From the Vault: The Mysteries at Eleusis

My friend Literata posted an old piece from 2011, which referenced this old pice of mine. It was originally published at the Slacktiverse, which was Slactivist without the actual Slacktivist, after he moved to Patheos and left the inmates running the asylum. The festival I'm talking about is the Aquarian Tabernacle Church's Spring Mysteries Festival, which, actually I haven't gone to since then. The Mysteries at Eleusis They're on my mind quite a bit lately. I just got back from a pagan festival which attempts to recreate the spirit and purpose of the original, if not the form. They can't recreate the form, you see. We simply don't know enough about it. We know that there were Lesser Mysteries, held in another complex nearby, and that people had to attend the Lesser Mysteries before they could attend the Greater Mysteries. We know that the Mysteries had their roots in agricultural cycles, and centered around the myth of Persephone, Hades, and Demeter. We know that certain sacred objects (the Hiera) were shown to the initiates, although what they were is not known. We know that anyone could attend the Mysteries, man or woman, slave or citizen, Athenian or foreigner, so long as they spoke the Hellenic tongue and had not committed murder. We know that initiates took a fearsome oath to say nothing about the form of the Mysteries, beyond the ritual phrase, "Things were enacted, things were shown, words were spoken," dromena, deiknymena, and legomena. The punishment in Athenian law for violating this this was death, and the laws of the gods held worse punishments. (I can't tell you anything about the form of the ritual I attended because I have taken similar oaths, and while I won't be put to death, I wouldn't want to piss off my gods.) What we do know, though, is something about the purpose of the Mysteries. It is ritual revelation or reassurance of continuance after death, to take away the fear of death. The fear of death is basically the fear of ceasing to exist. I'm making a distinction here between the fear of death and fears of dying painfully or violently or alone or what have you. We're specifically talking about the fear of death itself. Many people experience this fear at some point in their lives, and most religions, philosophies, and other ways of thinking about the universe try to give people ways to deal with it, whether by guaranteeing life after death, or changing the focus to this life, or by choosing to accept and be satisfied or pleased with the idea. The ancient Hellenes and Romans had Eleusis, among other things, and the Mysteries shown and stories told there. The broad outlines of the story of Persephone, Hades, and Demeter are pretty widely known, but there's a lot more detail to it than most people are aware of. Demeter is the goddess of the grain, and when the world was young, the Earth always produced grain, all the year long. Demeter's greatest joy was in her daughter, Kore, whose name means simply Maiden. Some say that Hades asked Zeus for the hand of Kore, and Zeus, knowing Demeter would never consent to her daughter going to live in the Underworld, told him to kidnap her instead. Some say that Hades looked up and saw Kore picking flowers alone and acted on impulse. Whether it was premeditated or not, he split open the earth before her as she picked poppies and iris and violets, and took her back with him to the Underworld. Most people say that he swept her up and took her away without her consent, but others say that he convinced her to go with him of her own free will, convinced her to reach for the maturity she had never known as her mother's daughter. Some will even tell you that he raped her there in the meadow, but this is not so. It's a linguistic confusion, because the word rape (and its Latin forebear, rapere) originally meant to abduct, and the definition of violation came later. Only two in all the world knew what had happened: Helios, looking down from the Chariot of the Sun, who saw what happened but could hear nothing, and Hekate, who heard it but could not see. When Demeter learned that her precious daughter was gone, she sought high and low, through day and night, for her, seeking always. In her grief, she was known as Melaine, the Black Demeter, and Erinye, the Vengeful, and she would let nothing grow. In her wanderings, Demeter came to Eleusis, to the house of the king, Keleus. She told the king's daughters that her name was Doso, that she was a Cretan woman whose daughter had been abducted by pirates, and that she...