The author of the Gospel of John used the Homeric Hymn to Demeter to construct the Samaritan Woman at the Well narrative.
And Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. – John 4:6
A Samaritan woman came to draw water. – John 4:7
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, composed around the sixth or seventh century BCE, is the canonical work associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Ancient Eleusinian Mysteries were arguably one of the most well known of all the spiritual currents of the Greek world at the time the Gospel was written.
The Eleusinian mysteries as well as the other pagan mysteries of the first centuries were competing with the new Christian Faith and eventually were suppressed by the rising Christian movement. The narrative of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is an opportunity for the author of the Gospel of John to clarify what Jesus is offering in comparison to what the initiates experienced during the Eleusinian Mysteries.
“The Well, from which the women of the place were used to draw water”. (99)
“I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband”. – John 4:17
The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” – John 4:18
“But now I will teach you clearly, telling you the names of men who have great power and honour here and are chief among the people: there is wise Triptolemus and Dioclus and Polyxeinus and blameless Eumolpus and Dolichus and our own brave father Celeus. All these have wives who manage in the house”. (153)
“There the daughters of Celeus, son of Eleusis, saw her, as they coming for easy-drawn water, to carry it to their dear father’s house”. (105)
The mountain referred by the Samaritan woman is Mount Gerizim. Mount Gerizim is sacred to the Samaritans who regard it, rather than Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, as having been the location chosen by Yahweh for a holy temple. In the symbolism of the Samaritan Woman at the Well, Jesus takes the role of Demeter and the Mountain represents Mount Olympus, the abode of the Greek gods, where Demeter was supposed to reside but choose not to. With this symbolism, the author of the Gospel of John states that the place of worship is neither the Jerusalem temple of the Jews, nor Mount Gerizim of the Samaritans, nor Mount Olympus of the Greeks but the worship in spirit and truth.
So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. – John 4:40
During the night of initiation at Eleusis, the initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries accepted the drink just like Demeter in the Hymn to Demeter.
Hymn to Demeter 210-211 – So she made the drink and offered it to Demeter, just as she had ordered. The Lady accepted it.
The ingredients used to make this drink remain a secret but it is supposed that this beverage deeply influenced each initiates experience and possibly was the cause of the ecstatic and ineffable visions experienced during the mysteries. Some scholars suggest that the drink contained psychoactive substances which may have enhanced the experience and contributed to make the Eleusinian Mysteries the most important spiritual event of the Greek world for centuries. The author of the Gospel of John compares the water offered by Jesus to the water available from the well. The well here represents the drink offered to Demeter and the initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
John 4:13-14 – Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
To learn more about what the water represents in the Gospel of John, read the narrative of the water turned into wine at Cana.
During at least three centuries, the pagan mysteries and Christianity were competing and eventually the rising Christian movement succeeded in suppressing the pagan mysteries in 392 AD. It is obvious that any reader of the Gospel of John who previously had been initiated at Eleusis would recognize the symbolism behind the Samaritan Woman at the Well narrative. The author of the Gospel of John uses the narrative of the Samaritan Woman at the Well as an opportunity to position his message in regard to the main Pagan Mystery of the time: the Eleusinian Mysteries.
The symbol of the well
In the Indian tradition the subtle body is represented as a set of two wells, one on top of the other. One of the well is set into the earth originating at the Muladhara chakra at the base of the spine. The other well is an inverted well originating from Sahasrara, the upper chakra at the crown of the head from which the nectar of immortality flow. When allowed to flow downward, the nectar of immortality floods the yogin’s body. The two wells divide the body at the level of the navel.
In the Samaritan Woman at the Well narrative, Jacob’s well represents the well originating from the Muladhara and Jesus sitting on the well represents the inverted well originating from the Sahasrara chakra from which the nectar of immortality flows (John 4:14 – “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”)
David Gordon White, the Alchemical Body P242-243
In no other medieval Indian tradition do we find greater importance attached to this image, of the body as a set of wells, than in that of the Nath Siddhas. Gorakhnath also states, in perhaps his most renowned bani: “In the circle of ether is an inverted well that is the place of nectar. He who has a guru drinks his fill; he who has no guru goes thirsty.”…
These images are similar to those found in a longer poem by Gorakhnath, who once again uses the dynamics of drawing water from a well to describe the workings of the subtle body. Here, he compares the human body to a city filled with all manner of hungry and thirsty animals, which are so many allegorical representations of the human condition. So the cows and buffalo of the city, tethered to the stake of illusion, represent the absence of discrimination (aviveka), while its dogs are the mind that steals away and conceals true knowledge. In this city, however, is a well whose water slakes these animals’ thirst (for liberation). From this well, the women of the city draw water which they carry in pitchers on their heads— and these pitchers thus constitute portable wells. In this way, there are two metaphorical wells in the city, the well set into the earth and that which takes the form of water pots on the women’s heads.
On the level of the bodily microcosm, the interpretation is the following: the well set into the earth here is the muladhara, the lowest of the cakras from which the yogin’s semen, the raw material of his bodily transformation, is raised. As it rises along the length of the medial susumna nadi, this semen is transformed into nectar. This process is consummated in the uppermost sahasrara cakra—the thousand-petaled lotus located in the cranial vault, the ethereal sphere of the void—sunya or gagan mandal—which is figured in Gorakh’s poem by the water pot atop the female water bearers’ heads. Just as these female water carriers (who may be further identified with the kundalini) slake the thirst of the animals in Gorakh’s metaphorical city, so the yogin’s refined semen, now transformed into nectar, fills the “void city” (sunya puri) of the cranial vault. When allowed to flow back downwards, it floods the yogin’s body with its fluid of immortality.
The symbol of the grain and the harvest:
In the Samaritan Woman at the Well narrative, Jesus takes the role of Demeter. Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons. One of her common surname is Sito (wheat) as the giver of food or grain. Similarly, in the Gospel of John, Jesus offers his body to eat in the form of bread/grain:
John 6:51 – I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
In the Indian tradition, the Bindu is both the seed/grain (lower Bindu, microcosmic) and the ripened shaft/the bread/Lord’s body (upper Bindu, macrocosmic). The movement of the Bindu is closely connected with the circulation of the life energy in the form of the breath. By merging the lower Bindu with the upper Bindu, the nectar flows and immortality is achieved. This is symbolized in the Samaritan Woman at the Well narrative by the grain being sowed, growing and ripening to its full maturity ready for harvesting.
John 4:36 – “Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together”
The Bindu that shines Within the body and without Is white in hue. – tirumantiram 1929
The Bindu (seed) wasted here below is vital Prana (microcosmic). The fiery Bindu above (mature shaft or the bread) is Lord’s Body (macrocosmic). – tirumantiram 1951
Later in the narrative of the Gospel of John we find a similar symbolism related to the death of Jesus: Jesus compare his death to a grain of wheat that needs to die for the shaft to grow, ripen and bear much fruit.
John 12:24 – Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Check the Feeding of the 5000 for the connection between the grain/bread, the breath and the Bindu.
Jacob’s well represents the Virgin/Maiden well of the Hymn to Demeter
Jacob is renamed “Israel” by God in Genesis (32:28-29 and 35:10). The nation Israel is considered to be the Virgin because virgin carries the meaning of the only people of God. It implies a people with only one God as opposed to people with many gods. The use of the word virgin implies that Israel should be chaste and only have one husband who is God. The Samaritans were known to worship many gods: the Pagan gods. That is why shortly after in the narrative Jesus mention to the Samaritan Woman her five previous husbands in reference to the many gods worshipped by the Samaritans.
Books about the Eleusinian Mysteries:
– Eleusis, Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughters – Carl Kerenyi
– The Ancient Mysteries, A sourcebook of Sacred Texts – Edited by Marvin W. Meyer
– The Road to Eleusis, Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries – R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, Carl A. P. Ruck