The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites
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Pages (PDF): 64
Publication Date: 1919
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The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiations held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. Chapters include: The Eleusinian Legend; The Ritual Of The Mysteries; Programme Of The Greater Mysteries; The Initiatory Rites; and, Their Mystical Significance.
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The legend which formed the basis of the Mysteries of Eleusis, presence at and participation in which demanded an elaborate form or ceremony of initiation, was as follows:—
Persephone (sometimes described as Proserpine and as Cora or Kore), when gathering flowers, was abducted by Pluto, the god of Hades, and carried off by him to his gloomy abode; Zeus, the brother of Pluto and the father of Persephone, giving his consent. Demeter (or Ceres), her mother, arrived too late to assist her child, or even catch a glimpse of her seducer, and neither god nor man was able, or willing, to enlighten her as to the whereabouts of Persephone or who had carried her away. For nine nights and days she wandered, torch in hand, in quest of her child. Eventually, however, she heard from Helios (the sun) the name of the seducer and his accomplice. Incensed at Zeus, she left Olympos and the gods, and came down to scour the earth disguised as an old woman.
In the course of her wanderings she arrived at Eleusis, where she was honourably entertained by Keleos, the ruler of the country, with whom, and his wife Metanira, she consented to remain in order to watch over the education of Demophon, who had just been born to the aged king and whom she undertook to make immortal.
Long was thy anxious search
For lovely Proserpine, nor didst thou break
Thy mournful fast, till the far-fam'd Eleusis
Received thee wandering.
The city of Eleusis is said to derive its name from the hero Eleusis, a fabulous personage deemed by some to have been the offspring of Mercury and Daira, daughter of Oceanus, while by others he was claimed as the son of Oxyges.
Unknown to the parents Demeter used to anoint Demophon by day with ambrosia, and hide him by night in the fire like a firebrand. Detected one night by Metanira, she was compelled to reveal herself as Demeter, the goddess. Whereupon she directed the Eleusinians to erect a temple as a peace-offering, and, this being done, she promised to initiate them into the form of worship which would obtain for them her goodwill and favour. "It is I, Demeter, full of glory, who lightens and gladdens the hearts of gods and men. Hasten ye, my people, to raise, hard by the citadel, below the ramparts, a fane, and on the eminence of the hill, an altar, above the wall of Callichorum. I will instruct you in the rites which shall be observed and which are pleasing to me."
The temple was erected, but Demeter was still vowing vengeance against gods and men, and because of the continued loss of her daughter she rendered the earth sterile during a whole year.
What ails her that she comes not home?
Demeter seeks her far and wide;
And gloomy-browed doth ceaseless roam
From many a morn till eventide.
"My life, immortal though it be,
Is naught!" she cries, "for want of thee,
The oxen drew the plough, but in vain was the seed sown in the prepared ground. Mankind was threatened with utter annihilation, and all the gods were deprived of sacrifices and offerings. Zeus endeavoured to appease the anger of the gods, but in vain. Finally he summoned Hermes to go to Pluto and order him to restore Persephone to her mother. Pluto yielded, but before Persephone left she took from the hand of Pluto four pomegranate pips which he offered her as sustenance on her journey. Persephone, returning from the land of shadows, found her mother in the temple at Eleusis which had recently been erected. Her first question was whether her daughter had eaten anything in the land of her imprisonment, because her unconditional return to earth and Olympos depended upon that. Persephone informed her mother that all she had eaten was the pomegranate pips, in consequence of which Pluto demanded that Persephone should sojourn with him for four months during each year, or one month for each pip taken. Demeter had no option but to consent to this arrangement, which meant that she would enjoy the company of Persephone for eight months in every year, and that the remaining four would be spent by Persephone with Pluto. Demeter caused to awaken anew "the fruits of the fertile plains," and the whole earth was re-clothed with leaves and flowers. Demeter called together the princes of Eleusis—Triptolemus, Diocles, Eumolpus, Polyxenos, and Keleos—and initiated them "into the sacred rites—most venerable—into which no one is allowed to make enquiries or to divulge; a solemn warning from the gods seals our mouths."
Although secrecy on the subject of the nature of the stately Mysteries is strictly enjoined, the writer of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter makes no secret of the happiness which belonged to all who became initiates: "Happy is he who has been received unfortunate he who has never received the initiation nor taken part in the sacred ordinances, and who cannot, alas! be destined to the same lot reserved for the faithful in the darkling abode."
The earliest mention of the Temple of Demeter at Eleusis occurs in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which has already been mentioned. This was not written by Homer, but by some poet versed in Homeric lore, and its probable date is about 600 B.C. It was discovered a little over a hundred years ago in an old monastery library at Moscow, and now reposes in a museum at Leyden.
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