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The Eleusinian Mysteries – Part 3 – After the Mysteries

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

The time for introspection and meditation came on the leisurely trek back to Athens. The mystai had made a deal with the goddess: they agreed to live lives of exemplary virtue in exchange for immortality once their earthly bodies died. As the event came to a close, the attendees held memorial ceremonies in honor of the deceased. The sacred liquid flowed eastward and westward when ritual libations were spilled on the ground. The exhausted initiates then returned to Athens on their own, as the ritual did not include a return procession.

Although these puzzles appeared to be completely harmless, some Christians have claimed that they were obscene. Why? They were because Christian authors said they were. Though sex and birth are undoubtedly a source of religious amazement, Christianity has always been cautious about them. The Essenes’ dislike of women and desire for ceremonial virginity in preparation for becoming sexless citizens of God’s kingdom explains Christianity’s prudishness.

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T R Glover wrote, “Greek polytheism had always been weak in moral content, morals to Christians always being something sexually dirty rather than the important issues of the morality of condoning mass murder or the morality of destroying the environment and cultures of millions of people, who might as well die because in the world of big-religion bullies they can see nothing to live for.”

Normal people would not be surprised if rebirth rites had some sexual component, but if the Eleusis ceremonies did, no one knows what it was, unless it was ritualised sex signifying the sacred child’s creation. Maybe it had something to do with phallic symbolism. Perhaps it was so significant that it was completely stylized, and the Christian charges are standard for Christians. In any case, the current tabloid obsession with sex, which is the product of centuries of Christian sex and sexuality suppression, is more vulgar than the symbolic sex of a solemn and hallowed ceremony, although few Christians protest now.

Rituals are followed by myth. The origins of the Eleusinian mysteries are obvious, although no details can be found. The original ceremonies were likely pre-Hellenistic, but the Hellenes adopted them in order to gain the favor of local gods and thereby justify their possession of the land. The beginning of the mysteries was the yearly event that kicked off the barleycorn harvest, which was important to the people because they would starve if they didn’t. The first ear harvested was the focal point of the ceremony, and this, or a representation of it, later came to symbolize the “ear of corn gathered in silence,” to emphasize the solemnity of the occasion. In his pamphlet denouncing all heresies, Hippolytus mentions this.

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We may assume that when the first ear had been reverently harvested and exhibited to the harvesters, the hush would have been broken with a loud applause, and the gatherers would have gone about their task.

The tale served as a justification for the rite. Over the years, the solemn gathering, with its anticipatory hush and the happiness and pleasure that followed to celebrate the grain harvest, was refined. Corn goddesses were introduced, as well as an earth deity and a seasonality myth. In the sacred plays and “hierogamos” of the soil deity and the corn goddess, the story became self-ritualized. When the ritual was conducted for Athens’ urban sophisticates, the importance of the event progressively shifted from agricultural magic to salvific magic, with the rebirth being the soul rather than the corn harvest.

Because the grain of corn appeared to die in the soil yet sprung up again, Eleusis promised that death might be confronted without dread. The drama not only resurrected the vegetable world, but also offered new life to everyone.

The Mysteries’ salvific force was attested to even the finest minds of the ancient world. Pindar’s (522-443 BC) fragment from Stromata III reads:

Blessed are they who, having beheld them, will go down below the earth, for he knows how to find life indeed, who knows the divine principle of all things.

Sophocles (495-406 BC) penned the following:

Thrice blessed among mortals who, having seen the right, will go to Hades. To them alone down there, it is given to live, but for the rest there is only misery.

And Cicero (106-43 BC) in De Legiones wrote:

Athens, which has produced many extraordinary and divine things, has brought us nothing more beneficial to human life than those mysteries, by which from a rustic and brutal form of life we have been humanized and introduced to the true principles of life, initiated into them, as we say, and we have received a way not only of living but also of dying with a better hope.

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The life and death of a crop, which represents the harvest that supports people and saves them from famine, becomes a metaphor of the soul’s salvation at death and victory in everlasting life. Even Plato admitted it was nothing more than a “pleasant dream in which one indulges” in his Phaedo, written 2500 years ago. Christians who find power in numbers but not in reason continue to believe in the pleasant dream. Separation from the physical body of the personality and continuing life in some pleasant place was originally reserved mainly for brave or good people. Christians, on the other hand, limit it to the foolishness of “believing” and nothing else—or so they think.

The ritual script may have remained unchanged over millennia since religions are known for their conservatism. However, the hierophants and mystagogues’ stage management and interpretations of the ritual acts will have changed. The Mysteries evolved as a result of natural evolution and syncretism resulting from increased cultural linkage throughout the eastern Mediterranean, along with philosophical musings sparked by the Persians in the fourth century BC. The enormous amount of cultural mingling sparked by Alexander and effected during the Hellenistic era drew the fledgling Christian group into it.

When the Christian church discovered that Pagans could not be persuaded to let go of their old gods, they made them Christian saints so that people might continue to adore them in Christian churches. In a homeopathic form, the Eleusinian mysteries are still commemorated in Greece, where “St Demetra” is none other than Demeter, the corn goddess, whose daughter was taken by gloomy Dis (Hades), causing tremendous grief and winter death. Countless Christian saints are legends in every way.

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