The Ritual of the Eleusinian Mysteries


The proclamation was delivered to the people in Athen’s Stoa to invite their participation, to specify
those excluded, and to remind all of the veil of secrecy that would cover the Mysteries.  The exact
wording of the proclamation remains unknown, but various sources indicate it consisted of something
similar to the following:  Come, whoeveris clean of all pollution and whose soul has not
consciousness of sin.  Come, whoever hath lived a life of righteousness and justice. Come, all ye who
are pure of heart and of hand, and whose speech can be understood.  Whoever hath not clean hands,
a pure soul, and an intelligible voice must not assist at the Mysteries.
Initiates would walk or ride from Athens to Eleusis along the Sacred Way – a distance of approximately
fifteen miles under the full moon in our month of September.


In the early morning, shouts of “To the Sea, Oh Mystai!”  would ring out through Eleusis.  The initiates
would immerse themselves in the sea for cleansing and purification.  Each would carry a small pig for
a.        Day consecrated to Saturn.
b.        Initiates clothed in plain dress.   
i.        So, to those that approach the Holy Celebrations of the Mysteries, there are appointed
purifications and the laying aside of the garments worn before,
(Plotinus, First Ennead VI, 7)
c.        After the purification, the initiates would return to Athens.


a.        Official Sacrifice of the City of Athens
b.        Day of mourning – commemorate Demeter’s loss and honoring of Demeter in Athen’s Eleusion.
c.        Everyone fasted until night.

ASKLEIPIEIANamed for Askleipios.  

The legend stated that Askleipios arrived late for the Mysteries.  This day allowed those who arrived
late to participate in the ritual.
b.        For the initiates who had normally taken part in the activities of the opening days, this was a day
of rest.
c.        Second sacrifice held for the benefit of Athens.

5.        Fifth Day  Boedromion 19:  Pompe - Iacchos!  Iacchos!
Procession from Athens to Eleusis
a.        In the early morning, a carriage transported the Hiera (holy objects) from Eleusion to Eleusis.
b.        Wooden statue of Iacchos was placed in the carriage and began the procession

c.        Initiates would once again leave from Athens to Eleusis – many beginning their journey at the
Dipylon gate in Athens.  Near this starting point, an inscription reads:
a.        Pan, O Men, be of good cheer, beautiful Nymphs, rain, conceive, overflow.
d.        Initiates carried their new clothes with them.
e.        Along the Sacred Way, initiates would pass by several cemeteries.
f.        Krokosis:  a saffron colored ribbon was tied around the right hand and the left leg of each of the
g.        Kephisos Bridge – The bridge was narrow and the procession slowed as initiates moved to
cross.  Men in masks would insult and pillory the rich and famous to the amusement of all.

h.        Kernophoria:  Perhaps the final event of the evening.  Women carried the kernos into the sacred
precinct.  (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)
a.        Password stated when initiates entered the sacred precincts of Eleusis. “I fasted, I drank the
kykeon.”   Next the hierophant performs the initiation and he takes the things from the chamber and
distributes them to all the ones who will carry the kernos around…Then, raising his kernos aloft like
the person who carries the liknon or winnowing basket, he tastes those things.  (Polemon, quoted in
Athenaeus 11, 478d.)
b.        At the conclusion, initiates would seek shelter in Eleusis.         

Sixth Day:  Boedromion 20 – Day of the 20th, Night of the 21st Night of torches   (On this day the moon
does not appear until several hours after sunset.)

a.        The day was spent in fasting and purification.  

b.        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 handfuls of agricultural produce which were
the badges of a civilized life.  

c.        Fast broken when the stars came out and Initiates drank the kykeon.  

d.        The initiation proper began.

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

e.        A rude and fearful march through night and darkness.
(Stobaeus, Casavis The Greek Origins of Freemasonry p. 111)

f.        In the most sacred Mysteries before the scene of the mystic visions, there is terror infused over
the minds of the initiated.
(Proclus, Casavis The Greek Origins of Freemasonryp. 111)

i.        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. (The passage from Plutarch's essay On the Soul survives
today only because it was quoted by Stobaeus (Florigelium 120). Grant, F. C. Hellenistic Religions p.
g.        The Dromena –that which was enacted - sacred pageant?

i.        We hear of a strange festival held at Eleusis known as the “pelting with stones.”  Athenaios again
makes Ulpian, one of his characters state:  “I know, indeed, of a festival held in my own Eleusis which
is called Pelting.  But I will not say a word about it unless I get a reward from every one of you.”.”  
(Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries”, p 140.)  (A priest of Eleusis was called the Stone
Bearer…Was this ceremony held at the same time of the Mysteries?  We do not know.  I am inclined to
believe it was held whenever it was needed.  (Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries”, p 141.0
ii.        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…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.
(Plutarch, Progress in Virtue 81e)

iii.        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.
(Ovid, Fasti IV, 492-494)

iv.        …in the middle of the fight, a great flame rose into the air above the city of Eleusis, and that
sounds and voices were heard through all the Thriasian plain, as far as the sea, sounding like a
number of men accompanying and escorting the mystic Iacchus, and that a mist seemed to form and
rise from the place from whence the sounds came, and, passing forward, fell upon the galleys. Others
believed that they saw apparitions…(Plutarch Themistocles 15)  

v.        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)  

vi.        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. 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)

vii.        Lactantius:  “in the Mysteries of Demeter all night long with torches kindled they seek for
Persephone and when she is found, the ritual closes with thanksgiving and the tossing of torches.”

viii.        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

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

7.        Seventh day:  Celebration brought to an end in the course of the night.

a.        Statue of Iacchos brought back to Athens.

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

8.        Eighth Day:  Plemochoai:   Libations and rites for the dead.

a.        Much of the day spent in festivities, in singing and dancing.

b.        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.
(Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists XI, 496a)

9.        Ninth Day:  Return to Athens
a.        The claim is also made that men who have taken part in the mysteries become both more pious
and more just and better in every respect than they were before. (Diodorus Siculus V, 48, 49)
b.        But when the Pleiades and Hyades and strong Orion begin to set, then remember to plough in
season: and so the completed year will fitly pass beneath the earth.
(Hesiod, Works and Days, 614-617)
c.        There are holy things that are not communicated all at once: Eleusis always keeps something
back to show those who come again.
(Seneca, Quaestiones Naturalis VII, 30:6)
d.        Cross the bridge, O Kore, before it is time to begin the threefold plowing.  (Proclus, Fragment
i.        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)  

The ritual behavior of Initiates within the Eleusinian Mysteries
offer some clues to their mystical experiences.

Almost subconsciously, the Initiates acted out the experiences of Demeter and Persephone
contained within religious myth.

Living within pre-electric, primarily agricultural communites,
the people rose with the sun and slept when night fell.
The Mysteries changed the pattern
with the most important ceremonies beginning at nightfall - initially under a full moon and then -
over a week - under progressively dark circumstances,
illuminated by torchlight.

During the initial days of the ritual, the initiates walked fifteen miles back and forth from Athens to
Even those who rode in carriages would have a long ,difficult journey

The Initiates would fast and sacrifice during the day and enthuse within majestic dances all night.

During the Night of Initiation,
the Mystai would be placed within
an experience of barely controlled terror, running in panic,
Then at the sound of a gong....
visions, apparitions, joy...