The Rites of Eleusis, or the Eleusinian Mysteries, were the secret rituals of the mystery school of Eleusis and were observed regularly from c. 1600 BCE - 392 CE. Exactly what this mystic ritual was no one knows; but why the ancient Greeks participated in it can be understood by the testimonials of the initiated.
The Eleusinian Mysteries, held each year at Eleusis, Greece, fourteen miles northwest of Athens, were so important to the Greeks that, until the arrival of the Romans, The Sacred Way (the road from Athens to Eleusis) was the only road, not a goat path, in all of central Greece. The mysteries celebrated the story of Demeter and Persephone but, as the initiated were sworn to secrecy on pain of death as to the details of the ritual, we do not know what form these rituals took. We do know, though, that those who participated in the mysteries were forever changed for the better and that they no longer feared death.
The rituals were based on a symbolic reading of the story of Demeter and Persephone and provided initiates with a vision of the afterlife so powerful that it changed the way they saw the world and their place in it. Participants were freed from a fear of death through the recognition that they were immortal souls temporarily in mortal bodies. In the same way that Persephone went down to the land of the dead and returned to that of the living each year, so would every human being die only to live again on another plane of existence or in another body.
The rituals were enacted twice a year. There were the Lesser Mysteries, which took place in the spring, and the Greater Mysteries which those who had been purified earlier took part in when September came. They walked the Sacred Way from Athens to Eleusis calling for the Kore and re-enacting Demeter's search for her lost daughter.
At Eleusis they would rest by the well Demeter had sat down by, would fast, and would then drink a barley and mint beverage called Kykeon. It has been suggested that this drink was infused by the psychotropic fungus ergot and this, then, heightened the experience and helped transform the initiate. Since the "vision" was consistent for hundreds of years, involving up to three thousand disparate people each year, it would require a recipe that guaranteed the same vision for all, all the time...
After drinking the Kykeon the participants entered the Telesterion, an underground `theatre', where the secret ritual took place. Most likely it was a symbolic
re-enactment of the `death' and rebirth of Persephone which the initates watched and, perhaps, took some part in.
Whatever happened in the Telesterion, those who entered in would come out the next morning radically changed. Virtually every important thinker and writer in antiquity, everyone who was `anyone', was an initiate of the Mysteries.
A votive plaque known as the Ninnion Tablet depicting elements of the Eleusinian Mysteries, discovered in the sanctuary at Eleusis.
The Ninnion Tablet depicts Demeter, followed by Persephone and Iacchus and then the procession of initiates. Then, Demeter is sitting (inside the Telesterion) on the kiste with Persephone introducing the initiates and holding a torch. The initiates each held a bakchoi.
The second row of initiates were led by Iakchos, a male priest who held torches for the ceremonies. He is standing near the omphalos while an unknown female (probably a priestess of Demeter) sat nearby on the kiste, holding a scepter and a vessel filled with kykeon. Pannychis is also represented.
Triptolemus receiving wheat sheaves from Demeter and blessings from Persephone
Demeter, enthroned and extending her hand in a benediction toward the kneeling Metaneira, who offers the triune wheat that is a recurring symbol of the mysteries
The Eleusinian Mysteries Hydria, showing the reunion of Demeter and Persephone at the start of each spring
INITIATORY RITES AT THE ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES
Dudley Wright wrote: “Two important facts must be set down with regard to the Mysteries: first, the general custom of all Athenian citizens, and afterwards of all Greeks generally, and eventually of many foreigners, to seek admission into the Eleusinian Mysteries in the only possible manner — viz. by initiation; and, second, the scrupulous care exercised by the Eumolpides to ensure that only persons duly qualified, of irreproachable — or, at any rate, of circumspect, character passed the portals. In the earlier days of the Mysteries it was a necessary condition that the candidates for initiation should be free-born Athenians, but in course of time this rule was relaxed, until eventually strangers (as residents outside Athens were called), aliens, slaves, and even courtesans, were admitted, on condition that they were introduced by a mystagogue, who was, of course, an Athenian. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“An interesting inscription was discovered a few years ago demonstrating the fact that the public slaves of the city were initiated at the public expense. From historical records we learn that Lysias was enabled without difficulty to secure the initiation of his mistress, Metanira, who was then in the service of the courtesan Nicareta. There always prevailed, however, the strict rule that no one could be admitted who had been guilty of murder or homicide, wilful or accidental, or who had been convicted of witchcraft, and all who had incurred the capital penalty for conspiracy or treason were also excluded.”
Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history;
The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com
Demeter-Eleusian Cult Initiation in Athens
The Lesser Mysteries: Athenian 'flower-month' Anthesterion (February/March) — with 12th Pithoigia 'opening the jars', 13th Choes 'wine amphorae' and 14th Chytrai — was held at Agrai, in Athens, on the south east side of the Ilissos stream, just outside the old walls, where there was a shrine for Demeter (Metroon) and for Artemis. It was said the maiden Oreithyeia was abducted here by Boreas ('North Wind': Death/cold) and ravished. Her companion was Pharmakeia ('user-of-drugs'). [Plato Phaedrus 229c] [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]
Greater Mysteries:: Athenian 'bull-running' month Boedromion (September-October). On the 13th and 14th Boed., young aristocratic Athenian Ephebes (teens engaged in military training) escorted the 'sacred things' from Eleusis to Athens. The ‘sacred things’ were brought to the Eleusinion, at the west foot of the Acropolis. Their arrival was then reported to the priestess of Athena Polias (City-Athena). The first four days of the festival took place in Athens (15th to 18th): 15th Agrimos ('Gathering'), 16th 'Seaward, Initiates', 17th 'Hither the victims', 18th Epidauria (at Athens), 19th March to Eleusis, 20th Initiation, 21st Plemochoiai
The festival was supervised by the Athenian magistrate, the Basileus ('King'), with two assistants from the Athenian Citizen body and a representative of the Clan Eumolpidai and Clan Kerykes. Initiates had to bathe in the sea and sacrifice a pig to Demeter. The 20-kilometer Procession to Eleusis (14 miles) was led by statue of Iacchos (Bacchus). Participants wore crowns of myrtle on their heads and carried bundles of leaves bound with bacchoi (rings). At night inside a small building called the A naktoron ('King's house' wanax) in the Telesterion ('Hall of Initiation') in Eleusis, the sacred things were placed in baskets (kistai) were 'shown' by the Hierophant
Epopteia ('Beholding') was an optional festival held the year following for Greater Mysteries festival. The Mystai (initiates of the previous year's ceremony) A fresh-cut wheat stalk was 'shown'.”
Initiation Process for the Eleusinian Mysteries
“There was, as stated, three degrees, and the ordinary procedure with regard to initiation was as follows: In the month of Anthesterion, the flower month of spring, corresponding with February-March, an applicant could, if approved, become an initiate into the first degree at the celebration of the Lesser Mysteries and take part in their celebration at the Eleusinion at Agra, near to Athens. The ceremony of initiation into this first degree was on a far less imposing scale than the ceremony of initiation into the second and third degrees at the Greater Mysteries. The candidate, however, had to keep chaste and unpolluted for nine days prior to the ceremony, which each one attended wearing crowns and garlands of flowers and observed by offering prayers and sacrifices. Immediately previous to the celebration the candidates for initiation were prepared by the Mystagogues, the special teachers selected for the purpose from the families of the Eumolpides and Keryces. They were instructed in the story of Demeter and Persephone, the character of the purification necessary and other preliminary rites, the fast days, with particulars of the food permissible and forbidden to be eaten, and the various sacrifices to be offered by and for them under the direction of the mystagogues.[Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“Without this preparation no one could be admitted to the Mysteries. There was, however, neither secret doctrine nor dogmatic teaching in this preliminary instruction. Revelation came through contemplation of the sacred objects displayed during the ceremonies by the hierophant, the meaning of which was communicated by means of the mystic formulæ; but the preparation demanded of the initiates, the secrecy imposed, the ceremonies at which the initiates assisted, all of which were performed in the dead of night, created a strong impression and lively hope in regard to the future life. No other cult in Greece, still less the cold Roman religion, had anything of the kind, or approaching to it, to offer. Fasting from food and drink for a certain period before and after initiation was essential, but the candidates did not attach to this act any idea of maceration or expiation of faults: it was simply the reproduction of an event in the life of the goddess, and undergone in order that the body might become more pure. Bowls or vases of consecrated or holy water were placed at the entrance of the temple for the purposes of aspersion. In cases of special or particular impurity an extra preparation extending over two or three days longer became necessary, and unctions of oil or repeated immersions in water were administered. The outward physical purity, the result of immersion prior to initiation, was but the symbol of the inward purity which was supposed to result from initiation. One of the duties of the mystagogues was to see that the candidates were in a state of physical cleanliness both before and throughout the ceremony. According to inscriptions which have been discovered there appear to have been temples or buildings set apart for the cleansing of candidates from special impurities. Initiation into the Lesser Mysteries only permitted the neophyte to go as far as the outer vestibule of the temple. |~|
“In the following autumn, if of full age and approved by the hierophant, the neophyte could be initiated into the Greater Mysteries, into the second degree, that of Mysta. This, however, did not secure admission to all the ceremonies performed during the celebration of the Greater Mysteries. A further year, at least, had to elapse before the third degree, that of Epopta, was taken, before he could see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears, all that took place in the temple during the celebration of the Mysteries. Even then, there was one part of the temple and one portion of the ceremony which could be entered and witnessed only by the hierophant and hierophantide. |~|
“According to Plutarch, Demetrius, when he was returning to Athens, wrote to the republic that on his arrival he intended to be initiated and to be admitted immediately, not only to the Lesser Mysteries, but to the Greater as well. This was unlawful and unprecedented, though when the letter was read, Pythodorus, a torch-bearer, was the only person who ventured to oppose the demand, and his opposition was entirely ineffectual. Stratocles procured a decree that the month of Munychion should be reputed to be and called the month of Anthesterion, to give Demetrius the opportunity for the initiation into the first degree. This was done, whereupon a second decree was issued by which Munychion was again changed into Boedromion, and Demetrius was admitted to the Mysteries of the next degree. Philippides, the poet, satirized Stratocles in the words: "The man who can contract the whole year into one month," and Demetrius, with reference to his lodging in the Parthenon, in the words: "The man who turns the temples into inns and brings prostitutes into the company of the virgin goddess."” |~|
Purpose of the Initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries
“The design of initiation, according to Plato, was to restore the soul to that state from which it fell, and Proclus states that initiation into the Mysteries drew the souls of men from a material, sensual, and merely human life and joined them in communion with the gods. "Happy is the man," wrote Euripides, "who hath been initiated into the Greater Mysteries and leads a life of piety and religion," and Aristophanes truly represented public opinion when he wrote in “The Frogs”: "On us only does the sun dispense his blessings; we only receive pleasure from his beams; we, who are initiated, and perform towards citizens and strangers all acts of piety and justice." The initiates sought to imitate the allegorical birth of the god. The epoptæ were supposed to have experienced a certain regeneration and to enter upon a new state of existence, and they were fantastically deemed to have acquired a great increase of light and knowledge. Hitherto they had been exoteric and profane; now they had become esoteric and holy. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“Jevons, in his “Introduction to the Study of Religion,” says that no oath was demanded of the initiate, but that silence was observed generally as an act of reverence rather than as an act of purposed concealment. There seems, however, to be conclusive evidence that an oath of secrecy was demanded of and taken by the candidates for initiation, at any rate, into the second and third degrees, if not into the first degree. Moreover, there are on record several prosecutions of citizens for having broken the pledge of secrecy they had given. Æschylus was indicted for having disclosed in the theatre certain details of the Mysteries, and he only escaped punishment by proving that he had never been initiated and, therefore, could not have violated any obligation. A Greek scholiast says that in five of his tragedies Æschylus spoke of Demeter and therefore may be supposed in these cases to have touched upon subjects connected with the Mysteries, and Heraclides of Pontus says that on this account he was in danger of being killed by the populace if he had not fled for refuge to the altar of Dionysos and been begged off by the Areopagites and acquitted on the ground of his exploits at Marathon. An accusation was brought against Aristotle of having performed a funeral sacrifice in honour of his wife in imitation of the Eleusinian ceremonies. Alcibiades was charged with mimicking the sacred Mysteries in one of his drunken revels, when he represented the hierophant; Theodorus, one of his friends, represented the herald; and another, Polytion, represented the dadouchos; other companions attending as initiates and being addressed as mystæ. The information against him ran: — |~|
“"Thessalus, the son of Cimon, of the ward of Lacais, accuseth Alcibiades, the son of Clinian, of the ward of Scambonis, of sacrilegiously offending the goddess Ceres and her daughter, Persephone, by counterfeiting their Mysteries and showing them to his companions in his own house, wearing such a robe as the high priest does when he shows the holy things; he called himself high priest; as did Polytion torch-bearer; and Theodorus, of the ward of Thyges, herald; and the rest of his companions he called persons initiated and Brethren of the Secret; therein acting contrary to the rules and ceremonies established by the Eumolpides, the Heralds and Priests at Eleusis." |~|
“Alcibiades did not appear in answer to the charge, and he was condemned in his absence, an order being made that his goods were to be confiscated. This occurred in 415 B.C. and the incident created quite a panic, as many prominent citizens, Andocides included, were implicated. "This man," said the accuser of Andocides, "vested in the same costume as a hierophant, has shown the sacred objects to men who were not initiated and has uttered words which it is not permissible to repeat." Andocides admitted the charge, but turned king's evidence, and named certain others as culprits with him. He was rewarded with a free pardon under a decree which Isotmides had issued, but those whom he named were either put to death or outlawed and their goods were confiscated. Andocides afterwards entered the temple while the Mysteries were in progress and was charged with breaking the law in so doing. He defended himself before a court of heliasts, all of whom had been initiated into the Mysteries, the president of the court being the Archon Basileus. The indictment was lodged by Cephisius, the chief prosecutor, with the Archon Basileus, during the celebration of the Greater Mysteries and while Andocides was still at Eleusis. Andocides was acquitted, and it is stated that Cephisius having failed to obtain one-fifth of the votes of the court, the result, according to the law, was that he had to pay a fine of a thousand drachmas and to suffer permanent exclusion from the Eleusinian shrine. Diagoras was accused of railing at the sanctity of the Mysteries of Eleusis in such a manner as to deter persons from seeking initiation, and a reward of one talent was offered to any one who should kill him or two talents to any one who should bring him alive. The Greek talent was of the value of about £200.” |~|
Secrecy Regarding the Eleusinian Mysteries
Dudley Wright wrote: “An ancient theme of oratorical composition and one set even in the sixth century of the Christian era ran: "The law punishes with death whoever has disclosed the Mysteries: some one to whom the initiation has been revealed in a dream asks one of the initiated if what he has seen is in conformity with reality: the initiate acquiesces by a movement of the head; and for that he is accused of impiety." [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“Every care, therefore, was taken to prevent the secrecy of the Mysteries from being broken and the ceremonial becoming known to any not initiated. Details have, nevertheless, come to light in various ways, but chiefly through the ancient writings and inscriptions. Step by step and piece by piece the diligent researcher has been rewarded by the discovery of disconnected and isolated fragments which, by themselves, supply no precise information, but, taken in the aggregate, form a perfect mosaic. Though it was strictly forbidden to reveal what took place within the sacred enclosure and in the Hall of Initiation, it was permissible to state clearly the main object of initiation and the advantages to be derived from the act. Not only was the breaking of the obligation of secrecy given by an initiate visited with severe, sometimes even with capital, punishment, but the forcing of the temple enclosure by the uninitiated, as sometimes happened, was an offence of an equally impious and heinous character. By virtue of the unwritten laws and customs dating back to the most remote periods the penalty of death was frequently pronounced for faults not grave in themselves, although the forcing of the temple enclosure was, of course, a grave crime, but because they concerned religion.
“It was probably by virtue of those unwritten laws that the priests ordered the death of two young Arcananians who had penetrated, through ignorance, into the sacred precincts. They happened inadvertently to mix with the crowd at the season of the Mysteries and to enter the temple, but the questions asked by them, in consequence of their ignorance of the proceedings, betrayed them, and their intrusion was punished with death. This was in 200 B.C., and Rome made war upon Philip V of Macedonia on the complaint of the government of Athens against that king who wished to punish them for having rigorously applied the ancient laws to those two offenders, who were found guilty merely of entering the sanctuary at Eleusis without having previously been initiated. No judicial penalty, however, was meted out to the fanatical Epicurean eunuch who, with the object of proving that the gods had no existence, forced himself blaspheming into that part of the sanctuary into which the hierophant and the hierophantide alone had the right of entry. Ælianus states that a divine punishment in the form of a disease alone overtook him. Horace declared that he would not risk his life by going on to the water with a companion who had revealed the secret of the Mysteries.” |~|
Before the Initiation Into the Eleusinian Mysteries
Dudley Wright wrote: “The two days prior to initiation into the second and third degrees were spent by the candidates in solitary retirement and in strict fasting. It was a "retreat" in the strictest sense of the word. Fasting was practised, not only in imitation of the sufferings of Demeter when searching for Persephone, but because of the danger of the contact of holy things with unholy, the clean with the unclean. This also is one of the reasons why it was held to be impious even to speak of the Mysteries to one who had not been initiated and especially dangerous to allow such unclean and profane persons to take any part, even that of a viewer, in the ceremonies. Hence the punishment meted out by the State was in lieu of, or to avert, the divine wrath which such pollution might bring on the community at large. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“At the entrance to the temple tablets were placed containing a list of forbidden foods. The list included several kinds of fish — the whistle-fish, gurnet, crab, and mullet. In all probability the whistle-fish is that known as “Sciæna aquila”, a Mediterranean fish that makes a noise under the water which has been compared to bellowing, buzzing, purring, or whistling, the air bladder being the sound-producing organ. The fish was greatly esteemed by the Romans. There is a large “Sciæna”, not “aquila”, though very like it, in the Fish Gallery of the British Museum (Natural History) opposite the entrance from the Zoological Library. The whistle-fish and crab were held to be impure, the first because it laid its eggs through the mouth, and the second because it ate filth which other fish rejected. The gurnet was rejected because of its fecundity as witnessed in its annual triple laying of eggs, but, according to some writers, it was rejected because it ate a fish which was poisonous to mankind. It may well be that other fish were interdicted, but Porphyry was probably exaggerating when he said that all fish were forbidden. Birds bred at home, such as chickens and pigeons, were also on the banned list, as were beans and certain vegetables which were forbidden for a mystical reason which Pausanias said he dare not reveal save to the initiated. The probable reason was that they were connected in some way with the wanderings of Demeter. Pomegranates were, of course, forbidden, from the incident of the eating of the pomegranate seeds by Persephone. |~|
“The candidates were carefully instructed in these rules before the beginning of the celebration. Originally the instruction of the candidates was in the hands of the hierophant, who, following the example of his ancestor, Eumolpus, claimed the privilege of preparing the candidates as well as that of communicating to them the knowledge of the divine Mysteries. But the continually increasing number of candidates made it necessary to employ auxiliary instructors, and this particular work was handed over to the charge of the mystagogues, who prepared the candidates either singly or in groups, the hierophant reserving to himself the general direction of the instruction. In the course of the initiation ceremony certain words had to be spoken by the candidates, and these were made known to them in advance, although, of course, apart from their context.” |~|
Second Degree Initiation Ceremony at the Greater Mysteries Festival
Dudley Wright wrote: “Admission to the second degree took place during the night between the sixth and seventh days of the celebration of the Mysteries, the candidates being led blindfolded into the temple and the ceremony opened with prayers and sacrifices by the second Archon. The candidates were crowned with myrtle wreaths, and, on entering the building, they purified themselves in a formal manner by immersing their hands in the consecrated water. Salt, laurel-leaves, barley, and crowns of flowers were also employed in the purification. The priests, vested in their sacerdotal garments, then came forward to receive the candidates. This initial ceremony took place in the outer hall of the temple, the temple itself being closed. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“A herald then came forward and uttered the proclamation: "Begone ye profane. Away from here, all ye that are not purified, and whose souls have not been freed from sin." In later years this formulary was changed, and in its stead the herald proclaimed: "If any atheist, or Christian, or Epicurean, is come to spy on the orgies, let him instantly retire, but let those who believe remain and be initiated, with good future." It was the final opportunity for the retirement of any who were not votaries who had by chance entered the precincts: if discovered afterwards the punishment was death. In order to make certain that no intruders remained behind all who were present had to answer certain specified questions. Then all again immersed their hands into the consecrated water and renewed their pledge of secrecy. The candidates for initiation then took off their ordinary garments and put on the skins of young does. This done, the priests wished them joy of all the happiness their initiation would bring them, and then left the candidates alone. Within a few minutes the apartment in which they were was plunged in total darkness. |~| “Lamentations and strange noises were heard; terrific peals of thunder resounded, seemingly shaking the very foundations of the temple; vivid flashes of lightning lit up the darkness, rendering it more terrible, while a more persistent light from a fire displayed fearful forms. Sighs, groans, and cries of pain resounded on all sides, like the shrieks of the condemned in Tartarus. The novitiates were taken hold of by invisible hands, their hair was torn, and they were beaten and thrown to the ground. Then a faint light became visible in the distance and a fearful scene appeared before their eyes. The gates of Tartarus were opened and the abode of the condemned lay before them. They could hear the cries of anguish and the vain regrets of those to whom Paradise was lost for ever. They could, moreover, witness their hopeless remorse: they saw, as well as heard, all the tortures of the condemned. The Furies, armed with relentless scourges and flaming torches, drove the unhappy victims incessantly to and fro, never letting them rest for a moment. |~|
“Meanwhile the loud voice of the hierophant, who represented the judge of the earth, could be heard expounding the meaning of what was passing before them, and warning and threatening the initiates. It may well be imagined that all these fearful scenes were so terrifying that very frequently beads of anguish appeared on the brows of the novices. Howling dogs and even material demons are said actually to have appeared to the initiates before the scene was changed. Proclus, in his “Commentary on Alcibiades”, says: "In the most holy of the Mysteries, before the presence of the god, certain terrestrial demons are hurled forth, which call the attention from undefiled advantages to matter." At length the gates of Tartarus were closed, the scene was suddenly changed, and the innermost sanctuary of the temple lay open before the initiates in dazzling light. In the midst stood the statue of the goddess Demeter brilliantly decked and gleaming with precious stones; heavenly music entranced their souls; a cloudless sky overshadowed them; fragrant perfumes arose; and in the distance the privileged spectators beheld flowering meads, where the blessed danced and amused themselves with innocent games and pastimes.
“Among other writers the scene has been described by Aristophanes in “The Frogs”:-
Heracles: The voyage is a long one. For you will come directly to a very big lake of abysmal depth.
Dionysos: Then how shall I get taken across it?
Heracles: In a little boat just so high: an old man who plies that boat will take you across for a fee of two oboles.
Dionysos: Oh dear! How very powerful those two oboles are all over the world. How did they manage to get here?
Heracles: Theseus brought them. After this you will see serpents and wild beasts in countless numbers and very terrible. Then a great slough and overflowing dung; and in this you'll see lying any one who ever yet at any place wronged his guest or beat his mother, or smote his father's jaw, or swore an oath and foreswore himself.... And next a breathing of flutes shall be wafted around you, and you shall see a very beautiful light, even as in this world, and myrtle groves, and happy choirs of men and women, and a loud clapping of hands.
Dionysos: And who are these people, pray?
Heracles: The initiated. |~|
“It was regarded as permissible to describe certain scenes of the initiation, and this has been done by many writers, but a complete silence was demanded as to the means employed to realize the end, the rites and ceremonies in which the initiate took part, the emblems which were displayed, and the actual words uttered, and the slightest contravention of this rule rendered the offender liable to the strongest possible condemnation and chastisement. |~|
“In the course of the ceremony the hierophant asked the candidates a series of questions, to which written answers had been prepared and committed to memory by the candidates. The holy Mysteries were revealed to them from a book called “Petroma,” a word derived from “petra”, a stone, and so called because the writings were kept between two cemented stones which fitted in to each other. The Pheneatians used to swear by and on the Petroma. The domed top held within it a mask of Demeter which the hierophant wore at the celebration of the Mysteries, or during part of the ceremonial. The garments worn by the initiates during the ceremony were accounted sacred and equal to incantations and charms in their power to avert evils. Consequently they were never cast off until torn and tattered. Nor was it usual, even then, to throw them away, but it was customary to make them into swaddling clothes for children or to consecrate them to Demeter and Persephone.” |~|
Third Degree Initiation Ceremony at the Greater Mysteries Festival
Dudley Wright wrote: “Admission to the third degree took place during the night between the seventh and eighth days of the celebration of the Greater Mysteries. This, the final degree, with the exception of those called to be hierophants, was known as the degree of Epopta. Exactly in what the ceremonial consisted, save in one particular presently to be described, is unknown. Hippolytus is practically the only authority for the main incident of the degree. Certain words and signs were, however, communicated to the initiated which, it was stated, would, when pronounced at the hour of death, ensure the eternal happiness of the soul. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“The most solemn part of the ceremony was that which has been described by some writers as the hierogamy, or sacred marriage of Zeus and Demeter, although some have erroneously referred to it as the marriage of Pluto and Persephone. During the celebration of the Mysteries the hierophant and hierophantide descended into a cave or deep recess and, after remaining there for a time, they returned to the assembly, surrounded seemingly by flames, and the hierophant, displaying to the gaze of the initiated an ear of corn, exclaimed with a loud voice: "The divine Brimo has given birth to the holy child Brimos: The strong has brought forth strength." The scene was dramatic and symbolical, and there could have been nothing material in the incident. The torches of the multitude were extinguished while the throng above awaited with anxious suspense the return of the priest and priestess from the murky place into which they had descended, for they believed their own salvation to depend upon the result of the mystic congress. The charges brought against the Eleusinian Mysteries of rioting and debauchery during their Grecian history are brought by those who were not permitted to share their honours, or who were prejudiced in favour of some other form of religion. In the opinion of the majority of contemporary writers these charges were wholly gratuitous, and they maintain that the Eleusinian Mysteries produced a sanctity of manners and a cultivation of virtue. They could not, of course, make a man virtuous against his will and Diogenes, when asked to submit to initiation, replied that Pataecion, a notorious robber, had obtained initiation. |~|
“"The Athenians," says Hippolytus, "in the initiation of Eleusis, show to the epoptæ the great, admirable, and most perfect mystery of the epoptæ: an ear of corn gathered in silence." The statement is so clear as to leave no doubt whatever on the subject; indeed, it has never been called into question. The presentation of the ear of corn was regarded as a special, indeed the most important, feature of the Mysteries of Eleusis, and it was reserved for the final degree. Much has been made of this incident by many who can see no beauty in pre-Christian or non-Christian systems of religion, their comments being based mainly on a statement of Gregory Nazianus, who stands almost alone in discerning lewdness in the Eleusinian ceremonial. He says: "It is not in our religion that you will find a seduced Cora, a wandering Demeter, a Keleos, and a Triptolemus appearing with serpents; that Demeter is capable of certain acts and that she permits others. I am really ashamed to throw light on the nocturnal orgies of the initiations. Eleusis knows as well as the witnesses the secret of the spectacle, which is with reason kept so profound."” |~|
Eleusinian Mysteries Were Not About Achieving Immortality
Dudley Wright wrote: “Apart from this isolated statement the Eleusinian Mysteries have not been charged, as many other ancient rites were, with promoting and encouraging immorality. In his account of the doings of the false prophet Alexander of Abountichos, Lucian describes how the impostor instituted rites which were a close parody of those celebrated at Eleusis, and he narrates the details of the travesty. Among the mimetic performances were not only the epiphany and birth of a god but the enactment of a sacred marriage. All preliminaries were gone through, and Lucian says that but for the abundance of lighted torches the marriage would actually have been consummated. The part of the hierophant was taken by the false prophet himself. From the travesty it is evident that in the genuine Mysteries, in silence, in darkness, and in perfect chastity the sacred marriage was symbolized and that immediately afterwards the hierophant came forward and standing in a blaze of torchlight made the announcement to the initiates. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“The name “Brimo”, expressed at full length “Obrimo,” seems to be a variation of the compound term “Ob-Rimon”, "the lofty serpent goddess."
The birth of Brimo; and the mighty deeds
Of the Titanic hosts; the servitude
Of Jove; and the mysterious mountain rites
Of Cybelè, when with distracted pace she sought
Through the wide world the beauteous Proserpine;
The far-fam'd labours of the Machian Hercules;
Th' Idèan orgies; and the giant force
Of the dread Corybantes; and the wanderings
Of Ceres, and the woes of Prosperpine:
With these I sung the gifts of the Cabiri;
The Mysteries of Bacchus; and the praise
Of Lemnos, Samothrace, and lofty Cyprus,
Fair Adonean Venus; and the rites
Of dread Ogygian Praxidicè;
Arinian Minerva's nightly festival;
And Egypt's sorrow for the lost Osiris. — Orphic Hymn.” |~|
Final Phase of the Eleusinian Mysteries Initiation
Dudley Wright wrote: “Dr. Jevons maintains that this ear of corn was the totem of Eleusis, and this view has been adopted by M. Reinach, who says: "We find in the texts a certain trace not only of the cult but of the adoration and the exaltation (in the Christian meaning of the word) of the ear of corn." But he has omitted to quote the texts on which he relies for this assertion. It would be interesting to know why, among all the plants which die and revive in the course of a year, wheat was chosen for preference, why the ear more than the grain, why it should be emphasized that it was gathered, for what reason the spectacle was reserved for the epoptæ, and in what manner it secured or ensured for the individual a blissful existence after death. The demonstration presupposes that the preceding rites were leading up to this supreme display. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“After this demonstration the epoptæ partook of barley meal flavoured with pennyroyal, as a solemn form of communion with Demeter. According to Eustathius, the compound was a kind of thick gruel, half-solid, half-liquid. This done, each of the initiated repeated after the hierophant the following words: "I have fasted, I have drank 'cyceon.' I have taken from the cystos, and after having tasted of it I placed it in the calathos. I again took it from the calathos and put it back in the cystos." This formula, notwithstanding its length, is said to have been the password leading to the third degree. |~|
“Justin Martyr gives the oath of initiation as follows: "So help me heaven, the work of God who is great and wise: so help me the word of the Father which he spake when he established the whole universe in his wisdom." |~|
“With this ceremony the third degree ended, save that the epoptæ were placed upon exalted seats, around which the priests circled in mystic dances. The day succeeding admission into the final degree was regarded as a rigorous fast, at the conclusion of which the epoptæ drank of the mystic cyceon and ate of the sacred cakes. |~|
“According to Theo of Smyrna, the full or complete initiation consisted of five steps or degrees, which he sets out as follows: "Again, philosophy may be called the initiation into true sacred ceremonies, and the tradition of genuine mysteries; for there are five parts of initiation; the first of which is previous purgation, for neither are the Mysteries communicated to all who are willing to receive them, but there are certain characters who are prevented by the voice of the crier, such as those who possess impure hands and an inarticulate voice, since it is necessary that such as are not expelled from the Mysteries should first be refined by certain purgations, but after purgation the tradition of the sacred rite succeeds. The third part is denominated inspection. And the fourth, which is the end and design of inspection, is the binding of the head and fixing the crown, so that the initiated may, by this means, be enabled to communicate to others the sacred rites in which he has been instructed. Whether after this he becomes a torch-bearer, or an interpreter of the Mysteries, or sustains some other part of the sacerdotal office. But the fifth, which is produced from all these, is friendship with divinity, and the enjoyment of that felicity which arises from intimate converse with the gods. According to Plato, purification is to be derived from the five mathematical disciplines, viz. arithmetic, geometry, stereometry, music, and astronomy." |~|
“Apuleius is represented as saying to himself: "I approached the confines of death; and, having crossed the threshold of Proserpine, I at length returned, borne along through all the elements. I beheld the sun shining in the dead of night with luminous splendour: I saw both the infernal and the celestial gods. I approached and adored them." |~|
“Themistius represents initiation in the following words: "Entering now the mystic dome, he is filled with horror and amazement. He is seized with solicitude and a total perplexity. He is unable to move a step forward; and he is at a loss to find the entrance to that road which is to lead him to the place he aspires to. But now, in the midst of his perplexity, the prophet (hierophant) suddenly lays open to him the space before the portals of the temple. Having thoroughly purified him, the hierophant now discloses to the initiated a region all over illuminated and shining with a divine splendour. The cloud and thick darkness are dispersed; and the mind, which before was full of disconsolate obscurity, now emerges, as it were, into day, replete with light and cheerfulness, out of the profound depth into which it had been plunged."” |~|
Fees and Temples for the Eleusinian Mysteries Initiation
Dudley Wright wrote: “The fee for initiation was a minimum sum of fifteen drachmas (a drachma being of the value of 7 3/4d.), in addition to which there were the usual honoraria to be bestowed upon the various officials, to which reference has already been made. Presumably, also, gifts in kind were made to the principal officials, for an inscription of the fifth century B.C., found at Eleusis, reads: “"Let the Hierophant and the Torch-bearer command that at the Mysteries the Hellenes shall offer first-fruits of their crops in accordance with ancestral usage.... To those who do these things there shall be many good things, both good and abundant crops, whoever of them do not injure the Athenians, nor the city of Athens, nor the two goddesses." [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]
“The Telestrion or Hall of Initiation, sometimes called "The Mystic Temple," was surrounded on all sides by steps, which presumably served as seats for the initiated while the sacred dramas and processions took place on the floor of the hall. These steps were partly built in and partly cut in the solid rock; in later times they appear to have been covered with marble. There were two doors on each side of the hall with the exception of the north-west, where the entrance was cut out of the solid rock, a rock terrace at a higher level adjoining it. This was probably the station of those not yet admitted to full initiation. The roof of the hall was carried by rows of columns which were more than once renewed. The Hall itself did not accommodate more than four thousand people. The building was perhaps more accurately described by Aristophanes, who called it: "The House that welcomed the Mystæ," and he carefully distinguished it from the Temple of Demeter. It was not the dwelling-place of any god, and it, therefore, did not contain any holy image. It was built for the celebration of a definite ritual, and the Eleusinian Hall of Initiation was therefore the only known “church” of antiquity, if by that term we mean the meeting-place of the congregation.”“ |~|