Eleusinian Mysteries

Eleusinian Mysteries

Overview
The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult
Cult (religious practice)
In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings , its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. Cult in this primary sense is...

 of Demeter
Demeter
In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons . Her common surnames are Sito as the giver of food or corn/grain and Thesmophoros as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society...

 and Persephone
Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

 based at Eleusis in ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

. Of all the mysteries
Sacred Mysteries
The term sacred mysteries generally denotes the area of supernatural phenomena associated with a divinity or a religious ideology.-Pre-Christian religious mysteries:...

 celebrated in ancient times, these were held to be the ones of greatest importance. It is acknowledged that their basis was an old agrarian
Agrarianism
Agrarianism has two common meanings. The first meaning refers to a social philosophy or political philosophy which values rural society as superior to urban society, the independent farmer as superior to the paid worker, and sees farming as a way of life that can shape the ideal social values...

 cult which probably goes back to the Mycenean period
Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

 (c.1600-1100 BC) and it is believed that the cult of Demeter was established in 1500 BC.
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Encyclopedia
The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult
Cult (religious practice)
In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings , its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. Cult in this primary sense is...

 of Demeter
Demeter
In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons . Her common surnames are Sito as the giver of food or corn/grain and Thesmophoros as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society...

 and Persephone
Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

 based at Eleusis in ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

. Of all the mysteries
Sacred Mysteries
The term sacred mysteries generally denotes the area of supernatural phenomena associated with a divinity or a religious ideology.-Pre-Christian religious mysteries:...

 celebrated in ancient times, these were held to be the ones of greatest importance. It is acknowledged that their basis was an old agrarian
Agrarianism
Agrarianism has two common meanings. The first meaning refers to a social philosophy or political philosophy which values rural society as superior to urban society, the independent farmer as superior to the paid worker, and sees farming as a way of life that can shape the ideal social values...

 cult which probably goes back to the Mycenean period
Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

 (c.1600-1100 BC) and it is believed that the cult of Demeter was established in 1500 BC. The idea of immortality which appears in syncretistic
Syncretism
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means "combining", but see below for the origin of the word...

 religions of antiquity was introduced in late antiquity. The mysteries represented the myth of the abduction of Persephone
Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

 from her mother Demeter
Demeter
In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons . Her common surnames are Sito as the giver of food or corn/grain and Thesmophoros as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society...

 by the king of the underworld Hades
Hades
Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, Hades...

, in a cycle with three phases, the "descent" (loss), the "search" and the "ascent", with main theme the "ascent" of Persephone and the reunion with her mother. It was a major festival during the Hellenic era, and later spread to Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

. The name of the town, Eleusís seems to be Pre-Greek and it is probably a counterpart with Elysium
Elysium
Elysium is a conception of the afterlife that evolved over time and was maintained by certain Greek religious and philosophical sects, and cults. Initially separate from Hades, admission was initially reserved for mortals related to the gods and other heroes...

 and the goddess Eileithyia

The rites, ceremonies, and beliefs were kept secret and consistently preserved from a hoary antiquity. The initiated believed that they would have a reward in the afterlife
Afterlife
The afterlife is the belief that a part of, or essence of, or soul of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity, survives the death of the body of this world and this lifetime, by natural or supernatural means, in contrast to the belief in eternal...

. There are many paintings and pieces of pottery that depict various aspects of the Mysteries. Since the Mysteries involved visions and conjuring of an afterlife, some scholars believe that the power and longevity of the Eleusinian Mysteries came from psychedelic agents.

Mythology of Demeter and Persephone



The Mysteries are related to a myth concerning Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility as recounted in one of the Homeric Hymns
Homeric Hymns
The Homeric Hymns are a collection of thirty-three anonymous Ancient Greek hymns celebrating individual gods. The hymns are "Homeric" in the sense that they employ the same epic meter—dactylic hexameter—as the Iliad and Odyssey, use many similar formulas and are couched in the same dialect...

 (c. 650 B.C.). According to the hymn, Demeter's daughter Persephone
Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

 (also referred to as Kore, "maiden") was gathering flowers with friends, when she was seized by Hades
Hades
Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, Hades...

, the god of death and the underworld. He took her to his underworld kingdom. Distraught, Demeter searched high and low for her daughter. Because of her distress, and in an effort to coerce Zeus to allow the return of her daughter, she caused a terrible drought
Drought
A drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region...

 in which the people suffered and starved. This would have deprived the gods of sacrifice and worship. As a result, Zeus relented and allowed Persephone to return to her mother.

According to the myth, during her search, Demeter traveled long distances and had many minor adventures along the way. In one instance, she teaches the secrets of agriculture
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 to Triptolemus
Triptolemus
Buzyges redirects here. For the genus of grass skipper butterflies, see Buzyges .Triptolemus , in Greek mythology always connected with Demeter of the Eleusinian Mysteries, might be accounted the son of King Celeus of Eleusis in Attica, or, according to the Pseudo-Apollodorus , the son of Gaia and...

. Finally, by consulting Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

, Demeter reunites with her daughter and the earth returns to its former verdure and prosperity: the first autumn. (For more information on this story, see Demeter
Demeter
In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons . Her common surnames are Sito as the giver of food or corn/grain and Thesmophoros as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society...

.)

Zeus, pressed by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities who also heard their anguish, forced Hades to return Persephone. However, it was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Before Persephone was released to Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, (six or four according to the telling) which forced her to return to the underworld for some months each year. She was obliged to remain with Hades for six or four months (one month per seed) while staying above ground with her mother for a similar period. This left a large period of time when Demeter was unhappy due to Persephone's absence therefore she did not cultivate the Earth and it withered. When Persephone returned to the surface, Demeter became joyful and cared for the Earth again.

It is easier to believe that Persephone stayed with Hades for four months and Demeter eight months. The end result was eight months of growth and abundance to be followed by four months of no productivity. These periods correspond well with the Mediterranean climate of Ancient Greece. The four months during which Persephone is with Hades correspond to the dry Greek summer, a period during which plants are threatened with drought. At the beginning of the autumn when the seeds are planted, Persephone returns from the Underworld, is reunited with her mother and the cycle of growth begins anew.

Her rebirth is symbolic of the rebirth of all plant life and the symbol of eternity of life that flows from the generations which spring from each other.

Mysteries


The Eleusinian Mysteries are believed to be of considerable antiquity, deriving from religious practice of the Mycenaean period and thus predating the Greek Dark Ages
Greek Dark Ages
The Greek Dark Age or Ages also known as Geometric or Homeric Age are terms which have regularly been used to refer to the period of Greek history from the presumed Dorian invasion and end of the Mycenaean Palatial civilization around 1200 BC, to the first signs of the Greek city-states in the 9th...

. One line of thought by modern scholars has been that these Mysteries were intended "to elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him." Comparative study shows significant parallels between these Greek rituals and similar systems—some of them older—in the Near East (see Religions of the Ancient Near East
Religions of the Ancient Near East
The religions of the ancient Near East were mostly polytheistic, with some early examples of primitive monolatry , Ashurism and Monism...

). These cults are the mysteries of Isis
Isis
Isis or in original more likely Aset is a goddess in Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. She was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife as well as the matron of nature and magic...

 and Osiris
Osiris
Osiris is an Egyptian god, usually identified as the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead. He is classically depicted as a green-skinned man with a pharaoh's beard, partially mummy-wrapped at the legs, wearing a distinctive crown with two large ostrich feathers at either side, and...

 in Egypt, the Adoniac of Syrian cults, the Persian mysteries and the Phrygian Cabirian mysteries. Some scholars argued that the Eleusinian cult was a continuation of a Minoan
Minoan civilization
The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans...

 cult, probably affected by the Near East.

The lesser mysteries were probably held every year; the greater mysteries only every five years. This cycle continued for about two millennia. In the Homeric Hymn
Homeric Hymns
The Homeric Hymns are a collection of thirty-three anonymous Ancient Greek hymns celebrating individual gods. The hymns are "Homeric" in the sense that they employ the same epic meter—dactylic hexameter—as the Iliad and Odyssey, use many similar formulas and are couched in the same dialect...

 to Demeter, King Celeus
Celeus
Celeus or Keleus was the king of Eleusis in Greek mythology, husband of Metaneira and father of several daughters, who are called Callidice, Demo, Cleisidice and Callithoe in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, and Diogeneia, Pammerope and Saesara by Pausanias.In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Celeus was...

 is said to have been one of the first people to learn the secret rites and mysteries of her cult. He was also one of her original priests, along with Diocles
Diocles (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Diocles, or Dioklês , was one of the first priests of Demeter, and one of the first to learn the secrets of the Eleusinian Mysteries....

, Eumolpos, Polyxeinus and Triptolemus
Triptolemus
Buzyges redirects here. For the genus of grass skipper butterflies, see Buzyges .Triptolemus , in Greek mythology always connected with Demeter of the Eleusinian Mysteries, might be accounted the son of King Celeus of Eleusis in Attica, or, according to the Pseudo-Apollodorus , the son of Gaia and...

, Celeus' son, who had supposedly learned agriculture from Demeter.

Under Pisistratus
Peisistratos (Athens)
Peisistratos was a tyrant of Athens from 546 to 527/8 BC. His legacy lies primarily in his institution of the Panathenaic Festival and the consequent first attempt at producing a definitive version for Homeric epics. Peisistratos' championing of the lower class of Athens, the Hyperakrioi, can be...

 of Athens, the Eleusinian Mysteries became pan-Hellenic and pilgrims flocked from Greece and beyond to participate. Around 300 BC, the state took over control of the Mysteries; they were specifically controlled by two families, the Eumolpidae
Eumolpidae
The Eumolpidae were a family of priests at Eleusis who maintained the Eleusinian Mysteries during the Hellenic era. As hierophants, they popularized the cult and allowed many more to be initiated into the secrets of Demeter and Persephone....

 and the Kerykes
Kerykes
The Kerykes were one of the sacred Eleusinian families of priests that ran the Eleusinian Mysteries during the Hellenic era. They popularized the cult and allowed many more to be initiated into the great secrets of Demeter and Persephone. Starting about 300 BC, the state took over control of the...

. This led to a vast increase in the number of initiates. The only requirements for membership were a lack of "blood guilt", meaning having never committed murder, and not being a "barbarian" (unable to speak Greek). Men, women and even slaves were allowed initiation.

Participants


To participate in these mysteries one had to swear a vow of secrecy.

There were four categories of people who participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries:
  1. Priest
    Priest
    A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

    s, priestesses and hierophant
    Hierophant
    A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy. The word comes from Ancient Greece, where it was constructed from the combination of ta hiera, "the holy," and phainein, "to show." In Attica it was the title of the chief priest at the...

    s.
  2. Initiates, undergoing the ceremony for the first time.
  3. Others who had already participated at least once. They were eligible for the fourth category.
  4. Those who had attained épopteia (Greek: ἐποπτεία) (English: "contemplation"), who had learned the secrets of the greatest mysteries of Demeter.

Secrets


The outline below is only a capsule summary; much of the concrete information about the Eleusinian Mysteries was never written down. For example, only initiates knew what the kiste, a sacred chest, and the kalathos, a lidded basket, contained. The contents, like so much about the Mysteries, are unknown. However, one researcher writes that this Cista ("kiste") contained a golden mystical serpent, egg, a phallus and possibly also seeds sacred to Demeter.

The Church Father Hippolytus, writing in the early 3rd century, discloses that "the Athenians, while initiating people into the Eleusinian rites, likewise display to those who are being admitted to the highest grade at these mysteries, the mighty, and marvellous, and most perfect secret suitable for one initiated into the highest mystic truths: an ear of corn in silence reaped."

Lesser Mysteries


There were two Eleusinian Mysteries, the Greater and the Lesser. According to Thomas Taylor, "the dramatic shows of the Lesser Mysteries occultly signified the miseries of the soul while in subjection to the body, so those of the Greater obscurely intimated, by mystic and splendid visions, the felicity of the soul both here and hereafter, when purified from the defilements of a material nature and constantly elevated to the realities of intellectual [spiritual] vision." And that according to Plato, "the ultimate design of the Mysteries … was to lead us back to the principles from which we descended, … a perfect enjoyment of intellectual [spiritual] good."

The Lesser Mysteries took place in the month of Anthesteria under the direction of Athens' archon basileus
Archon basileus
Archon Basileus was a Greek title, meaning 'king magistrate': the term is derived the words archon "magistrate" and basileus "king" or "sovereign"....

. In order to qualify for initiation, participants would sacrifice a piglet to Demeter and Persephone, and then ritually purify themselves in the River Illisos. Upon completion of the Lesser Mysteries, participants were deemed mystai ("initiates") worthy of witnessing the Greater Mysteries.

Greater Mysteries



The first act (14th Boedromion) of the Greater Mysteries was the bringing of the sacred objects from Eleusis to the Eleusinion
Eleusinion
An Athenian temple to Demeter, the Eleusinion was the place where all sacred objects associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries were kept between ceremonies. It was located at the base of the Acropolis....

, a temple at the base of the Acropolis
Acropolis, Athens
Acropolis is a neighborhood of Athens, near the ancient monument of Acropolis, along the Dionysios Areopagitis, courier road. This neighborhood has a significant number of tourists all year round. It is the site of the Museum of Acropolis, opened in 2009....

.

The Greater Mysteries took place in Boedromion (the third month of the Attic calendar
Attic calendar
The Attic calendar is a hellenic calendar that was in use in ancient Attica, the ancestral territory of the Athenian polis. This article focuses on the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the classical period that produced some of the most significant works of ancient Greek literature. Because of the...

, falling in late Summer) and lasted ten days. On 15th Boedromion, called Agyrmos (the gathering), the hierophants (priests or "those who show the sacred ones") declared prorrhesis
Prorrhesis
A part of the Eleusinian Mysteries, prorrhesis was the official announcement of the start of the rites. This announcement occurred on the 15th day of Boedromion , and was given by the hierophantes....

, the start of the rites, and carried out the "Hither the victims" sacrifice (hiereía deúro). The "Seawards initiates" (halade mystai) began in Athens on 16th Boedromion with the celebrants washing themselves in the sea at Phaleron.

On 17th Boedromion, the participants began the Epidauria, a festival for Asklepios named after his main sanctuary at Epidauros. This "festival within a festival" celebrated the hero's arrival at Athens with his daughter Hygieia
Hygieia
In Greek and Roman mythology, Hygieia , was a daughter of the god of medicine, Asclepius. She was the goddess/personification of health , cleanliness and sanitation. She also played an important part in her father's cult...

, and consisted of a procession leading to the Eleusinion, during which the mystai apparently stayed at home, a great sacrifice, and an all-night feast (pannykhís).

The procession to Eleusis began at Kerameikos (the Athenian cemetery) on 19th Boedromion from where the people walked to Eleusis, along what was called the "Sacred Way" (Ιερά Οδός, Hierá Hodós), swinging branches called bacchoi. At a certain spot along the way, they shouted obscenities in commemoration of Iambe
Iambe
Iambe in Greek mythology was a Thracian woman, daughter of Pan and Echo and a servant of Metaneira, the wife of Hippothoon. Others call her a slave of Celeus,king of Eleusis...

 (or Baubo
Baubo
Baubo is an old woman in Greek mythology who jested with Demeter when she was mourning the loss of her daughter Persephone.In his Greek Myths, Robert Graves writes that Demeter was the guest of King Celeus in Eleusis...

), an old woman who, by cracking dirty jokes, had made Demeter smile as she mourned the loss of her daughter. The procession also shouted "Íakch', O Íakche!" referring to Iacchus
Iacchus
In Greek mythology, Iacchus is an epithet of Dionysus, particularly associated with the Mysteries at Eleusis, where he was considered to be the son of Zeus and Demeter...

, possibly an epithet for Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

, or a separate deity, son of Persephone or Demeter.

Upon reaching Eleusis, there was a day of fasting in commemoration of Demeter's fasting while searching for Persephone. The fast was broken while drinking a special drink of barley and pennyroyal
Pennyroyal
Pennyroyal refers to two plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. For the American species, see American pennyroyal. The European pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium, , is a plant in the mint genus, within the family Lamiaceae. Crushed Pennyroyal leaves exhibit a very strong fragrance similar to spearmint...

, called kykeon
Kykeon
Kykeon was an Ancient Greek drink made mainly of water, barley and naturally occurring substances. It was used at the climax of the Eleusinian Mysteries to break a sacred fast, but it was also a favourite drink of Greek peasants.Kykeon is mentioned in Homeric texts: the Iliad describes it as...

. Then on 20th and 21st Boedromion, the initiates entered a great hall called Telesterion
Telesterion
A great hall in Eleusis, Telesterion was one of the primary centers of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Devoted to Demeter and Persephone, these initiation ceremonies were the most sacred and ancient of all the religious rites celebrated in Greece...

; in the center stood the Anaktoron ("palace"), which only the hierophantes could enter, where sacred objects were stored. Before mystai could enter the Telesterion, they would recite, "I have fasted, I have drunk the kykeon, I have taken from the kiste ("box") and after working it have put it back in the kalathos ("open basket"). It is widely supposed that the rites inside the Telesterion comprised three elements: dromena ("things done"), a dramatic reenactment of the Demeter/Persephone myth; deiknumena ("things shown"), displayed sacred objects, in which the hierophant played an essential role; and finally legomena ("things said"), commentaries that accompanied the deiknumena. Combined these three elements were known as the apporheta ("unrepeatables"); the penalty for divulging them was death. Athenagoras of Athens
Athenagoras of Athens
Athenagoras was a Father of the Church, a Proto-orthodox Christian apologist who lived during the second half of the 2nd century of whom little is known for certain, besides that he was Athenian , a philosopher, and a convert to Christianity. In his writings he styles himself as "Athenagoras, the...

, Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

, and other ancient writers cite that it was for this crime (among others) that Diagoras
Diagoras
Diagoras may refer to:*Diagoras of Melos Atheist philosopher and poet *Diagoras of Rhodes boxer, olympionike *Diagoras a Greek physician quoted in Natural History of Pliny*Diagoras F.C...

 received the death penalty; the tragic playwright Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

 was allegedly tried for revealing secrets of the Mysteries in some of his plays, but was acquitted. The ban on divulging the core ritual of the Mysteries was thus absolute, which is probably why we know almost nothing about what transpired there.

As to the climax of the Mysteries, there are two modern theories. Some hold that the priests were the ones to reveal the visions of the holy night, consisting of a fire that represented the possibility of life after death, and various sacred objects. Others hold this explanation to be insufficient to account for the power and longevity of the Mysteries, and that the experiences must have been internal and mediated by a powerful psychoactive ingredient contained in the kykeon drink. (See "entheogenic theories" below.)

Following this section of the Mysteries was the Pannychis, an all-night feast accompanied by dancing and merriment. The dances took place in the Rharian Field
Rharian Field
The Rharian Field was located in Eleusis in Greece and was supposedly where the first plot of grain was grown after Demeter taught humanity agriculture. It was associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries....

, rumored to be the first spot where grain grew. A bull sacrifice also took place late that night or early the next morning. That day (22nd Boedromion), the initiates honored the dead by pouring libation
Libation
A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid as an offering to a god or spirit or in memory of those who have died. It was common in many religions of antiquity and continues to be offered in various cultures today....

s from special vessels.

On 23rd Boedromion, the Mysteries ended and everyone returned home.

Demise


In 170 AD, the Temple of Demeter was sacked by the Sarmatians
Sarmatians
The Iron Age Sarmatians were an Iranian people in Classical Antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD....

 but was rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was then allowed to become the only lay person to ever enter the anaktoron. As Christianity gained in popularity in the 4th and 5th centuries, Eleusis' prestige began to fade. Julian
Julian the Apostate
Julian "the Apostate" , commonly known as Julian, or also Julian the Philosopher, was Roman Emperor from 361 to 363 and a noted philosopher and Greek writer....

, the last pagan emperor of Rome, was also the last emperor to be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries.

The Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 emperor Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 closed the sanctuaries by decree in 392 AD. The last remnants of the Mysteries were wiped out in 396 AD, when Alaric
Alaric I
Alaric I was the King of the Visigoths from 395–410. Alaric is most famous for his sack of Rome in 410, which marked a decisive event in the decline of the Roman Empire....

, King of the Goths
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

, invaded accompanied by Christians "in their dark garments", bringing Arian
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

 Christianity and desecrating the old sacred sites. The closing of the Eleusinian Mysteries in the 4th century is reported by Eunapius
Eunapius
Eunapius was a Greek sophist and historian of the 4th century. His principal surviving work is the Lives of the Sophists, a collection of the biographies of twenty-three philosophers and sophists.-Life:He was born at Sardis, AD 347...

, a historian and biographer of the Greek philosophers. Eunapius had been initiated by the last legitimate Hierophant
Hierophant
A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy. The word comes from Ancient Greece, where it was constructed from the combination of ta hiera, "the holy," and phainein, "to show." In Attica it was the title of the chief priest at the...

, who had been commissioned by the emperor Julian
Julian the Apostate
Julian "the Apostate" , commonly known as Julian, or also Julian the Philosopher, was Roman Emperor from 361 to 363 and a noted philosopher and Greek writer....

 to restore the Mysteries, which had by then fallen into decay. According to Eunapius, the very last Hierophant was a usurper, "the man from Thespiae
Thespiae
Thespiae was an ancient Greek city in Boeotia. It stood on level ground commanded by the low range of hills which runs eastward from the foot of Mount Helicon to Thebes, near modern Thespies.-History:...

 who held the rank of Father in the mysteries of Mithras."

In art



There are many paintings and pieces of pottery that depict various aspects of the Mysteries. The Eleusinian Relief, from late 5th century BC, displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
National Archaeological Museum of Athens
The National Archaeological Museum in Athens houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistory to late antiquity. It is considered one of the great museums in the world and contains the richest collection of artifacts from Greek...

 is a representative example. Triptolemus is depicted receiving seeds from Demeter and teaching mankind how to work the fields to grow crops, with Persephone holding her hand over his head to protect him. Vases and other works of relief sculpture, from the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries BC, depict Triptolemus holding an ear of corn, sitting on a winged throne or chariot, surrounded by Persephone and Demeter with pine torches. The monumental Protoattic amphora from the middle of the 7th century BC, with the depiction of Medusa's beheading by Perseus
Perseus
Perseus ,Perseos and Perseas are not used in English. the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty of Danaans there, was the first of the mythic heroes of Greek mythology whose exploits in defeating various archaic monsters provided the founding myths of the Twelve Olympians...

 and the blinding of Polyphemos by Odysseus
Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

 and his companions on its neck, is kept in the Archaeological Museum of Eleusis which is located inside the archaeological site of Eleusis.

The Ninnion Tablet
Ninnion Tablet
The Ninnion Tablet, dated to approximately 370 BC, is a red clay tablet depicting the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries . It was rediscovered in Eleusis, Attica in 1895, and is kept in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.-Content:The tablet depicts Iacchus leading a procession of...

, found in the same museum, depicts Demeter, followed by Persephone and Iacchus, and then the procession of initiates. Then, Demeter is sitting on the kiste inside the Telesterion, with Persephone holding a torch and introducing the initiates. The initiates each hold a bacchoi. The second row of initiates were led by Iakchos, a priest who held torches for the ceremonies. He is standing near the omphalos
Omphalos
An omphalos is an ancient religious stone artifact, or baetylus. In Greek, the word omphalos means "navel" . According to the ancient Greeks, Zeus sent out two eagles to fly across the world to meet at its center, the "navel" of the world...

 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.

In Shakespeare's The Tempest
The Tempest
The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11, and thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place,...

, the masque
Masque
The masque was a form of festive courtly entertainment which flourished in 16th and early 17th century Europe, though it was developed earlier in Italy, in forms including the intermedio...

 that Prospero conjures to celebrate the troth-pledging of Miranda and Ferdinand echoes the Eleusinian Mysteries, although it uses the Roman names for the deities involved - Ceres, Iris, Dis and others - instead of the Greek. It is interesting that a play which is so steeped in esoteric imagery from alchemy
Alchemy
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

 and hermeticism
Hermeticism
Hermeticism or the Western Hermetic Tradition is a set of philosophical and religious beliefs based primarily upon the pseudepigraphical writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus...

 should draw on the Mysteries for its central masque sequence.

Entheogenic theories


Some scholars have proposed that the power of the Eleusinian Mysteries came from the kykeon
Kykeon
Kykeon was an Ancient Greek drink made mainly of water, barley and naturally occurring substances. It was used at the climax of the Eleusinian Mysteries to break a sacred fast, but it was also a favourite drink of Greek peasants.Kykeon is mentioned in Homeric texts: the Iliad describes it as...

's functioning as a psychedelic
Psychedelic
The term psychedelic is derived from the Greek words ψυχή and δηλοῦν , translating to "soul-manifesting". A psychedelic experience is characterized by the striking perception of aspects of one's mind previously unknown, or by the creative exuberance of the mind liberated from its ostensibly...

 agent. Use of potions or philtres for magical or religious purposes was relatively common in Greece and the ancient world. The initiates, sensitized by their fast and prepared by preceding ceremonies (see set and setting
Set and setting
Set and setting describes the context for psychoactive and particularly psychedelic drug experiences: one's mindset and the setting in which the user has the experience. This is especially relevant for psychedelic or hallucinogenic experiences...

), may have been propelled by the effects of a powerful psychoactive potion into revelatory mind states with profound spiritual and intellectual ramifications. In opposition to this idea, other pointedly skeptical scholars note the lack of any solid evidence and stress the collective rather than individual character of initiation into the Mysteries.

Many psychoactive agents have been proposed as the significant element of kykeon, though without consensus or conclusive evidence. They include a fungal
Fungus
A fungus is a member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds , as well as the more familiar mushrooms. These organisms are classified as a kingdom, Fungi, which is separate from plants, animals, and bacteria...

 parasite of barley, ergot
Ergot
Ergot or ergot fungi refers to a group of fungi of the genus Claviceps. The most prominent member of this group is Claviceps purpurea. This fungus grows on rye and related plants, and produces alkaloids that can cause ergotism in humans and other mammals who consume grains contaminated with its...

, which contains the alkaloids lysergic acid amide (LSA)
Ergine
Ergine, also known as d-lysergic acid amide , d-lysergamide, and LA-111, is an alkaloid of the ergoline family that occurs in various species of vines of the Convolvulaceae and some species of fungi...

, a precursor to LSD
LSD
Lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD or LSD-25, also known as lysergide and colloquially as acid, is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family, well known for its psychological effects which can include altered thinking processes, closed and open eye visuals, synaesthesia, an...

, and ergonovine
Ergonovine
Ergometrine , is an ergoline derivative, and one of the primary ergot and morning glory alkaloids...

. However, modern attempts to prepare a kykeon using ergot-parasitized barley have yielded inconclusive results, though Alexander Shulgin
Alexander Shulgin
Alexander "Sasha" Theodore Shulgin is an American pharmacologist, chemist, artist, and drug developer.Shulgin is credited with the popularization of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially for psychopharmaceutical use and the treatment of depression and...

 and Ann Shulgin
Ann Shulgin
Ann Shulgin is an American author and the wife of chemist Alexander Shulgin.Ann Shulgin grew up in the village Opicina outside the Italian city Trieste where her father was American Consul for six years before World War II. She has worked as a lay therapist with psychedelic substances such as MDMA...

 describe both ergonovine
Ergonovine
Ergometrine , is an ergoline derivative, and one of the primary ergot and morning glory alkaloids...

 and LSA
Ergine
Ergine, also known as d-lysergic acid amide , d-lysergamide, and LA-111, is an alkaloid of the ergoline family that occurs in various species of vines of the Convolvulaceae and some species of fungi...

 to be known to produce LSD-like effects.

Mushrooms are another candidate. Terence McKenna
Terence McKenna
Terence Kemp McKenna was an Irish-American philosopher, psychonaut, researcher, teacher, lecturer and writer on many subjects, such as human consciousness, language, psychedelic drugs, the evolution of civilizations, the origin and end of the universe, alchemy, and extraterrestrial beings.-Early...

 speculated that the mysteries were focused around a variety of Psilocybe
Psilocybe
Psilocybe is a genus of small mushrooms growing worldwide. This genus is best known for its species with psychedelic or hallucinogenic properties, widely known as "magic mushrooms", though the majority of species do not contain hallucinogenic compounds...

. Other entheogen
Entheogen
An entheogen , in the strict sense, is a psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context. Historically, entheogens were mostly derived from plant sources and have been used in a variety of traditional religious contexts...

ic plants, such as Amanita muscaria
Amanita muscaria
Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita , is a poisonous and psychoactive basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita...

, have also been suggested. A recent hypothesis suggests that the ancient Egyptians cultivated psilocybe on barley and associated it with Osiris.

Another candidate for the psychoactive drug is an opioid derived from the poppy. The cult of the goddess Demeter may have brought the poppy from Crete to Eleusis; it is certain that opium was produced in Crete.

Another theory is that the psychoactive agent in kykeon was an Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca is any of various psychoactive infusions or decoctions prepared from the Banisteriopsis spp. vine, usually mixed with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine-containing species of shrubs from the Psychotria genus...

 analog involving Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala), a shrub
Shrub
A shrub or bush is distinguished from a tree by its multiple stems and shorter height, usually under 5–6 m tall. A large number of plants may become either shrubs or trees, depending on the growing conditions they experience...

 which grows throughout the Mediterranean and also functions as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor
Monoamine oxidase inhibitor
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are a class of antidepressant drugs prescribed for the treatment of depression. They are particularly effective in treating atypical depression....

.

Yet another candidate is DMT
Dimethyltryptamine
N,N-Dimethyltryptamine is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound of the tryptamine family. DMT is found in several plants, and also in trace amounts in humans and other mammals, where it is originally derived from the essential amino acid tryptophan, and ultimately produced by the enzyme INMT...

, a psychoactive agent occurring in many wild plants of the Mediterranean, including Phalaris
Phalaris (grass)
Phalaris is a genus of grasses. Various species of Phalaris grow on every continent except Antarctica. They can be found in a broad range of habitats from below sea level to thousands of feet above sea level and from wet marshy areas to dry places. P. arundinacea and P...

and/or Acacia
Acacia
Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae, first described in Africa by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1773. Many non-Australian species tend to be thorny, whereas the majority of Australian acacias are not...

.

Indirect evidence in support of the entheogenic theory is that in 415 BC
415 BC
Year 415 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Tribunate of Cossus, Vibulanus, Volusus and Cincinnatus...

 Athenian aristocrat Alcibiades
Alcibiades
Alcibiades, son of Clinias, from the deme of Scambonidae , was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother's aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War...

 was condemned partly because he took part in an "Eleusinian mystery" in a private house.

Modern Interpretation


The annual Aquarian Tabernacle Church
Aquarian Tabernacle Church
The Aquarian Tabernacle Church, abbreviated as ATC, is a Wiccan church located in Index, Washington and is considered the first Wiccan church with full legal status and recognition by major governments, the United States, Canada and Australia. It was founded as a church by Pete "Pathfinder" Davis,...

 Spring Mysteries Festival is a 3 day Pan-Pagan festival, recreating the mysteries in modern day. The main focus of the Festival is the Ritual Drama. The ATC (Aquarian Tabernacle Church) presents a modern interpretation of the ancient Greek mystery drama of how the seasons came to be.

The original Eleusinian Mysteries were a mystery kept secret for almost three-thousand years and the basic story, as portrayed, is all that is available. In modern times the ATC is the only group performing these mysteries on a large scale, available for all who have always wished to experience their wonder, are able to.

The ritual takes place every Easter weekend at Fort Flagler State Park
Fort Flagler State Park
Fort Flagler State Park is a Washington state park on the site of Fort Flagler, a former United States Army fort at the northern end of Marrowstone Island. From Fort Flagler, visitors can see Port Townsend to the northwest, the cranes at the Navy base on Indian Island to the west, and Whidbey...

 in Washington.

See also

  • Persephone
    Persephone
    In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

  • Demeter
    Demeter
    In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons . Her common surnames are Sito as the giver of food or corn/grain and Thesmophoros as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society...

  • Cabeiri
    Cabeiri
    In Greek mythology, the Cabeiri, were a group of enigmatic chthonic deities. They were worshiped in a mystery cult closely associated with that of Hephaestus, centered in the north Aegean islands of Lemnos and possibly Samothrace —at the Samothrace temple complex— and at Thebes...

  • Dionysian Mysteries
    Dionysian Mysteries
    The Dionysian Mysteries were a ritual of ancient Greece and Rome which used intoxicants and other trance-inducing techniques to remove inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to return to a natural state. It also provided some liberation for those marginalized by Greek...

  • Orphism
    Orphism (religion)
    Orphism is the name given to a set of religious beliefs and practices in the ancient Greek and the Hellenistic world, as well as by the Thracians, associated with literature ascribed to the mythical poet Orpheus, who descended into Hades and returned...

  • Poppy goddess
    Poppy goddess
    The name poppy goddess was given to a large female figurine which is believed to represent a Minoan goddess, discovered in a sanctuary of the Post-palace period at Gazi of Crete.The teraccota figurine has raised hands and seeds of opium poppies on her head...


Sources

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    Loeb Classical Library
    The Loeb Classical Library is a series of books, today published by Harvard University Press, which presents important works of ancient Greek and Latin Literature in a way designed to make the text accessible to the broadest possible audience, by presenting the original Greek or Latin text on each...

    . Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press and London: William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. Vol. 1: ISBN 0-674-99135-4. Vol. 2: ISBN 0-674-99136-2.
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    Walter Burkert
    Walter Burkert is a German scholar of Greek mythology and cult.An emeritus professor of classics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, he also has taught in the United Kingdom and the United States...

    , Ancient Mystery Cults, Harvard University Press, 1987.
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    Eugene Goblet d'Alviella
    Eugène Félicien Albert, Count Goblet d'Alviella was a lawyer, liberal senator of Belgium and a Professor of the history of religions and rector of the Universite Libre de Bruxelles...

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    Karl Kerényi
    Károly Kerényi was a Hungarian scholar in classical philology, one of the founders of modern studies in Greek mythology.- Hungary 1897–1943 :...

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  • McKenna, Terence
    Terence McKenna
    Terence Kemp McKenna was an Irish-American philosopher, psychonaut, researcher, teacher, lecturer and writer on many subjects, such as human consciousness, language, psychedelic drugs, the evolution of civilizations, the origin and end of the universe, alchemy, and extraterrestrial beings.-Early...

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    Martin P. Nilsson
    Martin Persson Nilsson was a Swedish philologist, mythographer, and a scholar of the Greek, Hellenistic and Roman religious systems...

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  • Rohde, Erwin
    Erwin Rohde
    Erwin Rohde was one of the great German classical scholars of the 19th and early 20th centuries.Rohde was born in Hamburg and was the son of a doctor. Outside of antiquarian circles, Rohde is known today chiefly for his friendship and correspondence with fellow-philologist Friedrich Nietzsche...

    . Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks. trans. from the 8th edn. by W. B. Hillis, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1925; reprinted by Routledge, 2000. cf. Chapter 6, "The Eleusinian Mysteries".
  • Shulgin, Alexander
    Alexander Shulgin
    Alexander "Sasha" Theodore Shulgin is an American pharmacologist, chemist, artist, and drug developer.Shulgin is credited with the popularization of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially for psychopharmaceutical use and the treatment of depression and...

    , Ann Shulgin
    Ann Shulgin
    Ann Shulgin is an American author and the wife of chemist Alexander Shulgin.Ann Shulgin grew up in the village Opicina outside the Italian city Trieste where her father was American Consul for six years before World War II. She has worked as a lay therapist with psychedelic substances such as MDMA...

    . TiHKAL. Transform Press, 1997.
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    Carl A. P. Ruck
    Carl A. P. Ruck , is a professor in the Classical Studies department at Boston University. He received his B.A. at Yale University, his M.A. at the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. at Harvard University...

    , Hofmann, A.
    Albert Hofmann
    Albert Hofmann was a Swiss scientist known best for being the first person to synthesize, ingest and learn of the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide . He authored more than 100 scientific articles and a number of books, including LSD: My Problem Child...

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External links