According to legend the origin of the Lesser Mysteries was for Heracles who needed purification before he could journey to the underworld. Diodorus says:
Demeter instituted the Lesser Mysteries in honor of Heracles, that she might purify him of the guilt he had incurred in the slaughter of the Centaurs.
And assuming that it would be to his advantage for the accomplishment of this labor, he went to Athens and took part in the Eleusinian Mysteries, Musaeus, the son of Orpheus, being at that time in charge of the initiatory rite.
(Diodorus Siculus IV, 25)
According to another version he was rebuffed by the Pythia at Delphi when he asked how he should purify himself, and seeking initiation at Eleusis was also refused at first. Kerenyi translates the fragments on a papyrus from an oration of the time of Hadrian, giving a speech of Herakles whom they did not wish to initiate into the Eleusinian Mysteries:
"I was initiated long ago (or: elsewhere). Lock up Eleusis, (Hierophant,) and put the fire out, Dadouchos. Deny me the holy night! I have already been initiated into more authentic mysteries.... (I have beheld) the fire, whence (...and) I have seen the Kore.
(Kerenyi Eleusis p. 83-84)
Here is more evidence for a mystical vision in the flames. Plutarch tells how Theseus, who had his own adventure in the underworld, helped Heracles to these sacred rites.
Yet it is more credible, as others write, that there were, before, frequent interviews between them, and that it was by the means of Theseus that Hercules was initiated at Eleusis, and purified before initiation, upon account of several rash actions of his former life.
Apollodorus records how Eumolpus himself saw to Heracles' purification.
When Hercules was about to depart to fetch him, he went to Eumolpus at Eleusis, wishing to be initiated. However it was not then lawful for foreigners to be initiated: since he proposed to be initiated as the adoptive son of Pylius. But not being able to see the mysteries because he had not been cleansed of the slaughter of the centaurs, he was cleansed by Eumolpus and then initiated.
(The Library II, v, 12)
Heracles answers questions in Euripides' Heracles Mad.
Heracles: ... After my return at length from the soulless den of Hades and the maiden queen of hell, I will not neglect to greet first of all the gods beneath my roof.
Amphitryon: Why, did you in very deed go to the house of Hades, my son?
Heracles: Aye, and brought to the light that three-headed monster.
Amphitryon: Did you worst him fight, or receive him from the goddess?
Heracles: In fair fight; for I had been lucky enough to witness the rites of the initiated.
Amphitryon: Is the monster really lodged in the house of Eurystheus?
Heracles: The grove of Demeter and the city of Hermione are his prison.
Perhaps the best pictorial representation of an initiation ceremony is the Lovatelli cinerary urn and the Terre Nova sarcophagus. The identification of the figure with the lion-skin as Heracles could indicate that it depicts the Lesser Mysteries.. The following interpretation is by J. N. Casavis: "In the first picture, he is seated upon the low sacred couch, right arm and breast bare, hoodwinked, and unshod. The seat is covered with the skin of a lion, His feet are resting on the lion's skin instead of making use of the ram's skin on which the other candidates for initiation were standing. In his left hand he holds a torch, emblematic of purification by fire. He is also represented on the right of this picture standing by the Hierophant. Demeter is seated on the symbolic Cista which is covered with the sheepskin. Iacchus, the secret god of the Mysteries, is standing on her right, In the urn, Herakles is also hoodwinked, right arm and breast bare. A sieve is shaken over his covered head, emblematic of purification, symbolic of the separation of evil from good, of fecundity and resurrection. At the right, Herakles, attired in the lion's skin is standing barefoot by the Hierophant holding a sacrificial pig by its hind legs,... The Hierophant is seen sprinkling the victim from a pitcher, with his right hand. On his left, he carries a flat earthen vessel on which three poppy heads appear. Demeter is seated on the Cista holding a torch on which a serpent, the symbol of the chthonian deities, is twined around it. The snake is licking the hand of Iacchus who is resting on a mystic rod. Demeter looks at Persephone holding a torch in her left hand." (The Greek Origin of Freemasonry, p. 80-81)
It was essential to participate in the Lesser Mysteries before being allowed into initiation into the Greater Mysteries. Socrates is being ironic when he says:
I envy you, Callicles, for having been initiated into the great mysteries before you were initiated into the lesser. I thought that this was not allowable.
(Plato Gorgias 497)
The scholiast of Aristophanes says:
The Greater Mysteries were Demeter's and the Lesser Persephone's.
(Mylonas Eleusis p. 240)
A fragment of Douris, the Samian historian, states:
The goddess Demeter is coming to celebrate her daughter's Mysteries.
(Ibid. p. 239-240)
Since the Lesser Mysteries were held annually in the early spring during Anthesterion, the month of flowers, it is natural that they are associated with the Daughter, as we saw before, the time when the crops are coming to maturity. The place of their performance was the Agra on the east bank of the river Ilissos in Athens.
According to Mylonas, fasting, sacrifices, sprinkling of water or bathing in the waters of Ilissos, and singing hymns formed part of the ceremonies. Women carried the sacred vessel (kernos ) and danced in the Lesser as well as in the Greater Mysteries. (Ibid. p. 240-241)
The Greater Mysteries began on the fifteenth day of the month of Boedromion which corresponds to our September and beginning of October; this would be around the autumnal equinox. Initiates came to the Greater Mysteries from the Greek and, later, the Roman world and included women, children, and slaves. Special messengers from the Eumolpids and Kerykes proclaimed a holy truce and went to the cities asking for the tithes of first fruits and official delegations to the Goddess. The truce for the Greater Mysteries lasted 55 days. The expenses of these messengers were paid for from the treasury of the sanctuary at Eleusis. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 243-244) Aeschines by pointing out the exception assumes the validity of this peace;
And when your heralds carried the proclamation of the sacred truce of the Mysteries, the Phocians alone in all Hellas refused to recognize the truce.
(Aeschines On the Embassy 133)
On the 14th of Boedromion after preliminary sacrifices the sacred objects (Hiera ) of Demeter were taken from the sanctuary at Eleusis and brought to Athens in sacred cists (kistai ) in a procession headed by the priests and priestesses. Athenian Ephebes met the procession near the Rhetoi lakes at the shrine of Echo and escorted them into Athens. The procession would stop for a rest at the Sacred Fig Tree near the city. Pausanias describes this place and recounts how Demeter was welcomed there.
There is also an altar of Zephyr, and a sanctuary of Demeter and her daughter: along with them are worshipped Athena and Poseidon. They say that in this place Phytalus received Demeter in his house, and that for so doing the goddess gave him the figtree. This story is attested by the inscription on the grave of Phytalus: - Here the lordly hero Phytalus once received the august Demeter, when she first revealed the autumnal fruit which the race of mortals names the sacred fig; since when the race of Phytalus hath received honors that wax not old.
(Pausanias I, 37:1-2)
There the procession was met by the people of Athens headed by their priest and escorted to the sanctuary of the Goddess in Athens, known as the Eleusinion where the sacred objects were deposited.
Aristotle informs us about the supervision of these rites in The Athenian Constitution.
The King in the first place superintends the Mysteries, in conjunction with the Superintendents of Mysteries. The latter are elected in the assembly by open vote, two from the general body of Athenians, one from the Eumolpidae, and one from the Ceryces.
This King known as the Archon Basileus called the people to an assembly at the Painted Stoa in the famous Agora of Athens and officially invited people to participate in the Mysteries and be initiated into them (Mylonas Eleusis p. 247) Xenophon indicates the main asset of a good herald:
And Cleocritus, the herald of the initiated, a man with a very fine voice, obtained silence and said:
(Hellenica II, iv, 20)
All evil thoughts and profane be still: far hence, far hence from our choirs depart,
Who knows not well what the Mystics tell, or is not holy and pure of heart.
I charge them once, I charge them twice, charge them thrice, that they draw not nigh
To the sacred dance of the Mystic choir.
(Aristophanes The Frogs 346-347, 361-362)
Thus sings the chorus in Aristophanes' The Frogs implying the need for the initiates to want to turn away from evil and purify themselves. Suetonius relates how Nero's guilt turned him away of his own accord from these sacred rites.
When he was in Greece, he durst not attend the celebration of the Eleusinian Mysteries, at the initiation of which, impious and wicked persons are warned by the voice of the herald from approaching the rites.
(Suetonius Nero XXXIV)
Cleansing and Sacrifices at Athens
On the second day, Boedromion 16, the heralds ordered all participants to cleanse themselves in the sea. The shout, "To the sea!" filled the city. Initiates carried a small pig, which was also washed in the sea. Some apparently rode to the sea in carriages. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 249) The ocean was a well-known purifying agent as expressed by this phrase from The Persians of Aeschylus:
Ocean's unpolluted tide
Also in Euripides, Iphigenia uses it as an excuse to King Thoas in order to plan her escape with Orestes.
Iphigenia: My purpose is to cleanse them first by purification.
Thoas: In fresh spring water or salt sea-spray?
Iphigenia: The sea washes away from man all that is ill.
Thoas: True, they would then be holier victims for the goddess.
(Iphigenia Among the Tauri 1191-1194)
Pigs were supposed to absorb the evil from humans. In Aristophanes' The Peace, this sacrifice and subsequent initiation are used as repartee by Trygaeus when he learns he is to die.
Trygaeus: And is it so? And must I die indeed?
Hermes: You must indeed.
Trygaeus: O then, I prithee, lend me half a crown. I'll buy a pig, and get initiated first.
In Plato's Republic, Socrates is worried about the moral implications of teaching the young and shallow the iniquitous deeds that Cronos inflicted on his father and suffered from his son. He feels that perhaps by revealing them only in a mystery with even greater sacrifices than for Demeter, fewer might possess the knowledge.
But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen few might hear them in a mystery, and they should sacrifice not a common (Eleusinian) pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; and then the number of the hearers will be very few indeed.
We know very little about the third day; it was probably the day of major sacrifices on behalf of the city. The fourth day, Boedromion 18, was called Epidauria or Asklepieia because the god of healing had been late in coming from Epidauros, arriving after the proclamation, purification in the sea, and the sacrifices. These rites were repeated so that the god could be correctly initiated into Demeter's Mysteries. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 251) Pausanias confirms this.
For instance, the Athenians professedly assign to Aesculapius a share in the mysteries, and give to the day on which they do so the name of Epidauria; and they date their worship of Aesculapius as a god from the time when this practice was instituted.
Thus this day was to prepare those who had arrived late, while the initiates rested. Aristotle concurs that the regular initiates stayed home.
He (Archon) also superintends sacred processions, both that in honor of Asclepius, when the initiated keep house, and that of the great Dionysia.
(The Athenian Constitution 56:4)
The atmosphere in Athens on this day is described by Philostratus in his recounting of Apollonius of Tyana's attempt at late initiation. This sequence is an example of how a man of exceptional spiritual power may be persecuted by small-minded officials.
Arriving at Pireaus about the season of the Mysteries, when Athens is more crowded than any place in Greece, he lost no time in going up to the city from his ship. As he went he met many of the learned making their way down to Piraeus. Some were basking naked---the autumn is fine and sunny at Athens---others were deep in discussions upon a text, some practicing recitations, some disputing. None of them passed him by, but all guessing that this was Apollonius, turned back with him and hailed him with enthusiasm. A party of ten youths fell in with him, who stretched out their hands towards the Acropolis and swore 'by yonder Athena, they were just setting out for Piraeus to take ship for Ionia and find him there.' He welcomed them, and said he congratulated them on their desire for learning.
It was the day of the Epidauria; and at the Epidauria the Athenian usage, after the Preface and the sacrifice, is to initiate aspirants for a second sacrifice. This tradition represents Asclepius' experience, because he came from Epidaurus, late in the Mysteries, and they initiated him. Heedless of the initiation service, the multitude hung round Apollonius, more concerned with this than to secure admission to the Elect. He said he would be with them anon, and encouraged them to attend the service for the meanwhile, as he himself intended to be initiated. But the hierophant refused him access to the holy things, saying that he would never admit a charlatan, nor open Eleusis to a man of impure theology. Apollonius was equal to himself on this occasion, and said, 'You have not yet mentioned the greatest charge that might be brought against me, which is that I know more than you about this rite, although I came to you as to a man better skilled than myself.' The bystanders applauded this vigorous and characteristic rebuke; and the hierophant, seeing that the excommunication was unpopular, changed his tune and said, 'You shall be admitted, for you seem to be a person of doctrine.' Apollonius answered, 'I will be admitted at another time; the ceremony will be performed by So-and-so'---prophetically naming the next occupant of the hierophancy, who succeeded to his sacred office four years later.
(Philostratus In Honor of Apollonius of Tyana IV, 17-18)
Boedromion 19 was the fifth day known as Iacchos or pompe and culminated the festivities at Athens. Clothed in impressive pomp and crowned with myrtle the initiates were accompanied by the Ephebes in the procession back to Eleusis, many carrying the mystic bacchos made of myrtle branches tied with wool. Some carried a staff with a sack of supplies with clothes and bedding they would use at Eleusis; pack animals or carriages were also used, for the journey was fourteen miles from Athens to Eleusis. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 252)
Much can be learned of the celebrations from the chorus's imitation of them in Aristophanes' comedy, The Frogs.
Chorus: O Iacchus! O Iacchus! O Iacchus!
Xanthias: I have it, master: 'tis those blessed Mystics,...
Chorus: O Iacchus! power excelling, here in stately temples dwelling.
O Iacchus! O Iacchus!
Come to tread this verdant level,
Come to dance in mystic revel,
Come whilst round thy forehead hurtles
Many a wreath of fruitful myrtles,
Come with wild and saucy paces
Mingling in our joyous dance,
Pure and holy, which embraces all the charms of all the Graces,
When the mystic choirs advance.
Xanthias: Holy and sacred queen, Demeter' s daughter,
O, what a jolly whiff of pork breathed o'er me!
Dionysus: Hist! and perchance you'll get some tripe yourself.
Chorus: Come, arise, from sleep waking, come the fiery torches shaking,
O Iacchus! 0 Iacchus!
Morning Star that shinest nightly.
Lo, the mead is blazing brightly,
Age forgets its years and sadness,
Aged knees curvet for gladness,
Lift thy flashing torches o'er us,
Marshall all thy blameless train,
Lead, O lead the way before us; lead the lovely youthful Chorus
To thy marshy flowery plain.
All evil thoughts and profane be still: far hence, far hence from our choirs depart,
Who knows not well what the Mystics tell, or is not holy and pure of heart;
Who ne'er has the noble revelry learned, or danced the dance of the Muses high;
Or shared in the Bacchic rites which old bull-eating Cratinus's words supply;
Who vulgar coarse buffoonery loves, though all untimely the jests they make;
Or lives not easy and kind with all, or kindling faction forbears to slake,
But fan the fire, from a base desire some pitiful gain for himself to reap;
Or takes, in office, his gifts and bribes, while the city is tossed on the stormy deep;
Who foe or fleet to the foe betrays; or, a vile Thorycion, ships away
Forbidden stores from Aegina's shores, to Epidaurus across the Bay
Transmitting oar-pads and sails and tar, that curst collector of five per cents;
The knave who tries to procure supplies for the enemy's armaments;
The cyclian singer who dares befoul the Lady Hecate's wayside shrine;
The public speaker who once lampooned in our Bacchic feasts would, with heart malign,
Keep nibbling away the Comedian's pay; - to these I utter my warning cry,
I charge them once, I charge them twice, I charge them thrice, that they draw not nigh
To the sacred dance of the Mystic choir. But you, my comrades, awake the song,
The night-long revels of joy and mirth which ever of right to our feast belong.
Advance, true hearts, advance!
On to the gladsome powers,
On to the sward, with flowers
March on with jest, and jeer, and dance,
Full well ye've supped tonight.
March, chanting loud your lays,
Your hearts and voices raising,
The Savior goddess praising
Who vows she'll still
Our city save to endless days,
Whate'er Thorycion's will.
Break off the measure, and change the time; and now with chanting and hymns adorn
Demeter, goddess mighty and high, the harvest-queen, the giver of corn.
O Lady, over our rites presiding,
Preserve and succor thy coral throng,
And grant us all, in thy help confiding,
To dance and revel the whole day long;
And much in earnest, and much in jest,
Worthy thy feast, may we speak therein.
And when we have bantered and laughed our best,
The victor's wreath be it ours to win.
Call we now the youthful god, call him hither without delay,
Him who travels amongst his chorus, dancing along on the Sacred Way.
O, come with the joy of thy festival song,
O, come to the goddess, O, mix with our throng
Untired, though the journey be never so long.
O Lord of the frolic and dance, :
Iacchus, beside me advance!
For fun, and for cheapness, our dress thou hast rent,
Through thee we may dance to the top of our bent,
Reviling, and jeering, and none will resent.
O Lord of the frolic and dance,
Iacchus, beside me advance!
A sweet pretty girl I observed in the show,
Her robe had been torn in the scuffle, and lo,
There peeped through the tatters a bosom of snow.
O Lord of the frolic and dance,
Iacchus, beside me advance!...
Chorus: Now wheel your sacred dance through the glade with flowers bedight,
All ye who are partakers of the holy festal rite;
And I will with the women and the holy maidens go
Where they keep the nightly vigil, an auspicious light to show.
Now haste we to the roses,
And the meadows full of posies,
Now haste we to the meadow
In our own old way,
In choral dances blending,
In dances never ending,
Which only for the holy
The Destinies array.
O, happy mystic chorus,
The blessed sunshine o'er us
On us alone is smiling,
In its soft sweet light:
On us who strove forever
With holy, pure endeavor
Alike by friend and stranger
To guide our steps aright.
(Aristophanes The Frogs 317-318, 323-413, 440-459)
The procession was headed by a wooden statue of Iacchos, bearing a torch and crowned with a wreathe of myrtle; with this replication of the young god was his special priest known as Iacchagogos. Winding around the foothills of Parnes on the Sacred Way, they eventually came to the Rhiti described by Pausanias.
What are called the Rhiti only resemble rivers in that they flow, for their water is salt. One might suppose that they flow under ground from the Chalcidian Euripus, falling into a lower sea. The Rhiti are said to be sacred to the Maid and Demeter; and the priests alone are allowed to catch the fish in them. The Rhiti were of old, as I am apprised, the boundary between the Eleusinians and the rest of the Athenians.
After the initiates crossed the bridge by the lakes of Rhiti, there was a special ceremony known as krokosis, from the legendary Krokos, the first dweller of the territory, whose descendants had the privilege of tying a woolen kroke or ribbon of saffron color, around the right hand and the left leg of each of the mystai. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 256) Somewhere in here the famous Phryne once made an exhibition of her beautiful body, recounted by Athenaeus.
At the great assembly of the Eleusinia and at the festival of Poseidon, in full sight of the whole Greek world, she removed only her cloak and let down her long hair before stepping into the water. (The Deipnosophists XIII, 591a)
Another unusual woman and her claim to fame is mentioned by Athenaeus.
Nor did the son of Mene, Musaeus, master of the Graces, cause Antiope to go without her meed of honor. And she, beside Eleusis's strand, expounded to the initiates the loud, sacred voice of mystic oracles, as she duly escorted the priest through the Rarian plain to honor Demeter. And she is known even in Hades.
After the pause, the procession continued by torchlight across the Eleusinian Kephisos. On this bridge men with heads covered hurled insults against important citizens participating who went by in silence. According to Mylonas, purpose of these gephyrismoi, as they were called, seems to have been apotropaic---to pile insults on exalted persons so that they would be humbled and not be visited with the jealous reactions of evil spirits. This abuse seems to have been done in a spirit of merriment, and the procession with torches lit reached the end of the Sacred Way in a joyful mood where Iacchos was then received at the court in a playful way. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 256-257) Singing and dancing went well into the night as seen in Euripides' Ion.
Chorus: Daughter of Demeter, goddess of highways, queen as thou art of haunting powers of darkness,... I blush for that god of song, if this stranger is to witness the torch-dance, that heralds in the twentieth dawn, around Callichorus' fair springs, a sleepless rotary in midnight revels, what time the star-lit firmament of Zeus, the moon, and Nereus' fifty daughters, that trip it lightly o'er the sea and the eternal rivers' tides, join the dance in honor of the maiden with the crown of gold and her majestic mother;
Then the crowd finally dispersed to seek shelter in hostels near the Sanctuary of with friends. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 257)
Kerenyi analyzes the etymology of Eleusis. The place had been called Saisari, meaning "the grinning one" after an Eleusinian heroine probably connected to the underworld goddess. Eleusis means the "place of happy arrival" and is related to Elysion, the realm of the blessed. (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 23)
Let us now delineate the functionaries. The Hierophant was the only one to reveal the Hiera or enter the Anaktoron. He was clearly the most important figure, proclaiming the truce, sending out the messengers (spondophoroi), and generally interpreting the unwritten, ancestral laws that governed the celebration having sovereignty over and responsibility for the presentation of these mysteries. He could be married, though he kept chastity during the celebration. He served for life unlike the nearby cult of Demeter described by Pausanias.
Celeae is distant just about five furlongs from the city. They celebrate the mysteries of Demeter there every third year, not annually. The high-priest of the mysteries is not appointed for life, but at each celebration a new priest is elected, who may, if he chooses, take a wife . In these respects their practice differs from that observed at Eleusis; but the actual mysteries are an imitation of the Eleusinian mysteries, indeed the Phliasians themselves admit that they imitate the rites of Eleusis.
The mysteries at Eleusis were celebrated annually. The Hierophants were chosen from the Eumolpid family; other officials were selected from the Kerykes. Aristotle relates their importance.
The temple at Eleusis ... should be under the superintendence of the Ceryces and the Eumolpidae, according to primitive custom.
(The Athenian Constitution 39:2)
Pausanias gives the legendary material.
They say that this Eumolpus came from Thrace, and that he was a son of Poseidon and Chione, who is said to have been a daughter of the North Wind and Orithyia. Homer says nothing of the lineage of Eumolpus, but in his verses calls him 'manly.' In a battle between the Eleusinians and the Athenians, there fell Erechtheus, king of Athens, and Immaradus, son of Eumolpus; and peace was made on these terms: the Eleusinians were to perform the mysteries by themselves, but were in all other respects to be subject to the Athenians. The sacred rites of the two goddesses were celebrated by Eumolpus and he daughters of Celeus: Pamphos and Homer agree in calling these damsels Diogenia, Pammerope, and Saesara. On Eumolpus' death, Ceryx, the younger of his sons, was left. But the Ceryces themselves say that Ceryx was a son of Hermes by Aglaurus, daughter of Cecrops, and not a son of Eumolpus.
Plutarch also says he came from Thrace.
What glory remains to Eleusis, if we are to be ashamed of Eumolpus, who, a migrant from Thrace, initiated and still initiates the Greeks into the mysteries?
(On Exile 607b)
Scholars have inferred from such evidence, a Thracian origin to the Eleusinian Mysteries, which, of course, is possible.
The Hierophant had assistants and two priestesses from the Eumolpid family devoted to the service of the two goddesses. One of them speaks of herself as "one who stood near the doors of Demeter and Kore the torchbearer," and as one who remembered "those nights lit by a fairer light than the day." (Mylonas Eleusis p. 231)
The priestess of Demeter lived in the sacred House at Eleusis and acted the role of Demeter and Kore in the sacred pageant. Demosthenes told how a Hierophant was severely punished for performing the sacrifice due this priestess. The priestesses Panageis were all-holy and had the privilege of "touching the Hiera." They lived together and were called melissai (bees) because they had no communion with men. The Dadouchos, or torchbearer was from the family of the Kerykes and held office for life.... He alone could use the 'Fleece of Zeus' for the purification of those tainted with blood. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 232)
Other priests were responsible for the cleaning and decoration of the Sanctuary. The Hydranos, called the purifier of the Mysteries by Hesychios, purified the initiates by sprinkling them with water or by pouring water on them. (Ibid. p. 236)
The boy initiated into the Mysteries from the hearth of Athens was from an aristocratic family in Athens and was elected annually; his initiation fees being paid by the state, he probably represented them symbolically. There were many statues of these boys and, later, also girls in the Sanctuary. (Ibid. p. 236-237) Dio Chrysostom calls one of these a Heracles.
In Thebes, for example, a certain Alcaeus has a statue which they say is a Heracles and was formerly so called; and among the Athenians there is an image of a boy who was an initiate in the mysteries at Eleusis and it bears no inscription; he, too, they say, is a Heracles.
(Dio Chrysostom XXXI, 92)
Finally there were the mystes, or initiates, who were under the direction of a sponsor, who was probably the mystagogos who introduced the initiates or performed some of the preliminary rites. Andocides indicates that a father could introduce his son.
Calliades opposed his admission; but the Ceryces voted in favor of the law which they have, whereby a father can introduce his son, if he swears that it is his own son whom he is introducing.
(On the Mysteries 127)
Initiation was individual, as group initiation was forbidden by law. The initiation fees, including the price for a pig, amounted to about fifteen drachmai. The Hierophant and Priestess of Demeter received an obol a day from each initiate. The Herald, Priest-at-the-Altar, priestesses, and Phaethyntes received half that.
In the fifth century, Aeschylus improved the costumes used in the performances of tragedies at the festival of Dionysus. According to Athenaeus this influenced the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Aeschylus, too, besides inventing that comeliness and dignity of dress which Hierophants and Dadouchoi emulate, when they put on their vestments
The following inscription found at Eleusis and dating between 216 and 201 BC expresses gratitude for practical help and service given to the Mysteries.
The Council and the People have decreed: Democrates, son of Sunieus of Colonus, proposed the motion: Whereas, the chosen stewards of the mysteries for the year of the archon Diocles have offered to Demeter and Kore and the other gods, as is customary, for the Council and the People and the children and wives, all the offerings which are appropriately to be made during the year, and also the preliminary offering...; and have further provided, at their own cost, the conveyance for the use of the sanctuaries, and have voluntarily turned over to the Council the amount set aside for their use as the expense of the conveyances, and have also provided for the procession to the sea and for the reception of Iacchos in Eleusis, and similarly for the mysteries before Agra, which took place twice in this year, during the celebration of the Eleusinian games; and have moreover sent a steer as sacrifice for the Eleusinian games, giving the six hundred and fifty members of the Council their share of the flesh; and beyond all this have delivered the accounts to the office of the treasury and the metroion (the Athenian state archives in the temple of Cybele), and have rendered their account before the court, in accordance with the laws; and out of their own funds have provided for everything else connected with the sacrifice, in order to show themselves agreeably disposed toward the Council and the People, thus setting an example for those who are ready to sacrifice themselves for the public welfare and showing that they can count upon the proper gratitude, by good fortune.
Let the Council decree that the presiding offices who are to preside at the next assembly of the people shall place this matter on the agenda and present the decree of the Council to the People, that the Council has agreed to honor the stewards of the mysteries in the year of the archon Diocles, Thrasykles (son of ...) of Auridae, and Nicetes, son of Nicetes of Pergase, and to crown them both with myrtle because of their piety toward the gods and their unselfishness toward the council and the People; and to set before them other popular honors in the future, if they show themselves to be worthy of them; finally, that the secretary for the Prytany is to have this decree inscribed upon two columns of stone and set them up, one in the court of the sanctuary at Eleusis, the other on the Acropolis. For the (cost of) inscribing ...
(Grant, F. C. Hellenistic Religions p. 15-16)
The appearance of the sanctuary at Eleusis went through many changes at different periods in its history. In the sixth century the sanctuary was distinguished from the city of Eleusis. The exterior appearance with its solid unbroken wall of gray-blue stone must have had an impressive effect on the Hellenes who would usually only see such a color in sky or water. There was evidence also of statues having been painted. There were many statues and friezes of the goddesses and others, decorated with different art motifs such as a flower of eight petals or grain. Near the Lesser Propylaia was the sacred precinct of Plouton, the cave where, by legend, Persephone was carried off into the underworld.
Warned in a dream not to divulge what was inside the sanctuary wall, Pausanias finds this demand reasonable and in keeping with the silence of these Mysteries.
The Eleusinians have a temple of Triptolemus, and another of Artemis of the Portal and of Father Poseidon, and a well called Callichorum, where the Eleusinian women first danced and sang in honor of the goddess. They say that the Rarian plain was the first to be sown and the first to bear crops, and therefore it is their custom to take the sacrificial barley and to make the cakes for the sacrifices out of its produce. Here is shown what is called the threshing floor of Triptolemus and the altar. But my dream forbade me to describe what is within the wall of the sanctuary; and surely it is clear that the uninitiated may not lawfully hear of that from the sight of which they are debarred. The hero Eleusis, after whom they name the city, is said by some to be a son of Hermes and of Daira, daughter of Ocean; but others have made him the son of Ogygus.
(Pausanias I, 40:5)
Inside the main entrance of the Lesser Propylaia, serving as pillars are huge (twice life-size) statues of goddesses, one on each side, standing on eight-foot pedestals, and bearing the sacred baskets (kistai) which in turn hold up the ceiling. These baskets are beautifully designed with the three sheaves of grain and the mandala flowers predominant. Between their breasts which show through their typically Grecian dress is a ghost-like head of a child. This head with baby-face cheeks and decoratively curled hair is at the focal point of the crossing straps of the gown. (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 77) Here is concrete evidence of the child or new birth in the Mysteries.
The final initiations took place in the Telesterion centering around the Anaktoron. In the time of Solon this was still just a rectangular room about seventy feet in length with an entrance at one end and the closed off Anaktoron at the other. The Anaktoron is referred to by Homer and here by Pausanias as the megaron.
Here, too, is what is called the hall (megaron) of Demeter: they say it was made by King Car.
(Pausanias I, 40:15)
In the time of Peisistratos the telesterion was more than doubled in size giving a more square-like shape. There was an outer porch with many pillars on the perimeter and inside stairs on the perimeter of the other three sides for standing, except for the west corner where the Anaktoron was located.
The Anaktoron was about fifteen feet by forty-five feet with a small entrance way for the Hierophant on the long side in its eastern corner. There was an elaborate throne for the hierophant next to this door. This holy of holies was to remain the same till the end though the telesterion was to change and grow around it. The most significant new feature of the Peisistratean telesterion was the forest of twenty-two pillars squarely spaced in the building. The Persians destroyed this sanctuary around 480 BC. It was rebuilt in the time of Kimon lengthening the building into a long rectangle so that the Anaktoron was in the middle of the long southwest side . The enlarged plan of Iktinos under the rulership of Pericles spaced out the pillars more and left the Anaktoron in the center of a large square-shaped building with entrances on three sides and stairs all the way around except across the doorways. A similar structure lasted into Roman times. (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 86-87) Plutarch gives credit to the rebuilders in his Life of Pericles.
The chapel at Eleusis, where the mysteries were celebrated, was begun by Coroebus, who erected the pillars that stand upon the floor or pavement, and joined them to the architraves; and after his death Metagenes of Xypete added the frieze and the upper line of columns;
The sixth day, Boedromion 20, seems to have been spent in resting, fasting, purification, and sacrificing. A large cake of barley and wheat from the Rharian plain was offered to the gods by the Eumolpids. Thus prepared the initiates were ready for the great revelation and wore new clothes for the ceremony. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 260-261)
Plotinus mentions these practices as analogous to the beginning of the ascent back to God.
So, to those that approach the Holy Celebrations of the Mysteries, there are appointed purifications and the laying aside of the garments worn before,
(First Ennead VI, 7)
fasting on the sacred days of the Rarian Demeter.
Porphyry in his On Abstinence From Animal Food has more to say, and gives the spiritual reasons for such practices.
But most theologians say that the name of Persephone is derived from nourishing a ringdove; for the ringdove is sacred to this Goddess. Hence, also the priests of Maia dedicate to her a ringdove. And Maia is the same with Persephone, as being obstetric, and a nurse. For this Goddess is terrestrial, and so likewise is Demeter. To this Goddess, also a cock is consecrated; and on this account those that are initiated in her mysteries abstain from domestic birds. In the Eleusinian mysteries, likewise, the initiated are ordered to abstain from domestic birds, from fishes and beans, pomegranates and apples, which fruits are as equally defiling to the touch, as a woman recently delivered, and a dead body But whoever is acquainted with the nature of divinely-luminous appearances knows also on what account it is requisite to abstain from all birds, and especially for him who hastens to be liberated from terrestrial concerns, and to be established with the celestial Gods.
(Porphyry On Abstinence From Animal Food IV, 16)
Ovid relates how the initiates pattern their practice after the actions of the divine Demeter thus achieving ritual in its most meaningful manifestation as imitation or participation in divine action.
As she was about to pass within the lowly dwelling, she plucked a smooth, a slumberous poppy that grew on the waste ground; and as she plucked, 'tis said she tasted it forgetfully, and so unwitting stayed her long hunger. Hence, because she broke her fast at nightfall, the initiates time their meal by the appearance of the stars.
(Fasti IV ca. 530)
We remember from the Homeric Hymn how Demeter refused wine but broke her fast by drinking the kykeon made of barley meal, water, and tender mint; thus she observed the sacrament. So, too, the initiates after a fast of perhaps several days drank the same potent sacrament as the final preparation for the mystic initiation. Kerenyi on the significance of the kykeon cites the opinion of a pharmacologist: "It is well known that visionary states can be induced by hunger alone.... The content of the visions, as experiments on visionary states induced by chemicals, that is, drugs, have shown, is largely or perhaps entirely determined by expectations, spiritual preparation, initial psychic situation, and by the surroundings." (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 179)
The third ingredient after roasted barley and water was the glekon or blekon, Mentha pulegium. This is a variety of pennyroyal, and the principal ingredient is poley oil (Oleum pulegii), prepared as an aromatic in southern Europe by distilling the wild. In large doses it may induce delirium, loss of consciousness, and spasms. The word blekon implies a carminative or antispasmodic that may have been a narcotic. Pindar uses the word in relation to the rivers of the underworld:
the slow rivers of dark night,
the sluggish gift of sleep
Once the Epheians were in rebellion and asked the philosopher Heraclitus for advice. He said not a word, took a cup of cold water, sprinkled barley into it, stirred it with a branch of Mentha pulegium, and drank it down. (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 179-180)
According to Dr. Hofmann, "The volatile oils contained in poley oil (Oleum pulegii) might very well, added to the alcoholic content of the kykeon, have produced hallucinations in persons whose sensibility was heightened by fasting." (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 180) With this heightened awareness, the initiates were ready for the spiritual visions which would briefly lift the veil from death and show them a spiritual reality into which they would be born after death.