BECK index
Contents and Introduction


Dromena (Things Acted)
Revelation of the Mystic Grain
Legomena (Things Said)
Epopteia: The Holy Light of the Holy Night
Different Interpretations

Initiation: Dromena (Things Acted)

There were three degrees of initiation: the Lesser Mysteries which were a preliminary requirement, the Greater Mysteries or telete which means "to make perfect," and the additional and highest degree, the epopteia. The telete initiation can be divided into the dromena : things acted, the legomena : things said, and the deiknymena : things shown. Theo Smyrnaios has his own particular stages of mystical initiation related to his five-step understanding of philosophy. They are 1) initial purification, 2) mystic communion or communication, 3) epopteia : revelation of the holy objects and transmission of the telete, 4) crowning with garlands as the badge of initiation into the mysteries, and 5) the happiness resulting from communion with God. According to inscriptions the crowning of initiates occurred at the beginning of the ceremonies described as the second and third stages. Their names were recorded on wooden tablets by the priests, and their myrtle wreaths were replaced by wreathes with ribbons, the emblem of their consecration to the goddesses. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 261)

The seventh day, Boedromion 21, was the second day at Eleusis and was probably spent resting and preparing for the final ceremony (orgia) in the Telesterion that night. Proclus writes:

to those entering the temenos (sacred precinct) of Eleusis the program was stated, not to advance inside the adytum.
(Ibid. p. 261)

In the dromena the initiates may have imitated in ritual fashion the actions and feelings of Demeter in the original time. These could have included the abduction of Persephone, the wanderings of Demeter, her arrival at Eleusis, her sorrow while staying with Celeus and Metaneira, the rejoicing at reunion with her daughter, and finally her divine gifts of grain and mystic knowledge. Tertullian complains of a ritual discrepancy.

Why is the priestess of Demeter carried off, unless Demeter herself had suffered the same sort of thing?
(To the Nations 30)

Lactantius says:

In the Mysteries of Demeter all night long with torches kindled they seek for Persephone and when she is found, the whole ritual closes with thanksgiving and the tossing of torches.
(Mylonas Eleusis p. 215)

Many literary sources and especially the art show us the dominant importance of the torches in the rites. Ovid gives this account of the original action of Demeter:

There the goddess kindled two pine-trees to serve her as a light; hence to this day a torch is given out at the rites of Ceres.
(Fasti IV, 492-494)

A quote from Apollodoros indicates sound effects.

The Hierophant is in the habit of sounding the so-called gong when Kore is being invoked by name.
(Fragment 36)

This gong was used in the Greek theater to imitate thunder, which was believed to come from the underworld. (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 84)

Plutarch describes the serious reverence on the final night as being analogous to the deepest calm of the enlightened philosopher.

Just as persons who are being initiated into the Mysteries throng together at the outset amid tumult and shouting, and jostle against one another but when the holy rites are being performed and disclosed the people are immediately attentive in awe and silence, so too at the beginning of philosophy: about its portals also you will see great tumult and talking and boldness, as some boorishly and violently try to jostle their way towards the repute it bestows; but he who has succeeded in getting inside, and has seen a great light, as though a shrine were opened, adopts another bearing of silence and amazement, and "humble and orderly attends upon" reason as upon a god.
(Progress in Virtue 81e)

Aristeides describes the range of emotions experienced.

Within this hall, the mystics were made to experience the most bloodcurdling sensations of horror and the most enthusiastic ecstasy of joy.

He says the Eleusinian initiates were to receive "impressions, and not information," and the aim was that they be put into a certain attitude of mind, provided they were prepared for it. (Casavis The Greek Origins of Freemasonry p. 111)

The following account by Synesius indicates that Aristotle took the same position:

But their procedure is like Bacchic frenzy - like the leap of a man mad, or possessed - the attainment of a goal without running the race, a passing beyond reason without the previous exercise of reasoning. For the sacred matter (contemplation) is not like attention belonging to knowledge, or an outlet of mind, nor is it like one thing in one place and another in another. On the contrary - to compare small and greater - it is like Aristotle's view that men being initiated have not a lesson to learn, but an experience to undergo and a condition into which they must be brought, while they are becoming fit (for revelation).
(Synesius Dio 1133)

Themistius says of the initiate:

Entering now into the secret dome, he is filled with horror and astonishment. He is seized with loneliness and total perplexity; he is unable to move a step forward, and at a loss to find the entrance to the way that leads to where he aspires to, till the prophet or conductor lays open the anteroom of the Temple.
(Themistius Orat. in Patrem. 50)

Stobaeus speaks of:

a rude and fearful march through night and darkness.
(Casavis The Greek Origins of Freemasonry p. 111)

Proclus says:

In the most sacred Mysteries before the scene of the mystic visions, there is terror infused over the minds of the initiated.
(Ibid. p. 111)

Porphyry tell how a boy's part in the ritual helps the relationship between god and man.

For, in your mysteries, what the boy who attends the altar accomplishes, by performing accurately what he is commanded to do, in order to render the gods propitious to all those who have been initiated, as far as to muesis, that, in nations and cities, priests are able to effect, by sacrificing for all the people, and through piety inducing the Gods to be attentive to the welfare of those that belong to them.
(On Abstinence From Animal Food )

According to Hermias, those initiates who closed the eyes, which muesis signifies, no longer received by sense those divine mysteries, but with the pure soul itself.

The following passage from Plutarch's essay On the Soul survives today only because it was quoted by Stobaeus (Florigelium 120). So significant are its ideas and perhaps others in the same essay, that it may have been censored from his collected works by some ruthless dogmatists. It does more than describe the emotions experienced in initiation as it goes to the core of its meaning.

Thus death and initiation closely correspond; even the words (teleutan and teleisthai) correspond, and so do the things. At first there are wanderings, and toilsome running about in circles and journeys through the dark over uncertain roads and culs de sac ; then, just before the end, there are all kinds of terrors, with shivering, trembling, sweating, and utter amazement. After this, a strange and wonderful light meets the wanderer; he is admitted into clean and verdant meadows, where he discerns gentle voices, and choric dances, and the majesty of holy sounds and sacred visions. Here the now fully initiated is free, and walks at liberty like a crowned and dedicated victim, joining in the revelry; he is the companion of pure and holy men, and looks down upon the uninitiated and unpurified crowd here below in the mud and fog, trampling itself down and crowded together, though of death remaining still sunk in its evils, unable to believe in the blessings that lie beyond. That the wedding and close union of the soul with the body is a thing really contrary to nature may clearly be seen from all this.
(Grant, F. C. Hellenistic Religions p. 148)

Revelation of the Mystic Grain

The Deiknymena (objects shown) were the sacred things (hiera) displayed by the Hierophant while standing in front of the Anaktoron in radiant light at the climactic moment. Clement of Alexandria refers to the mystic kistai (baskets) which contained the Hiera.

And the formula of the Eleusinian mysteries is as follows: "I fasted, I drank the draught (kykeon ); I took from the chest; having done my task, I placed in the basket, and from the basket into the chest.
(Exhortation to the Greeks II, 18)

We learned of these baskets from Callimachus.

As the basket comes, greet it, you women, saying "Demeter, greatly hail! Lady of much bounty, of many measures of corn." As the basket comes, from the ground you shall see it, you uninitiated, and gaze not from the roof or from aloft - child nor wife nor maid that has shed her hair - neither then nor when we spit from parched mouths fasting.
(To Demeter 1-5)

Athenaeus gives us Polemon's account of the rites using a tray (kernos).

Moreover Polemon, in the treatise On the Sacred Fleece, says: "After these preliminaries (the priest) proceeds to the celebration of the mystic rites; he takes out the contents of the shrine and distributes them to all who have brought round their tray (kernos ). The latter is an earthenware vessel, holding within it a large number of small cups cemented together, and in them are sage, white poppy-seeds, grains of wheat and barley, peas, vetches, okra-seeds, lentils, beans, rice-wheat, oats, compressed fruit, honey, oil, wine, milk, and sheep's wool unwashed The man who carries it, resembling the bearer of the sacred winnowing-fan, tastes these articles."
(The Deipnosophists XI, 478d)

Pausanias in discussing Cyamites of bean fame clearly implies that beans are not to be associated with Demeter.

I cannot say with certainty whether he was the first who sowed beans (kuamoi ), or whether they made up the name of a bean-hero because the discovery of beans cannot be attributed to Demeter. Any one who has seen the mysteries at Eleusis, or has read what are called the works of Orpheus, knows what I mean.
(I, 37:3)

Pollux refers to a dance involving these trays (kerna) and crowning torches.

In regard to the dance in which kerna were carried, I know that they carried lights or small hearths on their heads.
(Pollux IV, 103)

Hippolytus wrote down the account of the Eleusinian Mysteries told to him by a Naasene.

The Phrygians, however assert, he says, that he is likewise "a green ear of corn reaped." And after the Phrygians, the Athenians, while initiating people into the Eleusinian rites, likewise display to those who are being admitted to the highest grade at these mysteries, the might, and marvelous, and most perfect secret suitable for one initiated into the highest mystic truths: (I allude to) an ear of corn in silence reaped. But this ear of corn is also (considered) among the Athenians to constitute the perfect enormous illumination (that has descended) from the unportrayable one, just as the Hierophant himself (declares); not, indeed, emasculated like Attis, but made a eunuch by means of hemlock, and despising all carnal generation. (Now) by night in Eleusis, beneath a huge fire, (the Celebrant,) enacting the great and secret mysteries, vociferates and cries aloud, saying, "August Brimo has brought forth a consecrated son, Brimus;" that is, a potent (mother has been delivered of) a potent child. But revered, he says, is the generation that is spiritual, heavenly, from above, and potent is he that is so born. For the mystery is called "Eleusin" and "Anactorium." "Eleusin," because, he says, we who are spiritual come flowing down from Adam above; for the word "eleusesthai" is, he says, of the same import with the expression "to come." But "Anactorium" is of the same import with the expression "to ascend upward." This, he says, is what they affirm who have been initiated in the mysteries of the Eleusinians. It is, however, a regulation of law, that those who have been admitted into the lesser should again be initiated into the Great Mysteries. For greater destinies obtain greater portions. But the inferior mysteries, he says are those of Proserpine below; in regard of which mysteries, and the path which leads there, which is wide and spacious, and conducts those that are perishing to Proserpine, the poet likewise says: -

"But under her a fearful path extends,
Hollow, miry, yet best guide to
Highly-honored Aphrodite's lovely grove."

These, he says, are the inferior mysteries those appertaining to carnal generation. Now, those men who are initiated into these inferior (mysteries) ought to pause, and (then) be admitted into the great (and) heavenly (ones). For they, he says, who obtain their shares (in this mystery), receive greater portions. For this, he says, is the gate of heaven; and this a house of God, where the Good Deity dwells alone. And into this (gate), he says, no unclean person shall enter, nor one that is natural or carnal; but it is reserved for the spiritual only.
(Hippolytus The Refutation of All Heresies V, 3)

Ears of wheat were represented on the architrave of the Lesser Propylaea in the decoration of the kiste supported by the Caryatids. According to Himerios, a sophist who lived in Athens when Julian was Emperor of Rome (361-363):

an old law ordered the initiates to take with them landfuls of agricultural produce which were the badges of a civilized life.

These probably included ears of wheat, for on the relief of Lakratides the priest, his sons have handfuls of wheat. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 275)

Athenaeus has gathered more material on the original "barley mother."

Now Semus of Delos in his work On Paeans says: "The handfuls of barley, taken separately, they called amalai; but when these are gathered together and many are made into a single bundle people called them ouloi or iouloi; hence also they called Demeter sometimes Chloe, sometimes Ioulo. Hence from Demeter's gifts they call not only the fruit, but also the hymns sung in honor of the goddess, ouloi or iouloi. There are also Demetrouloi and kalliouloi ; and the refrain: 'Send forth a sheaf, a plenteous sheaf, a sheaf send forth.'"
(The Deipnosophists XIV, 618d)

In Proclus' commentary on the Timaios 293c, he offers another recitation.

In the Eleusinian rites they gazed up to the heaven and cried aloud "rain," they gazed down upon the earth and cried "conceive."

On the edge of a well by the Dipylon gate of Athens where the procession to Eleusis began, an inscription reads:

O Pan, O Men, be of good cheer, beautiful Nymphs, rain, conceive, overflow.
(Mylonas Eleusis p. 270)

Legomena (Things Said)

The legomena were short liturgical statements, explanations, and perhaps invocations accompanying the dromena. Their importance is shown by a rhetorical exercise of Sopratos which tells of a young man who dreamed that he was initiated in the Mysteries and saw the dromena, but because he could not hear clearly the words of the Hierophant he could not be considered as initiated. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 272) This incident implies two things: first that knowledge of the sacred words is needed for initiation, and second that he would have been considered initiated if he had heard the words even though his entire experience was in a dream. A knowledge of Greek was necessary for initiation due to the importance of the legomena.

The legomena may have provided instruction to guide one in the other world as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Porphyrus gives us a description of initiation which includes legomena and seems to indicate also much of the content and feeling of the Epopteia.

Crowned with myrtle, along with the other initiates we enter the entrance hall of the temple, still blind, but the hierophant who is within will soon open our eyes. But first, for nothing is to be done in haste, let us wash in the holy water. We are led before the hierophant. From a book of stone, he reads to us things which we must not divulge, under penalty of death. Let us say only that they are in harmony with the place and circumstance. You would laugh, perhaps, if you heard them outside the temple, but here you have no desire to laugh as you listen to the words of the elder (for he is always old) and as you look at the exposed symbols. And you are far from laughing when, by her special language and signs, by vivid sparkling of light and clouds piled upon clouds, Demeter confirms everything that we have seen and heard from her holy priest. Then, finally, the light of a serene wonder fills the temple; we see the pure Elysian fields; we hear the chorus of the blessed ones. Now it is not merely through an external appearance or through a philosophical interpretation, but in fact and in reality that the hierophant becomes the creator and the revelator of all things; the sun is but his torchbearer, the moon, his helper of the altar, and Hermes, his mystical messenger. But the last word has been uttered: Knox Om Pax.
The ritual has been consummated, and we are seers forever.
(Schuré, Edouard The Great Initiates p. 406)

Epopteia: The Holy Light of the Holy Night

Those initiated (mystai ) could return a year later for the higher degree of initiation attained by the epoptai during the second night in the Sanctuary of Demeter. The most sacred objects were revealed to them.

We remember from Aristophanes the mention of the holy light.

And I will with the women and the holy maidens go
Where they keep the nightly vigil, an auspicious light to show.
(The Frogs 442-443)

"Psellus says that when the initiate was raised to the Sublime Degree of the Epoptae, he beheld the divine light." (Casavis The Greek Origin of Freemasonry p. 113)

We may also recall Heracles' words on a papyrus.

I was initiated long ago. Lock up Eleusis, 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. 84)

Kerenyi describes a painted marble votive relief of the fifth century BC, found in the excavation of the Telesterion that was dedicated to Demeter by Eukrates. Over the inscription is carved the face and head of the goddess surrounded by red rays. (Ibid. p. 97) Schuré quotes Proclus and interprets the word "gods" in this instance as "all orders of spirits."

In all the initiations and Mysteries the gods manifest themselves in many forms, assuming a great variety of guises; sometimes they appear in a formless light, again in quite different form.
(The Great Initiates p. 407)

Orpheus in his hymn "To Protogonus" sings of the appearance of these holy spirits in the mystic rites.

Ericapaeus, celebrated pow'r,
Ineffable, occult, all-shining flow'r.
'Tis thine from darksome mists to purge the sight,
All-spreading splendor, pure and holy light;
Hence, Phanes, call'd the glory of the sky,
On waving pinions thro' the world you fly.
Priapus, dark-ey'd splendor, thee I sing,
Genial, all-prudent, ever blessed king.
With joyful aspect on these rites divine
And holy Telite propitious shine.
(Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus )

In his hymn "To Melinoe," an ineffable spirit of life and death, Orpheus prays that men remove their needless fear of death and sights invisible.

When, under Pluto's semblance, Jove divine
Deceiv'd with guileful arts dark Proserpine.
Hence, partly black thy limbs and partly white,
From Pluto dark, from Jove ethereal bright
Thy color'd member, men by night inspire
When seen in spectred forms, with terrors dire;
Now darkly visible involved in night,
Perspicuous now they meet the fearful sight.
Terrestrial queen, expel wherever found
The soul's mad fears to earth's remotest bound;
With holy aspect on our incense shine,
And bless thy mystics, and rites divine.

Finally we offer Socrates' mystic vision of initiation from Plato's Phaedrus.

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 beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which may be truly called most bleed, 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 beheld shining in pure light.

The eighth day of the celebrations was the initiates' last day at Eleusis and was devoted mainly to libations and rites for the dead. Athenaeus tells us of a ritual performed which gave this day the name Plemochoai.

Plemochoe is an earthen dish shaped like a top, but tolerably firm on its base; some call it a kotyliskos, according to Pamphilus. They use it at Eleusis on the last day of the Mysteries, a day which they call from it Plemochoai; on that day they fill two plemochoai, and they invert them (standing up and facing the east in the one case, the west in the other), reciting a mystical formula over them.
(The Deipnosophists XI, 496a)

This rite was probably followed by celebrations of singing and dancing and other festivities. The initiates returned to Athens on the ninth day, Boedromion 23. This was not an organized procession, and everyone did not have to go back to Athens but could go directly home if they wished. On Boedromion 24 the Council of the Five Hundred assembled at the Eleusinion in Athens to hear the Archon-Basileus's report and to handle any problems that may have occurred. This law was established by Solon in the sixth century BC. Mylonas points out that the initiates were under no obligation to the Sanctuary or the Goddess in regard to worship or rules of conduct. They were free to return to their lives enriched by their experience. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 280)

Different Interpretations

Persephone's eating of the pomegranate may be seen as symbolic of sex and death. It is bright red and somewhat unusual in that the seeds are the edible fruit. Pausanias describes a pomegranate tree growing over a burial place.

On the tomb of Menoeceus there grows a pomegranate-tree: if you break the outer husk of the ripe fruit, you will find the inside like blood. This pomegranate-tree is living.
(IX, 25:1)

Kerenyi describes a terra-cotta statuette from the end of the classical period showing a pomegranate cut in two revealing a maiden in a short dress, tucked up around the waist disclosing herself as befits an epiphany. (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 144)

Erich Neumann interprets the redness of the pomegranate as the woman's womb and the seeds as fertility. Having been raped by Hades Persephone is persuaded to taste the sweet morsel, symbolizing the consummation of her marriage and sojourn in the underworld part of the year. (The Great Mother p. 308)

The early enthusiasts of Christianity often denounced the mysteries, but Mylonas notes that none of the Fathers appears to have been initiated into the Mysteries nor does any claim that he is repeating what was told by initiates converted to Christianity. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 287)

Many of their assertions make strange innuendoes. Take the statement made by Asterios (c. 390 CE), the bishop of Amaseia in Asia Minor in his Engomion to the Saintly Martyrs.

The Eleusinian Mysteries, are they not the main part of your religion and the demos of Athens, yea the whole of Greece gathers to celebrate that vanity? I not there (in the sanctuary of Demeter at Eleusis) the katabasion and the solemn meeting of the Hierophant and the priestess, each with the other alone; are not the torches then extinguished and the vast crowd believes that its salvation depends on what those two act in the darkness?
(Ibid. p. 311-312)

The next is by Epiphanios who was a bishop of Eleutheroupolis of Palestine and Konstantia of Kypros and lived 367-403 CE. It is important to note that he is describing the imitation mysteries of Alexandria.

In Alexandria there is the so-called Korion, and it is a very large temple, that is the temenos of Kore. (The worshippers) having passed the night in vigilance with songs and flute playing, singing to the idol... After the call of the roosters they descend with torches in hand to an underground chamber and from it they bring up on a litter a wooden xoanon, seated, nude, bearing on its forehead some seal of a cross, covered with gold ... and they carry this xoanon around seven times, making a circle around the most central temple with flutes and drums and hymns, and having sang and danced they take it down again to the underground place ... and they say that at this hour, today the Kore, that is the Virgin, gave birth to the Aion. (Ibid. p. 302)

These mysteries were celebrated in a place called Eleusis in Alexandria, and it seems very likely that Clement of Alexandria's descriptions of the Eleusinian mysteries were influenced by these very different rites than the ones they initially tried to copy. Consider Clement's etymology:

Demeter and Persephone have come to be the subject of a mystic drama, and Eleusis celebrates with torches the rape of the daughter and the sorrowful wandering of the mother.

Now it seems to me that the terms "orgy" and "mystery" must be derived, the former from the wrath (orge) of Demeter against Zeus, and the latter from the pollution (mysos) that took place in connection with Dionysus.
(Exhortation to the Greeks II, 12)

Or consider his history:

It tells how Demeter, wandering through Eleusis, which is a part of Attica, in search of her daughter the Maiden, becomes exhausted and sits down at a well in deep distress. This display of grief is forbidden, up to the present day, to those who are initiated, lest the worshippers should seem to imitate the goddess in her sorrow. At that time Eleusis was inhabited by aborigines, whose names were Baubo, Dysaules, Triptolemus, and also Eumolpus and Eubouleus. Triptolemus was a herdsman, Eumolpus a shepherd, and Eubouleus a swineherd. These were progenitors of the Eumolpidae and of the Heralds, who form the priestly clan at Athens. But to continue; for I will not forbear to tell the rest of the story. Baubo, having received Demeter as a guest, offers her a draught of wine and meal. She declines to take it, being unwilling to drink on account of her mourning. Baubo is deeply hurt, thinking she has been slighted, and thereupon uncovers her secret parts and exhibits them to the goddess. Demeter is pleased at the sight, and now at last receives the draught, - delighted with the spectacle! These are the secret mysteries of the Athenians! These are also the subjects of Orpheus' poems. I will quote you the very lines of Orpheus, in order that you may have the originator of the mysteries as witness of their shamelessness:

This said, she drew aside her robes and showed
A sight of shame; child Iacchus was there,
And laughing, plunged his hand below her breasts.
Then smiled the goddess, in her heart she smiled,
And drank the draught from out the glancing cup.
(Ibid. II, 16-18)

The self-righteous Clement is able to speak the "unspeakable" and describe the "unutterable."

The mysteries, then, are mere custom and vain opinion, and it is a deceit of the serpent that men worship when, with spurious piety, they turn towards these sacred initiations that are really profanities, and solemn rites that are without sanctity. Consider, too, the contents of the mystic chests; for I must strip bare their holy things and utter the unspeakable. Are they not sesame cakes, pyramid and spherical cakes, cakes with many navels, also balls of salt and a serpent, the mystic sign of Dionysus Basareus? Are they not also pomegranates, fig branches, fennel stalks, ivy leaves, round cakes and poppies? These are their holy things! In addition, there are the unutterable symbols of Ge Themis, marjoram, a lamp, a sword, and a woman's comb, which is euphemistic expression used in the mysteries for a woman's secret parts.
(Ibid. II, 19)

Epictetus, in his "Against those who readily come to the profession of sophists," criticizes those who imitate the superficialities of the Eleusinian Mysteries but miss the spiritual significance.

But no man sails from a port without having sacrificed to the Gods and invoked their help; nor do men sow without having called on Demeter; and shall a man who has undertaken so great a work undertake it safely without the Gods? and shall they who undertake this work come to it with success? What else are you doing, man, than divulging the mysteries? You say, "There is a temple at Eleusis, and one here also. There is an Hierophant at Eleusis, and I also will make an Hierophant: there is a herald, and I will establish a herald; there is a torch-bearer at Eleusis, and I also will establish a torch-bearer; there are torches at Eleusis, and I will have torches here. The words are the same; how do the things done here differ from those done there?" Most impious man, is there no difference? these things are done both in due place and in due time; and when accompanied with sacrifice and prayers, when a man is first purified, and when he is disposed in his mind to the thought that he is going to approach sacred rites and ancient rites. In this way the mysteries are useful, in this way we come to the notion that all these things were established by the ancients for the instruction and correction of life. But you publish and divulge them out of time, out of place, without sacrifices, without purity; you have not the garments which the hierophant ought to have, nor the hair, nor the head-dress, nor the voice nor the age; nor have you purified yourself as he has: but you have committed to memory the words only, and you say: "Sacred are the words by themselves."

You ought to approach these matters in another way; the thing is great, it is mystical, not common thing, nor is it given to every man.
(Epictetus Discourses III, 21)

Tertullian criticizes the secrecy and elaborate preparation, which he seems to exaggerate, but these could just as easily be seen as virtues protecting and increasing the sanctity of the rites.

Now, in the case of those Eleusinian mysteries, which are the very heresy of Athenian superstition, it is their secrecy that is their disgrace. Accordingly, they previously beset all access to their body with tormenting conditions; and they require a long initiation before they enroll (their members), even instruction during five years for their perfect disciples, in order that they may mold their opinions by this suspension of full knowledge, and apparently raise the dignity of their mysteries in proportion to the craving for them which they have previously created. Then follow the duty of silence. Carefully is that guarded, which is so long in finding. All the divinity, however, lies in their secret recesses: there are revealed at last all the aspirations of the fully initiated, the entire mystery of the sealed tongue, the symbol of virility. But this allegorical representation, under the pretext of nature's reverend name, obscures a real sacrilege by help of an arbitrary symbol and by empty images obviates the reproach of falsehood!
(Tertullian Against the Valentinians I)

Nonnos of the fifth century CE has Demeter consulting the astrologer Asterion in his Sixth Dionysiaca.

He learned the details of the day when her only child was new born, and the exact time and veritable course of the season which gave her birth: then he bent the turning fingers of his hands and measured the moving circle of the ever-recurring number counting from hand to hand in double exchange He called to a servant, and Asterion lifted a round revolving sphere, the shape of the sky, the image of the universe, and laid it upon the lid of a chest. Here the ancient got to work. He turned it upon its pivot, and directed his gaze round the circle of the Zodiac, scanning in this place and that planets and fixed stars. He rolled the pole about with a push, and the counterfeit sky went rapidly round and round in mobile course with a perpetual movement, carrying the artificial stars about the axle set through the middle. Observing the sphere with a glance all round, the deity found that the Moon at the full was crossing the curved line of her conjunction, and the Sun was half through his course opposite the Moon moving at his central point under the earth; a pointed cone of darkness creeping from the earth into the air opposite to the Sun hid the whole Moon. Then when he heard the rivals for wedded love, he looked especially for Ares, and espied the wife-robber over the sunset house along with the evening star of the Cyprian. He found the portion called the Portion of the Parents under the Virgin's starry corn-ear; and round the Ear ran the light-bearing star of Cronides, father of rain.

When he had noticed everything and reckoned the circuit of the stars, he put away the ever-revolving sphere in its roomy box, the sphere with its curious surface; and in answer to the goddess he mouthed a triple oracle of prophetic sound:

Fond mother Demeter, when the rays of the Moon are stolen under a shady cone and her light is gone, guard against a robber-bridegroom for Persephoneia, a secret ravisher of your unsmirched girl, if the threads of the Fates can be persuaded. You will see before marriage a false and secret bedfellow come unforeseen, a half-monster cunning-minded: since I perceive by the western point Ares the wife-stealer walking with the Paphian, and I notice the Dragon rising beside them both. But I proclaim you most happy: for you will be known for glorious fruits in the four quarters of the universe, because you shall bestow fruit on the barren soil; since the Virgin Astraia holds out her hand full of corn for the destined lot of your girl's parents.

(Nonnus Dionysiaca VI, 58-102)

The spherical device for measuring the revolutions of the sun, moon, and planets round the zodiac is certainly a product of later times, but the interpretation of the horoscope is cosmic and the same in all ages. The eclipse of the moon caused by the earth blocking the sun's light is portentous for the mother, the feminine principle and domestic life. Its darkness when it should be full is symbolic of Persephone's prominent and sudden venture to the underworld and the shadowing over the mother. The "sunset house" is the twelfth portion of the sky over the western horizon and is called the seventh house, indicating marriage and partnership. Naturally Asterion found Mars there, the planet of sex, boldness, heat, force, and strong action. Its conjunction with Venus, the planet of love and harmony, can mean a rash, intense, adventurous, harmonious marriage. Jupiter, the benevolent and expansive planet, in Virgo in the "Portion of the Parents" (fourth house) means great benefit to the parents through the products of the earth. Apparently Jupiter was very close to the star symbolizing the ear of corn, indicating Demeter's gift of the grain.

Contents and Introduction
Eleusis and the Goddesses
Agricultural Background and History
Mysteries Preliminaries

BECK index