We do not know anymore what rites were exactly performed,
but it is a good time to try to grasp what they were all about ...
I found the following site to be full of interesting information, so I copied some of the introductory lines here together with links to help you explore this topic.
I cordially invite you to share your insights as comments beneath this discussion.
So let us embark on a journey to the underworld these days to gain access to the Ancient Mysteries of Eleusis, the mysteries of LIFE and DEATH and RESURRECTION!
"Beautiful indeed is the mystery given us by the blessed gods:
death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing."
Inscription found at Eleusis
"Blessed is he who has seen these things
before he goes beneath the earth;
for he understands the end of mortal life,
and the beginning (of a new life) given of God."
Pindar Fragment 102
"For among the many excellent and indeed divine institutions
which your Athens has brought forth and contributed to human life,
none, in my opinion, is better than those mysteries.
For by their means we have been brought out
of our barbarous and savage mode of life
and educated and refined to a state of civilization;
and as the rites are called "initiations,"
so in very truth we have learned from them the beginnings of life,
and have gained the power not only to live happily,
but also to die with a better hope."
Cicero Laws II, xiv, 36
"Amen, amen, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
Jesus in Gospel According to John 12:24
"What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
And what you sow is not the body which is to be,
but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
But God gives it a body as he has chosen,
and to each kind of seed its own body."
Paul I Corinthians 15:36:38
"The thought here ... shows the connection
between decay and resurrection.
Fruit must decay before new seed can develop....
Here too the fundamental trend of the Book of Changes is expressed:
the light principle is represented as invincible
because in its sinking it creates new life,
as does a grain of wheat when it sinks into the earth."
I Ching (Wilhelm-Baynes translation p. 500)
"But all souls do not easily recall the things of the other world;
they may have seen them for a short time only,
or they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot,
and, having had their hearts turned to injustice
through some corrupting influence,
they may have lost the memory
of the holy things which once they saw.
Few only retain an adequate remembrance of them;
and they when they see here any image of that other world,
are rapt in amazement;
but they are ignorant of what this rapture means,
because they do not clearly perceive.
For there is no light of justice or temperance
or any of the higher ideas which are precious to souls
in the earthly copies of them:
they are seen through a glass dimly;
and there are few who, going to the images,
seen in them the realities, and these only with difficulty.
There was a time when with the rest of the happy band
they saw beauty shining in brightness,---
we philosophers following in the train of Zeus,
others in company with other gods;
and then we saw the beatific vision
and were initiated into a mystery
which may be truly called most blessed,
celebrated by us in our state of innocence,
before we had any experience of evils to come,
when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions
innocent and simple and calm and happy,
which we saw shining in pure light,
pure ourselves and not yet enshrined in that living tomb
which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body,
like an oyster in his shell."
Socrates in Plato Phaedrus 250
"There we must ascend again towards the good,
desired of every soul.
Anyone who has seen this, knows what I intend
when I say it is beautiful.
Even the desire of it is to be desired as a good.
To attain it is for those who will take the upward path,
who will set all their forces towards it,
who will divest themselves of all
that we have put on in our descent:---
so, to those who approach the Holy Celebrations of the Mysteries,
there are appointed purifications
and the laying aside of the garments worn before,
and the entry in nakedness---
until, passing on the upward way,
all that is other than the God,
each in the solitude of oneself
shall see that solitary-dwelling existence,
the apart, the unmingled, the pure,
that from which all things depend,
for which all look and live and act and know,
the source of life and of intellection and of being."
Plotinus First Ennead VI, 7
"For we believe that there is nothing more important
for man to receive,
or more ennobling for God of his grace to grant,
than the truth."
Plutarch Isis and Osiris
In humility and with due reverence for their sacred character, may we attempt to penetrate those mysteries which have been hidden from human view for many centuries and inevitably draw closer to those greater mysteries of which no mortal has knowledge, for the true comprehension of them would imply immortality. First I speak of the secret mystical rites practiced in antiquity releasing from their minds the fear of death, and giving them a glimpse at understanding the eternal regeneration of the spiritual life. Of the greater mysteries I may only speculate as to the sojourn of the soul through many incarnations and the inner realms leading to God.
The aim of this essay is to present before the reader translations of the ancient writings relating to the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece. No modern scholars could justly impose their opinion of these most mysterious and holy rites on the contemporary reader as too little is known to give a complete and well-informed picture in summary. The strict secrecy, though practiced for two thousand years, has not been significantly violated, and we shall never know, save through clairvoyance transcending centuries, what the initiates actually experienced in the final beatific vision. Therefore we are forced to rely on the obscure statements of those who were initiated and the ignorant and often prejudiced judgments of those who were not initiated.
Within the Eleusinian Mysteries the role of Demeter is vitally important. She took her name from Mother Earth, as was among the generation of children born of Cronus and Rhea. Her name provides a link with the Indo-European deities that the Hellenes brought with them. Almost with certainty, the triad in the Sumerian system would have been represented by Inanna and Ereshigal with Dumuzi, or his counterpart, the king in whom his spirit was incarnate; while in the Classical Greek supposed the triad in the Eleusis mysteries was composed of Demeter (the mother-goddess Earth), Persephone (Queen of the Underworld), and the young king, their foster child, Triptolemos (once a local king), who is said to have brought Demeter's gift of grain into the world, and as the fosterling of Persephone, to now reign in the land of the dead.
Although Demeter was thought as the mother-goddess Earth she never was confused with Gaia, who was considered a cosmic element. Demeter's providence was the cultivation of the soil, especially land producing corn. Thus legends concerning her proliferated among the futile plains, and the central ground for her myths were the plains of Eleusis, which were around Athens and Sicily, containing the granaries of the ancient world.
Together with Demeter and Persephone the also was a third deity, Zagreus, who figured in the mysteries of Eleusis. Initially Iacchus was the shout uttered by the faithful in the course of religious processions. Gradually the shout assumed a personality and adopted the task of leading the processions of initiates. Occasionally he was thought to be the son of Demeter, but at other times he was considered to be the reincarnation of Zagreus, a son of Persephone and Zeus.
In Iacchus, one see a shout, an inanimate object, assume life; and in Zagreus, one sees the dead regain life; both are the revelation of the Eleusian mysteries. This was as it should be since the central theme of the Eleusus mysteries centers on the abduction of Persephone into the Underworld by Hades. Only Demeter, and Hekate, a moon goddess, heard her daughter, Persephone, scream for help when the Earth opened permitting Hades to snatch her away. But when bereaved Demeter tried tracing her daughter's footsteps she found them obliterated by those of a pig. As by coincidence at the time of the abduction a herd of pigs was rooting nearby. The swineherd's name was Eubouleus, which means "the giver of good counsel" was himself earlier in the appellation of the god of the underworld. Furthermore, when the chasm opened to swallow up Persephone, the pigs fell in as well. This is, according to tradition, the reason that pigs play an important role in the rites of Demeter and Persephone.
The first festivals celebrating the sorrows and later joys of Demeter and Persephone were exclusively for women held in pre-Hellenic Greece; that is in the so-called Pelasgian period, when the hieratic civilizations of Crete and Troy were at their zenith before the time of the warrior-gods Zeus and Apollo who reduced the power of the great goddess. The festivals included the sacrifice of suckling pigs in a manner suggestive of not only of an human sacrifice but of a gruesome one. The women fasted for nine days in memory of the nine days of sorrow that Demeter roamed the earth holding a staff-like torch in search of Persephone. She meets Hekate, and together they go tp Phoebus, the sun god, who had seen the young goddess abducted and told them where she was. Afterwards Demeter, filled with wrath and grief, left the world of the gods, and sat as an old woman, heavily veiled, for days at the Well of the Virgin. Next she became a servant in a kingly household in Eleusis, the city that became her largest sanctuary in Greece. She then cursed all the earth so it bore no fruit for man or the gods for a whole year. Then the gods of Olympus, including Zeus, each pleaded with her in vain, but she would not relent. Zeus finally succeeded in gaining Persephone's release; but while in the underworld she had eaten a seed of a pomegranate and as a consequence would have to spend one third of the year with Hades. She was embraced by both her mother and Hekate and returned to Olympus glorious, and, as if by magic, the earth bloomed again with flowers and vegetation.
The seed-time festival of Thesmophoria lasted three days, the first day being named Kathodos (downgoing) and Anodos (upcoming), the second Nestia (fasting), and the last Kalligeneia (fair-born or fair-birth); and it was during the first that the suckling pigs were thrown, probably alive, into an underground chamber called a megara, and left there to rot for a year, the bones from the year before being carried up to the earth again and placed upon an altar. Figures of serpents and human beings made of flour and wheat were also thrown into the chasm, or "chamber," at this time. And the author of this information wrote: "They say that in or about the chasms are snakes which consume the most part of what is thrown in; hence a rattling din is made when the women draw up the remains and when they replace the remains by well-known images, in order that they snakes which they hold to be the guardians of the sanctuaries may go away."
These rites were secret, thus little is known of them. However, in the widely celebrated and extremely influencial mysteries of Eleusis, where the Kathodos-and-Anodos of the maiden Persephone was again the central theme, pigs again were important offerings. And, a new motif appeared; for the culminating episode of the holy pageant performed in the "hall of the mystics" at Eleusis, representing the sorrows of Demeter and the ultimate Anodos or return of the maiden, was the showing of an ear of grain.
The mysteries of these rites are the evolving of life, death, and rebirth. The pig was the sacrificial beast, representing death and rebirth. So are the goddesses Demeter and Persephone symbolic of death and rebirth. During the lost of her daughter Demeter had no desire for life, the mother-goddess Earth stopped functioning and the earth was barren. Her desire for living was gone, taken away when her daughter Persephone was abducted into the world of the dead. Persephone role in Hades, Queen of the Underworld, is as equally important too because she became the dead element of Demeter when she was taken, or severed, from her mother. During the separation of her daughter Demeter did not and would not be mother-goddess Earth. But the moment her daughter, the maiden, was reunited with her, Demeter magnificently functioned again and the earth blossomed. Thus this is the symbol of the ear of grain, the blossom, or fruit, of the dormant seed; the seed with the embodiment of life that lies as if dead until time to live again. Again, Persephone, being a goddess, is thought divine, so when she entered the world of the dead, that divine part of her entered too; and when she returned to the living the divine returned too as it believed to do in each individual.
As it was in India, so in these Hellenistic mysteries, the accomplished initiate both realized his own divinity and was honored as a god; for what better sign of godhood could there be than a human being in whom his own godhood has been realized, or what better guide to his own perfection? Oh, there were critics, saying cult members were confused, for sure; but others such as Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-143 BC) who wrote in his De Legibus of the Greek mysteries of Eleusis:
Among the many excellent and divine institutions that your Athens has developed and contributed to human life, there is none, in my opinion, better than these mysteries, by which we have been brought forth from our rustic and savage mode of existence, cultivated and refined to a state of civilization; and as these rites are called "initiations" so, in truth, we have learned from them the first principles of life and have gained the understanding, not only to live happily, but also to die with better hope.
In some manner the Eleusis mysteries are still remembered and participated in, usually by neo-Pagans. This annual reenactment tends to show the dividing difference between neo-Paganism and Christianity and other formalized religions. It is true that the phenomena of death and resurrection is present in Christianity as it was in the ancient Pagan religion, but also present is the concept of the end of this world in order to usher in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven now. All of this is based on the guilt of man. Jesus died to pay for this guilt, and his resurrection signified that man, now free of guilt or sin, can enter the kingdom of God. Whereas, in the Pagan view the reenactment of these mysteries symbolize the events which constantly happen on earth, for which this is no improvement or even a need for any, for this world continues forever. The initiates, and those believing likewise, who have learned the ways of these rites come to see and know the world as it is. A.G.H.
This database consists of images of ancient inscriptions on stone from Eleusis.
Welcome to the Eleusinian Mysteries