We are on the verge of discovering the answer to the question: What do the ancient Eleusinian mysteries have to do with movies – especially American movies. What happens when you go to a movie? What is the first thing that happens when you arrive? You make an offering by buying the ticket which, over the last decade or so, has become more of a sacrifice than an offering. Once your “offering” has been accepted and processed, you move on to the counter where the food and drinks are purchased. Unlike the good old ancient Greek days, you have to make another offering which given the inflated prices, is definitely a sacrifice. After this transaction has been completed, you enter the virtual cave-like auditorium which has lately been designed to resemble an indoor olden Greek amphitheater. Next, you take your seat, begin munching and sipping while you wait for the story (ritual to begin).
Still don’t get it? The process of going to the movies is very similar to the manner in which the ancient Greeks took part in the Eleusinian Mysteries. And who did the ancient Greeks worship during this sacred rite? (Think Demeter). And remember ‘Ol Triptolemus and what he was holding up in his hand? Correct, and ear of corn.
Yes, corn! Or more precisely, it is popcorn(processed corn) that links American movies to the ancient Greeks, but there is more. Demeter was worshiped as the goddess of agriculture, particularly the harvesting of grains, including corn. The Eleusinian Mysteries were perhaps one of her most holy places of worship. Grains, in one processed form or another, were handed out to the participants to be eaten in homage to her before and during the anticipated ritual. In this way, they believed the goddess would bestow her blessings on them. In some ways this is similar to the role of the Host (communion for Catholics), whereby the participants digest a wafer-like substance (processed grain) given to them by the priests as means of paying homage to Christ and the mysteries in the ritual of the mass.
Somewhere between the late 1920’s and the depression era 30’s found the increasing use of popcorn throughout American movie theaters. The movie-goers could purchase it in the lobby before entering magnificent cave-like structures built in the 20’s. Unfortunately, these structures, except in a few rare cases, no longer exist today. They’ve been replaced by much smaller multi-cave like structures; however, throughout this transformation popcorn played a continuing role in the rite of the American movie-goers unlike other foreign cinema fans throughout the world. While these other fans have followed the similar ritualistic process of the early Greeks, their theaters, did not offer any popcorn for sale. Corn in any form, was considered merely animal fodder. It was only decades later that they that popcorn was finally offered for sale in their theaters, but it was too late: the goddess had “spoken”, and it was America that first introduced processed corn into the ritual of movie- going and as a result, she gave us her bountiful blessing!
Was this a conscientious effort of American theater owners to re-establish worship of the goddess, Demeter? Probably not. More likely it may have been what Carl Jung referred to as a stirring in the American collective unconscious that brought about popcorn as an integral part of our movie going experience. Unconscious or not, Demeter looked upon this gesture of including a processed grain in our cinematic ritual and blessed us with universal popularity and profit. (After all, it had been almost 2,000 years since anyone had paid attention to her!) And that’s why she has smiled upon us, grateful that at last, someone was paying attention to her, even if it was only through the faint echoes of her ancient rituals….at least it’s something to muse upon.