Eleusinian Mysteries

The Eleusinian Mysteries
The Eleusinian Mysteries (Photo credit: certified su)

The Eleusinian Mysteries were Ancient Greek esoteric ceremonies (sometimes called the Eleusian Mysteries) held in honor of Demeter and Persephone.

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (7th century BCE) Demeter visits Eleusis, near Athens, to search for her daughter Persephone (or Kore) who’d been abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld. Demeter creates the Eleusian mysteries to not only mark the event but to lead initiated human beings into a divine mystery that many suggest was undertaken in the hope of obtaining a favorable afterlife.

The mysteries were performed in a sacred hall, or telesterion, on a yearly basis at Eleusis, which is just outside of Athens. Initiation into the mysteries was popular among the Roman elite, with the exception of Nero, who refused to indulge in them.

Because the Eleusinian mysteries were a secretive mystery cult, little information survives. But we do know that initiates underwent three distinct stages, lasting about two years.

Shrines near Eleusis
Shrines near Eleusis (Photo credit: Cornell University Library)

The first stage involved purification rites. Again, due to their secret nature not too much is known but these rites apparently had something to do with a symbolic death and rebirth. The final stage might have resulted in a spiritual awakening, perhaps catalyzed by a mystical revelation in combination with other factors.

From 395 CE onward, the telesterion was no longer used and the mysteries were abandoned. In 1924 a statue of Persephone was uncovered at Eleusis, said to date back to 500 BCE.

Related Posts » Orphic Mysteries


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