My Eleusinian Mysteries

My Eleusinian Mysteries


Today is September 14th and, for me, is the start of my observation of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

The information here is compiled for a number of different sources which I then adapted to my personal use. The two main sources of information I drew from are and Please note that I didn’t write this, I only reproduced it and modified it for my personal use.  I’ve tried to preface my personal comments with “Nota Bene:”.

I’m not a reconstructionist. I am a citizen of the USA and practice a form of modern Craft so this is personalized for how I celebrate. I’m not saying that this is how the Eleusinian Mysteries were definitely celebrated and I am not telling anyone else how to observe this time.


The Eleusinian Mysteries (Greek: Έλευσίνια Μυστήρια) were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis, in ancient Greece. Of all the mysteries celebrated in ancient Mediterranean world, these were held to be the ones of greatest importance.

The Eleusinian Mysteries celebrated Persephone’s return, for it was also the return of plants and of life to the earth. Persephone had gone into the underworld (underground, like seeds in the winter), then returned to the land of the living: Her rebirth is symbolic of the rebirth of all plant life during Spring and, by extension, all life on earth.

Nota Bene: I celebrate the Lesser Mysteries near the Vernal Equinox as Persephone’s Return as the Kore/Perpetual Spring.  I celebrate the Greater Mysteries near the Autumnal Equinox as Persephone’s Leave-taking where she ascends her throne as Queen of the Dead to rule beside her husband.

The Mysteries are believed to have begun around 1500 B.C.E., during the Mycenean Age. The lesser mysteries were probably held every year; the greater mysteries only every five years.



There were four categories of people who participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries:

1             Priests (hierophants) and priestesses

2             Initiates, undergoing the ceremony for the first time.

3             Others who had already participated at least once. They were eligible for the fourth category.

4             Those who had attained epopteia, who had learned the secrets of the greatest mysteries of Demeter.

The only requirements for membership were a lack of “blood guilt,” meaning having never committed murder, and not being a “barbarian” (unable to speak Greek). Men, women, and even slaves were allowed initiation.

Nota Bene: I don’t speak Greek so I wouldn’t have been able to participate in the original Rites. However, that doesn’t present a problem for me now. Especially when I am doing a private observance and not a state sanctioned rite of a state religion.


Two Eleusinian Mysteries, the “Greater” and the “Lesser.”

According to Thomas Taylor, “the Lesser Mysteries signified the mysteries of the soul while in subjection to the body. The Greater Mysteries obscurely intimated, by mystic and splendid visions, the felicity of the soul, both here and hereafter, when purified from the defilements of a material nature and constantly elevated to the realities of intellectual [spiritual] vision

The Lesser Mysteries were held in Anthesterion (March) but the exact time was not always fixed and changed occasionally, unlike the Greater Mysteries. The priests purified the candidates for initiation (myesis). They first sacrificed a pig to Demeter then purified themselves.

The Greater Mysteries took place in Boedromion (the first month of the Attic calendar, falling in late Summer) and lasted ten days.

Nota Bene: As said, I am not a reconstructionist.  I do not use the ancient Greek (Attic) calendar.  For this reason, I observe the lesser Mysteries in March and the Greater Mysteries in September. It meshes with the Oral Lore of Sicilian Craft I received and nicely fits with the agricultural and seasonal events where I live in New England.


Events of the 10 days of the Eleusinian Mysteries – the way I observe.


The first day (14th September/Boedromion) –

– “The Call” –  In antiquity, the sacred objects would be brought from Eleusis to the Eleusinion, a temple at the base of the Acropolis.

Note Bene: I choose an appropriate site for the Rites. For me, this is deep in the woods in the back yard. I then consecrate the space to the Rites and it becomes, for me, the Eleusinion. Afterwards, the focus is on collecting the sacred objects and bringing them to the site in a reverent manner. The sacred objects are the kiste (sacred chest) and the kalathos (a lidded basket).  The Kiste includes symbols representing a (golden) serpent, and egg, and a phallus. The kalathos includes seeds and another object which I won’t mention at this time. Sorry.  In antiquity, the seeds were probably wheat. I use corn, barley, and wheat. I start the Rite by declaring, “We are thy People and we Call to Thee!”.


The second day (15th September/Boedromion) –

– “Hither the victims” – In antiquity called Agyrmos, the hierophants (priests) declared prorrhesis, the start of the rites, and carried out the “Hither the victims” sacrifice (hiereia deuro).

Note Bene: I make a formal declaration and present an offering of the first fruits to the Goddesses. Preferably, something that I have grown myself in my own yard.


The third day (16th September/Boedromion) –

– “To the Sea” – In antiquity, the “Seawards initiates” (halade mystai) began with the celebrants washing themselves in the sea at Phaleron.

Note Bene: I take a large bowl of pure water to the ritual site. After stripping naked before the sacred objects, I wash and purify myself in silence and then sit in contemplation of the nature of sacrifice.  Also in antiquity, piglets were purified and sacrificed (one for each of the Goddesses). Nowadays, I make a plate of bacon as an offering.


The fourth & fifth days (17th & 18th September/Boedromion) –

– Epidauria – in antiquity, the participants began the Epidauria, a festival for Asklepios named after his main sanctuary at Epidauros. This “festival within a festival” celebrated the hero’s arrival at Athens with his daughter Hygieia, and consisted of a procession leading to the Eleusinion, during which the mystai apparently stayed at home, a great sacrifice, and an all-night feast (pannychis).

Note Bene:  I spend these days making private sacrifices to Demeter and Persephone, and meditating.  This is a good time to reassess priorities in life and what needs to be done to achieve them. Therefore, it is common to take oaths at this time.  The root of “sacrifice” is sacred. If something is truly important, it should hold a special status in life and therefore sacrifices need to be made to achieve it. These two days are also perfect times to recite the various myths associated with Demeter and Persephone.


The sixth day (19th September/Boedromion) –

– Procession – in antiquity, the procession to Eleusis began at Kerameikos (the Athenian cemetery) on the 19th Boedromion, from where the people walked to Eleusis, along what was called the “Sacred Way,” swinging branches called bacchoi. At a certain spot along the way, they shouted obscenities in commemoration of Iambe (or Baubo), an old woman who, by cracking dirty jokes, had made Demeter smile as she mourned the loss of her daughter. The procession also shouted “Iakch’ o Iakche!” referring to Iacchus, possibly an epithet for Dionysus, or a separate deity, son of Persephone or Demeter. Upon reaching Eleusis, there was a day of fasting in commemoration of Demeter’s fasting while searching for Persephone. The fast was broken while drinking a special drink of barley and pennyroyal, called kykeon.

Note Bene: This is kind of difficult to do on your own so I make a special trip to the Eleusinion and recite the story of Iambe and the smile/joy that she brought to Demeter in her time of grief. Fasting is broken with the sacred drink (kykeon/barley water).


The seventh & eighth days (20th & 21st September/Boedromion) –

– The Mysteries – in antiquity, the initiates entered a great hall called Telesterion; in the center stood the Anaktoron (“palace”), which only the hierophantes could enter, where sacred objects were stored. Here in the Telesterio, the initiates were shown the sacred relics of Demeter. This was the most secretive part of the Mysteries and those who had been initiated were forbidden to ever speak of the events that took place in the Telesterion. The penalty was death. Athenagoras of Athens claims that it was for this crime (among others) that Diagoras had received the death penalty.

Note Bene: On the 20th , I open the kiste (sacred chest). On the 21st I open the kalathos (lidded basket).  The time is spent in contemplation of the items within and their personal significance in my life as well as the greater significance of their representation of Universal Truth/Universal Laws. This is done by the light of a fire (if possible) while partaking of the kykeon and the sacred meal (a barley, mint, and pomegranate dish).


The ninth day (22nd September/Boedromion) –

– Pannychis – In antiquity, following the revelation of the Mysteries was the Pannychis.  There was an all-night feast accompanied by dancing and merriment. The dances took place in the Rharian Field, rumored to be the first spot where grain grew. A bull sacrifice also took place late that night or early the next morning. That day (22nd Boedromion), the initiates honored the dead by pouring libations from special vessels.

Note Bene: This day is set aside for merriment and honoring the Ancestors. They are offered the best of the feast.


The 10th day (23rd September/Boedromion) –

On 23rd Boedromion, the Mysteries ended and everyone returned home.

Note Bene: I make a statement that the Rites have ended and conclude with, “We are thy sacrifice”.  I silently gather up any items and bring them back to my temple room.



So, that’s it. That’s how I observe the Eleusinian Mysteries. I hope that you found some of it interesting.





Oh, one more bit of information.  Demeter and Persephone had a cult in Sicily. If you’re interested, here is some wonderful information:



Pindar, Nemean Ode 1 ant1 (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
“This isle, which Zeus, lord of Olympos, gave to Persephone, and ruled nodding his flowing locks, that Sikilia (Sicily) bear on her soil the dower of harvest riches, first of all fruitful earth, and her proud crown of glorious citadels. Bestowed upon her too the son of Kronos a people of proud horsemen.”

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 2. 3 – 5. 5. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
“The Sikeliotai who dwell in the island [of Sicily] have received the tradition from their ancestors, the report having ever been handed down successively from earliest time by one generation to the next, that the island is sacred to Demeter and Kore [Persephone]; although there are certain poets who recount the myth that at the marriage of Plouton [Haides] and Persephone Zeus gave this island as a wedding present to the bride.
That the ancient inhabitants of Sikelia (Sicily), the Sikanoi, were indigenous, is stated by the best authorities among historians, and also that the goddesses we have mentioned made their first appearance on this island, and that it was the first, because of the fertility of the soil, to bring forth the fruit of corn, facts to which the most renowned of the poets also bears witness when he [Homer in the Odyssey in describing the land of the Kyklopes] writes : ‘But all these things grow there for them unsown and even untilled, both wheat and barley, yea, and vines, which yield such wine as fine grapes give, and rain of Zeus gives increase unto them.’
Indeed, in the plain of Leontini, we are told, and throughout many other parts of Sikelia the what men call ‘wild’ grows even to this day. And, speaking generally, before the corn was discovered, if one were to raise the question, what manner of land it was of the inhabited earth where the fruits we have mentioned appeared for the first time, the meed of honour may reasonably be accorded to the richest land; and in keeping with what we have stated, it is also to be observed the goddesses who made this discovery [Demeter and Persephone] are those who receive the highest honours among the Sikeliotai (Sicilians).


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