The Mysteries were celebrated until 395 AD
when the walls of the sanctuary in Eleusis
were breeched by Alaric's hordes.
For millennia before that, thousands of Initiates
received a mystical experience.
Revealing the Mysteries was considered
an act of impiety punishable by death.
This accounts for classical authors’ reticence on this matter.
Imagine a multitude gathering two thousand years ago.
As dusk falls, thousands of torches blaze under star strewn skies.
Suddenly, those gathered are thrust into a frenetic dance.
Loud cries punctuate the din of stamping feet.
They push and jostle each other amid tumult and shouting.
The initiates wander, and run about in circles
over uncertain roads.
So much dust rises from this human stampede
that from miles away an army mistakes the dust cloud
for an opposing army on the march.
Almost violently, the initiates try to gain entrance
to the great hall of initiation.
suddenly a gong sounds.
An enormous burst of fire fills the sky.
The initiates experience
the most bloodcurdling sensations of horror
and the enthusiastic ecstasy of joy;
then, just before the end, there are all kinds of terrors,
with shivering, trembling, sweating, and utter amazement.
Filled with horror And astonishment,
initiates are seized with loneliness And total perplexity.
Unable to move a step forward, they are at a loss
to find the entrance that leads to where they aspire. Filled with horror
initiates able to find their way thrill with rapture.
A goddess appears.
The initiates enter clean and verdant meadows,
where gentle voices, choric dances,
the majesty of holy sounds and sacred visions surround. Looking down
upon the uninitiated and unpurified crowd below
in the mud and fog,
trampling itself down and crowded together.
The metanoia and conversion that results
leave the initiates feeling “thrice blessed” because
“Only for them is there life; all the rest suffer an evil lot.”
All of this
was covered in silence.
The mystai discussed it only with other initiates
in language coded And symbolic.
Diagoras the Melian revealed the secret
And acted out the Mysteries in the marketplace.
The Athenians put a price on his head:
One talent if he were killed; two talents if he were captured alive.
(A talent was equal to 6,000 drachma -
A single person could live comfortably on 120 drachma a year.)
The politician And general Alcibiades - beloved by the Athenians -
profaned the Mysteries And barely escaped with his life.
The dramatist Aeschylus was brought to court because those who attended
his plays thought he revealed the Mysteries.
He escaped only because he proved he was never initiated.
Yet over millennia whispers of the experience of the initiates flow:
“dread…And desire…for this mystical telos”
Aeschylus, fr. 387.
“I escaped from evil, I found the better.”
“I came out of the mystery hall feeling like a stranger to myself.” Sopatos,
Rhet. Gr. VIII, 114f.
"Within this hall, the mystics were made
to experience the most bloodcurdling sensations of horror
And the most enthusiastic ecstasy of joy."
"…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)
"In the most sacred Mysteries
before the scene of the mystic visions,
there is terror infused over the minds of the initiated."
"Now the details of the initiatory rite are guarded
among the matters not to be divulged
and are communicated to the initiates alone;
but the fame has traveled wide
of how these gods appear to mankind
and bring unexpected aid to those initiates of theirs
who call upon them in the midst of perils.
(Diodorus Siculus V, 48, 49)"
"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)
"…all of these terrible things, panic and shivering and sweat”
Plutarch fr. 168.
"They cause sympathy of the souls with the ritual
in a way that is unintelligible to us, and divine,
so that some of the initiands are stricken with panic
being filled with divine awe;
others assimilate themselves to the holy symbols,
leave their own identity,
become at home with the gods,
And experience divine possession."
(Proclus, In Remp, ll, 108, 17-30.)
The birth of this site lies in the Eleusis Challenge
to explore And explain the Mysteries of Eleusis
for the modern age.
Knowledge expands exponentially,
the Internet is a phenomenal resource
that destroys the boundaries of space And time
to allow communication that decades ago was unimaginable.
The Eleusis Challenge is to share and collaborate
world-wide expertise to decipher the secret of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Enter, join this journey into the past,
into the heart of human experience.
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