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Underworld Journeying and Herbalism with Ceres Mythology

Updated: Apr 27

Cyclicality is a central function of living in this realm and there are many goddesses and deities who can help us connect to our seasonal natures. One of the most prominent and important of these deities is Ceres/Demeter, the great mother goddess who guides us through cycles of growth and decay, loss and gain, life and death.


Astrologically, Ceres can be identified in the birth chart through the asteroid she was named after in the early 19th century. Read on to learn more about Ceres, the underworld, understanding our birth charts and ways to work with plants to promote our cyclical nature.


A woman surrounded by corn

Ceres as an Asteroid

The very first asteroid was discovered in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi and was named Ceres after the great grain goddess, also called Demeter in the Greek pantheon. Ceres holds a significant role as the first and largest asteroid in the belt. This is fitting for such a prominent deity, one who is much more ancient than Zeus and the Olympians, harkening back to a more matrilineal time with fertility-based goddess worship.


I learned that I had Ceres conjunct my Ascendant two years ago in an incredibly illuminating astrology reading. It can feel overwhelming to determine which asteroids are the most significant in our birth charts and I often find that asteroids tend to make themselves known to us when we are ready to fully live out their stories.


If you want help sorting through the 27,000 named asteroids to find which ones are most prominent in your chart, I offer an Asteroid Astrology Reading. In this reading, we go over the significant asteroids conjunct your Sun, Moon and Ascendant to understand and honor the mythic stories that you embody. I do the work of sorting through these asteroids so you can spend more time digging into your life story without getting overwhelmed by the data. Knowing how to interpret which asteroids are the most important for you can help guide your focus to which mythic stories are most prominent in your life.


Who Is Ceres?

Once I learned I was an embodiment of Ceres's mythology, I began to dig into her history. In Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths, Charlene Spretnak describes Demeter as the Grain-Mother and giver of crops. She originates in Crete and is famous for the deeply intimate relationship she has with her daughter, Persephone. Their myth portrays the passing of seasons, where Persephone goes to the underworld every winter and Demeter is in such grief she does not allow any plants to grow from the earth until her daughter returns to her in the spring.


Interestingly, the earlier versions of the myth show Persephone going willingly to the underworld, while the rape of Persephone by her uncle Hades is a later addition to the story. According to Spretnak, “whatever the impulse behind portraying Persephone as a rape victim, evidence indicates that this twist to the story was added after the societal shift from matrifocal to patriarchal.”


Regardless, Ceres/Demeter is a deeply ancient goddess who has long been associated with underworld mythology. I mean, how can our food grow if there is no compost in the earth to feed it?


Sprouting turmeric

The Underworld and the Eleusinian Mysteries

Ceres teaches us of the underworld through the Eleusinian Mysteries. According to Spretnak, the origins of these rights are quite old. "Every autumn the women of early Greece observed a three-day, agricultural fertility ritual, the Thesmophoria, in honor of Demeter...the Halo were rites practiced by women only and were of extremely early origin. They were preserved 'in pristine purity down to the late days and were left almost uncontaminated by Olympian usage.' They emerged later in the most widely influential of all Greek rituals, the Eleusinian Mysteries."


In Asteroid Goddesses, Demetra George describes these Mysteries as a framework in which initiates were led "through the drama of Ceres and Persephone, of loss and return." The participants would receive "a vision and revelation that the great mythic drama took place within themselves." In this way, Ceres and Persephone "received the dead for rebirth."


The Eleusinian Mysteries, then, were a portal into understanding the cycles of change, the cycles of "loss and return." Circe serves as the goddess who initiates us into this understanding, connecting us to our cyclical natures. We are so much more empowered when we align ourselves to the seasons of life, embracing the truth that change is one of the only things that's guaranteed.


Just listen to The Grateful Dead: (a band who's name is quite fitting for this topic...)


"The wheel is turning and you can't slow down,


You can't let go and you can't hold on,


You can't go back and you can't stand still,


If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will."


Embracing change can bring so much more ease and flow as we move through the ups and downs of life. If you want to dig more into the goddess as change, I write a LOT more about how I connect with and honor goddess energy through participating in change in this blog post here: Connecting with the Goddess and our Cyclical Natures.


Connecting with Ceres in the Birth Chart

One thing that I keep mulling over is how the asteroids seem to make themselves known to us when we are already starting to live out their mythology and ready to meet them.


Ceres is a beautiful example of this in my life. In 2022, I started studying herbalism because the plants summoned me. I did not seek this craft out, but rather had an amazing and affordable opportunity to study at Artemisia Academy that I couldn't turn down.


A green agricultural field

Then, a month after signing up for my classes, I got an astrology reading where I learned that Ceres was conjunct my ascendant. How fitting that she would come into my consciousness after I had already begun working with the herbs. And especially because Ceres is a goddess who facilitates a nurturing relationship with plants. There are many ways to partner with our botanical friends, but focusing on the ways that we can work with plants to care for, protect and build up our bodies is very characteristic of Ceres in particular.


One reason for this is because Ceres is an ancient goddess of agriculture, of tending to the land to continually feed ourselves. As Ceres is also a goddess associated with the underworld, it is not surprising that my relationship with her is ancestral. My grandfather had a prominent Ceres in his chart as well and he was a botanist who focused a significant amount of study on the history of agriculture.


A book I keep close by, especially when I'm interacting with Ceres, is Seed to Civilization: The Story of Food by Charles Bixler Heiser, my flesh and blood. While he left this realm over a decade ago, our love of plants and care for each other extends on and he is one of the ancestors I feel closest to as I walk through my life.


A pile of books about the goddess

Working with our kindly and well ancestors is an incredible approach to connect with the underworld in a way that is supportive and generative for our wellbeing. If you're interested in deepening the relationship you have with your ancestors, then head on over to this guide to building ancestral relations.

Working with Plants to Support Our Cyclical Natures

Modern life pulls us away from our cyclicality in so many ways so it's useful to call in support from many different sources when doing this work. Pulling in deities like Ceres is a great way to do this (although make sure you always build consensual, two-way relationships with your deities and ask them for permission before working with them). Invoking the magic of plants is another great way to get support in cultivating our cyclical natures.


While there are many herbs that can help us in this endeavor, one of my favorite ones to partner with is Vitex agnus-castus, or Chaste Tree Berry. A beautiful and unique herb that connects us more to our cyclical natures, Vitex is an incredible hormone modulator and mood supporter. Known most for regulating a wide variety of conditions associated with the female reproductive tract, Vitex can also be used to reduce heat and normalize energy throughout the body.


A butterfly landing on some Vitex

Vitex has a particular association with Ceres, which makes sense because it is an herb that promotes fertility and cyclicality, just as Ceres is the great mother goddess who calls all things to grow and all things to die. Correspondences should never have a 1:1 relationship, but there are many things that Vitex and Ceres share in common archetypally that link them together.


While Chaste Tree helps us connect to our seasonal natures by modulating our hormones, it can also be helpful for navigating between the material and spiritual realms, just as Ceres guides initiates into the underworld through the Eleusinian Mysteries.


Many herbalists work with Chaste Tree berry for emotional and spiritual reasons. Margi Flint notes that this herb is good for people “caught between the material and spiritual worlds” who are striving for spirit but not quite there yet.


This is a plant that is particularly helpful for folks who experience paranoia and feel like the world is out to get them. It also helps with nervousness and hyperactivity. Patricia Huenecke has also used it successfully with several children with ADHD and she notes that it is effective in part because it controls heat and normalizes energy through the pituitary


Suggestions for Interacting with Vitex

There are many ways to work with Vitex as a being. I've been in a slow process of re-balancing my menstrual cycle after 13 years of taking hormonal birth control, so I've been ingesting Vitex daily (except during my periods) for over 7 months now.


One very important thing to note is that Vitex often works slowly, so it may take several months of interacting with this herb before you really experience shifts in your cycle. This has definitely been true for me and I'm starting to see more benefits recently than I have since getting my IUD removed last summer.


Blooming Chaste Tree flowers

An important note about taking herbs internally: herbs are not magically safe and they can sometimes cause discomfort or unintended side effects. Being familiar with the herbs we consume is so important and if you have any medical conditions it is vital to work closely with a licensed healthcare provider to make sure the herbs you take are safe for your body.

Taking Vitex in medicinal doses is not going to be the best fit for everyone. Here are some alternative suggestions of ways to work with Vitex to cultivate more cyclicality in your life:


  1. Have some Vitex berries or tincture on your altar that you meditate with

  2. Take a spirit dose (1-5 drops of tincture or tea) of Vitex to connect with the plant energetically

  3. Grow Vitex in your yard

  4. Research Vitex and get to know them better

  5. Make a ritual oil with Vitex

  6. Get creative - the plants love it!


I hope it's clear that this can be an intuitive and personal process that will look different for each one of us. Connecting with our cyclicality is endless. Ceres and Vitex are powerful beings who can guide us through cycles of growth and loss as we move through our lives. This is a vital task of honoring our true natures and meeting the conditions we face with love and bravery, both in the highs and in the lows that are inevitable with life.


About the Author

A headshot of the author, Alicia Cielle Heiser

Alicia Cielle Heiser is an Herbal Astrologer who helps folks navigate their lives with the wisdom of the stars and plants. She offers astrology readings, crafts personalized herbal tea blends and also has a podcast called Conversations with the Planets. Alicia's practice is focused on facilitating a greater understanding of life's cycles through encouraging empowerment, safety, and helping folks deepen their relationship with themselves and the more-than-human world.


 

Disclaimer: Information presented on this webpage is for educational purposes only, and does not include the diagnosis and treatment of disease nor replace the advice of a licensed physician. Please refer to a licensed health professional for any illness or persistent symptoms before using herbal remedies.


Herbs can sometimes cause discomfort or side effects, and may interact adversely with pharmaceutical medications. Do not use herbs internally without the approval of a doctor or medical professional if you are currently on medications or have a history of medical conditions.

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