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ÆLEFSÍNIA MYSTÍRIA - ΕΛΕΥΣΙΝΙΑ ΜΥΣΤΗΡΙΑ
THE MYSTERIES OF ELEUSIS

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GENERALITIES REGARDING THE ÆLEFSÍNIA MYSTÍRIA

Ælefsínia Mystíria (Eleusinian Mysteries; Gr. Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια, ἘΛΕΥΣΊΝΙΑ ΜΥΣΤΉΡΙΑ) The Ælefsinian initiation ceremonies and teachings, called the Ælefsínia, were a mighty vehicle that promoted the Progress of the Soul in Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion. The Ælefsínia was the most famous of all the Mystíria (The Mysteries; Gr. Μυστήρια). They were held every year in honor of Dimítir (Demeter; Gr. Δημήτηρ) and Pærsæphóni (Persephone; Gr. Περσεφόνη) and all the Gods. The Lesser Mysteries were held in the spring at Agrai (Agrae; Gr. Αγραι), a location found on the Ilisós (Ilissus; Gr. Ιλισός) river, southeast of the Akrópolis (Acropolis; Gr. Ακρόπολις) of Athínai (Athens; Gr. Ἀθῆναι). The Greater Mysteries were held at Ælefsís (Eleusis; Gr. Ἐλευσίς, modern Ελευσίνα). The city of Ælefsís was named after a hero, some sources say a son of Ærmís (Hermes; Gr. Ἑρμῆς). Pafsanías (Pausanias; Gr. Παυσανίας) says he was a son of Ohyíyis (Ogyges; Gr. Ὠγύγης), the first ruler of Thívai (Thebes; Gr. Θῆβαι) in Viohtía (Boeotia; Gr. Βοιωτία). Initiation into the Ælefsínia required absolute secrecy of the participant and were open to all, even slaves, provided that you spoke Greek and had not committed murder.  

THE MYSTERIES WERE KEPT SECRET

The Mysteries were so highly regarded that there is no record of any significant breach of secrecy, despite the fact that they were disseminated for almost two-thousand years.

"What we can learn about the Eleusinian Mysteries is certainly very limited. We know of certain rites that were not, however part of the secret celebration; we can figure out certain acts that were part of the Mysteries, such as the enactment of the sacred pageant; we know nothing of the substance of the Mysteries, of the meaning derived even from the sacred drama which was performed. Explanations suggested by scholars thus far, and philosophic conceptions and parallels, are based upon assumptions and the wish to establish the basis on which the Mysteries rested.  These accounts do not seem to correspond to the facts. The secret of the Mysteries was kept a secret successfully and we shall perhaps never be able to fathom it or unravel it." (Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries by George E. Mylonas, 1961, Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton NJ USA, p. 281)

The priests at Ælefsís were said to possess the power to look into one's soul; if the potential initiate was not of high moral standing, they were either rejected outright or given a more cursory teaching. In the later years of Ælefsís, it is believed that the priests lost this ability. Even several of the Roman emperors had received the Ælefsinian Mysteries, emperors such as Hadrian (in 124 and again 128 CE), a great patron and devotee of the ancient Greek religion, and Marcus Aurelius (in 176 CE), the  philosopher-emperor. The last Roman emperor to be initiated into the Ælefsinian Mysteries was Julian (in 355 CD), the philosopher-emperor who tried to strengthen and re-build the ancient religion after the Christian emperors had established the Christianity as the state religion. But what are we to say of the recorded entrance of such unworthy emperors such as Caligula and Nero who received the Mysteries at Ælefsís? To refuse an emperor a religious initiation would be such an insult that the very existence of the sanctuary complex would be put at risk. Consequently, it is said that such debauched emperors were given a special sham rendition of the Mysteries to protect the teaching from their pollution.


THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE 
ÆLEFSÍNIA MYSTÍRIA

The mythology involved with these Mysteries is as follows: The Goddess Dimítir (Demeter; Gr. Δημήτηρ) has a daughter by Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς): Pærsæphóni (Persephone; Gr. Περσεφόνη). The story of Pærsæphóni's abduction by Ploutohn (Plouton; Gr. Πλούτων) called variously Aidis (Hades; Gr. Ἅιδης) or Aidohnéfs (Aidoneus; Gr. Ἀϊδωνεύς), is the principle mythology of Dimítir. Zefs had secretly promised Pærsæphóni to Ploutohn in marriage and allowed her to be kidnapped by him. Dimítir, who had heard the echo of her daughter's voice as Pærsæphóni descended into Ploutohn's realm, began her despondent search. On the tenth day, she met Ækáti (Hekate; Gr. Ἑκάτη), who had also heard Pærsæphóni's cries. They inquired of Ílios (Helios; Gr. Ἥλιος), the Sun, who had seen all and now revealed this to Dimítir. The angry Goddess caused famine by not allowing the earth to produce fruit. She refused to ascend to Ólympos (Olympus; Gr. Ὄλυμπος) but rather took up residence on earth, particularly at Ælefsís (Eleusis; Gr. 
Ἐλευσίς). Zefs became afraid for the future of earth, so he retrieved Pærsæphóni, but Ploutohn gave Pærsæphóni part of a pomegranate to eat before she left his kingdom, a trick requiring her to return. Zefs agreed to allow Pærsæphóni to stay with her mother for most of the year, but in winter she must return to Ploutohn. Dimítir agreed to this, returned fruitfulness back to the earth, and prepared to depart back to Ólympos. Before she left, Dimítir instructed Triptólæmos (Triptolemus; Gr. Τριπτόλεμος), King Kælæós (Celeus; Gr. Κελεός) of Ælefsís, Έfmolpos (Eumolpus; Gr. Εύμολπος), and Dioklís (Diocles; Gr. Διοκλῆς) in her Mysteries, the great Ælefsínia Mystíria (Eleusinian Mysteries; Gr. Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια). 


ATHENS AND THE TWO FAMILIES OF ÆLEFSINIAN PRIESTS

The Ælefsínia Mystíria have direct connection with the city of Athens. Ærækhthéfs (Erechtheus; Gr. Ἐρεχθεύς), the archaic king of Athens waged war with Ælefsís (Pafsanías [Gr. Παυσανίας] i. 38, 3). The Ælefsinians were assisted by a son of Poseidóhn (Poseidon; Gr. Ποσειδῶν), Έfmolpos of Tháki (Thrace; Gr. Θράκη). Nonetheless, the Athenians were victorious. They took political control over the city but gave the priesthood to the families of Έfmolpos (the first Hierophant) and King Kælæós. These were the Efmolpidai (Eumolpidae; Gr. Ευμολπιδαι), descendants of Έfmolpos through his second son, Kíryx (Keryx; Gr. Κήρυξ). There was another family that had a line of priests at Ælefsís. They too are thought to have descended from Kíryx but were known as the Kírykæs (Kerykes; Gr. Κήρυκες, from κήρυκας meaning 'herald'). The Kírykæs are elsewhere described as the descendants of Ærmís (the God) and Áglavros (Aglauros; Gr. Άγλαυρος). Áglavros was the daughter of Ærækhthéfs, therefore making the Κήρυκες Athenian.

 

THE DEMISE OF THE ÆLEFSÍNIA MYSTÍRIA

With the decree of Thæodósios I (Theodosius; Gr. Θεοδόσιος) in 379 CE forbidding the ancient cults, the Ælefsínia Mystíria began a decline. In 380 CE a vicious mob of Christians attempted to lynch the Iærophántai (Hierophants; Gr. Ἱεροϕάνται, the high priests of Ælefsis) Næstórios (Nestorius; Gr. Νεστόριος) and Prískos (Priscus; Gr. Πρίσκος). Then aged 95, Næstórios terminated the Ælefsínia Mystíria announcing "the predominance of mental darkness over the human race." As recorded by Efnápios (Eunapius; Gr. Εὐνάπιος) [although he did not name him], Næstórios is credited with having predicted the appointment of the unlawful and final Iærophántis (Hierophant; Gr. Ίεροφάντης), a non-Athenian consecrated to Mithras, and the sacking and destruction of the sanctuary in 395 CE by Alaric the Visigoth and his Christians during the reign of this unlawful Iærophántis.




For a list of terms specifically associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, please visit this page:

Glossary of the Eleusinian Mysteries


For a list of more general terms concerning the Mysteries, please visit this page: 

Glossary of Hellenic Mystery Religion


The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kosmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς). 
  


PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.


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