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Past Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of lowa^ U.S.tA. 




"THE SQUARE & COMPASS," 4, 412, Beach Court, 

Denver, Colo. U.S.A. 

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AT one time the Mysteries of the various nations 
were the only vehicle of religion throughout 
the world, and it is not impossible that the very 
name of religion might have become obsolete but 
for the support of the periodical celebrations which 
preserved all the forms and ceremonials, rites and 
practices of sacred worship. 

With regard to the connection, supposed or real, 
between Freemasonry and the Mysteries, it is a 
remarkable coincidence that there is scarcely a single 
ceremony in the former that has not its corresponding 
rite in one or other of the Ancient Mysteries. The 
question as to which is the original is an important 
one to the student. The Masonic antiquarian 
maintains that Freemasonry is not a scion snatched 
with a violent hand from the Mysteries— whether 
Pythagorean, Hermetic, Samothracian, Eleusinian, 
Drusian, Druidical, or the Uke—but is the original 
institution, from which all the Mysteries were derived. 


In the opinion of the renowned Dr. George Ohver : 
*' There is ample testimony to estabhsh the fact that 
the Mysteries of all nations were originally the same, 
and diversified only by the accidental circumstances 
of local situation and pohtical economy." The 
original foundation of the Mysteries has, however, 
never been established. Herodotus ascribed the 
institution of the Eleusinian Mysteries to Egyptian 
influences, while Pococke declares them to have been 
of Tartar origin, and to have combined Brahminical 
and Buddhistic ideas. Others are equally of opinion 
that their origin must be sought for in Persia, while 
at least one writer — and who, in these days, will 
declare the theory to be fanciful? — ventures the 
opinion that it is not improbable that they were 
practised among the Atlanteans. 

The Eleusinian Mysteries — those rites of ancient 
Greece, and later of Rome, of which there is historical 
evidence dating back to the seventh century before 
the Christian era— -bear a very striking resemblance 
in many points to the rituals of both Operative and 
Speculative Freemasonry. As to their origin, beyond 
the legendary account put forth, there is no trace. 
In the opinion of some writers of repute an Egyptian 


source is attributed to them, but of this there is no 
positive evidence. There is a legend that St. John 
the EvangeUst — a character honoured and revered 
by Freemasons — was an initiate of these Mysteries. 
Certainly, more than one of the early Fathers of the 
Christian Church boasted of his initiation into these 
Rites. The fact that this is the first time that an 
attempt has been made to give a detailed exposition 
of the ceremonial and its meaning in the EngHsh 
language will, it is hoped, render the articles of 
interest and utility to students of Masonic lore. 

As to the influence of the Mysteries upon Christi- 
anity, it will be seen that in more than one instance 
the Christian ritual bears a very close resemblance 
to the solemn rites of the Latin and Greek Mysteries. 

The Bibliography at the end does not claim to be 
exhaustive, but it will be found to contain the principal 
sources of our knowledge of the Eleusinian Mysteries. 



PREFACE . . . . . . .7 

INTRODUCTION . . . . . • '3 









The Rev. J. FORT NEWTON, D.Litt., D.D., 

Past Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Iowa. 

FEW aspects of the history of the human spirit 
are more fascinating than the story of the 
Mysteries of antiquity, one chapter of which is told in 
the following pages with accuracy, insight, and charm. 
Like all human institutions, they had their foundation 
in a real need, to which they ministered by dramatizing 
the faiths and hopes and longings of humanity, and 
evoking that eternal mysticism which is at once the 
joy and solace of man as he marches or creeps or 
crowds through the welter of doubts, dangers, disease, 
and death, which we call our life. 

Once the sway of the Mysteries was well-nigh 
universal, but towards the end of their power they 
fell into the mire and became corrupt, as all things 
human are apt to do, the Church itself being no 
exception. Yet at their best and highest they were 



not only lofty and noble, but elevating and refining, 
and that they served a high purpose is equally clear, 
else they had not won the eulogiums of the most 
enlightened men of antiquity. From Pythagoras to 
Plutarch the teachers of old bear witness to the service 
of the Mysteries, and Cicero testified that what a man 
learned in the house of the Hidden Place made him 
want to live nobly, and gave him happy thoughts for 
the hour of death. 

The Mysteries, said Plato, were established by men 
of great genius, who, in the early ages, strove to teach 
purity, to ameliorate the cruelty of the race, to exalt 
its morals and refine its manners, and to restrain 
society by stronger bonds than those which human 
laws impose. Such being their purpose, he who gives 
a thought to the life of man at large will enter their 
vanished sanctuaries with sympathy ; and if no 
mystery any longer attaches to what they taught — 
least of all to their ancient allegory of immortality 
— there is the abiding interest in the rites, drama, 
and symbols employed in the teaching of wise and 
good and beautiful truth. 

What influence the Mysteries had on the new, 
uprising Christianity is hard to know, and the issue 
is still in debate. That they did influence the early 
Church is evident from the writings of the Fathers — 
more than one of whom boasted of initiation — and 
some go so far as to say that the Mysteries died at 
last, only to live again in the ritual of the Chjurch. 


St. Paul in his missionary journeys came in contact 
with the Mysteries, and even makes use of some 
of their technical terms in his Epistles, the better 
to show that what they sought to teach by drama 
can be known only by spiritual experience. No 
doubt his insight is sound, but surely drama may 
assist to that realization, else public worship might 
also come under ban. 

Of the Eleusinian Mysteries in particular, we have 
long needed such a study as is here offered, in which 
the author not only sums up in an attractive manner 
what is known, but adds to our knowledge some 
important details. An Egyptian source has been 
attributed to the Mysteries of Greece, but there is 
little evidence of it, save as we ma}^ conjecture 
it to have been so, remembering the influence of 
Egypt upon Greece. Such influences are difficult 
to trace, and it is safer to say that the idea and use 
of Initiation — as old as the Men's House of primitive 
society— was universal, and took different forms in 
different lands. 

Such a study has more than an antiquarian interest, 
not only to students in general, but especially to the 
men of the gentle Craft of Freemasonry. If we 
may not say that Freemasonry is historically 
descended from the instituted Mysteries of antiquity, 
it does perpetuate, to some extent, their ministry 
among us. At least, the resemblance between those 
ancient rites and tjae ceremonials of both Operative 


and Speculative Freemasonry are very striking ; 
and the present study must be reckoned as not the 
least of the services of its author to that gracious 

The City Temple, London, E.C. 

The Eleusinian Mysteries 
and Rites 


THE legend which formed the basis of the 
Mysteries of Eleusis, presence at and par- 
ticipation 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 ghmpse 
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 

2 17 


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. 

Orphic Hymn, 

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 CaUichorum. 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, 

Persephone — Persephone ! " 

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 w^ich 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 Per- 
sephone 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, 
Diodes, 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 earhest 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. 

In this Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Persephone 
gives her own version of the incident as follows : 
" We were all playing in the lovely meadows — 
Leucippe, and Phaino, and Electra, and lanthe, 
and Mehte, and lache and Rhodeia, and Callinhoe, 
and Melobosis, and laneira, and Acast^, and Admete, 
and Rhodope, and Plouto, and winsome Calypso, and 
Styx, and Urania, and beautiful Galaxam^. We 
were playing there and plucking beautiful blossoms 
with our hands ; crocuses mingled, and iris, and 
hyacinth, and roses, and lilies, a marvel to behold, 
and narcissus, that the wide earth bare, a wile for 
my undoing. Gladly was I gathering them when 
the earth gaped beneath, and therefrom leaped the 
mighty prince, the host of many guests, and he bare 
me against my will, despite my grief, beneath the 
earth, in his golden chariot ; and shrilly did I cry." 


The version of the legend given by Minucius Fehx 
is as follows : ** Proserpine, the daughter of Ceres 
by Jupiter, as she was gathering tender flowers in 
the new spring, was ravished from her dehghtful 
abode b}^ Pluto ; and, being carried from thence 
through thick woods and over a length of sea, was 
brought by Pluto into a cavern, the residence of 
departed spirits, over whom she afterwards ruled 
with absolute sway. But Ceres, upon discovering 
the loss of her daughter, with lighted torches and 
begirt with a serpent, wandered over the whole earth 
for the purpose of finding her, till she came to Eleusis ; 
there she found her daughter, and discovered to 
the Eleusinians the plantation of corn.'' 

According to another version of the legend, Neptune 
met Ceres when she was in quest of her daughter, 
and fell in love with her. The goddess, in order to 
escape from his attentions, concealed herself under 
the form of a mare, when the god of the sea trans- 
formed himself into a horse to seduce her, with which 
act she was so highly offended that after having 
washed herself in a river and reassumed human 
form, she took refuge in a cave, where she lay concealed. 
When famine and pestilence began to ravage the earth, 
the gods made search for her everywhere, but could 
not find her until Pan discovered her and apprised 
Jupiter of her whereabouts. This cave was in Sicil}^ 
in which country Ceres was known as the black 
Ceres, or the Erinnys, because the outrages offered 


her by Neptune turned her frantic and furious. 
Demeter was depicted in Sicily as clad in black, 
with a horse's head, holding a pigeon in one hand 
and a dolphin in the other. 

On the submission of Eleusis to Athens, the 
Mysteries became an integral part of the Athenian 
religion, so that the Eleusinian Mysteries became a 
Panhellenic institution, and later, under the Romans, 
a universal worship, but the secret rites of initiation 
were well kept throughout their history. 

Eleusis was one of the twelve originally independent 
cities of Attica, which Theseus is said to have united 
into a simple state. Leusina now occupies the site, 
and has thus preserved the name of the ancient 

Theseus is portrayed by Virgil as suffering eternal 
punishment in Hades, but Proclus writes concerning 
him as follows : " Theseus, and Pirithous are fabled 
to have ravished Helen, and to have descended to 
the infernal regions — i.e. they were lovers of in- 
telhgible and visible beauty. Afterwards Theseus 
was liberated by Pericles from Hades, but Pirithous 
remained there because he could not sustain the 
arduous attitude of divine contemplation." 

Dr. Warburton, in his Divine Legation of Moses, 
gives it as his opinion that Theseus was a hving 
character who once forced his way into the Eleusinian 
Mysteries, for which crime he was imprisoned on 
earth and afterwards damned in the infernal regions. 


The Eleusinian Mysteries seem to have constituted 
the most vital portion of the Attic religion, and 
always to have retained something of awe and solem- 
nity. They were not known outside Attica until 
the time of the Median wars, when they spread to 
the Greek colonies in Asia as part of the constitution 
of the daughter states, w^here the cult seems to have 
exercised a considerable influence both on the 
populace and on the philosophers. Outside Eleusis 
the Mysteries were not celebrated so frequently nor 
on so magnificent a scale. At Celeas, where they 
were celebrated every fourth year, a hierophant, who 
was not bound by the law of celibacy, as at Eleusis, 
was elected by the people for each celebration. 
Pausanias is the authority for a statement by the 
Phliasians that they imitated the Eleusinian Mysteries. 
They maintained, however, that their rendering 
was instituted by Dysaules, brother of Celeus, who 
went to their country after he had been expelled 
from Eleusis by Ion, the son of Xuthus, at the time 
when Ion was chosen commander-in-chief of the 
Athenians in the war against Eleusis. Pausanias 
disputed that any Eleusinian was defeated in battle 
and forced into exile, maintaining that peace was 
concluded between the Athenians and the Eleusinians 
before the war was fought out, even Eumolpus 
himself being permitted to remain in Eleusis. Pau- 
sanias, also, while admitting that Dysaules might 
have gone to Phlias for some cause other than that 


admitted by the Phliasians, questioned whether 
Dysaules was related to Celeus, or, indeed, to any 
illustrious Eleusinian family. The name of Dysaules 
does not occur in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 
where are enumerated all who were taught the ritual 
of the Mysteries by the goddess, though that of 
Celeus is mentioned : — 

She showed to Triptolemus and Diodes, sniiter of horses 
And mighty Eumolpus and Celeus, leader of people. 
The way of performing the sacred rites and explained 
to all of them the orgies. 

Nevertheless, according to the Phhasians, it was 
Dysaules who instituted the Mysteries among them. 

The Pheneatians also had a sanctuary dedicated 
to Demeter, which they called Eleusinian, and in 
which they celebrated the Mysteries in honour of 
the goddess. They had a legend that Demeter 
went thither in her wanderings, and that, out of 
gratitude to the Pheneatians for the hospitality 
they showed her, she gave them all the different 
kinds of pulse, except beans. Two Pheneatians — 
Trisaules and Damithales — built a temple to Demeter 
Thesuria, the goddess of laws, under Mount Cyllene, 
where were instituted the Mysteries in her honour 
which were celebrated until a late period, and which 
were said to be introduced there by Naus, a grandson 
of Eumolpus. 

" Much that is excellent and divine," wrote Cicero, 
" does Athens seem to me to have produced and 


added to our life, but nothing better than those 
Mysteries by which we are formed and moulded 
from a rude and savage state of humanity ; and, 
indeed, in the Mysteries we perceive the real principles 
of life, and learn not only to live happily, but to die 
with a fairer hope." Every manner of writer — 
religious poet, worldly poet, sceptical philosopher, 
orator — all are of one mind about this, that the 
Mysteries were far and away the greatest of all the 
rehgious festivals of Greece. 



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 rehgious 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 hable 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 

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 in- 
eligible for the honour of initiation, but the diffi- 
culty 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 Anthes- 
terion 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 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 after- 
wards before their eyes at the Greater Mysteries at 

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 fehcity 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 after- 
wards 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. Mliller, 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 im- 
mortality 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 com- 
mitted to the ground and would not have become 
queen of the dead. But when the goddess of inani- 
mate 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. 

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, accord- 
ing to Stephen Byzantium, to certain Dionysian 

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 loth day of the month following the 
celebration. In order to be vaHd the truce had to 
be proclaimed in and accepted by each Hellenic city. 

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 inde- 
pendent of Athens, and the former family survived 
as a priestly caste down to the latest period of Athe- 
nian 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. 



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 representa- 
tives of Eleusis and Athens. The Eumolpides 
were the descendants of a mythical ancestor, Eumol- 
pus, 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. 

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 Eumol- 
pides. It was essential that the formulae 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. 

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 melod}^ 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 dzdd 
dwd 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 pro- 
duce on nervous people and children are well known. 
Even animals and serpents are amenable to the 
influence of sound. 


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 probabihty, 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 inter- 
course. 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 


ceremonj^ he went through a special purificatory 
rite, immersing himself in the sea, an act to which 
the Greeks attribute^ great virtue. He had to be 
exemplary in his moral conduct, and was regarded 
by the people as being particularly holy. The 
quahfications 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 
quahfications 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 hohes, 
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 mysta- 
gogues. 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 hiero- 
phant : " Now we, his children, reveal the name of 
the best of fathers, which, when aHve, 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 rmLj 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 hiero- 
phant 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, hahng 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. ^ The hierophant 

I 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. 


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 Perse- 
phone. 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 

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 particu- 
larly was associated with the hierophant in certain 
solemn and public functions, such as the opening 
address to the candidates for initiation and in the 
pubUc 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 Hknophori, 
who carried the mystic fan ; the hydranoi, who 
purified the candidates for initiation by sprinkhng 
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 melissae — i.e. bees, perhaps so-called be- 
cause 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 epimeletae, or curators, elected 
by the people, one being appointed from the Eumol- 
pides, 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 philo- 
sopher, 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. 

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 

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. 

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. 

In A.D. 364, a law prohibiting nocturnal rites was 
pubhshed 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 anteUicani 
and themselves as lucifugce 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. 

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. 



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. 

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 sacri- 
fices and prayers for the welfare of Greece, the follow- 
ing 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 hfe 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 hiero- 
phant 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 Day. — The second day was known as 
Halade My sice, or "To the sea, ye mystae," 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 num.ber of immersions varied with the degree 
of guilt which each confessed. 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 puritied 
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 Melli- 
chios, 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 epimeletae, 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 com- 
memorate 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 con- 
clusion of the general ceremony each one individually^ 
sacrificed the little pig purified in the sea the night 

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, pome- 
granates, 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 Demete 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. — lacchos was the name given to 
the sixth day of the Festival. The " fair young 
god," lacchos, 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 lacchion, the sanctuary 
of lacchos in Athens, mounted on a heavy rustic 
four-wheeled chariot drawn by bulls, and, accompanied 
by the lacchogogue 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. 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 reveaUng 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, li37mns 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 accompHshed 
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, " lacchos, O 
lacchos ! " 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. lacchos 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 
lacchos," 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 instru- 
ment 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 repre- 
sented 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 
Mneid 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 line 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. Immedi- 
ately 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 un- 
lucky 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 lacchos." 

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 lambe 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. 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 lambe 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 lambe stripped herself under 

the breasts. 
Blandly then the goddess laughed and laughed in her 

And received the glancing cup in which was the 


During the Peloponnesian war the Athenians were 
unable to obtain an armistice from the Lacedaemonians 
who held Decelea, and it became necessary to send 
the statue of lacchos 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 lacchos." 

Eighth Day. — The eighth day was called Epi- 
daurion, because it happened once that iEsculapius, 
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 re- 
garded as symbohcal of the soul falHng into the 
Kmar 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. 
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 favour- 
able. The flesh of the animal offered was not allowed 
to be taken outside the sacred precincts, but had 
to be consumed within the building. 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 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 
formulae both were overthrown, the wine being 


spilt upon the ground as a libation. The first of 
these formulae was directed towards the sky as a 
praj^er 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. 

Tenth Day.— On the tenth day the majority of 
the people returned to their homes, with the excep- 
tion of every third and fifth year, when they remained 
behind for the Mystery Plays and Sports, which 
lasted from two to three days. 

The Eleusinian Games are described by the rheto- 
rician 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 

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 Coroebus 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 entabla- 
ture 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 : — 

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 initia- 
tion 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 fagade, 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 hieroccerj^x 
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 ijd. 


TWO important facts must be set down with 
regard to the Mysteries : first, the general 
custom of all Athenian citizens, and afterwards 
of all Greeks generally, and eventually of many 
foreigners, to seek admission into the Eleusinian 
Mysteries in the only possible manner — viz. by 
initiation ; and, second, the scrupulous care exer- 
cised by the Eumolpides to ensure that only persons 
duly qualified, of irreproachable — or, at any rate, 
of circumspect, character passed the portals. In 
the earlier days of the Mysteries it was a necessary 
condition that the candidates for initiation should 
be free-born Athenians, but in course of time this 
rule was relaxed, until eventually strangers (as 
residents outside Athens were called), ahens, slaves, 
and even courtesans, were admitted, on condition 
that they were introduced by a mystagogue, who 
was, of course, an Athenian. An interesting inscrip- 
tion was discovered a few years ago demonstrating 
the fact that the public slaves of the city were initiated 
at the public expense. From historical records we 



learn that Lysias was enabled without difficulty 
to secure the initiation of his mistress, Metanira, 
who was then in the service of the courtesan Nicareta. 
There always prevailed, however, the strict rule 
that no one could be admitted who had been guilty 
of murder or homicide, wilful or accidental, or who 
had been convicted of witchcraft, and all who had 
incurred the capital penalty for conspiracy or treason 
were also excluded. Nero sought admission into 
the Eleusinian Mysteries, but was rejected because of 
the many slaughters connected with his name. 
Antoninus, when he would purge himself before the 
world of the death of Avidius Cassius, elected to 
be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, it being 
recognized at that time that none was admitted into 
them who was justly guilty of heinous immorality 
or crime. 

Apollonius of Tyana was desirous of being admitted 
into the Eleusinian Mysteries, but the hierophant 
refused to admit him on the ground that he was a 
magician, and had intercourse with divinities other 
than those of the Mysteries, declaring that he would 
never initiate a wizard or throw open the Mysteries 
to a man addicted to impure rites. Apollonius 
retorted : *' You have not yet mentioned the chief 
of my offences, which is that, knowing, as I do, 
more about the initiatory rites than you do yourself, 
I have nevertheless come to you as if you were wiser 
than I am." The hierophant, when he saw that the 



exclusion of Apollonius was not by any means popu- 
lar with the crowd, changed his tone and said : 
" Be thou initiated, for thou seemest to be some 
wise man that has come here." But Apollonius 
replied : "I will be initiated at another time, and 
it is (mentioning a name) who will initiate me." 
Hereon, says Philostratus, he showed his gift of 
prevision, for he glanced at the one who succeeded 
the hierophant he addressed, and presided over 
the temple four years later when Apollonius was 

Persons of both sexes and of all ages were initiated, 
and neglect of the ceremony came to be regarded 
almost in the light of a crime. Socrates and Demonax 
were reproached and looked upon with suspicion 
because they did not apply for initiation. Persians 
were always pointedly excluded from the ceremony. 
Athenians of both sexes were granted the privilege 
of initiation during childhood on the presentation 
of their father, but only the first degree of initiation 
was permitted. For the second and third degrees 
it was necessary to have arrived at full age. The 
Greeks looked upon initiation in much the same light 
as the majority of Christians look upon baptism. 
So great was the rush of candidates for initiation 
when the restrictions were relaxed that Cicero was 
able to write that the inhabitants of the most distant 
regions flocked to Eleusis in order to be initiated. 
Thus, it became the custom with all Romans, who 


journeyed to Athens to take advantage of the oppor- 
tunity to become initiates. Even the Emperors 
of Rome, the official heads of the Roman rehgion, 
the masters of the world, came to the Eumolpides 
to proffer the request that they might receive the 
honour of initiation and become participants in the 
Sacred Mysteries revealed by the goddess. 

While Augustus, who was initiated in the year 
21 B.C., did not hesitate to show his antipathy 
towards the religion of the Egyptians, towards 
Judaism and Druidism, he was always scrupulous in 
observing the pledge of secrecy demanded of initiates 
into the Eleusinian Mysteries, and on one occasion, 
when it became necessary for some of the priests 
of the Eleusinian temple to proceed to Rome to 
plead before his tribunal on the question of privilege, 
and in the course of the evidence to speak of certain 
ceremonial in connection with the Mysteries of 
which it was not lawful to speak in the presence 
of the uninitiated, he ordered every one who had 
not received the privilege of initiation to leave the 
tribunal so that he and the witnesses alone remained. 
The Eleusinian Mysteries were not deemed inimical 
to the welfare of the Roman Empire as were the 
religions of the Egyptians, Jews, and ancient Britons. 

Claudius, another imperial initiate, conceived the 
idea of transferring the scene of the Mysteries to 
Rome, and, according to Suetonius, was about to put 
the project into execution, when it was ruled that it 


was obligatory that the principal scenic presentation 
of the Mysteries must be celebrated on the ground 
trodden by the feet of Demeter and where the goddess 
herself had ordered her temple to be erected. 

The initiation of the Emperor Hadrian (who 
succeeded where Claudius had failed, in introducing 
the celebration of the Mysteries into Rome) took 
place in a.d. 125, when he was present at the Lesser 
Mysteries in the spring and at the Greater Mysteries 
in the following autumn. In September, a.d. 129, 
he was again at Athens, when he presented himself 
for the third degree, as is known from Dion Cassius, 
confirmed by a letter written by the Emperor himself, 
in which he mentions a journey from Eleusis to 
Ephesus made by him at that time. Hadrian is 
the only imperial initiate, so far as is known, who 
persevered and passed through all three degrees. 
Since he remained at Eleusis as long as it was 
possible for him to do so after the completion of 
his initiation, it is not rash to assume that he 
was inspired by something more than curiosity or 
even by a desire to show respect. 

It is uncertain whether the Emperor Antonin 
was initiated, although from an inscription it seems 
probable that he was and that he should be included 
in the Hst of imperial initiates. Both Marcus 
Aurelius and Commodus, father and son, were 
initiated at the same time, at the Lesser Mysteries 
in March, a.d. 176, and at the Greater Mysteries in 


the following September. Septimius Severus was 
initiated before he ascended the throne. 

There was, as stated, three degrees, and the ordi- 
nary procedure with regard to initiation was as 
follows : — 

In the month of Anthesterion, the flower month 
of spring, corresponding with February-March, an 
appUcant could, if approved, become an initiate 
into the first degree at the celebration of the Lesser 
Mysteries and take part in their celebration at the 
Eleusinion at Agra, near to Athens. The ceremony 
of initiation into this first degree was on a far less 
imposing scale than the ceremony of initiation into 
the second and third degrees at the Greater Mysteries. 
The candidate, however, had to keep chaste and 
unpolluted for nine days prior to the ceremony, 
which each one attended wearing crowns and garlands 
of flowers and observed by offering prayers and 
sacrifices. Immediately previous to the celebration 
the candidates for initiation were prepared by the 
Mystagogues, the special teachers selected for the 
purpose from the families of the Eumolpides and 
Keryces. They were instructed in the story of 
Demeter and Persephone, the character of the 
purification necessary and other prehminary rites, 
the fast days, with particulars of the food permissible 
and forbidden to be eaten, and the various sacrifices 
to be offered by and for them under the direction of 
the mystagogues. 


Without this preparation no one could be admitted 
to the Mysteries. There was, however, neither 
secret doctrine nor dogmatic teaching in this prehmi- 
nary instruction. Revelation came through contem- 
plation of the sacred objects displayed during the 
ceremonies by the hierophant, the meaning of which 
was communicated by means of the mystic formulae ; 
but the preparation demanded of the initiates, 
the secrecy imposed, the ceremonies at which the 
initiates assisted, all of which were performed in 
the dead of night, created a strong impression and 
lively hope in regard to the future life. No other 
cult in Greece, still less the cold Roman religion, 
had anything of the kind, or approaching to it, 
to offer. Fasting from food and drink for a certain 
period before and after initiation was essential, 
but the candidates did not attach to this act any 
idea of maceration or expiation of faults : it was 
simply the reproduction of an event in the life of 
the goddess, and undergone in order that the body 
might become more pure. Bowls or vases of con- 
secrated or holy water were placed at the entrance 
of the temple for the purposes of aspersion. In 
cases of special or particular impurity an extra 
preparation extending over two or three days longer 
became necessary, and unctions of oil or repeated 
immersions in water were administered. The out- 
ward physical purity, the result of immersion prior 
to initiation, was but the symbol of the inward 


purity which was supposed to result from initiation. 
One of the duties of the mystagogues was to see that 
the candidates were in a state of physical cleanliness 
both before and throughout the ceremony. According 
to inscriptions which have been discovered there 
appear to have been temples or buildings set apart 
for the cleansing of candidates from special im- 
purities. Initiation into the Lesser Mysteries only 
permitted the neophyte to go as far as the outer 
vestibule of the temple. 

In the following autumn, if of full age and approved 
by the hierophant, the neophyte could be initiated 
into the Greater Mysteries, into the second degree, 
that of Mysta. This, however, did not secure 
admission to all the ceremonies performed during 
the celebration of the Greater Mysteries. A further 
year, at least, had to elapse before the third degree, 
that of Epopta, was taken, before he could see with 
his own eyes and hear with his own ears, all that 
took place in the temple during the celebration of 
the Mysteries. Even then, there was one part of 
the temple and one portion of the ceremony which 
could be entered and witnessed only by the hierophant 
and hierophantide. 

According to Plutarch, Demetrius, when he was 
returning to Athens, wrote to the republic that on 
his arrival he intended to be initiated and to be 
admitted immediately, not only to the Lesser Mys- 
teries, but to the Greater as well. This was unlawful 


and unprecedented, though when the letter was 
read, Pythodorus, a torch-bearer, was the only 
person who ventured to oppose the demand, and 
his opposition was entirely ineffectual. Stratocles 
procured a decree that the month of Munychion 
should be reputed to be and called the month of 
Anthesterion, to give Demetrius the opportunity 
for the initiation into the first degree. This was 
done, whereupon a second decree was issued by which 
Munychion was again changed into Boedromion, 
and Demetrius was admitted to the Mysteries of 
the next degree. Philippides, the poet, satirized 
Stratocles in the words : " The man who can con- 
tract the whole year into one month," and Demetrius, 
with reference to his lodging in the Parthenon, in 
the words : " The man who turns the temples into 
inns and brings prostitutes into the company of the 
virgin goddess." 

The design of initiation, according to Plato, was 
to restore the soul to that state from which it fell, 
and Proclus states that initiation into the Mysteries 
drew the souls of men from a material, sensual, 
and merely human hfe and joined them in communion 
with the gods. " Happy is the man," wrote Euripides, 
" who hath been initiated into the Greater Mysteries 
and leads a Hfe of piety and religion," and Aristo- 
phanes truly represented pubhc opinion when he 
wrote in The Frogs : " On us only does the sun 
dispense his blessings ; we only receive pleasure from 


his beams ; we, who are initiated, and perform 
towards citizens and strangers all acts of piety and 
justice." The initiates sought to imitate the alle- 
gorical birth of the god. The epoptae were supposed 
to have experienced a certain regeneration and to 
enter upon a new state of existence, and they were 
fantastically deemed to have acquired a great increase 
of light and knowledge. Hitherto they had been 
exoteric and profane ; now they had become esoteric 
and holy. 

Jevons, in his Introduction to the Study of Religion, 
says that no oath was demanded of the initiate, but 
that silence was observed generally as an act of 
reverence rather than as an act of purposed conceal- 
ment. There seems, however, to be conclusive 
evidence that an oath of secrecy was demanded of 
and taken by the candidates for initiation, at any 
rate, into the second and third degrees, if not into 
the first degree. Moreover, there are on record 
several prosecutions of citizens for having broken 
the pledge of secrecy they had given. ^Eschylus 
was indicted for having disclosed in the theatre 
certain details of the Mysteries, and he only escaped 
punishment by proving that he had never been 
initiated and, therefore, could not have violated 
any obligation. A Greek scholiast says that in five 
of his tragedies ^schylus spoke of Demeter and 
therefore may be supposed in these cases to have 
touched upon subjects connected with the Mysteries, 


and Heraclides of Pontus says that on this account 
he was in danger of being killed by the populace if 
he had not fled for refuge to the altar of Dionysos 
and been begged off by the Areopagites and acquitted 
on the ground of his exploits at Marathon. An 
accusation was brought against Aristotle of having 
performed a funeral sacrifice in honour of his wife 
in imitation of the Eleusinian ceremonies. Alci- 
biades was charged with mimicking the sacred 
Mysteries in one of his drunken revels, when he 
represented the hierophant ; Theodorus, one of 
his friends, represented the herald ; and another, 
Polytion, represented the dadouchos ; other com- 
panions attending as initiates and being addressed 
as mystae. The information against him ran : — 

" Thessalus, the son of Cimon, of the ward of 
Lacais, accuseth Alcibiades, the son of Clinian, of 
the ward of Scambonis, of sacrilegiously offending 
the goddess Ceres and her daughter, Persephone, 
by counterfeiting their Mysteries and showing them 
to his companions in his own house, wearing such a 
robe as the high priest does when he shows the holy 
things ; he called himself high priest ; as did Poly- 
tion torch-bearer ; and Theodorus, of the ward of 
Thyges, herald ; and the rest of his companions 
he called persons initiated and Brethren of the 
Secret ; therein acting contrary to the rules and 
ceremonies estabhshed by the Eumolpides, the 
Heralds and Priests at Eleusis." 


Alcibiades did not appear in answer to the charge, 
and he was condemned in his absence, an order 
being made that his goods were to be confiscated. 
This occurred in 415 B.C. and the incident created 
quite a panic, as many prominent citizens, Andocides 
included, were impUcated. " This man," said the 
accuser of Andocides, " vested in the same costume 
as a hierophant, has shown the sacred objects to 
men who were not initiated and has uttered words 
which it is not permissible to repeat." Andocides 
admitted the charge, but turned king's evidence, 
and named certain others as culprits with him. 
He was rewarded with a free pardon under a decree 
which Isotmides had issued, but those whom he 
named were either put to death or outlawed and 
their goods were confiscated. Andocides afterwards 
entered the temple while the Mysteries were in 
progress and was charged with breaking the law in 
so doing. He defended himself before a court of 
hehasts, all of whom had been initiated into the 
Mysteries, the president of the court being the 
Archon Basileus. The indictment was lodged by 
Cephisius, the chief prosecutor, with the Archon 
Basileus, during the celebration of the Greater 
Mysteries and while Andocides was still at Eleusis. 
Andocides was acquitted, and it is stated that 
Cephisius having failed to obtain one-fifth of the 
votes of the court, the result, according to the 
law, was that he had to pay a fine of a thousand 


drachmas and to suffer permanent exclusion from 
the Eleusinian shrine. Diagiras was accused of 
raiUng at the sanctity of the Mysteries of Eleusis 
in such a manner as to deter persons from seeking 
initiation, and a reward of one talent was offered 
to any one who should kill him or two talents to 
any one who should bring him alive. The Greek 
talent was of the value of about £200. 

An ancient theme of oratorical composition and 
one set even in the sixth century of the Christian 
era ran : — 

*' The law punishes with death whoever has dis- 
closed the Mysteries : some one to whom the initiation 
has been revealed in a dream asks one of the initiated 
if what he has seen is in conformity with reality : 
the initiate acquiesces by a movement of the head ; 
and for that he is accused of impiety." 

Every care, therefore, was taken to prevent the 
secrecy of the Mysteries from being broken and the 
ceremonial becoming known to any not initiated. 
Details have, nevertheless, come to light in various 
ways, but chiefly through the ancient writings and 
inscriptions. Step b}/ step and piece by piece the 
diligent researcher has been rewarded by the dis- 
covery of disconnected and isolated fragments which, 
by themselves, supply no precise information, but, 
taken in the aggregate, form a perfect mosaic. Though 
it was strictly forbidden to reveal what took place 
within the sacred enclosure and in the Hall of Initia- 


tion, it was permissible to state clearly the main 
object of initiation and the advantages to be derived 
from the act. Not only was the breaking of the 
obligation of secrecy given by an initiate visited 
with severe, sometimes even with capital, punish- 
ment, but the forcing of the temple enclosure by 
the uninitiated, as sometimes happened, was an 
offence of an equally impious and heinous character. 
By virtue of the unwritten laws and customs dating 
back to the most remote periods the penalty of 
death was frequently pronounced for faults not 
grave in themselves, although the forcing of the 
temple enclosure was, of course, a grave crime, 
but because they concerned religion. It was pro- 
bably by virtue of those unwritten laws that the 
priests ordered the death of two young Arcananians 
who had penetrated, through ignorance, into the 
sacred precincts. They happened inadvertently to 
mix with the crowd at the season of the Mysteries 
and to enter the temple, but the questions asked 
by them, in consequence of their ignorance of the 
proceedings, betrayed them, and their intrusion was 
punished with death. This was in 200 B.C., and 
Rome made war upon Philip V of Macedonia on 
the complaint of the government of Athens against 
that king who wished to punish them for having 
rigorously applied the ancient laws to those two 
offenders, who were found guilty merely of entering 
the sanctuary at Eleusis without having previously 


been initiated. No judicial penalty, however, was 
meted out to the fanatical Epicurean eunuch who, 
with the object of proving that the gods had no 
existence, forced himself blaspheming into that part 
of the sanctuary into which the hierophant and the 
hierophantide alone had the right of entry. <^lianus 
states that a divine punishment in the form of a 
disease alone overtook him. Horace declared that 
he would not risk his life by going on to the water 
with a companion who had revealed the secret of 
the Mysteries. 

The two days prior to initiation into the second 
and third degrees were spent by the candidates in 
solitary retirement and in strict fasting. It was 
a " retreat " in the strictest sense of the word. 
Fasting was practised, not only in imitation of the 
sufferings of Demeter when searching for Persephone, 
but because of the danger of the contact of holy 
things with unholy, the clean with the unclean. 
This also is one of the reasons why it was held to 
be impious even to speak of the Mysteries to one 
who had not been initiated and especially dangerous 
to allow such unclean and profane persons to take 
any part, even that of a viewer, in the ceremonies. 
Hence the punishment meted out by the State was in 
lieu of, or to avert, the divine wrath which such 
pollution might bring on the community at large. 

At the entrance to the temple tablets were placed 
containing a list of forbidden foods. The list included 


several kinds of fish — the whistle-fish, gurnet, crab, 
and mullet. In all probabihty the whistle-fish 
is that known as Scicena aquila, a Mediterranean 
fish that makes a noise under the water which has 
been compared to bellowing, buzzing, purring, or 
whistling, the air bladder being the sound-producing 
organ. The fish was greatly esteemed by the Romans. 
There is a large ScicBna, not aquila, though very 
like it, in the Fish Gallery of the British Museum 
(Natural History) opposite the entrance from the 
Zoological Library. The whistle-fish and crab were 
held to be impure, the first because it laid its 
eggs through the mouth, and the second because it 
ate filth which other fish rejected. The gurnet was 
rejected because of its fecundity as witnessed in its 
annual triple laying of eggs, but, according to some 
writers, it was rejected because it ate a fish which 
was poisonous to mankind. It may well be that 
other fish were interdicted, but Porphyry was probably 
exaggerating when he said that all fish were forbidden. 
Birds bred at home, such as chickens and pigeons, 
were also on the banned list, as were beans and 
certain vegetables which were forbidden for a mystical 
reason which Pausanias said he dare not reveal 
save to the initiated. The probable reason was that 
they were connected in some way with the wander- 
ings of Demeter. Pomegranates were, of course, 
forbidden, from the incident of the eating of the 
pomegranate seeds by Persephone. 


The candidates were carefully instructed in these 
rules before the beginning of the celebration. Origi- 
nally the instruction of the candidates was in the 
hands of the hierophant, who, following the example 
of his ancestor, Eumolpus, claimed the privilege 
of preparing the candidates as well as that of com- 
municating to them the knowledge of the divine 
Mysteries. But the continually increasing number 
of candidates made it necessary to employ auxiliary 
instructors, and this particular work was handed 
over to the charge of the mystagogues, who prepared 
the candidates either singly or in groups, the hiero- 
phant reserving to himself the general direction 
of the instruction. In the course of the initiation 
ceremony certain words had to be spoken by the 
candidates, and these were made known to them 
in advance, although, of course, apart from their 

Admission to the second degree took place during 
the night between the sixth and seventh days of 
the celebration of the Mysteries, the candidates 
being led blindfolded into the temple and the ceremony 
opened with prayers and sacrifices by the second 
Archon. The candidates were crowned with myrtle 
wreaths, and, on entering the building, they purified 
themselves in a formal manner by immersing their 
hands in the consecrated water. Salt, laurel-leaves, 
barley, and crowns of flowers were also employed 
in the purification. The priests, vested in their 


sacerdotal garments, then came forward to receive 
the candidates. This initial ceremony took place 
in the outer hall of the temple, the temple itself 
being closed. A herald then came forward and 
uttered the proclamation : " Begone ye profane. 
Away from here, all ye that are not purified, and 
whose souls have not been freed from sin." In 
later years this formulary was changed, and in its 
stead the herald proclaimed : "If any atheist, or 
Christian, or Epicurean, is come to spy on the orgies, 
let him instantly retire, but let those who believe 
remain and be initiated, with good future." It 
was the final opportunity for the retirement of any 
who were not votaries who had by chance entered 
the precincts : if discovered afterwards the punish- 
ment was death. In order to make certain that no 
intruders remained behind all who were present 
had to answer certain specified questions. Then 
all again immersed their hands into the consecrated 
water and renewed their pledge of secrecy. The 
candidates for initiation then took off their ordinary 
garments and put on the skins of young does. This 
done, the priests wished them joy of all the happiness 
their initiation would bring them, and then left 
the candidates alone. Within a few minutes the 
apartment in which they were was plunged in total 
darkness. Lamentations and strange noises were 
heard ; terrific peals of thunder resounded, seemingly 
shaking the very foundations of the temple ; vivid 



flashes of lightning Ut up the darkness, rendering 

it more terrible, while a more persistent light from 

a fire displayed fearful forms. Sighs, groans, and 

cries of pain resounded on all sides, like the shrieks 

of the condemned in Tartarus. The novitiates 

were taken hold of by invisible hands, their hair 

was torn, and they were beaten and thrown to the 

ground. Then a faint light became visible in the 

distance and a fearful scene appeared before their 

eyes. The gates of Tartarus were opened and the 

abode of the condemned lay before them. They 

could hear the cries of anguish and the vain regrets 

of those to whom Paradise was lost for ever. They 

could, moreover, witness their hopeless remorse : 

they saw, as well as heard, all the tortures of the 

condemned. The Furies, armed with relentless 

scourges and flaming torches, drove the unhappy 

victims incessantly to and fro, never letting them 

rest for a moment. Meanwhile the loud voice 

of the hierophant, who represented the judge of 

the earth, could be heard expounding the meaning 

of what was passing before them, and warning and 

threatening the initiates. It may well be imagined 

that all these fearful scenes were so terrifying that 

very frequently beads of anguish appeared on the 

brows of the novices. Howling dogs and even 

material demons are said actually to have appeared 

to the initiates before the scene was changed. Proclus, 

in his Commentavy on Alcihiades, says : " In the rtiost 


holy of the Mysteries, before the presence of the god, 
certain terrestrial demons are hurled forth, which 
call the attention from undefiled advantages to 
matter. ' ' At length the gates of Tartarus were closed, 
the scene was suddenly changed, and the innermost 
sanctuary of the temple lay open before the initiates 
in dazzling light. In the midst stood the statue 
of the goddess Demeter brilliantly decked and 
gleaming with precious stones ; heavenly music 
entranced their souls ; a cloudless sky overshadowed 
them ; fragrant perfumes arose ; and in the distance 
the privileged spectators beheld flowering meads, 
where the blessed danced and amused themselves 
with innocent games and pastimes. Among other 
writers the scene has been described by Aristophanes 
in The Frogs : — 

Heracles. The voyage is a long one. For you will 
come directly to a very big lake of abysmal depth. 

Dionysos. Then how shall I get taken across it ? 

Heracles. In a little boat just so high : an old man 
who plies that boat will take you across for a fee 
of two oboles. 

Dionysos. Oh dear ! How very powerful those two 
oboles are all over the world. How did they manage 
to get here ? 

Heracles. Theseus brought them. After this you will 
see serpents and wild beasts in countless numbers 
and very terrible. Then a great slough and over- 
flowing dung ; and in this you'll see lying any one 
who ever yet at any place wronged his guest or 
be^t his mother, or smote his father's jaw, or swore 


an oath and foreswore himself. . . . And next a 
breathing of flutes shall be wafted around you, and 
you shall see a very beautiful light, even as in this 
world, and myrtle groves, and happy choirs of 
men and women, and a loud clapping of hands. 

Dionysos. And who are these people, pray ? 

Heracles. The initiated. 

It was regarded as permissible to describe certain 
scenes of the initiation, and this has been done by 
many writers, but a complete silence was demanded 
as to the means employed to realize the end, the 
rites and ceremonies in which the initiate took part, 
the emblems which were displayed, and the actual 
words uttered, and the slightest contravention of 
this rule rendered the offender liable to the strongest 
possible condemnation and chastisement. 

In the course of the ceremony the hierophant 
asked the candidates a series of questions, to which 
written answers had been prepared and committed 
to memory by the candidates. The holy Mysteries 
were revealed to them from a book called Petroma, 
a word derived from petra, 3. stone, and so called 
because the writings were kept between two cemented 
stones which fitted in to each other. The Pheneatians 
used to swear by and on the Petroma. The domed 
top held within it a mask of Demeter which the 
hierophant wore at the celebration of the Mysteries, 
or during part of the ceremonial. The garments 
worn by the initiates during the ceremony were 
accounted sacred and equal to incantations and 


charms in their power to avert evils. Consequently 
they were never cast off until torn and tattered. 
Nor was it usual, even then, to throw them away, 
but it was customary to make them into swaddling 
clothes for children or to consecrate them to Demeter 
and Persephone. 

Admission to the third degree took place during 
the night between the seventh and eighth days 
of the celebration of the Greater Mysteries. This, 
the final degree, with the exception of those called 
to be hierophants, was known as the degree of 
Epopta. Exactly in what the ceremonial consisted, 
save in one particular presently to be described, 
is unknown. Hippolytus is practically the only 
authority for the main incident of the degree. Certain 
words and signs were, however, communicated to 
the initiated which, it was stated, would, when pro- 
nounced at the hour of death, ensure the eternal 
happiness of the soul. 

The most solemn part of the ceremony was that 
which has been described by some writers as the 
hierogamy, or sacred marriage of Zeus and Demeter, 
although some have erroneously referred to it as 
the marriage of Pluto and Persephone. During 
the celebration of the Mysteries the hierophant and 
hierophantide descended into a cave or deep recess 
and, after remaining there for a time, they returned 
to the assembly, surrounded seemingly by flames, 
and the hierophant, displaying to the gaze of the 


initiated an ear of corn, exclaimed with a loud voice : 
'* The divine Brimo has given birth to the holy child 
Brimos : The strong has brought forth strength." 
The scene was dramatic and symbolical, and there 
could have been nothing material in the incident. 
The torches of the multitude were extinguished 
while the throng above awaited with anxious suspense 
the return of the priest and priestess from the murky 
place into which they had descended, for they believed 
their own salvation to depend upon the result of the 
mystic congress. The charges brought against the 
Eleusinian Mysteries of rioting and debauchery 
during their Grecian history are brought by those 
who were not permitted to share their honours, 
or who were prejudiced in favour of some other 
form of religion. In the opinion of the majority 
of contemporary writers these charges were wholly 
gratuitous, and they maintain that the Eleusinian 
Mysteries produced a sanctity of manners and a 
cultivation of virtue. They could not, of course, 
make a man virtuous against his will and Diogenes, 
when asked to submit to initiation, replied that 
Pataecion, a notorious robber, had obtained initiation. 
" The Athenians," says Hippolytus, " in the 
initiation of Eleusis, show to the epoptae the great, 
admirable, and most perfect mystery of the epoptae : 
an ear of corn gathered in silence." The statement 
is so clear as to leave no doubt whatever on the 
subject ; indeed, it has never been called into question. 


The presentation of the ear of corn was regarded as 
a special, indeed the most important, feature of the 
Mysteries of Eleusis, and it was reserved for the 
final degree. Much has been made of this incident 
by many who can see no beauty in pre-Christian 
or non-Christian systems of religion, their comments 
being based mainly on a statement of Gregory 
Nazianus, who stands almost alone in discerning 
lewdness in the Eleusinian ceremonial. He says : 
** It is not in our religion that you will find a seduced 
Cora, a wandering Demeter, a Keleos, and a Trip- 
tolemus appearing with serpents ; that Demeter is 
capable of certain acts and that she permits others. 
I am really ashamed to throw light on the nocturnal 
orgies of the initiations. Eleusis knows as well 
as the witnesses the secret of the spectacle, which 
is with reason kept so profound." 

Apart from this isolated statement the Eleusinian 
Mysteries have not been charged, as many other 
ancient rites were, with promoting and encouraging 
immorality. In his account of the doings of the 
false prophet Alexander of Abountichos, Lucian 
describes how the impostor instituted rites which 
were a close parody of those celebrated at Eleusis, 
and he narrates the details of the travesty. Among 
the mimetic performances were not only the epiphany 
and birth of a god but the enactment of a sacred 
marriage. All preliminaries were gone through, and 
Lucian says that but for the abundance of hghted 


torches the marriage would actually have been 
consummated. The part of the hierophant was 
taken by the false prophet himself. From the 
travesty it is evident that in the genuine Mysteries, 
in silence, in darkness, and in perfect chastity the 
sacred marriage was symbolized and that immediately 
afterwards the hierophant came forward and stand- 
ing in a blaze of torchlight made the announcement 
to the initiates. 

The name Brimo, expressed at full length Obrimo, 
seems to be a variation of the compound term Ob- 
Rimon, " the lofty serpent goddess." 

The birth of Brimo ; and the mighty deeds 

Of the Titanic hosts ; the servitude 

Of Jove ; and the mysterious mountain rites 

Of Cybele, when with distracted pace she sought 

Through the wide world the beauteous Proserpine ; 

The far-fam'd labours of the Machian Hercules ; 

Th' Idean orgies ; and the giant force 

Of the dread Corybantes ; and the wanderings 

Of Ceres, and the woes of Prosperpine : 

With these I sung the gifts of the Cabiri ; 

The Mysteries of Bacchus ; and the praise 

Of Lemnos, Samothrace, and lofty Cyprus, 

Fair Adonean Venus ; and the rites 

Of dread Ogygian Praxidice ; 

Arinian Minerva's nightly festival ; 

And Egypt's sorrow for the lost Osiris. 

Orphic Hymn. 

Dr. Jevons maintains that this ear of corn was 
the totem of Eleusis, and this view has been adopted 


by M. Reinach, who says : " We find in the texts 
a certain trace not only of the cult but of the adora- 
tion and the exaltation (in the Christian meaning 
of the word) of the ear of corn." But he has omitted 
to quote the texts on which he relies for this assertion. 
It would be interesting to know why, among all the 
plants which die and revive in the course of a year, 
wheat was chosen for preference, why the ear more 
than the grain, why it should be emphasized that 
it was gathered, for what reason the spectacle was 
reserved for the epoptae, and in what manner it 
secured or ensured for the individual a bUssful 
existence after death. The demonstration pre- 
supposes that the preceding rites were leading up 
to this supreme display. 

After this demonstration the epoptae partook of 
barley meal flavoured with pennyroyal, as a solemn 
form of communion with Demeter. According to 
Eustathius, the compound was a kind of thick 
gruel, half-solid, half-liquid. This done, each of 
the initiated repeated after the hierophant the 
following words : "I have fasted, I have drank 
' cyceon.' I have taken from the cystos, and after 
having tasted of it I placed it in the calathos. I 
again took it from the calathos and put it back in 
the cystos." This formula, notwithstanding its 
length, is said to have been the password leading 
to the third degree. 

Justin Martyr gives the oath of initiation as 


follows : ** So help me heaven, the work of God 
who is great and wise : so help me the word of 
the Father which he spake when he established 
the whole universe in his wisdom/' 

With this ceremony the third degree ended, save 
that the epoptae were placed upon exalted seats, 
around which the priests circled in mystic dances, 
The day succeeding admission into the final degree 
was regarded as a rigorous fast, at the conclusion 
of which the epoptae drank of the mystic cyceon 
and ate of the sacred cakes. 

According to Theo of Smyrna, the full or complete 
initiation consisted of five steps or degrees, which 
he sets out as follows : — 

" Again, philosophy may be called the initiation 
into true sacred ceremonies, and the tradition of 
genuine mysteries ; for there are five parts of initia- 
tion ; the first of which is previous purgation, for 
neither are the Mysteries communicated to all who 
are willing to receive them, but there are certain 
characters who are prevented by the voice of the 
crier, such as those who possess impure hands and 
an inarticulate voice, since it is necessary that such 
as are not expelled from the Mysteries should first 
be refined by certain purgations, but after purgation 
the tradition of the sacred rite succeeds. The 
third part is denominated inspection. And the fourth, 
which is the end and design of inspection, is the 
binding of the head and fixing the crown, so that the 


initiated may, by this means, be enabled to communi- 
cate to others the sacred rites in which he has been 
instructed. Whether after this he becomes a torch- 
bearer, or an interpreter of the Mysteries, or sustains 
some other part of the sacerdotal ofhce. But the 
fifth, which is produced from all these, is friendship 
with divinity, and the enjoyment of that felicity 
which arises from intimate converse with the gods. 
According to Plato, purification is to be derived from 
the five mathematical disciplines, viz. arithmetic, 
geometry, stereometry, music, and astronomy." 

Apuleius is represented as saying to himself : — 

** I approached the confines of death ; and, having 
crossed the threshold of Proserpine, I at length 
returned, borne along through all the elements. 
I beheld the sun shining in the dead of night with 
luminous splendour : I saw both the infernal and 
the celestial gods. I approached and adored them." 

Themistius represents initiation in the following 
words : — 

" Entering now the mystic dome, he is filled with 
horror and amazement. He is seized with solicitude 
and a total perplexity. He is unable to move a 
step forward ; and he is at a loss to find the entrance 
to that road which is to lead him to the place he 
aspires to. But now, in the midst of his perplexity, 
the prophet (hierophant) suddenly lays open to him 
the space before the portals of the temple. Having 
thoroughly purified him, the hierophant now dis- 


doses to the initiated a region all over illuminated 
and shining with a divine splendour. The cloud and 
thick darkness are dispersed ; and the mind, which 
before was full of disconsolate obscurity, now emerges, 
as it were, into day, replete with light and cheerful- 
ness, out of the profound depth into which it had 
been plunged." 

The fee for initiation was a minimum sum of 
fifteen drachmas (a drachma being of the value of 
7|d.), in addition to which there were the usual 
honoraria to be bestowed upon the various officials, 
to which reference has already been made. Pre- 
sumably, also, gifts in kind were made to the 
principal officials, for an inscription of the fifth 
century b c, found at Eleusis, reads : — 

" Let the Hierophant and the Torch-bearer com- 
mand that at the Mysteries the Hellenes shall offer 
first-fruits of their crops in accordance with ancestral 
usage. ... To those who do these things there shall 
be many good things, both good and abundant crops, 
whoever of them do not injure the Athenians, nor 
the city of Athens, nor the two goddesses." 

The Telestrion or Hall of Initiation, sometimes 
called " The Mystic Temple," was surrounded on all 
sides by steps, which presumably served as seats 
for the initiated w^hile the sacred dramas and pro- 
cessions took place on the floor of the hall. These 
steps were partly built in and partly cut in the solid 
rock ; in later times they appear to have been covered 


with marble. There were two doors on each side 
of the hall with the exception of the north-west, 
where the entrance was cut out of the solid rock, a 
rock terrace at a higher level adjoining it. This 
was probably the station of those not yet admitted 
to full initiation. The roof of the hall was carried 
by rows of columns which were more than once 
renewed. The Hall itself did not accommodate 
more than four thousand people. The building was 
perhaps more accurately described by Aristophanes, 
who called it : " The House that welcomed the 
Mystae," and he carefully distinguished it from the 
Temple of Demeter. It was not the dwelling-place 
of any god, and it, therefore, did not contain any 
holy image. It was built for the celebration of a 
definite ritual, and the Eleusinian Hall of Initiation 
was therefore the only known church of antiquity, 
if by that term we mean the meeting-place of the 

Mr. James Christie, in his work on Greek Vases, 
contends that the phantasmal scenes in the 
Mysteries were shown by transparencies, such as 
are yet used by the Chinese, Javanese, and Hindus. 


LIFE, as we know it, was looked upon by the 
ancient philosophers as death. Plato considered 
the body as the sepulchre of the soul, and in the 
Cratylus acquiesces in the doctrine of Orpheus that 
the soul is punished through its union with the body. 
Empedocles, lamenting his connection with this 
corporeal world, pathetically exclaimed : — 

For this I weep, for this indulge my woe, 

That e'er my soul such novel realms should know. 

He also calls this material abode, or the realms 
of generation, 

a joyless region. 
Where slaughter, rage, and countless ills reside. 

Philolaus, the celebrated Pythagorean, wrote : " The 
ancient theologists and priests testify that the soul 
is united with the body for the sake of suffering 
punishment, and that it is buried in the body as in 
a sepulchre " ; while Pythagoras himself said : 
" Whatever we see when awake is death, and when 
asleep a dream/' 



This is the truth intended to be expressed in the 
Mysteries. Sallustius, the neo-Platonic philosopher, 
in his treatise Peri Theon kai Kosmou, " Concerning 
the gods and the existing state of things," explains 
the rape of Persephone as signifying the descent of 
the soul. Other writers have explained the real 
element of the Mysteries as consisting in the relations 
of the universe to the soul, more especially after 
death, or as intimating obscurely by splendid visions 
the felicity of the soul here and hereafter when 
purified from the defilements of a material nature. 
The intention of all mystic ceremonies, according 
to Sallustius, was to conjoin the world and the gods. 
Plotinus says that to be plunged into matter is to 
descend and then fall asleep. The initiate had to 
withstand the daemons and spectres, which, in later 
times, illustrated the difficulties besetting the soul 
in its approach to the gods, so also the Uasarian 
had to repel or satisfy the mystic crocodiles, vipers, 
avenging assessors, daemons of the gate, and other 
dread beings whom he encountered in his trying 
passage through the valley of the shadow of death. 
Pindar, speaking of the Eleusinian Mysteries, says : 
" Blessed is he who, on seeing those common concerns 
under the earth, knows both the end of Hfe and the 
given end of Jupiter. '* 

Psyche is said to have fallen asleep in Hades through 
rashly attempting to behold corporeal beauty, and 
the truth intended to be taught in the Eleusinian 


Mysteries was that prudent men who earnestly 
employed themselves in divine concerns were, above 
all others, in a vigilant state, and that imprudent 
men who pursued objects of an inferior nature 
were asleep, and engaged only in the delusion of 
dreams ; and that if they happened to die in this 
sleep before they were aroused they would be 
afflicted with similar, but still sharper, visions in 
a future state. 

Matter was regarded by the Egyptians as a certain 
mire or mud. They called matter the dregs or 
sediment of the first life. Before the first purifica- 
tion the candidate for initiation into the Eleusinian 
Mysteries was besmeared with clay or mud which 
it was the object of the purification to wash away. 
It also intimated that while the soul is in a state 
of servitude to the body it lives confined, as it were, 
in bonds through the dominion of this Titanic life. 
Thus the Greeks laid great stress upon the advantages 
to be derived from initiation. Not only were the 
initiates placed under the protection of the State, 
but the very act of initiation was said to assist in 
the spreading of goodwill among men, keep the soul 
from sin and crime, place the initiates under the 
special protection of the gods, and provide them 
with the means of attaining perfect virtue, the power 
of living a spotless life, and assure them of a peace- 
ful death and of everlasting bHss hereafter. The 
hierophants assured all who participated in the 


Mysteries that they would have a high place in 
Elysium, a clearer understanding, and a more 
intimate intercourse with the gods, whereas the 
uninitiated would for ever remain in outer darkness. 
Indeed, in the third degree the epoptse were said 
to be admitted to the presence of and converse 
with the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, under 
whose immediate care and protection they were 
said to be placed. Initiation was referred to 
frequently as a guarantee of salvation conferred 
by outward and visible signs and by sacred formulae. 

The Lesser Mysteries were intended to symbolize 
the condition of the soul while subservient to the 
body, and the liberation from this servitude, through 
purgative virtues, was what the wisdom of the Ancients 
intended to signify by the descent into Hades and 
the speedy return from those dark abodes. They 
were held to contain perfective rites and appearances 
and the tradition of the sacred doctrines necessary 
to the perfection or accomplishment of the most 
splendid visions. The perfective part, said Proclms^ 
precedes initiation, as initiation precedes inspection. 

" Hercules," said Proclus also in Plat. Polit., " being 
purified by sacred initiations and enjoying undefiled 
fruits, obtained at length a perfect establishment 
among the gods " ; that is, freed from the bondage 
of matter ascending beyond the reach of its hands. 

Plutarch wrote : — 

" To die is to be initiated into the great mysteries, 



. . . Our whole life is but a succession of errors, of 
painful wanderings, and of long journeys by tortuous 
ways, without outlet. At the moment of quitting 
it, fears, terrors, quiverings, mortal sweats, and 
a lethargic stupor come and overwhelm us ; but, 
as soon as we are out of it, we pass into delightful 
meadows, where the purest air is breathed, where 
sacred concerts and discourses are heard ; where, 
in short, one is impressed with celestial visions. 
It is there that man, having becomie perfect through 
his new initiation, restored to liberty, really master 
of himself, celebrates, crowned with myrtle, the most 
august mysteries, holds converse with just and pure 
souls, and sees with contempt the impure multitude 
of the profane or uninitiated, ever plunged and 
sinking itself into the mire and in profound darkness." 

Dogmatic instruction was not included in the 
Mysteries ; the doctrine of the immortality of the 
soul traces its origin to sources anterior to the rise 
of the Mysteries. At Eleusis the way was shown 
how to secure for the soul after death the best 
possible fate. The miracle of regeneration, rather 
than the eternity of being, was taught. 

Plato introduces Socrates as saying : "In my 
opinion those who established the Mysteries, v/hoever 
they were, were well skilled in human nature. For 
in these rites it was of old signified to the aspirants 
that those who died without being initiated stuck 
fast in mire and filth ; but that he who was 


purified and initiated should, at his death, have 
his habitation with the gods." 

Plato, again, in the seventh book of the Republic 
says : "He who is not able by the exercise of his 
reason to define the idea of the good, separating it 
from all other objects and piercing as in a battle 
through every kind of argument ; endeavouring 
to confute, not according to opinion but according 
to evidence, and proceeding with all these dialectical 
exercises with an unshaken reason — he who cannot 
accomplish this, would you not say that he neither 
knows the good itself, nor anything which is properly 
demonstrated good ? And would you not assert 
that such a one when he apprehended it rather 
through the medium of opinion than of science, that 
in the present life he is sunk in sleep and conversant 
with delusions and dreams ; and that before he is 
roused to a vigilant state he will descend to Hades, 
and be overwhelmed with sleep perfectly profound ? ' ' 

Olympiodorus, in his MS. Commentary on the 
Georgias of Plato, says of the Elysian fields : *' It 
is necessary to know that the fortunate islands are 
said to be raised above the sea. . . . Hercules is 
reported to have accomplished his last labour in 
the Hesperian regions, signifying by this that, having 
vanquished an obscure and terrestrial life, he after- 
wards lived in open day — that is, in truth and resplen- 
dent light. So that he who in the present state 
vanquishes as much as possible a corporeal life^ 


through the exercise of the cathartic virtues, passes 
in reality into the fortunate islands of the soul, 
and lives surrounded with the bright splendours of 
truth and wisdom proceeding from the sun of good." 

The esoteric teaching was not, of course, grasped 
by all the initiates ; the majority merely recognized or 
grasped the exoteric doctrine of a future state of 
rewards and punishments. Virgil, in his description, 
in the jEneid, of the Mysteries, confines himself to 
the exoteric teaching. iEneas, having passed over the 
Stygian lake, meets with the three-headed Cerberus. 
By Cerberus must be understood the discriminative 
part of the soul, of which a dog, by reason of its 
sagacity, is an emblem. The three heads signify 
the intellective, dianoetic, and doxatic po\^-ers. 
" He dragg'd the three-mouth'd dog to upper day " 
— i.e. by temperance, continence, and other virtues 
he drew upwards the various powers of the soul. 
The teaching of the Mysteries was not in opposition 
to the ordinary creed : it deepened it rather, revived 
it in a spiritual manner and gave to religion a force 
and a power it had not hitherto possessed. 

The fable of Persephone, as belonging to the 
Mysteries, was properly of a mixed nature, composed 
of all four species of fable — theological, physical, 
animistic, and material. According to the arcana 
of ancient theology, the Coric order — i.e. that 
belonging to Persephone — is twofold, one part 
supermundane and the other mundane. 


Proclus says : " According to the rumour of theo- 
logists, who deUvered to us the most holy Eleusinian 
Mysteries, Persephone abides on high, in those 
dwelHngs of her mother which she prepared for her 
in inaccessible places, exempt from the sensible 
world. But she hkewise dwells with Pluto, adminis- 
tering terrestrial concerns, governing the recesses 
of the earth and imparting soul to beings which 
are of themselves inanimate and dead." 

The Orphic poet describes Persephone as " the 
life and the death of mortals," and as being the 
mother of Eubuleus or Bacchus by an ineffable 
intercourse with Jupiter. Porphyry asserts that 
the wood pigeon was sacred to her and that she was 
the same as Maia, or the great mother, who is usually 
claimed as the parent of the Arkite god Mercury. 

According to Nosselt the following may be taken 
as the meaning of the myth of Demeter and her 
lost daughter : " Persephone, the daughter of the 
all-productive earth (Demeter), is the seed. The 
earth rejoices at the sight of the plants and flowers, 
but they fade and wither, and the seed disappears 
quickly from the face of the earth when it is strewn 
on the ground. The dreaded monarch of the under- 
world has taken possession of it. In vain the mother 
searches for her child, the whole face of nature 
mourns her loss, and everything sorrows and grieves 
with her. But, secretly and unseen, the seed 
develops itself in the lap of the earth, and at length 


it starts forth : what was dead is now aUve ; the 
earth, all decked with fresh green, rejoices at the 
recovery of her long-lost daughter, and everything 
shares in the joy." 

Demeter was worshipped in a twofold sense 
by the Greeks, as the foundress of agriculture and as 
goddess of law and order. They used to celebrate 
yearly in her honour the Thesmorphoria, or Festival 
of Laws. According to some ancient writers the 
Greeks, prior to the time of Demeter and Triptolemus, 
fed upon the acorns of the ilex, or the evergreen 
oak. Acorns, according to Virgil, were the food 
in Epiros, and in Spain, according to Strabo. The 
Scythians made bread with acorns. According to 
another tradition, before Demeter's time, men neither 
cultivated corn nor tilled the ground, but roamed 
the mountains and woods in search for the wild 
fruits which the earth produced. Isocrates wrote : 
" Ceres hath made the Athenians two presents of 
the greatest consequence : corn, which brought 
us out of a state of brutahty ; and the Mj^steries, 
which teach the initiated to entertain the most 
agreeable expectations touching death and eternity.'* 
The coins of Eleusis represented Demeter in a car 
drawn by dragons or serpents which were sometimes 
winged. The goddess had two ears of corn in her 
right hand or, as some imagined, torches, indicating 
that she was searching for her daughter. George 
Wheler, in his Journey into Greece, published in 


1682, says : " We observed many large stones covered 
with wheat-ears and bundles of poppy bound together ; 
these being the characters of Ceres." At Copenhagen 
there is a statue representing Demeter holding poppies 
and ears of corn in her left hand. On a coin of 
Lampsacus of the fourth century B.C., Persephone 
is described in the act of rising from the earth. 

According to Taylor, the Platonist, Demeter in 
the legend represents the evolution of that self- 
inspective part of our nature which we properly 
determine intellect, and Persephone that vital, 
self-moving, and animate part which we call soul. 
Pluto signifies the whole of our material nature, 
and, according to Pythagoras, the empire of this god 
commences downwards from the Galaxy or Milky 

Sallust says that among the mundane divinities 
Ceres is the deity of the planet Saturn. The cavern 
signifies the entrance into mundane life accomplished 
by the union of the soul with the terrestrial body. 
Demeter, who was afraid lest some violence be offered 
to Persephone on account of her inimitable beauty, 
conveyed her privately to Sicily and concealed her 
in a house built on purpose by the Cyclops, while 
she herself directed her course to the temple of 
Cybele, the mother of the gods. Here we see the 
first cause of the soul's descent, viz. her desertion 
of a Hfe wholly according to intellect, occultly signi- 
fied by the separation of Demeter and Persephone. 


Afterwards Jupiter instructed Venus to go and betray 
Persephone from her retirement, that Pluto might 
be enabled to carry her away, and, to prevent any 
suspicion in the virgin's mind, he commanded 
Diana and Pallas to bear her company. The 
three goddesses on arrival found Persephone at 
work on a scarf for her mother, on which she had 
embroidered the primitive chaos and the formation 
of the world. Venus, says Taylor, is significant 
of desire, which, even in the celestial regions (for 
such is the residence of Persephone until she is 
ravished by Pluto), begins silently and fraudulently 
in the recesses of the soul. Minerva is symbolical 
of the rational power of the soul ; and Diana repre- 
sents nature, or the merely natural and vegetable 
part of our composition, both ensnared through 
the allurements of desire. 

In Ovid we have Narcissus, the metamorphosis 
of a youth who fell a victim to love of his own cor- 
poreal form. The rape of Persephone, according 
to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, was the immediate 
consequence of her gathering this wonderful flower. 
By Narcissus falhng in love with his shadow in the 
limpid stream we behold the representation of a 
beautiful soul, which, by prolonged gaze upon the 
material form, becomes enamoured of a corporeal 
life and changed into a being consisting wholly 
of the mere energies of nature. Plato, forcing his 
passage through the earth, seizes on Persephone 


and carries her away, despite the resistance of 
Minerva and Diana, who were forbidden by Jupiter 
to attempt her dehverance after her abduction. 
This signifies that the lapse of the soul into a material 
nature is contrary to the genuine wish and proper 
condition. Pluto having hurried Persephone into 
the infernal regions, marriage succeeds. That is 
to say, the soul having sunk into the profoundities 
of a material nature, unites with the dark tenement 
of the material body. Night is with great beauty 
and propriety introduced, standing by the nuptial 
couch and confirming the oblivious league. That 
is to say, the soul, by union with a material body, 
becomes familiar with darkness and subject to the 
empire of night, in consequence of which she dwells 
wholly with delusive phantoms and till she breaks 
her fetters is deprived of the perception of that 
which is real and true. 

The nine days of the Festival are said to be signifi- 
cant of the descent of the soul. The soul, in falling 
from her original, divine abode in the heavens, 
passes through eight spheres, viz. the inerratic sphere 
and the seven planets, assuming a different body and 
employing different energies in each, finally becoming 
connected with the sublunary world and a terrene 
body on the ninth. Demeter and the foundation 
of the art of tillage are said to signify the descent 
of intellect into the realms of generation, the 
greatest benefit and ornament which a material 


nature is capable of receiving. Without the 
possibihty of the participation of intellect in the 
lower material sphere nothing but an irrational and 
a brutal life would subsist. 

But, according to some writers, the initiates into 
the third degree were taught that the gods and 
goddesses were only dead mortals, subject while 
alive to the same passions and infirmities as them- 
selves ; and they were taught to look upon the 
Supreme Cause, the Creator of the Universe, as 
pervading all things by His virtue and governing 
all things by His power. Thus the meaning of 
Mystes is given as " one who sees things in disguise," 
and that of Epopt as " one who sees things as they 
are, without disguise." The Epopt, after passing 
through the ceremonial of exaltation, was said to 
have received Autopsia, or complete vision. Virgil 
declared that the secret of the Mysteries was the 
Unity of the Godhead, and Plato owned it to be 
" difficult to find the Creator of the Universe, and, 
when found, impossible to discover Him to all the 
world." Varro, in his Vv^ork Of Religions, says that 
'■ there were many truths which it was inconvenient 
for the State to be generally known ; and many 
things which, though false, it was expedient the 
people should believe, and that, therefore, the Greeks 
shut up their Mysteries in the silence of their sacred 
enclosures." The Mysteries declared that the future 
life was not the shadowy, weary existence which 


it had hitherto been supposed to be, but that through 
the rites of purification and sacrifices of a sacramental 
character man could secure a better hope for the 
future. Thus the Eleusinian Mysteries became the 
chief agent in the conversion of the Greek world 
from the Homeric view of Hades to a more hopeful 
belief as to man's state after death. Tully pro- 
mulgated a law forbidding nocturnal sacrifices in^ 
which women were permitted to take part, but 
made an express exception in favour of the Eleu- 
sinian Mysteries, giving as his reason : " Athens- 
hath produced many excellent, even divine inventions 
and applied them to the use of life, but she has given 
nothing better than those Mysteries by which we 
are drawn from an irrational and savage life and 
tamed, as it were, and broken to humanity. They 
are truly called Initia, for they are indeed the 
beginnings of a life of reason and virtue." 

Secrecy was enjoined because it was regarded as 
essential that the profane should not be permitted 
to share the knowledge of the true nature of Demeter 
and Persephone, as if it were known that these 
goddesses were only mortal women their worship 
would become contemptible. Cicero says that it 
was the humanity of Demeter and Persephone,, 
their places of interment, and several facts of a like 
nature that were concealed with so much care.. 
Diagoras, the Melian, was accounted an atheist 
because he revealed the real secret of the Eleusiniaa 


Mysteries. The charge of atheism was the lot of 
any who communicated a knowledge of the one, 
only God. Pindar says, referring to the Mysteries : 
*' Happy is he who has seen these things before 
leaving this world : he realizes the beginning and 
the end of Ufe, as ordained by Zeus " ; and Sophocles 
wrote : " Oh, thrice blessed the mortals, who, having 
■contemplated these Mysteries, have descended to 
Hades ; for those only will there be a future life 
of happiness — the others there will find nothing but 


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