Eleusinian Mystery Rituals

Home | Category: Religion / Religion and Gods


Eleusinian piglet carrier

Dudley Wright wrote: “ The Eleusinian Mysteries, observed by nearly all Greeks, but particularly by the Athenians, were celebrated yearly at Eleusis, though in the earlier annals of their history they were celebrated once in every three years only, and once in every four years by the Celeans, Cretans, Parrhasians, Pheneteans, Phliasians, and Spartans. It was the most celebrated of all the religious ceremonies of Greece at any period of the country's history, and was regarded as of such importance that the Festival is referred to frequently simply as "The Mysteries." The rites were guarded most jealously and carefully concealed from the uninitiated. If any person divulged any part of them he was regarded as having offended against the divine law, and by the act he rendered himself liable to divine vengeance. It was accounted unsafe to abide in the same house with him, and as soon as his offence was made public he was apprehended. Similarly, drastic punishment was meted out to any person not initiated into the Mysteries who chanced to be present at their celebration, even through ignorance or genuine error. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“The Mysteries were divided into two parts — the Lesser Mysteries and the Greater Mysteries. The Lesser Mysteries were said to have been instituted when Hercules, Castor, and Pollux expressed a desire to be initiated, they happening to be in Athens at the time of the celebration of the Mysteries by the Athenians in accordance with the ordinance of Demeter. Not being Athenians, they were ineligible for the honour of initiation, but the difficulty was overcome by Eumolpus, who was desirous of including in the ranks of the initiated a man of such power and eminence as Hercules, foreigner though he might be. The three were first made citizens, and then as a preliminary to the initiation ceremony as prescribed by the goddess, Eumolpus instituted the Lesser Mysteries, which then and afterwards became a ceremony preliminary to the Greater Mysteries, as they then became known, for candidates of alien birth. In later times this Lesser Festival, celebrated in the month of Anthesterion at the beginning of spring, at Agra, became a general preparation for the Greater Festival, and no persons were initiated into the Greater Mysteries until they had first been initiated into the Lesser. |~|

“With regard to Hercules, there is a legend that on a certain time Hercules wished to become a member of one of the secret societies of antiquity. He accordingly presented himself and applied in due form for initiation. His case was referred to a council of wise and virtuous men, who objected to his admission on account of some crimes which he had committed. Consequently he was rejected. Their words to him were: "You are forbidden to enter here; your heart is cruel, your hands are stained with crime. Go! repair the wrong you have done; repent of your evil doings, and then come with pure heart and clean hands, and the doors of our Mysteries shall be opened to you." The legend goes on to say that after his regeneration he returned and became a worthy member of the Order. |~|

“The Festival of the Greater Mysteries — and this was, of course, by far the more important — began on the 15th of the month of Boedromion, corresponding roughly with the month of September, and lasted until the 23rd of the same month. During that time it was unlawful to arrest any man present, or present any petition except for offences committed at the Festival, heavy penalties being inflicted for breaches of this law, the penalties fixed being a fine of not less than a thousand drachmas, and some assert that transgressors were even put to death. |~|

“From two inscriptions found at Eleusis it would appear that it was customary to make the name public after the death of the hierophant. It seems also to have been the practice to make the name known to the initiate under the pledge of secrecy. Sir James Frazer thinks that the names were, in all probability, engraved on tablets of bronze or lead and then thrown into deep water in the Gulf of Salamis.” |~|

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

Overseers of Eleusinian Mysteries

marble piglet

Dudley Wright wrote: “All arrangements for the proper celebration of the Mysteries, both Lesser and Greater, were in the hands of the families of Eumolpides and Keryces. These were ancient Eleusinian families, whose origin was traced back to the time when Eleusis was independent of Athens, and the former family survived as a priestly caste down to the latest period of Athenian history. Its member possessed the hereditary and the sole right to the secrets of the Mysteries. Hence the recognition by the State of the exclusive right and privilege of these families to direct the initiations and to provide each a half of the religious staff of the temple. The Eumolpides held so eminent a place in the Mysteries that Cicero mentions them alone, to the exclusion of the Keryces. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“Pausanias relates that, following a war between the Eleusinians and the Athenians, when Erectheus, King of Athens, conquered Immaradus, son of Eumolpus, the subdued Eleusinians, in making their submission, stipulated that they should remain custodians of the Mysteries, but in all other respects were to be subject to the Athenians. This tradition is disputed by more modern writers, but it was accepted by the Athenians and acted upon generally, and the right of the two families solely to prepare candidates for initiation was recognized by a decree of the fifth century B.C., the privilege being confirmed afterwards at a convention between the representatives of Eleusis and Athens. The Eumolpides were the descendants of a mythical ancestor, Eumolpus, son of Neptune, who is first mentioned in the time of Pisastrus. On the death of Eumolpus according to one legend, Ceryx, the younger of the sons, was left. But the Keryces claimed that Ceryx was a son of Hermes by Aglamus, daughter of Cecrops, and that he was not a son of Eumolpus. |~|

“The members of the family of Eumolpides had the first claim upon the flesh of the sacrificed animals, but they were permitted to give a portion to any one else as a reward or recompense for services rendered. But when a sacrifice was offered to any of the infernal divinities, the whole of it had to be consumed by the fire. Nothing must be left. All religious problems relating to the Mysteries which could not be solved by the known laws were addressed to the Eumolpides, whose decision was final.” |~|

Chief Eleusinian Mystery Official Must Have a Good Singing Voice

Dudley Wright wrote: “The meaning of the name "Eumolpus" is "a good singer," and great importance was attached to the quality of the voice in the selection of the hierophant, the chief officiant at the celebration of the Mysteries and at the ceremony of initiation, and who was selected from the family of the Eumolpides. It was essential that the formulæ disclosed to the initiates at Eleusis should be pronounced with the proper intonation, for otherwise the words would have no efficacy. Correct intonation was of far greater importance than syllabic pronunciation. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net. Wright wrote in about religion, supernormal phenomena and freemasonry. |~|]

“An explanation of this is given by Maspero, who says: "The human voice is pre-eminently a magical instrument, without which none of the highest operations of art can be successful: each of its utterances is carried into the region of the invisible and there releases forces of which the general run of people have no idea, either as to their existence or their manifold action. Without doubt, the real value of an evocation lies in its text, or the sequence of the words of which it is composed, and the tone in which it is enunciated. In order to be efficacious, the conjuration should be accompanied by chanting, either an incantation or a song. In order to produce the desired effect the sacramental melody must be chanted without the variation of a single modulation: one false note, one mistake in the measure, the introversion of any two of the sounds of which it is composed, and the intended effect is annulled. This is the reason why all who recite a prayer or formula intended to force the gods to perform certain acts must be of true voice. The result of their effort, whether successful or unsuccessful, will depend upon the exactness of their voice. It was the voice, therefore, which played the most important part in the oblation, in the prayer of definite request, and in the evocation — in a word, in every instance where man sought to seize hold of the god." |~|

“Apart from a "true voice" the words were merely dead sounds. The character of the voice plays an important part in many religions. The Vedas contain in them many invocations and hymns which no uninitiated Brahman can recite: it is only the initiate who knows their true properties and how to put them into use. Some of the hymns of the “Rig-Veda”, when anagrammatically arranged, will yield all the secret invocations which were used for magical purposes in the Brahmanical ceremonies. Some Parsees pay much attention to what is called “dzád dwá” or "free voice." It is recorded in Moslem tradition that a revelation came to the venerated Arabian prophet resembling "the tone of a bell." The effects which low, monotonous chanting produce on nervous people and children are well known. Even animals and serpents are amenable to the influence of sound.” |~|

Hierophant, the Eleusinian Mysteries Top Official

“The hierophant was a revealer of holy things. He was a citizen of Athens, a man of mature age, and held his office for life, devoting himself wholly to the service of the temple and living a chaste life, to which end it was usual for him to anoint himself with the juice of hemlock, which, by its extreme coldness, was said to extinguish in a great measure the natural heat. In the opinion of some writers celibacy was an indispensable condition of the highest branch of the priesthood; but, according to inscriptions which have been discovered, some at any rate of the hierophants were married, so that, in all probability, the rule was that during the celebration of the Mysteries and, probably, for a certain time before and after, it was incumbent on the hierophant to abstain from all sexual intercourse. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“ Foucart is of opinion that celibacy was demanded only during the celebration of the Mysteries, although Pausanias states definitely otherwise. In support of Foucart it may be stated that among the inscriptions discovered at Eleusis there is one dedicating a statue to a hierophant by his wife. It was essential that the hierophant should be a man of commanding presence and lead a simple life. On being raised to the dignity he received a kind of consecration at a special ceremony, at which only those of his own rank were permitted to be present, when he was entrusted with certain secrets pertaining to his high office. Prior to this ceremony he went through a special purificatory rite, immersing himself in the sea, an act to which the Greeks attributed great virtue. He had to be exemplary in his moral conduct, and was regarded by the people as being particularly holy.

votive relief dedicated to a hierophant

“The qualifications of a hierophant were so high that the office could not be regarded as hereditary, for it would have been an exception to find both father and son in possession of the many various and high qualifications regarded as essential to the holding of the office. The robe of the hierophant was a long purple garment; his hair, crowned with a wreath of myrtle, flowed in long locks over his shoulders, and a diadem ornamented his forehead. At the celebration of the Mysteries he was held to represent the Creator of the world. He alone was permitted to penetrate into the innermost shrine in the Hall of the Mysteries--the holy of holies, as it were--and then only once during the celebration of the Mysteries, when, at the most solemn moment of the whole mystic celebration, his form appeared suddenly to be transfigured with light before the rapt gaze of the initiated. He alone was permitted to reveal to the fully initiated the mystic objects, the sight of which marked the completion of their admission into the community. He had the power of refusing admission to those applicants whom he deemed unfit to be entrusted with the secrets. He was not inactive during the intervals between the celebrations of the Mysteries. It was his duty to superintend the instruction of the candidates for initiation, who for that purpose were divided into groups and instructed by officials known as mystagogues. The personal name of the hierophant was never mentioned. It was supposed to be unknown, "wafted away into the sea by the mystic law," and he was known only by the title of the office which he bore. |~|

“An interesting inscription was found some years ago at Eleusis, engraved on the base of a statue erected to a hierophant: "Ask not my name; the mystic rule (or packet) has carried it away into the blue sea. But when I reach the fated day, and go to the abode of the blest, then all who care for me will pronounce it." One of his sons had written below this inscription, after the death of the hierophant: "Now we, his children, reveal the name of the best of fathers, which, when alive, he hid in the depths of the sea. This is the famous Apollonius." There is extant an epigram by a female hierophant, which runs: "Let my name remain unspoken: on being shut off from the world when the sons of Cecrops made me hierophantide to Demeter, I myself hid it in the vasty depths." Eunapius, in “Vita Maxim”, says: "I may not tell the name of him who was then hierophant, for it was he who initiated me." The manner in which the name was committed to the sea was either by the immersion of the bearer or by writing the name on a leaden tablet, which was cast into the sea. The holy name, by which the hierophant was afterwards known, was derived from the name of some god or bore some ritualistic meaning. Sometimes the hierophant was known simply by the title of his office with the addition of his father's name. The rule as to the public mention of the former name of the hierophant was occasionally transgressed, and there is the instance of the atheistic philosopher Theodorus addressing a hierophant by his discarded name of Lacrateides, and also of Deinias, who was put into prison for the offence of addressing a hierophant by his discarded family name. |~|

“Lucian refers to this in one passage in “Lexiphanes”: "The first I met were a torch-bearer, a hierophant, and others of the initiated, haling Deinias before the judge, and protesting that he had called them by their names, though he well knew that, from the time of their sanctification, they were nameless, and no more to be named but by hallowed names." |~|

“In the Imperial Inscriptions we find the titles substituted for the proper names.[1] The hierophant was compelled to avoid contact with the dead in the same manner as the Cohanim of the Jewish faith, and with certain animals reputed to be unclean. Contact with any person from whom blood was issuing also caused impurity. He was assisted by a female hierophant, or hierophantide--an attendant upon the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. She also was selected from the family of the Eumolpides and was chosen for life. She was permitted to marry, and several inscriptions mention the names of children of hierophantides. On her initiation into this high degree she was brought forward naked to the side of a sacred font, in which her right hand was placed, the priest declaring her to be true and holy and dedicated to the service of the temple. The special duty of the female hierophant was to superintend the initiation of female aspirants, but she was present throughout the ceremony and played some part in the initiation of the male candidates. An inscription on the tomb of one hierophantide mentions to her glory that she had set the myrtle crown, the seal of mystic communion, on the heads of the illustrious initiates, Marcus Aurelius and his son, Commodus. Another gloried in the fact that she had initiated the Emperor Hadrian.” |~|

Other Eleusinian Mysteries Officials

Dudley Wright wrote: “Next in rank to the hierophant and hierophantide came the male and female dadouchos, who were taken from the family of the Keryces. They were the torch-bearers, and their duty consisted mainly in carrying the torches at the Sacred Festival. They also wore purple robes, myrtle crowns, and diadems. They were appointed for life, and were permitted to marry. The male dadouchos particularly was associated with the hierophant in certain solemn and public functions, such as the opening address to the candidates for initiation and in the public prayers for the welfare of the State. The office was frequently handed down from father to son. Until the first century B.C. the dadouchos was never addressed by his own personal name, but always by the title of his office.

“The hierocceryx, or messenger of holy tidings, was the representative of Hermes, or Mercury, who, as the messenger of the gods, was indispensable as mediator whenever men wished to approach the Immortals. He also wore a purple-coloured robe and a myrtle crown. He was chosen for life from the family of the Keryces. He made the necessary proclamations to the candidates for initiation into the various degrees, and in particular enjoined them to preserve silence. It was necessary for him to have passed through all the various degrees, as his duties necessitated his presence throughout the ceremonial. The phaidantes had the custody of the sacred statues and the sacred vessels, which they had to maintain in good repair. They were selected from one or other of the two sacerdotal families. |~|

“Among the other officials were: The liknophori, who carried the mystic fan; the hydranoi, who purified the candidates for initiation by sprinkling them with holy water at the commencement of the Festival; the spondophoroi, who proclaimed the sacred truce, which was to permit of the peaceful celebration of the Mysteries; the pyrphoroi, who brought and maintained the fire for the sacrifices; the hieraules, who played the flute during the time the sacrifices were being offered--they were the leaders of the sacred music, who had under their charge the hymnodoi, the hymnetriai; the neokoroi, who maintained the temples and the altars; the panageis, who formed a class between the ministers and the initiated. Then there were the "initiates of the altar," who performed expiatory rites in the name and in the place of all the initiated. There were also many other minor officials, by the general name of melissæ--i.e. bees, perhaps so-called because bees, being makers of honey, were sacred to Demeter. The diluvian priestesses and regenerated souls were called "bees." All these officials had to be of unblemished reputation, and wore myrtle crowns while engaged in the service of the temple. |~|

“The officials; whose duty it was to take care that the ritual was punctiliously followed in every detail, included nine archons, who were chosen every year to manage the affairs of Greece. The first of these was always the King, or Archon Basileus, whose duty at the celebration of the Mysteries it was to offer prayers and sacrifices, to see that no indecency or irregularity was committed during the Festival, and at the conclusion to pass judgment on all offenders. There were also four epimeletæ, or curators, elected by the people, one being appointed from the Eumolpides, another from the Keryces, and the remaining two from the rank and file of the citizens; and ten hieropoioi, whose duty it was to offer sacrifices. It may be worthy of remark here that Epimenides of Crete, who flourished about the year 600 B.C., is said by Diogenes Laertius, in his life of that philosopher, to have been the first to perform expiatory sacrifices and lustrations in fields and houses and to have been the first to erect temples for the purpose of sacrifice.” |~|

Rules Pertaining to the Eleusinian Mysteries

Boundary marker of the Eleusinian Way (520 BC)

Dudley Wright wrote: “The Athenians were pious in the extreme, and throughout the period that initiation was limited to that race the reputation of Eleusis was maintained, although pilgrims from various and remote parts of the world visited it at the season of the Mysteries. When the Eleusinian Mysteries were taken to Rome, as they were in the reign of Hadrian, they contracted impurities and degenerated into riot and vice; the spirituality of their teachings did not accompany the transference or it failed to be comprehended. Although the forms of initiation were still symbolical of the original and noble objects of the institution, the licentious Romans mistook the shadow for the substance, and while they passed through all the ceremonies they were strangers to the objects for which they were framed. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“In A.D. 364, a law prohibiting nocturnal rites was published by Valentinian, but Praetextatus, whom Julian had constituted governor of Achaia, prevailed on him to revoke it, urging that the lives of the Greeks would be rendered utterly unsupportable if he deprived them of this, their most holy and comprehensive festival. Much has been made by some writers of the fact that the ceremonies were held at night, but in the early days of Christianity also it was the custom for Christians to forgather either at night or before daybreak, a circumstance which led to their assemblies being known as “antelucani” and themselves as “lucifugæ” or "light-haters," by way of reproach. About the beginning of the fifth century Theodosius the Great prohibited and almost totally extinguished the pagan theology in the Roman Empire, and the Eleusinian Mysteries suffered in the general destruction. It is probable, however, that the Mysteries were celebrated secretly in spite of the severe edicts of Theodosius and that they were partly continued through the dark ages, though stripped of their splendour. It is certain that many rites of the pagan religion were performed under the dissembled name of convivial meetings, long after the publication of the Emperor's edicts, and Psellius informs us that the Mysteries of Ceres existed in Athens until the eighth century of the Christian era and were never totally suppressed.” |~|

Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries

Hades and Persephone

Dudley Wright wrote: “The ceremonies of the Lesser Mysteries were entirely different from those of the Greater Mysteries. The Lesser Mysteries represented the return of Persephone to earth — which, of course, took place at Eleusis; and the Greater Mysteries represented her descent to the infernal regions. The Lesser Mysteries honoured the daughter more than the mother, who was the principal figure in the greater Mysteries. In the Lesser Mysteries, Persephone was known as Pherrephatta, and in the Greater Mysteries she was given the name of Kore. Everything was, in fact, a mystery, and nothing was called by its right name. Lenormant says that it is certain that the initiated of the Lesser Mysteries carried away from Agra a certain store of religious knowledge which enabled them to understand the symbols and representations which were displayed afterwards before their eyes at the Greater Mysteries at Eleusis. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“The object of the Lesser Mysteries was to signify occultly the condition of the impure soul invested with a terrene body and merged in a material nature. The Greater Mysteries taught that he who, in the present life, is in subjection to his irrational part, is truly in Hades. If Hades, then, is the region of punishment and misery, the purified soul must reside in the region of bliss, theoretically, in the present life, and according to a deific energy in the next. They intimated by gorgeous mystic visions the felicity of the soul, both here and hereafter, when purified from the defilements of a material nature and consequently elevated to the realities of intellectual vision. |~|

“The Mysteries were supposed to represent in a kind of moral drama the rise and establishment of civil society, the doctrine of a state of future rewards and punishments, the errors of polytheism, and the Unity of the Godhead, which last article was afterwards demonstrated to be their famous secret. The ritual was produced from the sanctuary. It was enveloped in symbolical figures of animals which suggested a correspondence which was utterly inexplicable to the uninitiated. |~|

“K.O. Müller, in his “History of the Literature of Ancient Greece” says:- "All the Greek religious poetry treating of death and the world beyond the grave refers to the deities whose influence was supposed to be exercised in this dark region at the centre of the earth, and were thought to have little connection with the political and social relations of human life. These deities formed a class apart from the gods of Olympus and were comprehended under the name of the Chthenian gods (gods of the underworld). The mysteries of the Greeks were connected with the worship of those gods alone. That a love of immortality first found a support in a belief in these deities appears from the fable of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. Every year at the time of harvest, Persephone was supposed to be carried from the world above to the dark dominions of the invisible King of Shadows, and to return every spring in youthful beauty to the arms of her mother. It was thus that the ancient Greeks described the disappearance and return of vegetable life in the alternations of the seasons. The changes of Nature, however, must have been considerable in typifying the changes in the lot of man; otherwise Persephone would have been merely a symbol of the seed committed to the ground and would not have become queen of the dead. But when the goddess of inanimate nature had become queen of the dead, it was a natural analogy, which must have early suggested itself, that the return of Persephone to the world of light also denoted a renovation of life and a new birth in man. Hence the Mysteries of Demeter, and especially those celebrated at Eleusis, inspired the most elevated and animating hopes with regard to the condition of the soul after death." |~|

“No one was permitted to attend the Mysteries who had incurred the sentence of capital punishment for treason or conspiracy, but all other exiles were permitted to be present and were not molested in any way during the whole period of the Festival. No one could be arrested for debt during the holding of the Festival.” |~|

Lesser Mysteries Rituals

Eleusis Telesterion (Initiation Hall)

Dudley Wright wrote: “Scarcely anything is known of the programme observed during the course of the Lesser Mysteries. They were celebrated on the 19th to 21st of the month Anthesterion, and, like the Greater Mysteries, were preceded and followed by a truce on the part of all engaged in warfare. The same officials presided at both celebrations. The Lesser Mysteries opened with a sacrifice to Demeter and Persephone, a portion of the victims offered being reserved for the members of the sacred families of Eumolpus and Keryce. The main object of the Lesser Mysteries was to put the candidates for initiation in a condition of ritual purification, and, according to Clement of Alexandria, they included certain instructions and preparations for the Greater Mysteries. Like the Eleusinian Mysteries, properly so called, they included dramatic representations of the rape of Persephone and the wanderings of Demeter; in addition, according to Stephen Byzantium, to certain Dionysian representations. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“Two months before the full moon of the month of Boedromion, sphondophoroi or heralds, selected from the priestly families of the Eumolpides and Keryces, went forth to announce the forthcoming celebration of the Greater Mysteries, and to claim an armistice on the part of all who might be waging war. The truce commenced on the 15th of the month preceding the celebration of the Mysteries and lasted until the 10th day of the month following the celebration. In order to be valid the truce had to be proclaimed in and accepted by each Hellenic city. |~|

“The sacred symbols used in the ceremonies were enclosed in a special chamber in the Telestrion, or Hall of Initiation, known as the Anactoron, into which the hierophant alone had the right to penetrate. During the celebration of the Mysteries they were carried to Athens veiled and hidden from the gaze of the profane, whence they were taken back to Eleusis. It was permitted only to the initiated to look upon these "hiera," as they were called. These sacred objects were in the charge of the Eumolpides family. |~|

“Written descriptions, however graphic or eloquent, convey but a faint impression of the wonderful scenes that were enacted; Aristides says that what was seen rivalled anything that was heard. Another writer has declared: "Many a wondrous sight may be seen and not a few tales of wonder may be heard in Greece; but there is nothing on which the blessing of God rests in so full a measure as the rites of Eleusis and the Olympic games." For nine centuries — that period of time being divided almost equally between the pre-Christian and Christian eras — they were the Palladium of Greek Paganism. In the latter part of their history, when the restrictions as to admission began to be relaxed, and in proportion to that relaxation, their essential religious character disappeared, they became but a ceremony, their splendour being their principal attraction, until finally they degenerated into a mere superstition. Julian strived in vain to infuse new life into the vanishing cult, but it was too late — the Eleusinian Mysteries were dead.” |~|

First Day of the Greater Mysteries

Dudley Wright wrote: “The following is the programme of the "Greater Mysteries," which extended over a period of ten days. The various functions were characterized by the greatest possible solemnity and decorum, and the ceremonies were regarded as "religious" in the highest interpretation of that term. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“FIRST DAY. — The first day was known as the "Gathering," or the "Assembly," when all who had passed through the Lesser Mysteries assembled to assist in the celebration of the Greater Mysteries. On this day the Archon Basileus presided over all the cults of the city, and assembled the people at a place known as the Poikile Stoa. After the Archon Basileus, with four assistants, had offered up sacrifices and prayers for the welfare of Greece, the following proclamation was made by the Archon Basileus, wearing his robe of office: — |~|

“"Come, whoever is clean of all pollution and whose soul has not consciousness of sin. Come, whosoever hath lived a life of righteousness and justice. Come all ye who are pure of heart and of hand, and whose speech can be understood. Whosoever hath not clean hands, a pure soul, and an intelligible voice must not assist at the Mysteries." |~|

“The people were then commanded by the hierophant to wash their hands in consecrated water, and the impious were threatened with the punishment set forth in the law if they were discovered, but especially, and this in any case, with the implacable anger of the gods. The hierocceryx then impressed upon all the duty of observing the most rigid secrecy with respect to what they might witness, and bade them to be silent throughout the ceremonies, and not utter even an exclamation. The candidates for initiation assembled outside the temple, each under the guidance and direction of the mystagogue, who repeated these instructions to the candidates. Once within the sacred enclosure all the initiates were subject to a purification by fire ceremonial. All wore regalia special to the occasion. This is evident from the wording of inscriptions which have been discovered, but particulars of the regalia are wanting. We know that extravagant and costly dresses were regarded by Demeter with disfavour, and that it was forbidden to wear such in the temple. Jewellery, gold ornaments, purple-coloured belts, and embroideries were also barred, as were robes and cloths of mixed colours. The hair of women had to fall down loose upon the shoulders, and must not be in plaits or coiled upon the head. No woman was permitted to use cosmetics.” |~|

Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Days of the Greater Mysteries

Dudley Wright wrote: “SECOND DAY. — The second day was known as “Halade Mystæ”, or "To the sea, ye mystæ," from the command which greeted all the initiates to go and purify themselves by washing in the sea, or in the salt water of the two consecrated lakes, called Rheiti, on what was known as "The Sacred Way." The priests had the exclusive right of fishing in these lakes. A procession was formed, in which all joined and made their way to the sea or the lakes, where they bathed and purified themselves. This general purification was akin to that practised to this day by the Jews at the beginning of the Jewish year. The day was consecrated to Saturn, into whose province the soul is said to fall in the course of its descent from the tropic of Cancer. Capella compares Saturn to a river, voluminous, sluggish, and cold. The planet signifies pure intellect, and Pythagoras symbolically called the sea a tear of Saturn. The bathing was preceded by a confession, and the manner in which the bathing was carried out and the number of immersions varied with the degree of guilt which each confessed. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“According to Suidas, those who had to purify themselves from murder plunged into salt water on two separate occasions, immersing themselves seven times on each occasion. On returning from the bath all were regarded as "new creatures," the bath being regarded as a laver of regeneration, and the initiates were clothed in a plain fawn-skin or a sheep-skin. The purification, however, was not regarded as complete until the following day, when there was added the sprinkling of the blood of a pig sacrificed. Each had carried to the river or lake a little pig, which was also purified by bathing, and on the next day this pig was sacrificed. The pig was offered because it was very pernicious to cornfields. On the Eleusinian coinage the pig, standing on a torch placed horizontally, appears as the sign and symbol of the Mysteries. On this day also some of the initiated submitted to a special purification near the altar of Zeus Mellichios on the Sacred Way. For each person whom it was desired to purify an ox was sacrificed to Zeus Mellichios, the infernal Zeus, the skin of the animal was laid on the ground by the dadouchos, and the one who was the object of the lustration remained there squatting on the left foot. |~|

“THIRD DAY. — On the third day pleasures of every description, even the most innocent, were strictly forbidden, and every one fasted till nightfall, when they partook of seed cakes, parched corn, salt, pomegranates, and sacred wine mixed with milk and honey. The Archon Basileus, assisted again by the four epimeletæ, celebrated, in the presence of representatives from the allied cities, the great sacrifice of the Soteria for the well-being of the State, the Athenian citizens, and their wives and children. This ceremony took place in the Eleusinion at the foot of the Acropolis. The day was known as the Day of Mourning, and was supposed to commemorate Demeter's grief at the loss of Persephone. The sacrifices offered consisted chiefly of a mullet and of barley out of Rharium, a field of Eleusis. The oblations were accounted so sacred that the priests themselves were not permitted, as was usual in other offerings, to partake of them. At the conclusion of the general ceremony each one individually sacrificed the little pig purified in the sea the night before. |~|

“The hog of propitiation offered to Frey was a solemn sacrifice in the North of Europe and in Sweden, down to modern times, the custom has been preserved by baking, on Christmas Eve, a loaf or cake in the form of a hog. |~|

“FOURTH DAY. — The principal event of the fourth day was a solemn procession, when the holy basket of Ceres (Demeter) was carried in a consecrated cart, the crowds of people shouting as it went along, "Hail, Ceres!" The rear end of the procession was composed of women carrying baskets containing sesamin, carded wool, grains of salt, corn, pomegranates, reeds, ivy boughs, cakes known as poppies, and sometimes serpents. One kind of these cakes was known as "ox-cakes"; they were made with little horns and dedicated to the moon. Another kind contained poppy seeds. Poppy was used in the ceremonies because it was said that some grains of poppy were given to Demeter upon her arrival in Greece to induce sleep, which she had not enjoyed from the time of the abduction of Persephone. Demeter is invariably represented in her statues as being very rotund, crowned with ears of corn, and holding in her hand a branch of poppy. |~|

“FIFTH DAY. — The fifth day was known as the Day of Torches, from the fact that at nightfall all the initiates walked in pairs round the temple of Demeter at Eleusis, the dadouchos himself leading the procession. The torches were waved about and changed from hand to hand, to represent the wanderings of the goddess in search of her daughter when she was conducted by the light of a torch kindled in the flames of Etna.” |~|

Sixth Day of the Greater Mysteries

“SIXTH DAY. — Iacchos was the name given to the sixth day of the Festival. The "fair young god," Iacchos, or Dionysos, or Bacchus, was the son of Jupiter and Ceres, and accompanied the goddess in her search for Persephone. He also carried a torch, hence his statue has always a torch in the hand. This statue, together with other sacred objects, were taken from the Iacchion, the sanctuary of Iacchos in Athens, mounted on a heavy rustic four-wheeled chariot drawn by bulls, and, accompanied by the Iacchogogue and other magistrates nominated for the occasion, conveyed from the Kerameikos, or Potter's Quarter, to Eleusis by the Sacred Way in solemn procession. It was on this day that the solemnity of the ceremonial reached its height. The statue, as well as the people accompanying it, were crowned with myrtle, the people dancing all the way along the route, beating brass kettles and playing instruments of various kinds and singing sacred songs. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“Halts were made during the procession at various shrines, at the site of the house of Phytalus, who, it was said, received the goddess into his house, and, according to an inscription on his tomb, she requited him by revealing to him the culture of the fig; particularly at a fig-tree which was regarded as sacred, because it had the renown of being planted by Phytalus; also upon a bridge built over the river Cephissus, by the side of which Pluto descended into Hades with Persephone, where the bystanders made themselves merry at the expense of the pilgrims. At each of the shrines sacrifices and libations were offered, hymns sung, and sacred dances performed. Having passed the bridge, the people entered Eleusis by what was known as the Mystical Entrance. Midnight had set in before Eleusis was reached, so that a great part of the journey had to be accomplished by the light of the torches carried by each of the pilgrims, and the nocturnal journey was spoken of as the "Night of Torches" by many ancient authors. The pitch and resin of which the torches were composed were substances supposed to have the virtue of warding off evil spirits. |~|

“The barren mountains of the Pass of Daphni and the surface of the sea resounded with the chant, "Iacchos, O Iacchos!" At one of the halts the Croconians, descendants of the hero Crocon, who had formerly reigned over the Thriasian Plain, fastened a saffron band on the right arm and left foot of each one in the procession. Iacchos was always regarded as a child of Demeter, inasmuch as the vine grows out of the earth. Various symbols were carried by the people, who numbered sometimes as many as from thirty to forty thousand. These symbols consisted of winnowing fans — the "Mystic Fan of Iacchos," plaited reeds and baskets, both relating to the worship of the goddess and her son. The fan, or van, as it was sometimes called, was the instrument that separates the wheat from the chaff, and was regarded also as an emblem of the power which separates the virtuous from the wicked. In the ancient paintings by Bellori two persons are represented as standing by the side of the initiate. One is the priest who is performing the ceremony, who is represented as in a devout posture, and wearing a veil, the old mark of devotion, while another is holding a fan over the head of the candidate. In some of the editions of Southey's translation of the “Æneid” the following lines appear: Now learn what arms industrious peasants wield
To sow the furrow's glebe, and clothe the field:
The share, the crooked plough's strong beam, the wain
That slowly rolls on Ceres to her fane:
Hails, sleds, light osiers, and the harrow's load,
The hurdle, and “the mystic van of God.” |~|

“The distance covered by the procession was twenty-two kilometres, but Lycurgus ordered that if any woman should ride in a chariot to Eleusis she should be mulcted in a fine of 8,000 drachmas. This was to prevent the richer women from distinguishing themselves from their poorer sisters. Strange to relate, the wife of Lycurgus was the first to break this law, and Lycurgus himself had to pay the fine which he had ordained. He not only paid the penalty, but gave a talent to the informer. Immediately upon the deposit of the sacred objects in the Eleusinion, at the foot of the Acropolis, one of the Eleusinian priests solemnly announced their arrival to the priestess of the tutelary goddess of Athens — Pallas Athene. Plutarch, in commenting upon lucky and unlucky days, says that he is aware that unlucky things happen sometimes on lucky days, for the Athenians had to receive a Macedonian garrison "even on the 20th of Boedromion, the day on which they led forth the mystic Iacchos."” |~|

Eleusinian-themed sculptures from the Parthenon

Seventh Day of the Greater Mysteries

Dudley Wright wrote: “SEVENTH DAY. — On the seventh day the statue was carried back to Athens. The return journey was also a solemn procession, and attended with numerous ceremonies. Halts were again made at several places, like the "stations" of Roman Catholic pilgrimages, when the inhabitants also fell temporarily into line with the procession. For those who remained behind at Eleusis the time was devoted to sports, the combatants appearing naked, and the victors were rewarded with a measure of barley, it being a tradition that that grain was first sown in Eleusis. It was also regarded as a day of solemn preparation by those who were to be initiated on the following night. The return journey was conducted with the same splendour as the outward journey. It comprised comic incidents, the same as on the previous day. Those who awaited the procession at the bridge over the Athenian river Cephisson exchanged all kinds of chaff and buffoonery with those who were in the procession, indulging in what was termed "bridge fooling." These jests, it is said, were to recall the tactful measures employed by a maidservant named Iambe to rouse Demeter from her prolonged sorrowing. There is a strange contradiction in the various statements made by the ancient writers as to what was permissible and what was forbidden during the ceremonies. Demeter, when in search of her daughter, broke down with fatigue at Eleusis, where she sat down on a well, overwhelmed with grief. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

It was strictly forbidden to any of the initiated to sit down on this well lest it should appear that they were mimicking the weeping goddess. Yet the mimicking of the jests of Iambe were part of the ceremonial of the Mysteries. According to the ancient writers the "jests," so-called, would be regarded to-day as in bad taste. Having thus spoken, she drew aside her garments
And showed all that shape of the body which it is
improper to name — the growth of puberty.
And with her own hand Iambe stripped herself under the breasts.
Blandly then the goddess laughed and laughed in her mind,
And received the glancing cup in which was the draught. |~|

“During the Peloponnesian war the Athenians were unable to obtain an armistice from the Lacedæmonians who held Decelea, and it became necessary to send the statue of Iacchos and the processionists to Eleusis by sea. Plutarch says: "Under these conditions it was necessary to omit the sacrifices usually offered all along the road during the passing of Iacchos."” |~|

Eighth Day of the Greater Mysteries

Dudley Wright wrote: “EIGHTH DAY. — The eighth day was called Epidaurion, because it happened once that Æsculapius, coming from Epidaurius to Athens, desired to be initiated, and had the Lesser Mysteries repeated for that purpose. It therefore became customary to celebrate the Lesser Mysteries a second time upon this day, and to admit to initiation any such approved candidates who had not already enjoyed the privilege. There was also another reason for the repetition of the initiatory rites then. The eighth day was regarded as symbolical of the soul falling into the lunar orbi, and the repeated initiation, the second celebration of that sacred rite, was symbolical of the soul bidding adieu to everything of a celestial nature, sinking into a perfect oblivion of her divine origin and pristine felicity, and rushing profoundly into the region of dissimilitude, ignorance, and error. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“The day opened with a solemn sacrifice offered to Demeter and Persephone, which took place within the peribolus. The utmost precision had to be observed in offering this sacrifice as regarding the age, colour, and sex of the victim, the chants, perfumes, and libations. The acceptance or rejection of a sacrifice was indicated by the movements of the animal as it approached the altar, the vivacity of the flame, the direction of the smoke, etc. If these signs were not favourable in the case of the first victim offered, other animals must be slain until one presented itself in which all the signs were favourable. The flesh of the animal offered was not allowed to be taken outside the sacred precincts, but had to be consumed within the building.

goddess votive box

The following is said to have been an Invocation used during the celebration of the Mysteries:
Daughter of Jove, Persephone divine,
Come, blessed queen, and to these rites incline;
Only-begotten, Pluto's honoured wife,
O venerable goddess, source of life:
'Tis thine in earth's profoundities to dwell,
Fast by the wide and dismal gates of hell.
Jove's holy offering, of a beauteous mien,
Avenging goddess, subterranean queen.
The Furies' source, fair-hair'd, whose frame proceeds
From Jove's ineffable and secret seeds.
Mother of Bacchus, sonorous, divine,
And many form'd, the parent of the vine.
Associate of the Seasons, essence bright,
All-ruling virgin, bearing heav'nly light.
With fruits abounding, of a bounteous mind,
Horn'd, and alone desir'd by those of mortal kind.
O vernal queen, whom grassy plains delight,
Sweet to the smell, and pleasing to the sight:
Whose holy forms in budding fruits we view,
Earth's vig'rous offspring of a various hue:
Espous'd in autumn, life and death alone
To wretched mortals from thy pow'r is known:
For thine the task, according to thy will,
Life to produce, and all that lives to kill.
Hear, blessed Goddess, send a rich increase
Of various fruits from earth, with lovely Peace;
Send Health with gentle hand, and crown my life
With blest abundance, free from noisy strife;
Last in extreme old age the prey of death,
Dismiss me willing to the realms beneath,
To thy fair palace and the blissful plains
Where happy spirits dwell, and Pluto reigns.” |~|

Ninth and Tenth Days of the Greater Mysteries

Dudley Wright wrote: “NINTH DAY. — The ninth day was known as the Day of Earthen Vessels, because it was the custom on that day to fill two jugs with wine. One was placed towards the East and the other towards the West, and after the repetition of certain mystical formulæ both were overthrown, the wine being spilt upon the ground as a libation. The first of these formulæ was directed towards the sky as a prayer for rain, and the second to the earth as a prayer for fertility. The words used by the hierophant to denote the termination of the celebration of the Mysteries-“Conx Om Pax”: "Watch and do no evil" — are said to have been Egyptian, and were the same as those used at the conclusion of the Mysteries of Isis. This fact is sometimes used as an argument in favour of the Egyptian origin of the Eleusinian Mysteries. [Source: “The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’ by Dudley Wright (1868-1949), Theosophical Publishing House. 1919, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.net, |~|]

“TENTH DAY. — On the tenth day the majority of the people returned to their homes, with the exception of every third and fifth year, when they remained behind for the Mystery Plays and Sports, which lasted from two to three days. |~|

marble votive with female genitalia

“The Eleusinian Games are described by the rhetorician Aristides as the oldest of all Greek games. They are supposed to have been instituted as a thank-offering to Demeter and Persephone at the conclusion of the corn harvest. From an inscription dating from the latter part of the third century B.C. sacrifices were offered to Demeter and Persephone at these games. They included athletic and musical contests, a horse race, and a competition which bore the name of the Ancestral or the Hereditary Contest, the nature of which is not known, but which it is thought may have had its origin in a contest between the reapers on the sacred Rharian plain to see which should first complete his allotted task. |~|

“The ancient sanctuary in which the Mysteries were celebrated was burnt by the Persians in 480 or 479 B.C., and a new sanctuary was built — or, at least, begun — under the administration of Pericles. Plutarch says that Corcebus began the Temple of Initiation at Eleusis, but only lived to finish the lower rank of columns with their architraves; Metagenes, of the ward of Xypete, added the rest of the entablature and the upper row of columns, and that Xenocles of Cholargus built the dome on the top. The long wall, the building of which Socrates says he heard Pericles propose to the people, was undertaken by Callicrates. Cratinus satirized the work as proceeding very slowly:m”Stone upon stone the orator has pil'd/ With swelling words, but words will build no walls.” |~|

“According to some writers the Temple was planned by Tetinus, the architect of the Parthenon, and Pericles was merely the overseer of the building. We are told by Vitruvius that the Temple at Eleusis consisted at first of one cell of vast magnitude, without columns, though it was probable that it was meant to be surrounded in the customary manner; a prostyle, however, only was added, and that not until the time of Demetrius Phalereus, some ages after the original structure was erected. It is probable that the uncommon magnitude of the cell, added to the various and complicated rites of initiation to the Eleusinian Mysteries, of which it was the scene, prevented its being a peristyle, the expense of which would have been enormous. The Temple was one of the largest of the sacred edifices of Greece. Its length was 68 metres, its breadth 54,66 metres and its superficial area 3716,88 square metres. The monumental altar of sacrifice was placed in front of the facade, close by the eastern angle of the enclosure. According to Virgil the words "Far hence, O be ye far hence, ye profane ones," were inscribed over the main portal. |~|

“In the fourth century of the Christian era the Temple of Eleusis was destroyed by the Goths, at the instigation of the monks, who followed the hosts of Alaric. The revenues from the celebrations must have been considerable. At both the Lesser Mysteries and the Greater Mysteries a charge of one obole a day was demanded from each one attending, which was given to the hierophant. The hierocceryx received a half-obole a day, and other assistants a similar sum. In current coinage an obole was of the value of a fraction over 1 1/4d.” |~|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: 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 ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.