The Eleusinian Mysteries of Ancient Greece Sept 23, 2014 20:53:57 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Sept 23, 2014 20:53:57 GMT -5
The Eleusinian Mysteries: Psychedelic Cult That Thrived for Almost 2000 Years
The Eleusinian Mysteries are a set of traditions that have been practiced for 2000 years. The popular pseudo-religion invited all, accepting slaves, women and men, regardless of financial standing and background.
The origin of the group centers on a conflict between Greek deities, with the goddess of agriculture, Demeter, plunging the world into famine in order to save her daughter Persephone. Let’s take a look at the background, the rituals, and a possible explanation for the popularity and longevity of the Eleusinian Mysteries, as well as a place where you can see a modern-day recreation of their ceremonies.
Origins of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The longest lasting “mystery” religion of the Greco-Roman period spanned almost 2000 years, extending from of Mycenean traditions (c. 1500 BC) and the Greek Dark Ages. The Eleusinian Mysteries are named for their origin in the city of Eleusis, however, the religion centers on the story of Demeter and Persephone. One day Persephone is captured by Hades. In order to coerce the other gods to retrieve Persephone from the Underworld, Demeter causes a worldwide drought. The drought deprives humans of food – but, more importantly, it deprives the gods of sacrifices. Zeus orders Hades to return Persephone, but a dirty rule of the Underworld calls for anyone who consumes food within the Underworld to remain within its boundaries forever. Persephone ate several pomegranate seeds during her stay in Underworld, but a deal is struck that calls for her to return to Hades for four to six months out of the year, months when Demeter will be dissatisfied and once again prohibit the growth of plants. This story of Demeter and Persephone sets forth an understanding of the change in seasons against a backdrop of the Greek pantheon.
Initiation and Secret Knowledge. The cult of Demeter and Persephone allowed anyone in society to enter, as long as the individual spoke Greek and had never committed murder. The individual’s station in life did not matter – slaves, women and the poor could enter the group and access the fellowship and secret knowledge of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Mysteries featured a series of celebrations consisting of Lesser Mysteries and Greater Mysteries, with the Greater celebrated every five years or so. Most of the details of the Mysteries did not into modern times because members who revealed the more elusive secrets often met their ends at the hands of other members. The secrets of the Mysteries are believed to revolve around hidden physical objects – the contents of a giant chest and an enclosed basket are known by low level imitates, with an increasing number of secrets revealed to tenured members and priests.
The Greatest Mystery with a Psychedelic Twist. The most important ritual for those involved in the Eleusinian Mysteries involved a 10-day journey to Eleusis and fast broken by drinking kykeon. The administration of kykeon, a peasant drink consisting of barley and the common cooking herb pennyroyal, is a subject of controversy among modern historians as the kykeon served near the end of the journey likely contained a psychoactive ingredient. Ergot, a parasite that grows on barley, emits ergometrine and d-lysergic acid amide, a chemical precursor of LSD that exhibits similar psychedelic effects. After drinking kykeon, the participant enters the final portion of the journey, wherein the most secret aspects of the Mystery are revealed, with many experiencing visions pertaining to the possibility of eternal life. The influence of mind-altering drugs is believed to bolster the individual’s reaction to the final step and helped the Eleusinian Mysteries survive for almost two centuries against a plethora of other mystery cults and the rise of Christianity in Rome.
End of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Like many mystery cults of the time, the influx of Christianity and the Christian emperors of Rome led to the downfall of the Eleusinian rituals. Sarmatians, a group from the Eastern Balkans, robbed the Temple of Demeter on Naxos Island in the 2nd century AD and in 170 AD, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, author of The Meditations and portrayed by Richard Harris (the first Dumbledore) in Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator, repaired the temple. Emperor Theodosisus I, best known for the removal of the traditional state religion of Rome in 380 AD and replacing it with Catholicism, destroyed the remnants of the Eleusinian temples between 392 and 395 AD.
Modern Re-creations. If you would like to check out a modern production of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Aquarian Tabernacle Church uses the scant knowledge of the Mysteries to recreate the known rituals every year around Easter during its Spring Mysteries Festival at the Fort Flagler State Park in Washington state. The ceremonies are open to anyone and provide a rare insight into one of the most popular societies of ancient Greece and Rome.
Sources: Keith Veronese, io9, and The Road to Eleusis by R. Gordon Wasson.