.  She oversaw cycles of life and death as well as preserving sacred law.  Demeter taught humanity the arts of agriculture:  sowing seeds, plowing and harvesting.  In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, dated to about the seventh century BCE, she is invoked as the “bringer of seasons.” According to Isocrates, an Athenian rhetorician, the greatest gift that Demeter bestowed was grain, the cultivation of which elevated humans above the animal kingdom and freed people from the seasonal migrations of the hunter-gatherer.

In myth, Demeter’s daughter Persephone (Prosperpina in Latin), was picking flowers in a field when she was abducted and raped by her uncle Hades/Pluto, god of the underworld. This violent act occurred with the complicity of her father, Zeus/Jupiter, which also mythically describes the abduction of the feminine principle that occurred as the patriarchy rose to power.

Demeter grieved for her daughter, or her own lost innocence, and withdrew to search for her.  Without her the Earth became barren, and people risked starvation.  Zeus sent gods with gifts to influence her, but it was not in his power to command her to make the Earth green.  Nor could the king of heaven order the crops to grow on his own, as the nature of her feminine fertility was not within his domain. This strongly suggests that Demeter was an earlier and more powerful goddess.  In fact, when Demeter was given a genealogy, she was the daughter of the Titans Cronos and Rhea, and therefore Zeus’s elder sister, even though Persephone was said to be his daughter.  Their mother, Rhea, finally intervened, and Zeus agreed to bring Persephone back.  Meanwhile, Hades/Pluto had tricked Persephone into eating pomegranate seeds, which meant she had to remain part of the year with him.  At the end of the tale, Demeter taught humanity the secrets of wheat and cultivating grain, pointing toward the deeper meaning of the story.

Demeter and Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries that predated the Olympian pantheon. These were the most important rites of initiation in ancient Greece and are believed to have originated in Minoan goddess worship in Crete nearly 4,000 years ago. The road between Athens and Eleusis was called the Sacred Way as thousands of pilgrims from all levels of society, from Greece and beyond, made their way to celebrate the mysteries. The only requirements were never having committed murder and not being a ”barbarian,” that is, unable to speak Greek.

A binding vow of secrecy was required, and the penalty for breaking this oath was death, so we can only speculate from clues and indirect evidence what actually occurred.  But tradition says that the high point of the ritual was a eucharist where a “sheaf of grain was reaped in silence.” What little is known about the exact nature of the rites bears similarity to the Egyptian mysteries of Isis and Osiris, and Syrian and Persian mystery cults, which have similar themes.

It’s said that the secret mystery ritual of Eleusis held the symbolic key to immortality and the principle of resurrection.  Ancient writers asserted that the rites of Demeter promised the initiate a better life on Earth and happiness in the afterlife.  The Eleusinian Mysteries were seen as deeply spiritual and inspiring–a far older and more elevated approach than the intrigues of the battling and scheming Olympians–and offered an alternative religion well into the Christian era, as did the worship of Isis in Egypt.

Demeter’s emblem was the poppy, a bright red flower that grows among barley, or grain, which links her to altered states of consciousness as well as themes of death and resurrection.  Scholars say that the great Mother Goddess, who bore the names Rhea and Demeter, brought the poppy from Crete to Eleusis, which means “arrival,” or “advent,” and assert that in the Cretan cult, opium was prepared from poppies. In a clay statue, which resides at the Heraklion Museum on Crete, the Minoan poppy goddess wears the seed capsules in her diadem, source of both nourishment and narcosis.

The pomegranate played a key role in Persephone’s journey.  Hades tricked Persephone into eating the red seeds, which tied her to the underworld.  The number of seeds varies from four to six, but determined the number of months she had to spend as queen of the underworld.  The pomegranate has been a symbol of life and death, rebirth, resurrection and eternal life, fertility and marriage, abundance and prosperity throughout history and in almost every religion. The abundant seeds held the promise of cyclical resurrection.  Almost every aspect of the pomegranate, its shape, color, seeds, juice, has come to symbolize something.

Ceres rotates on her axis in nine hours, orbits the Sun in 4.6 years, and stays in an astrological sign about 4.6 months, creating an intriguing harmonic resonance with the number of months Persephone spent in Hades.  Ceres astronomical symbol is the sickle, or barley hook, an ancient harvest implement and instrument of reaping.  It seems natural that Ceres should be astrologically aligned with Virgo. Virgo is the only female among the zodiacal constellations, and other than the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, she is the only human figure.  Virgo is depicted as a maiden, holding a palm branch in her right and a single ear of wheat in her left.  Her brightest star is named Spica, “ear of wheat.” The symbolic eucharist of Eleusis is the perfect symbol of Virgo, and of the mysteries of alchemical transmutation, that occur in the intestines, the area of the body ruled by that sign.

Virgo is one of the oldest constellations and over time has been equated with every important feminine deity, including Ishtar, Isis, Demeter, Persephone, Medusa, Artemis, and Urania.  Richard Hinkley-Allen says, “Those who claim very high antiquity for the zodiacal signs (15,000 years ago), assert that the idea of these titles originated when the Sun was in Virgo at the spring equinox, the time of the Egyptian harvest.”  Astrologer Bernadette Brady has remarked that, “Whatever image is chosen across time and cultures, what is contained in Virgo is the archetype of the harvest-bringing goddess, pure and good, independent of the masculine.  She gives the four seasons and is the source of the fertile Earth.”

Earth is the womb of the Goddess, and her mysteries of generation and regeneration include the seeds that are planted, germinated and the subsequent harvest that results. We reap the harvests of our lives according to the seeds that we have sown, and the manner in which the garden has been tended, carefully winnowing the wheat from the chaff as we learn our lessons.

When the sickle is wielded, the crop is severed from the stalk and its connection to the Earth is terminated.  As the fruits of the Earth are gathered and consumed, the promise of another harvest is implicit.

The symbolic themes of Ceres and Virgo are roots, fertility, plenty, crops, renewal, cultivation, nourishment, substance, eucharist and communion.  Astrologically, I believe Ceres/Demeter represents reclamation and renewal and can reveal what needs to be uncovered deep in the underworld of our consciousness.  Examining Ceres place in a natal chart we can ask, what is hidden, lies fallow, or is imprisoned in the underworld of our psyches that needs to come to the surface so our fertility returns and our personal gardens flourish?

Ceres reemergence as a planet, albeit a dwarf, is similar to her myth.  Her energy is reappearing from the underworld of our awareness and coming into her own. I believe this also represents the resurgence of the feminine principle, which must be reintegrated into humanity’s psyche.  The resolution involves a restitution and restoration of balance.

Pluto is seen as the astrological agent of transformation, but he must remain in the underworld.  Persephone/Proserpina, daughter of Ceres/Demeter, was his wife and queen, and each year she journeyed from above to below and back, reuniting with her mother to make the world green again.  What might the Persephone in each of us bring back from her annual journey to the underworld?  Her mother as “bringer of the seasons” teaches us that nothing really dies, but a cyclical descent to the underworld of our own psyche may be required for real growth to occur.  Bravely undertaken, this passage leads us toward a Sacred Union with the Goddess, revealing the “knowledge of the gods,” the superhuman qualities that reveal the true nature of immortality.

Sacred Anatomy Of Egypt

The Nile is the longest river in the world, flowing uniquely south to north for more than five hundred miles.  The ancient Egyptians called their land Khemit, which meant “black land.”  The desert was called red land.  One was rich and fertile while the other was harsh and forbidding.  The Egyptians saw their land as a sacred reflection of heaven on earth and perceived the Nile as the earthly mirror of the Milky Way, the celestial river.

As above, so below  

Around the world Earth energy, and the phenomenon often called vortexes, seems to compel people to build on sacred land again and again.  Over thousands of years this urge brought forth a network of global sacred sites which naturally unfolded due to the inherent power of locations which lie at intersections along this invisible “grid.”

Looking at a map of Egypt it’s easy to be struck by two things.  First, the rich Nile Delta and the river look very much like a lotus in bloom with a long stem.  Second, and more symbolically, the same image looks like a crosswise representation of a human brain and spine.  Seen this way, the ancient temples emerge into our awareness as energy centers, Chakras along the Nile.  The Nile can be seen as a reservoir of Kundalini energy, rising from the river’s origin in the south, infusing the sacred sites with spiritual force, and empowering them as places where the frequencies of those centers can be strengthened and balanced.

Whether or not the ancient Egyptians worked consciously in this manner and recognized such a connection, the telluric energy of the Earth resonates powerfully at these sites.  Even now after the structures of humans have been toppled the power of the sacred vibrations can be felt.  I believe the nature of the gods evoked at these shrines correlates with the nature of the Chakra with which they correspond.

Serpent Energy

There is a prevalence of serpent symbolism in Egyptian iconography.  The rearing head of a cobra, with hood spread wide, of the royal uraeus emerges from the brow of the Pharaoh and was an emblem of divine kingship.  Wadjet, the cobra goddess of the royal uraeus, was a fire-spitting serpent who was also the power behind the Eye of Re.  Sanskrit Kundalini is also a goddess, and this “raised serpent” feminine energy on Pharaoh’s crown is striking in its Kundalini imagery.  As representative of the sun god the cobra also suggests illumination.

Chakras of the Nile

Although thousands of years of patriarchy have eroded and sometimes demonized the Divine Feminine, to the Egyptians the archetypal energies of the gods took masculine and feminine form and were seen as equal.  The counterparts were like mirrored reflections of the same archetypal energy.  This is not obvious anymore and scholars have diminished the feminine aspects of these deities.  Because of this divine duality there are usually two temples at significant locations, each dedicated to a god or goddess, and each honoring one side of the polarity.  It may also be that some predynastic sites have yet to be discovered and still greater wonders still lie buried beneath the sands of time.

When traveling to Egypt with intention the particular character of each site, and its correspondence to the archetype of a particular Chakra, can be experienced in a deep way.  Healing and balancing of the energy centers can be accelerated by setting an intention to harmonize the particular “frequency” of the site.  People respond in different ways to this experience.  Some feel intense joy, others shed inexplicable tears.  Fear comes up for some as deep emotional blocks are released.  In all cases, profound healing and empowering can occur.

First Chakra,  Base of Spine  –Kom Ombo

The temple site of Kom Ombo was the ancient city of Pa-Sebek, dating  from predynastic times more than five thousand years ago.  This is actually a beautiful twin temple.  The right-hand temple was consecrated to the crocodile god Sebek, a god of immense fertility who is sometimes credited with the creation of the world.  The left hand temple was dedicated to Haroeris, an aspect of Horus called “the Great” who was a solar god of war.  These temples present a most appropriate dualism for the first chakra.  This twin temple still sits right next to the river, and the heat of the late afternoon sun shimmers palpably in the sanctuaries, still evoking the energy of the root chakra.  Through the support of the group (tribal consciousness), one man found courage here to end a difficult marriage and move on with his life.

Second Chakra,  Belly  –  Philae, Feminine Creation

Sacred to the goddess Isis, consort of Osiris and mother of Horus, this temple was actually moved after construction of the Aswan dam, stone by stone, and painstakingly reassembled on another island in the Nile above the flood plain.  Philae now sits in the middle of the Nile in magical grandeur like the legendary island of Avalon.  In an exquisite expression of the symbolism of the second chakra the ancient Egyptians believed that the miraculous flooding of the Nile had its origins at the original temple site. Egyptians were expected to make a pilgrimage to this temple of the goddess at least once in a lifetime.  Love of the mother and the magic of birth and generation can still be felt here.  In keeping with the legends of Philae one young woman who had been trying for years to become pregnant conceived a child a few months later.

Edfu, Masculine Creation  –  

Sacred to the god Horus in his form of the falcon, Edfu is the best-preserved temple in all of Egypt.  The temple is Greek and was built on top of a much earlier temple.  At this site the god Horus is seen to be reborn at sunrise every day.  Horus was the magical child of Isis and Osiris, conceived after Osiris had been murdered by his brother Seth and brought back to life by the magic of Isis just long enough to conceive him.  Horus avenged his father by rising into the sky as the Sun and defeated his uncle who symbolized darkness.  The masculine energy of procreation is strong here.  Courage to fight a battle or vanquish a perceived foe (inner or outer) can be summoned at Edfu.

Third Chakra,  Solar Plexus

The ancient city of Thebes, capital of New Kingdom Pharaohs for centuries, was renowned for wealth and power.  The Ram-headed god Khnum and the powerful invisible god Amon were worshipped here.  When Thebes lay in ruins the towns of Luxor developed to the south and Karnak in the north. They were once connected by a majestic avenue of sphinxes which is only partially restored today.

Luxor,  Radiant Potential

The imposing remains of the temple of Luxor, once called Waset, are haunting in their beauty.  This must have been a place of magnificence at its peak.  Even today it is humbling to walk the main aisle and look through pillars at the Nile.  The winter solstice sun sets exactly on the main axis of the temple, expressing a more feminine manner of the solar radiance of this center.  One woman came to Egypt, praying for a new love after the death of her husband and at Luxor found the courage to live alone.

Karnak, Power in Expression

The great temple of Amon at Karnak is indeed colossal and is the largest temple supported by columns in the world. It is so vast that half of Manhattan could reside in its walls.  What is evidenced here is power in expression and the outer appearance testifies to the masculine frequency of the solar plexus which still reverberates from the towering pillars of Karnak.  A man struggling with a manipulative boss was empowered at Karnak to return and face him.  He subsequently left that job and found a much more rewarding position.

Fourth Chakra,  Abydos, The Male Heart

Ancient Egyptians were expected to make a pilgrimage to Abydos, the ancient site of Abedju, at least once in their lifetime.  This location flourished six thousand years ago, making it one of most ancient in historical Egypt.  According to legend when the “evil” brother Seth murdered Osiris and cut his body into thirteen pieces (sometimes fourteen), and scattered them all over Egypt, the head was found here.  It is said Isis collected all the pieces but one and placed them in the ancient temple called the Osireion.  It was here at Abydos, through the power of her love and magic, that Isis brought Osiris back to life long enough to conceive their son Horus.  The theme of loving sacrifice and strong magic can still be felt at Abydos.  Time bends and folds at Abydos.  One woman who had lost a young child felt his presence strongly here and knew with certainty that his spirit lived on.

Dendara, The Female Heart

Dendara is the Greek name of the ancient city of Tentirys and was sacred to the goddess Hathor, sister of Isis and consort of Horus.  The Greek temple which remains is a reconstruction of an earlier structure which would have been thousands of years older. In the holy of holies of this temple the mysteries of the birth of cosmic order from primeval chaos were celebrated.  Even today the quality of the sacred feminine resonates in the silent darkness inside the temple walls.  The energy vibrates like sound waves, and the invisible matrix of sound supporting creation can be felt.  Dendara is a place of harmony and there are many examples of people who have been inspired and empowered musically at Dendara.

Fifth Chakra, Throat  –  Hermopolis  

Hermopolis was the Ptolemaic city of Hermes, Thoth to the Egyptians.  Called Khemnu in more ancient times it was believed to be the site where an Ibis egg, the bird sacred to Thoth, resulted in the creation of the world.  Ramses II built a temple at Khemnu from the materials at the abandoned city of Akenaton across the river.  Thoth-Hermes was god of wisdom and writing whose words held creative power.  Sadly, the temples were plundered by the Romans and little remains today so tours do not visit this site.

Saqqara, Words of Power

Saqqara, site of the stepped pyramid of Zoser, and designed by the famous architect and healer Imhotep, replaces Hermopolis as the current site for the fifth Chakra.  Imhotep became the model for the later Greek mythical Asklepios, father of modern healing, who inherited the Caduceus from Thoth-Hermes.  This is a powerful site of the creative word where a statue of Zoser still stares at the sky and speaks to the gods who eternally pass before his gaze.  Here many find courage to speak their truth and be willing to take the consequences.  One woman returned to face her mother and heal issues of control and domination.

There is no obvious counterpart location for the feminine polarity throat center, although in Greek myth Hermes was a hermaphrodite.  The female counterpart of Thoth was Seshat, and her powerful presence can be felt in every temple as she oversaw the “drawing of the cord” which established the foundation and stellar alignment before the temples could be built.  She was also called “Mistress of the House of Books,” so in some ways every hieroglyph is also her domain.

Sixth Chakra, Brow  –  Giza, Divine Vision

Giza sits at the base of the great Nile Delta where the river branches out innumerous tributaries before releasing her waters into the Mediterranean.  Giza was thought to be the embodiment of the eye of Ra.  The pyramids of Giza are the only remains of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Spiritual work inside the Great Pyramid can be life changing, resulting in awakening of spiritual vision and conscious immortality.

The male-female duality within the Great Pyramid is focused on the so-called King’s Chamber, built from igneous granite, and the Queen’s Chamber, formed from sedimentary limestone.  Although these chambers were given these names because of the ceilings and the Arab manner of burying men and women, they got the polarities right.  Many people discover unconscious blocks from ancient and forgotten “failed” initiations inside the King’s Chamber and experience a profound release.  By contrast, the Queen’s Chamber is a place of synthesis and can confer a deep sense of peace and healing.

One man finally understood his life’s purpose and returned to his ordinary life with a sense of resolve and determination to make necessary changes.  For another woman who was battling cancer her mediation in the Great Pyramid completely eliminated her fear of death and gave her courage to face whatever came.  Subsequently, her cancer went into remission.

Seventh Chakra, Crown  –  Heliopolis, City of the Sun

Located within the Delta of the Nile at the north, and called Immu in ancient times, this city was active five thousand years ago.  Heliopolis is a Greek word for city of the sun. Now buried under the suburbs of far north-east Cairo nothing remains at Heliopolis but a solitary red granite obelisk, quarried long ago from Aswan.  This site was once of immense importance and boasted the chief temple of the “High God” Re.  Likewise Atum , the creator god was worshipped here, and embodying crown Chakra imagery, the Benu bird, similar to the Phoenix, rose from the ashes to be reborn.

Alexandria, Star of the Sea 

Although no temple remains at Heliopolis the modern city of Alexandria now crowns the Nile.  Alexandria is seated on the shores of what was the cosmic ocean where the ancient Light House was also one of the wonders of the ancient world. On the feminine side, in recent years an international project has resulted in construction of a fabulous new Library of Alexandria which stands as a beacon of wisdom to the world.  No doubt goddess Seshat had a hand in that.

There is still tremendous masculine power where the ancient Light House once stood and radiated a beacon over the waters of the Mediterranean.  Standing at the top of Egypt a feeling of all pervading oneness, of unity with all things, can be felt.  This unity  permeates the awareness and heals a sense of painful sense separateness disappears.  My own experiences at Alexandria include climbing deep inside a catacomb from the transitional tome between Egyptians and Greeks to discover a carved image of two serpents which I wrote about in my first book and thought had sprung from my own imagination.  Instead, it may have been memory.  It was a stunning confirmation to trust my guidance.