If You Don’t Like To Read, Listen Here!
About a half hour’s drive outside of Athens, there is a very sacred site to the ancient greeks. Here it was believed that, Demeter, the wife of Zeus, was reunited with her daughter Persephone, after she returned from the underworld. It is a site where, until 4th century AD, the most celebrated religious event of the culture was carried out for some 2,000 years. It was known among the locals, due to its incredibly well-known and solidified stature among the ancient greeks as, The Eleusinian Mysteries. In fact, it was such an event that it was often simply referred to as, The Mysteries.
The Story Of Eleusis
Our story begins in the blossoming of spring. Persephone was out in the fields picking flowers when Pluto (Hades) burst forth from the ground and took Persephone against her will to the underworld in his golden chariot.
Jupiter himself, Persephone’s father, had given his consent to Pluto. And her mother, Demeter, hearing this from Helios (The Sun), she became outraged and left Olympus in search of her daughter. Coming down to earth, disguised as an old woman.
After searching for a time, Demeter arrived at Eleusis and befriended the ruler of the country, Keleos and his wife, Metanira, consenting to watch over their new born son Demophan. She was eventually compelled to reveal herself to Metanira and in doing so instructed them to build a temple as a peace offering, promising to initiate them into worship that would obtain them her goodwill and favor.
She had still not found her daughter and so rendered the earth sterile to bear no crop. The gods had been deprived of their sacrifices in doing so and they were expressing their anger with Zeus. Finally, Zeus sent Hermes to Pluto and instructed him to return Persephone. Pluto consented but not before laying trickery. He gave her four pomegranate seeds for sustenance on the return journey. When she arrived in Eleusis and reunited with her mother, she told her of the pomegranate seeds she had been given and had by this point eaten. Pluto had tricked her, and he now demanded that Persephone should return to him for one month each year for every pomegranate seed she had been given. And so, eight months would be spent in life with her mother, and four months would be spent in the underworld with Pluto.
The tale, not unlike the many tales told among Greek mythology, is perhaps a parable for some deeper understanding. Demeter, said to be the mother of earth, and Persephone the seed, disappearing for several months of the year at the time of harvest, and appearing to leave the earth barren; her flowers withering, and vegetable life ceasing. As its inhabitants feared of starvation, little did they realize that the seed grew anew, beneath the ground where they could not see. Preparing to once again burst forth with new life when Persephone would be reunited with her mother.
It tells the story of a cycle, perhaps not unlike what was said to be taught at the Eleusis. At least from what we can decipher from the few accounts that escaped the incredibly successful secrecy of its 2,000 history; that the miracle of regeneration rather than the eternity of being was taught. But there is deeper meaning at play here, and as put by K.O. Muller in History of the literature of Ancient Greece:-
“The changes of nature, however, must have been considerable in typifying the changes in the lot of man; otherwise Persephone would have been merely a symbol of the seed committed to the ground and would not have become queen of the dead. But when the goddess of inanimate nature has become queen of the dead, it was a natural analogy, which must have early suggested itself, that the return of Persephone to the world of light also denoted a renovation of life and a new birth in man. Hence the mysteries of Demeter, and especially those celebrated at Eleusis, inspired the most elevated and animating hopes with regard to the condition of the soul after death.”1
The Greater and The Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries
Today, not much remains of the sanctuary at Eleusis. And seeing it in its current condition, it may be hard to imagine that it was once the largest and most celebrated temple in Greece.
The temple of Kore (Another name given to Demeter. Everything was, in fact, a mystery, with nothing being called by its right name.) was hewn directly from the rock.
During the time of the mysteries, as many as thirty to forty thousand would pilgrimage here to experience revelation and become initiated into its ranks of secrecy. In its early years, it was an invitation only open to those of Athenian origin. But with time, and apparently at the inquiry of one Hercules and his desire to be initiated, the mysteries were expanded by Eumolpus and became twofold, forming the lesser and the greater mysteries, where one of alien origin could not be initiated into the latter without first being initiated into the former. In later times these Lesser Mysteries became a prerequisite for all seeking to be initiated, and a general preparation for the Greater Festival.
The Lesser took place in the month of Anthesterion, the flower month of spring. (roughly February-March.) And represented the return of Persephone to earth. (the beginning of life in a year cycle.) The Greater Mysteries represented her descent into Tarturus. Taking place over eight days, on the 15th of the month of Boedromion. (and later, ten, when Esculapius, coming from outside Athens desired to be initiated and the Lesser were repeated on this day for that purpose.) Roughly the month of September.
A time to celebrate
During the festival there were gatherings, purification for those seeking initiation, sacrifice and dramatic re-enactments that took place, and at the height of the festival those that were to be initiated would enter the Telesterion and take part in the initiation ceremony wearing myrtle crowns and garlands of flowers.
There were three degrees of initiation, not unlike most mysteries.
The initiation rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries took place in three degrees. The first degree being for those of the lesser mysteries. The second, that of Mysta, to those initiated through the first. And the third, that of Epopta, being only for those who had been initiated into the second, and after at least one full year had passed before returning to the festival to be further initiated. It was only these devoted third degree candidates that “could see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears, all that took place in the temple during the celebration of the Mysteries”. That is, what took place inside the Telesterion. In regards to what was seen here, the poet Pindar said, “Happy is he who, having seen these rites, goes below the hollow earth; for he knows the end of life and he its god-sent beginning.”2
Those that were to be initiated into the Greater Mysteries were instructed before the celebrations began on the 15th by the Mystagogues. They were instructed to withdraw from sex for nine days, and fast for two before their initiation took place. (Between the sixth and seventh day for the second degree, and between the seventh and the eighth for the third.) They would also remain in solitary confinement for the nine days, and, when they arrived at the ceremony, would partake in the sacred drink. The drink was known as Kykeon, and has become an infamous part of The Mysteries. We will discuss it shortly.
The design of the initiation, according to Plato, was “to restore the soul to that state from which it fell,”.3
Revelation was said to come through contemplation of the sacred objects revealed to the initiate by the hierophant, who would bring out the objects from the Anaktoron; the inner enclosure within the hall of initiation, the Telesterion. He or She was the only one admitted to this inner chamber. They alone would communicate the meanings of these objects through a sacred formulae in keeping with the correct Intonation. All of which would happen in the dead of night.
A Good Singer
An interesting detail of the ceremony that took place at Eleusis involved the hierophant. He was chosen from the Eumolpides family, and he was selected in part on the quality of his voice. It is also interesting to note the meaning of “Eumolpus” as “a good singer”. It is said that “the formulae disclosed to the initiates at Eleusis should be pronounced with proper intonation, for otherwise the words would have no efficacy. Correct intonation was given far greater importance that syllabic pronunciation.“4
A Mystery Well Kept
Exactly what took place within the ceremony itself is not truly known, for only fragmented details have come to light in various ways. Such as ancient writings and inscriptions. The secrecy was well maintained, perhaps due to the severity of the punishment involved; two Arcananians were said to have been put to death; They had accidentally ended up within the temple while mixing with the crowd during the festivities.
The Second Degree
During the second degree, candidates were led into the outer chambers blindfolded, performed a series of purification rites, and were given the final opportunities to admit untrue intentions (i.e. intruders of a kind), after which point discovery was punishable by death. The initiates then dressed in the skin of young does and were adorned with a myrtle crown. They were then wished happiness on their initiation, their blindfolds removed, and were left alone and plunged into darkness.
Within moments sounds began to resonate from the darkness. The crack of thunder and flashes of lightning filled the hall. Fire took fearful forms and cries of pain came from all around them. It was as if the very gates of Tartarus were opening before them.
The initiates were taken by the hand, their hair was torn, and they were beaten and thrown to the ground. Then, a faint light. It grew into a terrifying scene. It was the gates of Tartarus, and out of it came the wailing cries of the condemned. Above this the expounding voice of the hierophant was heard, telling as the judge of the earth, the meaning of what was before them. The gates were then closed and the Anaktoron, the innermost temple, was opened before them, out of which came a vision; “A sight amidst an aura of brilliant light that suddenly flickered through the darkened chamber. Eyes had never before seen the like…The division between earth and sky melted into a pillar of light.”5
The Third Degree
The third degree was perhaps the most bizarre and the most significant. It may even go on to explain much of what took place within the walls of the Telesterion. It was the final and highest level one could attain other than that of hierophant, but that rank was reserved for the chosen of only the hosting family, the Eumolpides. As said earlier, it was the stage at which “he could see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears, all that took place in the temple during the celebration of the Mysteries.”
Not much is known of this rite, and the only authoritative account is given by Hippolytus for the main incident of this final degree. During this ceremony, the hierophant and the hierophantide would descend into a cave, and, after a time, would return to the assembly surrounded by flames. The hierophant would then exhibit to the initiates a single ear of wheat. Why the single ear of wheat? It has been asked by many and solidifies the validity of the name of ‘The Mysteries’.
Here, we will speculate a little, among some interesting evidence that will leave you with plenty to think about.
The Mysteries initiated substantial characters from antiquity into its ranks, from Plato to Plutarch. And Cicero said that “what a man learned in the house of the Hidden Place made him want to live nobly, and gave him happy thoughts for the hour of death.”6
We come back to that integral part of the initiation rites, Kykeon. “I have fasted, I have drank ‘cyceon.’7 These words were repeated after the hierophant during the ceremonies. What importance and part does it play in The Mysteries? Many have queried the possibility of a psychoactive effect in its usage. This would explain, to some degree, not only the visions witnessed but the psychological effect on the seemingly miraculous and almost instant transformation in the beliefs of the initiated toward the aspect of death and life beyond it. It is very common in the evidential writings regarding The Mysteries that they claim to have completely lost their fear of death. This is also an experience that is not uncommon in the use of psychedelic drugs.
Kykeon: The Psychedelic of the Eleusinian Mysteries
A Homeric hymn dating to the seventh century BC records the ingredients of this ‘potion’. Namely barley (alphi), water, and mint (glechon). 8 But what relation do these have to a substance such as psilocybin or LSD? According to Albert Hoffman, who first synthesized LSD in 1943, more than you realize. Barley supports a fungal parasite called ergot, that contains hallucinogenic alkaloids, and is derived from the same fungus that Hoffman used to synthesize LSD in 1943.
He was queried by his friend, Gordon Wasson, as to whether it might have been possible for the Ancient Greeks to isolate the hallucinogen. Given that the ergot-contaminated rye on its own was a poison. It would have to be proven possible for the priests of the time period to isolate the hallucinogenic alkaloids from the toxic and potentially deadly ingredients. He spent two years to satisfy himself of the possibility. Hoffman convinced himself that it would have been, in his opinion, a fairly simple task to extract what was desired.
“The separation of the hallucinogenic agents by simple water solution from the non-soluble ergotamine and ergotoxin alkaloids was well within the range of possibilities open to Early Man in Greece.”9
i.e. the two hallucinogenic compounds present in ergot were water-soluble while the toxic compounds were not, making them easily separable by a simple water solution/washing method.
A Secret Uncovered
Could this be the explanation behind the most profound secret of The Mysteries? That single ear of Wheat? We do not know what knowledge was transferred when bearing witness to this exhibition, but it is perhaps a possibility that could explain why it held such high status within The Mysteries. It could also explain the accounts of secrecy and of the Athenians that were celebrating the Mystery during dinner parties at home.10
It might also explain another name by which Demeter is referred to, Erysibe, translating literally to Ergot.
We are not here to conclude, merely to offer a possibility expressed through evidence so that you may, if you so choose, research further into what’s possible and realize that there is still much that is unknown. We are truly in the rudimentary stages of evolution and we should behave as such. And we should be humble and open to what may be possible. My hope is that what is shared here and throughout the information I have and will continue to publish, will inspire others to delve deeper. Because we all have the potential to make a breakthrough; to change the course of what we know and how we think. For the sake of us all.
- K.O. Muller, History of the literature of Ancient Greece
- Pindar, Frag. 102 (Oxford) (translation by Mylonas, p. 285)
- Dudley Wright, The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites, p. 41
- Ibid, p.16
- Ruck et al., The Road To Eleusis, p. 37
- Dudley Wright, The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites, p. 4
- The Religion of the Ancient Greeks Illustrated, by an Explanation of Their Mythology. (translated form the French; The British Library, 1788), p. 163
- Ruck et al., The Road To Eleusis, p. 81
- Hoffman, The Road To Eleusis, p. 33
- Hoffman, The Road To Eleusis, p. 81
Graham Hancock, Supernatural, New York, NY: The Disinformation Company Ltd.
Dudley Wright, The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites : Nicolas-Hays, Inc; Illustrated edition, 2003; ISBN-10 : 0892540702
R. Gordon Wasson, The Road To Eleusis, North Atlantic Books, 2008; ISBN-10:1556437528
The Religion of the Ancient Greeks Illustrated, by an Explanation of Their Mythology. (translated form the French; The British Library, 1788)
Albert Hoffman, The Road To Eleusis: North Atlantic Books,U.S., 30th Anniversary ed., 2009, ISBN-10:1556437528