Womb of Fire:  Crisis and Transformation
WOMB OF FIRE: A Study of the Eleusinian Mysteries
Todd Swanson
May 1993                                                

At the core of crisis lies the potential for transformation.  A
modern rendering of the human condition was once
described by Karl Barth as a world in which people are
imprisoned, "their union with God is shattered so
completely that they cannot even conceive of its
restoration.  Their sin is their guilt; their death is their
destiny; the world is formless and tumultuous chaos, a
chaos of the forces of nature and of the human soul; their
life is illusion.  This is the situation in which we find
ourselves.  This paper proposes that the Eleusinian
Mysteries induced an artificial crisis which resulted in an
emotional / spiritual / psychological restructuring for the
Initiates.  The experience can be understood as symbol of
rebirth from a womb of fire.


The soul (at the point of death) has the same experience as
those who are being initiated into the great mysteries...at
first one wanders and wearily hurries to and fro, and
journeys with suspicion through the dark as one
uninitiated:  then come all the terrors before the final
initiation, shuddering, trembling, sweating, amazement:  
then one is struck with a marvelous light, one is received
into pure regions and meadows, with voices and dances
and the majesty of holy sounds and shapes:  among these,
he who has fulfilled initiation wanders free, and released and
bearing his crown joins in the divine communion, and
consorts with pure and holy men, beholding those who live
here uninitiated, an uncleansed horde, trodden under foot of
him and huddled together in mud and fog, abiding in their
miseries through fear of death and mistrust of the blessings
there.  (Themistios)

The myth of Demeter, which preceded the Homeric Hymn
which augmented and sung it, tells how the goddess went
to a primordial man who was very much in need of her.  It is
out of this sense of need, whether it be rescue from famine,
or the dark night, the Holy is often evoked and the Sacred
bidden to enter a person's life.

Approximately 1350 B.C.E., the Mysteries, born of Egyptian
influences, were brought to Greece.  For a millennium, the
celebration of the Mysteries evoked a experience which
touched the soul of the Greek speaking world.  Eleusis
seems to be a Mystery par excellence of involvement.  It may
be possible to enter into the mystery of Eleusis through the
symbols which speak a common humanity, a common
terror, and a common hope.  More importantly, we approach
through symbols which evoke the human heart.  What we
know of Eleusis are often fragments bracketed with silence,
stories of warning, bits of plays, the somewhat suspect
accounts of apologists.  Taken together, they form a mosaic
, incomplete, yet enticing.  

In a literary fragment, Plutarch noted the similarity of the
Greek verbs teleutan (to die) and teleishai (to be initiated)
and observed that people who die and people who are
initiated undergo comparable transformations.  Eleusis did
not offer escape from suffering, but rather induced it and
placed it within a new context.  Aristotle stated that the
initiates were not going to learn anything new, but they were
to suffer, to feel, to experience certain impressions and
psychic moods.  One result of this induced crisis appears to
be the birth of a religious realization staggering in its
immensity and comforting to the spirit.


What occurred during the three especially sacred "nights of
the Mysteries" remains to this day secret.  The basis and
content of the Lesser and Greater Mysteries were well
known:  they were presented in the Homeric Hymn to
Demeter and in artistic depiction.  The greater part of the
secret may have been not the knowledge, but the emotional
experience, a sudden understanding effected by the
transmission of the Ineffable in an entirely new context.  This
was a context of grief, of suffering, of being lost balanced by
the joys of finding, of being found and "enduring" a
transformative rebirth.  Part of the Mysteries denoting
silence was a sign which continues, modified, today among
children.  A comment made by the chorus in one of
Sophocles' plays that says a golden key was laid upon the
tongue of mortals by the Eumolpid priests of the Mysteries.  

The penalty of death is said to have been imposed upon
those who revealed the Mysteries.  This accounts, we are
told, for the silence concerning them.  The death penalty
imposed by the city-states is arguably not that which kept
the secret, even after the destruction of Eleusis by Alaric at
the end of the 5th century C.E., or the edict of Theodosius II
which forbade the celebration of the Mysteries and ended
the cult of Demeter and Kore-Persephone.  There would
have been, at the time of the ascension of the Byzantine
Empire, no possible way for the penalty to be enforced.  The
death penalty which kept the silence of the initiates had to
do, I believe, with the threat of forfeiture of eternal life in joy
for those who spoke out about the Mystery's most sacred
moments.  By her scream, the queen of Eleusis, in the
Homeric Hymn, forfeited her son's transformation into
immortality.  This is a lesson easily grasped.  As Kerenyi
points out, the Greek language draws a distinction between
the arrheton, the ineffable secret, and the aporrheton, that
which was kept secret under a law of silence.  The ineffable
secret remains the mystery, the only aspect which can
reasonably be assumed to be discovered is conjecture.   


The Lesser Mysteries were held every year in the month of
Anthesterion, our month of February.  Purification
characterized this first stage of initiation.  This was partly
accomplished through the sacrifice of a piglet and a ritual
purification through fire, utilizing a burning torch and air, by
means of a fan.  


The Hymn in which the story was codified between 650 and
550 B.C.E. begins with the abduction of Persephone by
Aidoneus (2), Kronos's son of many names (19).  Aidoneus'
name translates at the "Unseen One".  He is usually
identified with Hades, Lord of the Underworld.  This
abduction was "granted", or allowed by Zeus.  An echo of
Persephone's scream as if she were being raped (67)
reached the ears of her mother, Demeter, who immediately
flew off in search of her.  (Eliade insists the rape, the
symbolic death of Persephone, had great consequences for
humanity.  As a result of it, an Olympian and benevolent
goddess temporarily inhabited the kingdom of the dead.  
She had annulled the unbridgeable distance between Hades
and Olympus.  Mediatrix between the two divine worlds, she
could thereafter intervene in the destiny of mortals.)

According to the Hymn, for nine days Demeter searched the
earth.  She held blazing torches in her hands and fasted.  In
her grief she touched neither ambrosia nor the sweetness of
nectar (47-50).  Only Hecate of the glistening veil, who - from
her cave -heard, and Lord Helios (25-27) witnessed the
abduction.  Then grief still more horrible and oppressive
came upon her heart, and in anger at Zeus, shrouded in
clouds, she deserted the gatherings of the gods and went
far from Olympus to the cities and farms of men and for a
long time disguised her appearance. (90-95)

Demeter arrived at Eleusis, sat down by the well, and
grieved. The daughters of the king of Eleusis saw Demeter
grieving but they did not recognize her for gods are hard for
mortals to see (111).  Demeter asked the daughters for a
position of service in the city saying, I could hold their
infant child in my arms and nurse it well (145-146).  In
response, one of the daughters said, Mother, we humans
endure the gifts of the gods, even under grievous
compulsion, for they are much mightier (147-148).  The
daughters returned home and told their own mother what
had occurred.  They were sent back to Demeter with an offer
of a position as a nursemaid for their infant brother.  

Demeter followed the daughters to the palace.  As she
entered, her head reached the roof-beam, and she filled the
doorway with a divine radiance (187-189).  Yet even though
filled with awe, reverence and pale fear (190), those
observing did not realize that a goddess had entered into
their palace.  Demeter sat down sorrowfully without
speaking and made no contact with anyone in word or
gesture (197).  Queen Metaneira offered Demeter a cup of
red wine.  Demeter refused and asked instead to give her
barley groats and water mixed with crusted pennyroyal (205-
209) to drink for the sake of the ceremony (210).  The Queen
repeats a second time a passage which her daughters had
earlier cited:  But we humans endure the gifts of the gods,
even under grievous compulsion, for a yoke lies upon our
neck (216-220).  The fact that this is the only line which is
repeated speaks to its importance.  The gift of the gods,
both in death and in transformation through crisis, were
what the initiates were to endure.   

Demeter had taken the queen's son, Demophon, in her care
and nursed him.  Demophon grew like a god(235) for
Demeter would (feed) him with ambrosia...at night she would
hide him like a fire-brand within the might of the flame,
without his parents' knowledge (236-240).          One night,
Queen Metaneira observed this.  She screamed and struck
both her thighs in fear for her child and in a frenzy of
mindlessness (245-246).  Surprised at the intrusion, Demeter
drew Demophon from the fire, thrust him at his mother's
feet, and said: Humans are short-sighted, stupid, ignorant of
the share of good or evil which is coming to them.  You, by
your foolishness have hurt him beyond curing.  Let my
witness be the oath of the gods sworn by the intractable
water of Styx, that I would have made your son deathless
and ageless all his days, and given him imperishable honor.  
But now it is not possible to ward off death and destruction.  
Still he will have imperishable honor forever since he stood
on my knees and slept in my arms; in due season, as the
years pass around, the children of the Eleusinians will
conduct in his honor war (games) and the terrible battle-cry
with each other for ever and ever.  I am Demeter, the
Venerable, ready as the greatest boon and joy for immortals
and mortals.  So now let the whole people build me a great
temple, and an altar beneath it, below the city and the
towering wall, above Kallirhoe on the ridge which juts forth.  
I myself will establish rites so that henceforth you may
celebrate them purely and propitiate my mind" (255-275).

Then Demeter sloughed off her mortal, aged form, altered
her size, and beauty wafted about her(275-276).  The
queen's daughters entered and tried to comfort their mother
and brother and all night long the women, quaking with fear,
propitiated the glorious goddess(292).  

In the morning, they notified the king and he ordered the
construction of the temple as Demeter had commanded.  
Demeter, however, returned to her grief.  She made the most
terrible, most oppressive year for men upon the nourishing
land, and the earth sent up no seed, as fair-garlanded
Demeter hid it (305-307).  The ensuing famine deprived the
Olympians of their sacrifices.  Zeus took notice and sent the
gods, one after another, to counsel with Demeter who
remained seated in her temple at Eleusis.  Demeter rejected
each god promising that she would neither return to
Olympus, nor allow the earth to bear fruit until she had seen
her daughter.  Upon hearing this, Zeus sent Hermes to
Aidoneus-Hades-Pluto with the order to return Persephone
to Demeter.  Aidoneus obeyed.  However, first he tricked
Persephone into eating a pomegranate seed.  As a result,
Zeus decried that Persephone would spend one third of the
year in the underworld and the other two thirds with her
mother and the other immortals (445-446).

Demeter returned to the earth, first to the fields around
Eleusis.  The earth sprouted forth wheat.  Demeter then
showed the tendency of the holy things and explicated the
rites to them all, to Triptolemos, to Polyxeinos and to
Diokles; sacred rites, forbidden to transgress, to inquire
into, or to speak about, for great reverence of the gods
constrains their voice.  Blessed of earthbound men is he
who has seen these things, but he who dies without fulfilling
the holy things, and he who is without a share of them, has
no claim ever on  such blessings, even when departed
down to the moldy darkness(475-484).


After the preparatory initiation, initiates were allowed to
enter into the Greater Mysteries of Eleusis.  The Mysteries
were held annually beginning on the fifteenth day of the
Greek month of Boedromion, corresponding to our months
of late September and early October.  The festival lasted nine
days.  The first six days appear to have been preliminary.  

Participants were removed from their daily life and routine
and placed in a new environment.  The secrecy surrounding
the Mysteries would have both heightened the expectation,
added a sense of unbalance and ultimately lift the
participants from an emotional frenzy to a spiritual
deliverance.  The emotional frenzy was tied to its Dionysian
base where, for a time, under the influence of torches, wine,
heady music and dancing, the worshipers felt lifted and
exalted to the plane of the divine.  The spiritual deliverance
may be in part connected to the sense that Dionysus'
greatest gift was the sense of unparalleled freedom.  This
freedom, especially in connection to the binding of Death,
offered immense hope.  The full nine days corresponds to
the period of time cited in the Homeric Hymns that the
Goddess Demeter sought her daughter Persephone.    

The archaic Greek calendar was a lunar one.  The
preparations for the Mysteries began under the full moon, as
befitted a goddess.  The days and evenings following and
the six initial days of the festival, occurred under the waning
of the moon,  itself symbolic of the loss of Persephone.

a.        the preparation

The day before the Mysteries began, the Hiera, which
contained the sacred objects, had been brought from
Athens to Eleusis, fourteen miles distant. The exact nature
of these sacred objects are unknown.  Among the
conjectures are that these may have been archaic farming
implements, believed to have been used by Demeter when
she taught agriculture to Triptolemos.  A confluence of the
Demeter/Dionysus cults may occur here.  Just as Demeter
searched for Persephone, within a Boeotian rite, women
searched for Dionysus as he had run away.  At Patrai there
was a cult of Dionysus Aisymnetes, in which a sacred chest
was carried out of the temple at night by a priest.  

b.        the first day

The first day of the Mysteries involved an invitation offered
to the people in the agora of Athens to participate, as well as
a recitation of those who would not be allowed, i.e., those
who did not speak Greek or had killed.  Among those who
would participate would be the pais aph'hestias or "boy
from the hearth".  This youth was an Athenian chosen by lot
who underwent initiation at the expense of and for the
benefit of the polis.  I believe this child played an essential
part, as a Demophon/Dionysus substitute, in the culmination
of the Mysteries as will be explained later.  Kerenyi believes
the initiates imitated Demeter in a strict fast extending
over a period of the full nine days.  

c.        the second day

On the second day, when all had gathered near Eleusis, the
call To the Sea, oh Mystai! would be proclaimed.  Those who
would be initiated proceeded to the sea for ritual
purification.  They carried with them small pigs for sacrifice,
as they had during their participation in the Lesser
Mysteries.  It was believed that the blood of this animal was
the purest, and had the power to cleanse and rid the
initiate's soul of hatred and evil.  Because they believed this
was the finest gift that could be offered to the chthonian
gods, they buried the young pig after the sacrifice deep in
the ground.  Afterwards, they returned to Athens.  

d.        the third and fourth days

The third and forth days appear to have been a continuation
of these sacrifices both on individual and civic levels.

e.        the fifth day

It was on the fifth evening that the great time approached.  
Once again, the mystai would leave Athens for their
pilgrimage to Eleusis.  This was the great pompe, one of the
most splendid days of the festival, the day of the god
Iacchos.  Everyone wore a myrtle wreath and carried a rod
made of woven branches, the bacchus, the symbol of the
Mysteries.  Iacchos is identified with Dionysus-Bacchus and
the frenzy which marked Dionysian festivals were played
out this evening.  Participants in Dionysian festivals induced
in themselves a sort of mania, an extraordinary exaltation.  A
strange rapture came over them due to excessive
stimulation of the senses.  The delirious whirl of the dance,
the music and the darkness, combined to create a
tumultuous worship.  Euripides offers a series of beatitudes
concerning those who partake in a Dionysian procession.

Blessed, blessed are those who know the  mysteries of  god.
Blessed is he who hallows his life in the worship of god,
he whom the spirit of god possesseth, who is one
with those who belong to the holy body of god.
Blessed are the dancers and those who are purified,
who dance on the hill in the holy dance of god.
Blessed are they who keep the rite of Kybele the Mother.
Blessed are the thyrus-bearers,
those who wield in their hands the holy wand of god.
Blessed are those who wear the crown of the ivy of god.
Blessed, blessed are they:  Dionysus is their god!

The first stopping point of the procession was the sanctuary
of Apollo at Daphni.  In the archaic period, the dancing
extended through the Great Propylaia.  Aristophanes in The
Frogs, describes the procession and dance:

Iacchos, O Iacchos
Star of fire in the high rites of the night time.
And the field shines in the torch light,
And the old men's knees are limber,
And they shake off aches and miseries,
And the years of their antiquity drop off them,
In the magical measure.
Oh, Iacchos go before us
To the marsh flowers and the meadow
And the blest revel of dances.

In line 371, Aristophanes continues:
Strike up the singing and dance
Of our holy and nightlong revels
Befitting this solemn occasion.

From this information, we can assume that this rapture of
dancing continued throughout the night.  The chorus may
refer to Persephone, in the fields prior to her abduction and
incidentally connected to the initiates in the fields of the
blessed when it continues:

On us alone the sun shines here
And the happy daylight,
For we are Initiates.

The effects of this mystic euphoria observed from a distance
can be seen through a comment made in Herodotus'

After the evacuation of Attica, when the Persian troops were
devastating the countryside, this person happened to be in
the plain of Thria with Demaratus the Spartan.  Noticing a
cloud of dust, such as might have been raised by an army of
thirty thousand men on the march coming from the direction
of Eleusis, they were wondering what troops they could be,
when they suddenly heard the sound of voices...Demaratus,
who was unfamiliar with the religious ceremonial of Eleusis,
asked his companion whose voices they were.  Sir...every
year the Athenians celebrate a festival in honor of the
Mother and the Maid, and anyone who wishes, from Athens
or elsewhere, may be initiated in the mysteries; the sound
you heard was the Iacchos song which is always sung at
the festival.

Within the Homeric Hymn (265-266), Demeter stated that the
children of the Eleusinians will celebrate war games in
Demophon's honor.  From Herodotus' account, these war
games were celebrated with such enthusiasm that it caused
concern in the minds of seasoned warriors who witnessed

To one who has never participated in a great religious
procession, a description of the complete emotional
involvement and investment is difficult to explain.  I rely on
my memories of participation in Hindu festivals.  These are
often held over three day periods:  the evening before the
full moon, the evening of the full moon and the evening
after.  Prayer is raised in the midst of a glorious clamor.  The
sky is pierced with shouts, the earth threaded with activity
and all around activity swirls like rushing water into a
hollow, that spins and winds and thrusts itself out as it
follows a course predetermined by all events surrounding

Such would be the mood of the procession of Iacchos.  The
great procession wound its fourteen miles from Athens to
Eleusis.  Before the assembly reached the town, they arrived
at a bridge wide enough only for a single person at a time to
pass.  On it waited men with heads covered who hurled
insults on the dignitaries and the well known.  This rough
jesting was an opportunity to reveal the sort of truth about
each initiate that nobody would dare to mention in front of
them at any other time.  This had two effects:  it punctured
pride of the important and evoked merriment from the
crowd.  The induced hilarity in the midst of mourning or
grieving is referred to when the Queen's daughter, Iambe,
succeeded in making Demeter smile:

Without smiling, without touching food or drink (Demeter)
sat, consumed with yearning for her daughter, until Iambe
understood and made plenty of jokes and jests and made
the holy Lady smile with kindly heart, and ever afterward she
continues to delight her spirit. (200-205)

Even more important than the laughter and the symbolic
representation is preparation.  Just as all equally must die,
all equally must enter into the initiation with proper humility.  
The mockery is a method of installing humility before this
meeting with the gods, and the method, although painful, is
essential.  The matter is put abruptly by Demeter when she
states:  Witless are you mortals and dull to foresee your lot,
whether of good or of evil (256).  In discussing this aspect of
humility, Eliade says:

In short, the gods do not strike without reason as long as
mortals do not go beyond the limits prescribed by their own
mode of existence.  But it is difficult not to go beyond the
imposed limits, for man's ideal is "excellence" (arete).  No,
excessive excellence runs the risk of arousing
inordinate pride and insolence (hubris).  Hubris brings on a
temporary madness (ate) which blinds the victim and leads
him to disaster.          There was a great sacrifice performed
by the civil head and representative of the Athenian state.  
Then followed the sacrifice of the "Great Bull".  The bull was
an animal especially sacred to Dionysus.  After the sacrifice,
the initiates received from a special cup the kykeon, the
drink which Demeter had requested.  

Soon after, the procession would arrive at the outer court of
the sanctuary.  At the height of the Mysteries in the second
half of the fifth century B.C.E., the sanctuary was expanded.  
A new Telesterion was built which was large enough to
accommodate several thousand initiates who during the
initiation rites stood  on steps along the four inner walls.  
Because of the size of the building, the entire procession
which lead to the Telesteron probably did not enter.  Only
those who had received the lesser Mysteries, had fasted and
sacrificed penetrated.  In each stage of the initiation, fewer
would participate.  This was largely because of space
consideration, but there may also have been a symbolic
meaning as well.  The orator Maximos of Tyre said:  Until
thou hast reached the Anaktoron, thou has not been
initiated.  The Anaktoron stood in the center of the
Telesterion.  The information of what occurred during the
following "nights of the Mysteries" is lost in the mists of
history.  However, we may feel certain that the rites included
three different elements:  the dromena - that which was
enacted; the deiknymena - the sacred objects that were
shown; and the legomena - the words that were spoken-
which was the communication of the myth and its attendant

The dromena - that which was enacted- is perhaps the
easiest to guess.  Classical Greek tragedy still lives with
force within our western cultures.  The dramatic arts were
highly developed and it is not wild speculation that an initial
drama based on the myth of Demeter was presented.  This
would have the added effect of opening the participants to
the world of religious symbolism, remind the initiates of the
essence of their beliefs, and prepare their hearts and spirits
for catharsis which would come.  

In his Poetics, Aristotle investigated both what happened in
the minds of the audience at a tragedy and the experience
offered by the annually recurring venture of Eleusis.  
Spectators at public plays had no need to build up a state of
concentration by ritual preparations; they neither
fasted, nor drank the kykeon, nor marched in a procession.  
Consequently, they did not attain a state of epopteia, of
"having seen" by their inner resources.  The poet, the
chorus, and the actors created a vision at the theater.  
Without effort, the spectators were transported into what
they saw.  

In the Mysteries, catharsis had to take effect long before the
epopteia.  "Through pity and terror", wrote Aristotle in his
Poetics, "tragedy brought purification from all of these

This was followed by the telete in the completely enclosed
Telesterion.  What occurred inside is unknown.  Before the
hidden part of the Mysteries began, for the last time the
Hierokeryx cried out:  Away, profane ones!  Plutarch in his
essay "Progress in Virtue", compares philosophical wisdom
to the knowledge gained in the Mysteries:

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, adopt another
bearing of silence and amazement, and "humble and orderly
attends upon: reason as upon a god."

All of these aspects, the tumult, the jostling, the attempt to
enter into the Anaktoron, we can see from other sources,
have occurred.  What followed was the great light and the
resultant bearing of silence and amazement.  Clement of
Alexandria called the happenings in the Telesterion a mystic
drama.  "The temple shook; terrifying visions and fearful
specters depicted the horrors of Hades and the fate awaiting
the evil man."  After this terrible spectacle of death, they
were suffused by a sweet, pleasing light, soothing their
spirits and heralding the coming of the goddess.  

According to Hippolytus, among the deiknymena - the
sacred objects that were shown - was a single harvested
head of grain beheld in silence, apparently as a simple, but
profound manifestation of the life in the grain and in all
things. This would easily correspond to Demeter's status as
goddess of agriculture and the mystery of the changing of
the seasons. Just as Demeter taught agriculture, Dionysus
is said to have taught Ikarios the art of viticulture and the
making of wine. This art Ikarios then taught the people of

Clement of Alexandria states that the initiatory formula of the
Eleusinian Mysteries is:
I have fasted;
I have drunk the kykeon;
I have taken from the chest (kiste);
having done the work,
I have placed in the basket (kalathos);
and from the basket in the chest.

The first two aspects, having fasted and drunk the kykeon
are understandable and seen in the initial six days of the
Mysteries.  Yet the following remains shrouded in mystery.  If
we follow the hymn, perhaps the secret is understandable.  
One focus in the Homeric Hymn was Demeter's placing the
child in the fire to burn away his mortality.  This ritual act
was interrupted by the Queen.  Demeter in her anger thrust
the boy on the floor.  In shock and amazement, the Queen
forgot about her child lying on the floor.  Is it possible that
the child may have been taken from the "chest", its crib, and
placed in the fire.  Then "having done the work" of burning
off the mortality, the child was placed in the basket.  This
would be perhaps as an offering, or a sacrifice to the gods,
and then taken again from the basket and placed in the
chest.  Remember that the Athenians had a young boy,
chosen by lot, who was initiated at the city's expense and
named the pais aph'hestias or "boy of the hearth".  Kerenyi
states that the term "of the hearth" refers to the fact that this
boy, who was taken from the family hearth, required no
further purification ceremonies as did adults who had once
more to achieve this state of innocence.  Kerenyi further
asserts that his mythological prototype was Demophon.  As
the details of the Homeric Hymn were enacted in detail, it
would be surprising if the climax, Demeter placing the youth
in the fire only to be discovered by his mother, was not.  The
emotions of the spectators would have been stretched taut.   
The identification of Brimos with Dionysus can be seen not
only in the Iacchos procession, but as well be a common
story about him.  Guthrie relates:

We have it on the authority of Plutarch , though his mention
of the fact is unfortunately brief and vague, that a part of
their ceremonies consisted in "awakening the Liknites".  
Liknites (from liknon, a winnowing-basket used as a cradle)
was the infant Dionysus, as is explained by Servius:  "Some
affirm that Father Liber is called Liknites by the Greeks; for
liknon is their name for the winnowing basket, in which he
(Dionysus) is customarily said to have been placed, after he
was taken from his mother's womb."

The "I have taken from the chest and done the work" in the
initiatory formula may then have alluded to the initial
initiatory work, to have observed and manipulated the
sacred instruments.  The second component:  I have placed
in the basket and from the basket in the chest, would refer to
the second, secret part.  The myth of Dionysus being placed
with his mother into a chest and then having been saved,
being taken from the chest.  Being placed in the basket, the
liknon, which was a winnowing basket, manifested the birth
of the new wheat, the new wine, the new god and new life
for the initiates.  The following, from the basket into the
chest then would refer to the closing of those aspects of the
ceremonies.  By participating in the symbolic taking and
placing of objects which had initially been carried to Eleusis
in the hiera on the day preceding the Mysteries, the initiates
allowed the occurrence of the epopteia to be made manifest.

The Mysteries of Isis were possibly the original source of the
Eleusinian mysteries.  These Mysteries specifically identified
Isis with Demeter.  In the comedic work The
Metamorphoses, also known as The Golden Ass by
Apuleius, the hero of the story, Lucius, has a dream about
initiation in which he says:

“Perhaps, curious reader, you are keen to know what was
said and done.  I would tell you if I were permitted to tell.  But
both the ears that heard such things and the tongue that
told them would reap a heavy penalty for such rashness.  
However, I shall not keep you any long on the cross of your
anxiety, distracted as you doubtless are with religious
yearning.  Hear therefore and believe what I say to be

I approached the confines of death.  I trod the threshold of
Proserpine (Persephone); and borne through the elements I
returned.  At midnight I saw the Sun shining in all his glory.  I
approached the gods below and the gods above, and I
stood beside them, and I worshiped them.  Behold, I have
told my experience, and yet what you hear can mean
nothing to you.  I shall therefore keep to the facts which can
be declared to the profane without offense.”

In both the Egyptian and Greek understanding, it was
believed that at night, the sun sank below the horizon and
illuminated the underworld.  Those in Hades, then, would
see the sun at midnight.  This "great light" seems to have
been part of the mysteries to which both Aristophanes and
Apuleius both allude.  If the initiates saw the sun at night, it
would convince them that they, like Persephone, had been
transported to Hades.  

Most important was the final vision, the epopteia, which is
said to have taken place in a dazzling light.  After being
crowded in the Telesterion for an entire night along with
thousands of others, and in complete and terrifying
darkness, there came a climax as Plutarch reports "when the
anaktoron was opened" and a huge fire burst forth.  

According to Hippolytus, under the huge fire the hierophant
shouted:  "Brimo has given birth to Brimos!"  Kerenyi's
exegesis of this statement is that the queen of the dead
herself had given birth in fire to a mighty son.  According to
Apollodorus of Athens, when the hierophant invoked Kore
he struck a bronze gong, and the context implies that the
kingdom of the dead burst open.  The clangor of the gong
might as well be reminiscent of thunder (bromios) which
was one of Dionysus' appellations, the Thunderer.  Brimo
has given birth to Brimos might be a play on bromios. Birth
associated with thunder is also mentioned Euripides' play
The Bacchae where the god introduces himself:

I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus, come back to Thebes, this
land where I was born.  My mother was Cadmus' daughter,
Semele by name, midwived by fire, delivered by the
lightning's blast.  

If the identification was carried forward with the vision of
Demeter/Kore and the birth of Dionysus/Demophon, the
initiate, in ecstatic enthusiasm would be merged with the
living goddess of the underworld, and immortal, as well as
with the god.  This primal identification of the initiate with the
god Dionysus (or Kore) would be challenged by Rohde.  He
would agree that "if the soul is immortal, it must be in its
essential nature like God; it must itself be a creature of the
realm of Gods.  When a Greek says "immortal" he says
"god", they are interchangeable."  However, a significant
divergence comes in Rohde's conclusion that "the first real
principle of the religion of the Greek people is this - that in
the divine ordering of the world, humanity and divinity are
absolutely divided in place and nature, and so they must
ever remain.

Guthrie says that in Greek families, the solemn adoption of a
child was represented as rebirth from the womb of the new
mother.  If this concept were carried forward and the initiate
became an adopted child of the gods, the separation may
have remained as Rohde would insist, although the
identification would have been enhanced.  Guthrie says that
the Dionysian worshiper was, at the height of ecstasy, one
(entheos) with his god and that this divinity meant

Whether this was the Athenian boy of the hearth as the child
Demophon/Dionysus standing immortalized in the midst of
the flames, or as Walter Otto, in his famous paper, argues a
miracle, the appearance of Kore, at the height of the
Mysteries in the epopteia is not known.  A papyrus fragment
has been found which contains a dialogue between the
Greek hero Herakles and the Hierophant.  Herakles had
requested initiation before he descended to the underworld
to bring back Kerberos.  Herakles' harrowing of hell was his
last and most dangerous labor.  This request was denied
because Herakles, in a fit of madness, had previously killed
his children.  Herakles had been denied purification at
Apollo's temple at Delphi.  In his anger, Herakles tells the
Hierophant that what he needs is not initiation, but
purification, as he had previously received the benefits of
initiation.  The papyrus fragment reads:

Speech of Herakles whom they do not wish to initiate into
the Eleusinian Mysteries:  "I was initiated long ago [or
elsewhere].  Lock up Eleusis, [Hierophant,] and put the fire
out, Dadouchos.  Deny me the holy night!  I have already
been initiated into more authentic mysteries."  The last
words of the fragment read:  [I have beheld] the fire, whence
[...and] I have seen the Kore."

One aspect of the epopteia was the appearance of a great
light, a fire.  No less than a scholar than Eliade says: "it is
not probable that fire played a direct part in the initiations" at
Eleusis.  The centrality of the fire is alluded to in another
story.  The Roman Emperor Augustus had shown his
respects to the Greek religion by being initiated into the
Mysteries.  In the year 20 B.C.E., while at Samos in Greece,
he received word that King Poros of India desired to
establish relations.  When the king's diplomat arrived he
expressed his interest in the Mysteries.  The Emperor
Augustus ordered that the Mysteries be celebrated out of
season.  The Indian diplomat, after witnessing the Mysteries,
decided to go one better and offered a display of his own, by
walking into the fire.  In the Telesterion the Hierophant had
celebrated only "under the fire", that is, according to
Kerenyi, "beside it".  The Brahman diplomat celebrated
immortality in the fire.    

Authors previously cited have discussed the hallucinatory,
ecstatic aspects of some aspects of Greek religious belief.  A
combination of frenzied energy, expectation, and mass
conversion could have placed the initiates into a state of
mind where they would be susceptible to a religious
experience.  This is not to say that the experience was not
genuine.  For two millennia, the Mysteries drew initiates who
left knowing they had been in the presence of the gods and
had received comfort from this presence.  In short, the
experience was real, not something which can be dismissed
as "just a hallucination" or "mass psychosis".  

f.        the sixth day
The last day, the 22nd of the month Boedromion, the
Mysteries closed with a remembrance of the dead.  It was a
day devoted to the ritual of the Plemochoai - the "pourings
of plenty".  Two large, unstable, circular vases were set up
and their liquid (which has not been identified) was pored
into a cleft in the earth, possibly in the Ploutonion.  A
mystical formula was recited as the vessels were
overturned.  Possibly the conclusion of this sacred drama
occurred when the initiates proclaimed Zeus with the cries
of HYE! KYE! or Rain!  Conceive!  This is thought to have
been the legomena.  Calling down the rains to fertilize the
earth concluded the play and blessed the sacred marriage
of Zeus and Demeter.  The force and power of that
expression is found in  Aeschylus' play, The Daniads, when
Aphrodite says:

The pure sky longs passionately to pierce the earth, and
passion seizes the earth to win her marriage.  Rain falling
from the bridegroom sky makes pregnant the earth.  Then
brings she forth for mortals, pastures of flock and corn,
Demeter's gift, and the fruitfulness of trees is brought to
completion by the dew of their marriage.  Of these things am
I part cause.  

As the initiates left, they are said to have cried out:  "Cross
the bridge, O Kore, before it is time to begin the threefold
plowing" which again refers to the evocation of the goddess
that the earth may conceive and continue to prosper
reflecting its earliest agrarian roots.  

The transition from hunting to agriculture truly opened the
way for civilization to develop.  A second transition, a
spiritual one, was involved in the Mysteries as well.  Jung
quotes an Eleusinian epitaph, but unfortunately neglects to
give its source:  "Truly the blessed gods have proclaimed a
most beautiful secret: Death comes not as a curse, but as a
blessing to men."  This would, of course, relate to the twice
repeated phrase, the gifts of the gods are hard to endure.  In
many respects, this appears to be one of the core beliefs of
the Mysteries, explicated by the drama of Demophon.

The religious explanation of suffering and death and its
promise of salvation and eternal life have been threads
throughout the entire history of religious consciousness
throughout time.  This primal understanding may have been
effected in Eleusis, in our own history, by the induction of a
simulated crisis state through prayer, fasting and immersion
into religious symbology.  In that it resonated to emotional,
spiritual and psychological needs, it continued:  not for
years or decades, but through millennia.  As long as this
need for hope continues, the Mysteries still live, they have
been reabsorbed and linger yet among us.  The impact of
the Mysteries became more concrete beginning in the
second century C.E. as the Christian church found itself
increasingly in competition with these forms of worship.  
The cultic areas of the church's life, especially baptism and
Eucharist, underwent a profound transformation as the
sacraments became "mysteries" to which not everyone had
immediate access.   Writing to the Corinthians who lived but
a short distance from Eleusis and were certainly familiar
with the Mysteries still celebrated in all of their splendor,
Paul the Apostle worked through his understanding of the
Resurrection of the dead.  

Someone may ask, "How are dead people raised, and what
sort of body do they have when they come back?"  They are
stupid questions.  Whatever you sow in the ground has to
die before it is given new life and the thing that you sow is
what is going to come; you sow a bare grain, say of wheat
or something like that and then God gives it the sort of body
that he has chosen:  each sort of seed gets its own sort of
body...the thing that is sown is perishable, but what is raised
is imperishable:  the thing that is sown is contemptible but
what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak, but
what is raised is powerful; when it is sown it embodies the
soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit.

I will tell you something that has been secret:  that we are
not all going to die, but we shall be changed.  This will be
instantaneous, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last
trumpet sounds.  It will sound, and the dead will be raised,
imperishable, and we shall be changed as well because our
present perishable nature must put on imperishability and
this mortal nature must put on immortality.

When this perishable nature has put on imperishability, and
when the mortal nature and the mortal nature has put on
immortality, then the words of the scriptures will come true:  
Death is swallowed up in victory.  Death, where is your
victory?  Death, where is your sting?