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The home of the Eleusinian Mysteries was called Eleusis and they were the most important religion that existed before Christianity. During the prehistoric times, Eleusis was used for the cult practices and its significance increased in the 16th century BC during the building project of the Athenian Peisistratus. The base of the Eleusinian religion was the Demeter and Persephone myth. These essay discuses the Eleusinian mysteries as it relates to the religion and cult of ancient Greece. It also discusses how these ceremonies were celebrated, their importance, the participants and where they were held.
Among the famous ritual celebrations for the ancient Greeks, the Eleusinian mysteries were the most preferred and it was more sacred than others. These rituals were during the Mycenaean period that is approximately two thousand years ago. They were conducted in the Eleusis city which is about twenty kilometers from Athens. At the onset of Christianity, the early Christians condemned these mysteries but they were conducted for many years and they greatly influenced the early Christian practices and teachings. Eleusis was a place this region was a cult of Great Goddess of life, fertility and harvest, whose worship involved secret rites initiation and purification (Valencic I.).
The Mysteries celebration at Eleusis was an affair that took place over a period of nine days in the month of September referred to as Boedromion. There was an organized series of rituals that were followed by the initiates in a given proper order. One day before the ceremony, all the participants met at Eleusis after which they proceeded to the Demeter sanctuary which was in the Athenian agora (Leadbetter R).On the 15 Boedromion which was the following day, the actual ceremony was started with formal declarations that announced the start of the event and it invited the initiates to participate in the ritual. From the 16 Boedromion to 18, all the initiates descended to the sea each carrying a suckling piglet which was used in sacrifice and the purification. At this time some sacrifices were offered to give honor to the Athens city and other important institutions. During the 19 Boedromion which is the fifth day of the ceremony, all the participants moved from Athen to Eleusis bearing the sacred hiera and a statue of the boy-god referred to Iacchos. After this, the initiates rested, purified themselves and maintained a complete fast which was broken believed at the evening by drinking some beverage which was believed to be special. It was called kykeon and it consisted of a meal and water that was mixed with fresh pennyroyal mint leaves.
According to some scholars, this drink had a sacramental character which involved a communion with the spirit of the deity. Others perceived the drinking of kykeon as an act of religious remembrance which involved an observance the Goddess’ act and it could be seen as the same as the Christian Eucharist. The drink had no any alcoholic content because the Hymn stated that Demeter never took wine. When the mystai went into the sacred places of the Telesterion(a large rectangular assembly-hall which had a stepped auditorium at one end, to which the nearest parallels are found in the theatres at Phaistos in Crete), they were required to utter a special word which confirmed to confirm their preparedness to participate in the ceremonies. The Mysteries comprised three main components referred to as deiknymena meaning the things shown, the legomena meaning the things said and the dromena which means the things done.
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The initiates gained a sense of participation in Demeter's travail through searching with her and calling for her daughter in the precincts which witnessed these events. Then, there was a very joyous moment of the Persephone's resurrection. Persephone came from the underworld and went back to her mother’s harms. These Eleusinian mysteries also led the initiates through the gloomy infernal regions which had scaring images and some ghostly shapes in order to instill a foreshadowing of the scenario that awaited the uninitiated persons. In addition, the representations of a blissful afterlife in the goddesses’ company and other initiates produced a sense of spiritual rebirth and relief (Leadbetter R).
Also, the Sacred Marriage which was culminated in the symbolic rebirth of a son took place at the Mysteries. There existed different proposals to who that son might have been. They included the tutelary deity (Iacchos) whose statue accompanied the goddesses during the pilgrimage from Athens to Eleusis, the Ploutos who was the wealth god, who came from the union of mortal Iasion of Crete and the Demeter, the Cretan deity referred to as the Dionysos-Zagreus who was the offspring of the Persephone and the early prince of Eleusis called Triptolemos.
After performance of the dromena, the Hierophant proceeded alone into the secret chamber of the Telesterion called Anaktoron and came out with the Hiera which was the most holy and mysterious relics of Persephone and Demeter. The Hierophant revealed these to all initiates who in turn accepted them as objects that were passed to the mankind by the two goddesses after they were consecrated. The profoundest feelings of awe were inspired by this culminating moment of the Mysteries. The actual contents of the hiera were not clearly known but the existing theories says that it contained serpents, cut wheat, the blessed bread, the female pudendum and some ancient Mycenaean artifacts. The contents physical contents of this hiera did not matter as compared to their associated spirits. At the time when the festival/ceremony was closed, all the participants dedicated some special services to honor those who died sometimes back. Some ritual libations were poured on the ground and consecrated liquid could flow in the westward and eastward. After accomplishing all these, the initiates returned to Athens (Crystalinks).
The involved people
The people who were eligible to participate in the rituals at Eleusis were only those who were able to speak Greek and who were i.e. had no bloodshed in their history. The new members (mystes) initiated to the ritual were given some preliminary instructions and guidance from the sponsors (mystagogos) who had an outstanding experience. These sponsors were sometimes members of the leading Eleusis families. There was an epopteus who were initiates who returned to Eleusis for the second time to receive the high levels of knowledge. The ritual’s was also facilitated by some priests. For instance, the high priest (Hierophant) presided over the ritual’s most mysterious and solemn parts and he was the only person allowed to enter the Anaktoron which was a chamber were the cult objects were kept.
There was a high Demeter Priestess shared some responsibilities of presiding over the mysteries with the high priest. The priestess sometimes assumed the Demeter’s roles and they together with the high priest [performed the sacred wedding referred to as ieros gamos which was important because of its symbolic significance. The initiation ceremonies and drama were conducted by two high priest’s chief female assistants. The second person in rank after the high priest was referred to as Dadouchos, and he assumed a very significant initiation roles. The Dadouchos was the only person in Eleusis with the authority of making the aspirants pue by removing the blood stains from them. With the help of his female assistant (Dadouchousa) had a responsibility for the lighting effects during the ceremonies. At the start of Mysteries, the initiates were called by the official herald referred to as Hieorokeryx whose voice was unique. Finally there was a priest at the altar who presided over the offering of animal sacrifices and other sacrifices to the goddesses (Crystalinks).
Importance of the Eleusinian mysteries
The mystery of Persephone and Demeter at Eleusis was not for local benefit only, but it became a very significant part of the Greek and Athens. It imparted the revelations of the human existence and the meaning of life and death to the initiates. Also, the Eleusinian mysteries have facilitated the technification of all modern life aspects and has brought some comfort to humankind a phenomenon that was not expected before (Hofmann A.).
The extraordinary states of awareness are induced in various ways and show us that the capacity for mystical experiences is innate to every human being. It shows the essence of the human spirituality which is not related to the social and physical status of the person. For instance, both men and women and the slaves were initiated irrespective of their status. Therefore Eleusis can be taken as an ideal model for today because the centers that are similar to Eleusis can be used in the strengthening and uniting the different spiritual parts of today through transformation of the individuals and the world without any environmental harm or wars.
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