The Eleusinian Mysteries refers to an annual ritual devoted
to the goddess of the grain and the harvest, Demeter. It is centered in
Eleusis, a town approximately ten-fifteen miles southwest of Athens. The
celebration is so old that some scholars believed it to be an Egyptian
import, a thesis largely discredited today. But it definitely was already
flourishing in Eleusis during the Myceneanian period. Michael
Ventris also discovered a goddess name „Dameter“ written in Linear
B on a tablet in Pylos, from the thirteenth-century BCE.
|The association between the harvest and the descent into
the underworld that characterizes any Demeter cult is explained in the
Hymn to Demeter. Demeter had a daughter, Persephone, whom she dearly
loved. One day while the two of them were not together, Pluto carried Persphone
off to Hades with him. Demeter searched everywhere. When she discovered
where her daughter was and that the kidnapping had been approved by the
Olympian gods, Demeter abandoned Olympus for earth, where she lived disguised
as an old peasant woman, by a well in the town of Eleusis. The story goes
on and on but in any event, when she was accidentally discovered she revealed
herself as a goddess and commanded the people of Eleusis to build a temple
Eventually Demeter was able to get other Gods to persuade
Pluto to let Persephone to return from Hades. But before she left he got
her to eat a pomegranite seed. If any living entity in Hades eats and food
at all while there, this will compell them t return to Hades at least part
of teh year. It was arranged that Persephone would live with her
mother for two thirds of the year, but one third (winter) she wold reside
in the underworld. This is why Demeter makes spring colorful and why she
keeps flowers from blooming and crops from growing in winter. Demeter then
taught certain people of Eleusis her mysteries and commanded them
to perform a celebration in hnor of her and Persephone in mid-autumn. This
was the beginning mythically of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The ritual brought
devout participants from all over Greece to Eleusis for nine days every
year, beginning in late September. Each day had specific ritualls to perform
and secret initiations to undergo, etc. Initates were solemnly sworn to
secrecy about the details of the Mysteries, and anyone divulging secrets
to the uninitated could be sentenced to death. The secrets were kept so
well, that even today what the Mysteries looked like and what was actually
done can only be conjectured.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were open to any willing participant
who spoke Greek and had not shed blood prior to the ceremonies. Someone
who had shed blood could be purified beforehand by the Torchbearer, the
Dadouchos. The ceremonies were presided over by a Hierophant and the High
Priestess of Demeter. The former was the only person who could physically
enter the Anaktoron, the storehouse of the secret objects of adoration,
the Heira. A newcomer to the Mysteries was assignedd a sponsor who
taught the newcomer what to do and the basic significance of each rituatl.
The newcomers would be a mystes and the sponsor a mystagogos. If the mystes
returned the next year this was rewarded with an upgrade in rank to epoptes.
The Heirophant was attended by two women called Hierophantides. And
the procession itself was in some way the responsiblity of celibate priestesses
whos offiial title was Panageis Priestess, but were referred to as „bees“
perhaps to keep their fucntion and/or significance obscure to outsiders.
After about five days of processions, purifications, pig
sacrifices, fasted until evening when they drank something called a Kykeon,
a kind of water-gruel beverage spiked with wild mint leaves.
At ths point the initiates proceeded to the Telesterion,
the holy-of-holy enclosed grounds that kept the rest of he mysteries a
At the entrance to the Telesterion, the initate had to recite
the synthema, a mystical formula password to be admitted. According to
one of the Barbarian observers, Clement of Alexandria, the Synthema was
something like: „I fasted, I drank the kykeon, I took something from the
kiste reliquary. I performed my work, I placed something in the basket,
and took it from the basket and placed it in the kiste reliquary. [Clement
of Alexandria, Protreptikos II.18].
Clement also maintained that the Mysteries were tripartite:
„What is shown“ or ritual revelation of the secret objects – this is the
middle name I gave Jane
part of her long official name on her pedigree. [Her name was Kerrigan’s
Bryher Deiknumena of Syntax.]
– „What is said“
– „What is performed.“
Hymn to Demeter
Introduction to this Lexicon
The Phaedrus – Table of Contents
Introduction to this Kit
All of Plato’s Dialogues and Letters on Line
Who Was Socrates?
Who Was Plato?
Who Was Lysias?
Who were the sophists
From the Life of Alcibiades
What were the Eleusinian Mysteries?
On line Resources
How I teach
Critical Precision – a Mini-Manifesto
Preface to cliff hanger notes
Cliff Hanger Notes
A Greek Lexicon selected
and prepared for Dr.
Thomas A. Sattler, for no apparent reason, by Earl