Eleusinian Cult of Demeter and Magical Initiation Rites Term Paper

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Eleusinian Cult of Demeter and the Magical Initiation Rites that are part of each of those groups. The writer explores the groups and explains many of their beliefs and ways while focusing on the differences and similarities of them. There were five sources used to complete this paper.

Throughout history there have been mysterious groups, rituals and events that have only served to enhance the historic records of mankind. As the world continues to evolve it is interesting to look back and see where humans have been. One of the most interesting time periods in history involved the Eleusinian Mysteries and their magical initiation rites.

Before one can begin to understand the impact and importance of the initiation rites that were performed and endured by those in the cult of Demeter it is vital that one understand a little bit about the cult itself and its "life."

The Eleusinian Mysteries have long since been studied and researched to discover their allure to those who took part in them as well as those who have been intrigued with them since they were performed (Ventris, 1993). They were held in honor of the most sacred ritual celebrations of all of ancient Greece. The celebrations were called Demeter and Persephone and they were held on an annual basis. They began in a city called Eleusis, which is how they were given the name Eleusinian Mysteries. The mysteries and the rituals that surrounded them were repeated for more than 2,000 years according to the experts who have studied the historic records of time worldwide (The Eleusinian Mysteries (http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html).

It was many centuries before the advent of automobiles or public transportation. Electricity was not even a thought at the time, yet it didn't stop many thousands of men and women from making the annual migration to the city to take part in the celebration which included the performance of mysterious rites of passage or "mystery rites."

If one wanted to have something to compare it too in the current Christian era it would be as important to those living in that time as Christmas is to Christian today. It was the most important and most respected celebration of the time.

As Christianity began to spread, the Mysteries were condemned by the early Church fathers; yet the rites continued for hundreds of years more and exercised considerable influence on the formation of early Christian teachings and practices (The Eleusinian Mysteries (http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html)."

Many historians believe that the Eleusinian Mysteries actually originated from something called Thesmophoria, which was an earlier rite celebrated by females.

These rites were celebrated by women only throughout all Greece in the month of Pyanepsion (late October), their characteristic feature being a pig sacrifice, the usual sacrifice to chthonic deities. The Greeks attributed special powers to pigs on account of their fertility, the potency and abundance of their blood, and perhaps because of their uncanny ability to unearth underground tubers and shoots. It was believed that mingling their flesh with the seeds of grain would increase the abundance of next year's harvest (The Eleusinian Mysteries (http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html)."

Historians believe that the Eleusinian Mysteries were derived from this earlier practice.

Demeter had promised if the Eleusinians built a temple to her honor she would teach them magic rituals that would create a better existence for them. They built the temple but she did not appear. The world suffered from famine and other ills

Eventually she relented and a poem was written that promised followers a rich reward in this life and in the next life as long as they remained loyal.

The only people who were allowed to participate in the rituals were those who spoke Greek. In addition those who were allowed to participate had to be able to state that they had never shed blood or been purified later. Each new initiate had a name of mystes, which stood for being new to the Mysteries and the participation of them. Each new initiate would be given a sponsor who was someone who had already gone through the initiation phase and was familiar with the rites.

Each new initiate, known as a "mystes," would receive preliminary instructions and guidance from an experienced sponsor, or "mystagogos," who was often from one of the leading families of Eleusis. A mystes who returned a second time to Eleusis for induction into the highest levels of esoteric knowledge was known as an epoptes (The Eleusinian Mysteries (http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html)."

There was an entire hierarchy about who could preside over the mysteries and there was one person, who was second in command who was allowed to override the shedding of blood obstacle for someone to become an initiate.

The celebration of the Mysteries at Eleusis was an elaborate affair which took place over a period of nine days in the month of Boedromion (late September). For each day, there was a prescribed series of ritual actions that initiates were expected to follow in the proper order (The Eleusinian Mysteries (http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html)."

The day before the festival participants would gather and proceed to the sanctuary of Demeter. The actual festival began the following day

There were several things that they had to do to prepare for the mystery. They had to go into the ocean with a suckling pig, they had to take part in a fast and they had to drink a special drink called kykeon. It had meal and water mixed together with pennyroyal leaves (The Eleusinian Mysteries (http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html).

Scholars disagree widely over the significance of the kykeon. Some have maintained that it must have had a sacramental character involving a communion with, or assimilation of, the spirit of the deity (Loisy 69; Jevons 365ff.). On the other hand, Mylonas doubts that it had any such "mystic" significance, although he acknowledges that the drinking of the kykeon was an "act of religious remembrance" involving "an observance of an act of the Goddess." Even on this muted interpretation, the similarity to the Christian Eucharist is striking (The Eleusinian Mysteries (http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html)."

The next step of the participation has remained a mystery to this day though many scholars have surmised what they believed took place. Many feel that the participants had to take part in three important steps to complete the Mysteries. This was derived from Clement of Alexandria testifying as well as Tertullian. The elements of the mysteries are believed to be three fold. They are things shown, things said and things done. While speaking the ritual poem and showing themselves to be preparing for the mysteries take care of the first two elements the third one has always remained a mystery. Many believe that the participants had to participate in a reenactment of the story of Demeter and Persephone.

As for the dromena, these are believed to have included a ritual reenactment of the story of Demeter and Persephone, including the latter's abduction by Hades; Demeter's grief; her long, desperate search throughout the world for the departed goddess; the anguish of all living creatures as famine and death engulfed them. Very likely the initiates gained a sense of direct participation in Demeter's travail by searching with her and calling for her daughter in the same hallowed precincts which, according to tradition, actually witnessed these events (The Eleusinian Mysteries (http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html).Then finally, perhaps illuminated in a sudden blaze of torchlight, there would have been the joyous moment of Persephone's resurrection, as she emerged from the underworld and returned to the loving arms of her mother. The dramatic intensity of this pageant, heightened (in all probability) by music and chanted invocations of the gods, would surely have created an awe-inspiring spectacle, whose memory the initiates would cherish for the rest of their lives (The Eleusinian Mysteries (http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html)."

The similarities and differences between the cult and magic rites were negligible but there. The symbolization of the rites as held against the cult itself made them very similar. The proposed reenactment of the life of Demeter as one of the Mysteries was important to the cult as it was the basis and foundation for the cult's very existence. The going into the ocean with a suckling pig however was not similar to anything about the cult as it was based in a tradition that happened long before the cult was ever formed. There has been question about the similarities between Demeter cult and other cults and their magical rites over the years and historians do believe there are some similarities as well as differences.

These connections, if they existed, might have taken the form of explicit ascriptions of symbolic or sacramental roles to other gods and goddesses in the rituals; alternatively, they might have been implicit suggestions, indirect allusions to historical antecedents from other religious traditions. If the existence of religio-cultural connections of either kind could be determined with certainty, it would affect our understanding of the nature and significance of the Mysteries at Eleusis; for it is a general principle in religious studies that associations among deities parallel similar associations in the symbolic meanings attached…

Sources Used in Document:


The Eleusinian Mysteries http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html

Stephanus Byzantios, "Agra," in Stephanus Byzantinus cum annotationibus L. Holstenii et al. Lipsiae: Libraria Kuehnia, 1825. Vol. 1.

Stoabeus, Joannes, Anthologium, ed. A. Meineke. Lipsiae: Teubner, 1860-64. Vol. 4.

Ventris, Michael and Chadwick, John, Documents in Mycenaean Greek, 2nd. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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