►Greek Mythology: “The Eleusinian Mysteries”:
The Eleusinian Mysteries are related to a greek religious festival held each year at Eleusis, fourteen miles northwest of Athens. It was celebrated in honor of the grain and fertility goddess Demeter (whose name means “spelt mother” being “spelt” is a variety of wheat.)
The festivity took place each year, when it was time for the crops to be sown, in the month of Boedromion (September).
It all stems from the myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone.
Demeter was the Greek Goddess of the Harvest, while Persephone was the Goddess of wheats.
The conflict was originated when Hades, God of the Underworld, abducted Persephone and took her down into the underworld.
After that, Demeter searched the world looking for her daughter, and while doing this, she neglected her duties and let the earth go barren.
As she couldn’ t find her, she finally decided to rest by a well in the city of Eleusis.
There, disguised as an old woman, she cared for the queen’s son, baptizing him nightly in fire so that he would be immortal.
Demeter later on taught the queen’s son, who was called Triptolemos, the art of agriculture.
As a reward for having protected the prince Triptolemos, eleusian citizens began to build a temple in their city, as a tribute to Demeter.
Demeter’s attempts to find her daughter were in vain. Besides Demeter’s grief, and plants were dried, the crops died and the earth turn out into something sterile
The gods were worried and Zeus, who had witnessed the abduction, finally intervened.
He did by persuading his brother, Hades to return Persephone to her mother. Hades agreed but before that he made sure to tricked Persephone into eating some pomegranate seeds and, if one ate in the land of the dead, one remained with the dead.
As she had only eaten some, however, it was agreed she would spend half the year with Hades in the underworld and half with her mother on earth.
That’s why while Demeter remained on earth with her mother Demeter, she caused the world to be fruitful while when she was in the underworld with Hades, the plants withered and died; thus the seasons were explained.
Another interesting detail is that when Persephone was abducted by Hades in the underworld, her name was changed to Kore. When she emerged from the underworld she recovered her original name, Persephone (“she who brings doom”).-
•The Ceremonies: The Mysteries began with the march of the mystai (initiates) in solemn procession from Athens to Eleusis. The rites that they then performed in the Telesterion, or Hall of Initiation, were and remain a secret.
Those who were to be initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries had to go through preliminary rites of purification and instruction before they would be allowed to participate in the final revelations at Eleusis.
The mysteries were divided into the Lesser and Greater mysteries.
The Lesser mysteries were preparatory to the Greater, involving purifications and perhaps some instruction or other rites, and they were celebrated near Athens, in the month of Anthesterion (March).
The initial stages involved physical rites which were preparatory for the spiritual rites at Eleusis After a series of further ritual actions, the initiate was ready for the myesis, the first level of initiation.
The Greater Mysteries began on 14th Boedromion (September/October), when the “sacred things,” carried in baskets, were brought from Eleusis to Athens by the Eleusinian priestesses escorted by epheboi (young Athenians of military age). The following day, the hierophant opened the festival, making an announcement (prorrhesis) that those “who are not of pure hands or speak an incomprehensible tongue,” that is, those stained by human blood and non-Greek speaking barbarians, were not permitted to participate. Other than these exclusions, anyone–including slaves, foreigners, men and women–could participate in the mysteries. A procession, named the Sacred Way , began at Athens on the morning of 19th of Boedromion and ended that evening in Eleusis.
Priestesses brought back the sacred things, with a procession of dancing and chanting initiates, perhaps almost in state of ecstasy
Only the initiates were allowed to proceed further into the cult area, which was dedicated to Hades. The mysteries took place in the Telestrion, a large building which could hold a few thousand people. The only ones permitted to enter were the mystai, those entering for the first time, and the epoptai, for whom it would be at least their second experience.
•Literary Sources and Philosophical Notes:
The mythical basis for many of the mystery rites are accounted for in the “Hymn to Demeter”, which is part of the Homeric Hymns collection of poems
Those ones are thirty-three anonymous ancient greek Hymns celebrating individual gods. The hymns are “Homeric” in the sense that they employ the same epic meter as “the Iliad“, use many similar formulas and are couched in the same dialect.
In Plato’s dialogue “The Symposium” he overtly establishes an analogy to the mysteries at Eleusis near the end of Diotima’s speech (as relayed by Socrates), when he has her say that “even you, Socrates, could probably come to be initiated [myētheiēs] into these rites of love [erōtika]. But as for the purpose of these rites when they are done correctly–that is the final and highest mystery” (209e-210a).
►Gallery: “The Eleusinian Mysteries, held in honor of the grain and fertility goddess Demeter”: