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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Eleusis

Posted by on in Culture Blogs



If we can trust the parallels with later Classical art, this “Minoan” bulla (sealing) depicts the goddess known later as Kore (“Maiden”), or Persephone, rising from the Earth, assisted by a male figure, possibly a votary.

In the first century BCE, the Sicilian historian Diodorus wrote that the famous Eleusinian Mysteries had their origin in Crete where, however, they were performed quite publicly and without the secrecy that characterized the later Mysteries (Kerényi 24). We don't know where or from whom he got this information, but if the bulla shown above can be taken as evidence, it would certainly lend support to his theory.

Unfortunately, this bulla, with all its Minoan charm, is in all likelihood a forgery.

Our Kore Rising bulla was supposedly found, along with a trove of other “Minoan” sealings, near Thisbe in Boeotia, in mainland Greece, in the early years of the so-called 20th century. Interestingly—unlike virtually any provenanced Minoan seals—a number of them seem to depict recognizable episodes from Greek mythology. One particularly striking one depicts what is clearly Oedipus talking with the Sphinx, rather charmingly rendered as a Minoan-style griffin.

You know the saying: When something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

(Following Evans, early Minoanists tended to interpret Minoan culture through the prism of Classical mythology, but more recent scholarship suggests instead that comparing Minoan culture with other contemporaneous Mediterranean cultures may offer a less potentially distorting hermeneutic.)

In fact, as Kenneth Lapatin recounts in his 2002 Mysteries of the Snake Goddess, Arthur Evans had barely started excavating at Knossos in 1900 when Minoan fakes began to appear on the market. Everybody wanted a piece of Minoan Crete and, as usual, the market was more than happy to provide them, genuine or not. The Thisbe trove of seals and sealings would seem to be an example of the latter.

Recent archaeology has not been kind to Diodorus' claimed Cretan origins for the Mysteries of the Grain Mother and the Nameless Bride. In Michael B. Cosmopoulos' 2015 study of the excavation history of the Mystery Sanctuary at Eleusis, he cites “a total absence of Minoan imports or even influences at Eleusis during the Bronze Age,” the period during which the sanctuary was founded (Cosmopoulos 156); he concludes that the Mysteries were, in all likelihood, an indigenous local development.

Well. As I write this, here in the North Country, the sugaring is well underway, as sap rises in the trees. Through the coming days, we will actually watch the Rising occur: first the grasses will green, then the bushes leaf out, and lastly the trees open their buds.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Just Like the Vampires Rise

Over dinner one night, a witch friend and I were discussing the Russian Easter liturgy which the two of us had recently attended

(No, we hadn't gone to collect hosts to desecrate—Orthodox don't use hosts—but rather to observe and be instructed by a liturgical masterpiece, one of humanity's truly great rituals. If you want to experience what the Mysteries of Eleusis felt like, you really need to check out Orthodox Easter.)

Memorably, the service is punctuated again and again by the Resurrection troparion, the holiday's leitmotif:


Christ is risen from the dead,

trampling down Death by death,

and upon those in the tombs

bestowing life.


By the end of the four-hour service, you've heard this chant scores, if not hundreds, of times. You really can't help but know it.

Rising to get something from the kitchen, my friend spontaneously improvises a parody troparion:

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Mystery Night

It may be that in this time of Plague, tonight, on this Eve of Spring—whether in wisdom or in fear, who shall say?—the Rites of Spring will go uncelebrated.

Or will they?

Hear now my story.


September 27, 480 BCE: Mystery Night, the night on which, since time immemorial, people have gathered in Eleusis in Attica to celebrate the Mysteries of the Barley Mother and her daughter, the Nameless Bride.

But this year Eleusis and its sanctuary lie empty. The plains of Attica have been devastated by the invading Persians, and the people of Attica have evacuated to mountain refuges.

It so happens that on that day, two Greek turncoats in pay of the Persian king—Dikaios, son of Theokydes, and Demaratos of Sparta—see a great cloud of dust on the Attic plain, as if raised by the feet of 30,000, and hear massed voices shouting the holy cry: Iakkhos! Iakkhos!

But in the midst of the cloud they see nothing and no one.

What is this? asks Demaratos, who had not been initiated into the Mother's Mysteries.

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If the Secret of Eleusis Were Revealed to You, What Would You Do?

 A Thought Experiment


Here it is: the only surviving text of the Mysteries of Eleusis, unlawfully committed to writing by the last hierophant after the destruction of the Sanctuary in 394 ce. After 1600 years, the Secret of Eleusis is finally revealed.

You are now the sole guardian of antiquity's most sacred mystery, knowledge of which (it is said) confers immortality.

What do you do now?

Do you guard the Mystery, or do you pass it on?

If the latter, how? Publicly, or in secret?

Do you publish the mystery, thus earning the praise of scholars everywhere, but also revealing it to the eyes of the unworthy?

Or do you remount the Mysteries? Publicly or privately? If so, how?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    If the knowledge of the mystery gives immortality, then I would be obligated to guard the secret. Immortality is not something one
  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza says #
    Well... If I'm told outright by my initiator why I was ready and worthy for this revelation ( I was old enough/smart enough/decent
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    How so?
  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza says # was *I* deemed worthy to receive revelation?... It would depend on that...

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Beholding Mystery

If I had to compare our Samhain to anything, it would be to the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Of course, the comparison is inexact, and maybe even a little misleading. Certainly we did not—consciously, at any rate—structure what we do on the ancient Mysteries of the Barley Mother. In fact, although we've been enacting this ritual for more than 30 years now, the analogy with Eleusis has only just occurred to me: interestingly, as I attempted to describe it to a first-time guest.

Really, though, such a resemblance is hardly to be wondered at. That Mystery should variously speak a like tongue in different times and places should surprise no one.

As such, the immemorial principle of Holy Silence obtains. There's much that I cannot tell, nor would I if I could.

But this much I may say.

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The Rites of Eleusis - A Continuation


“You should come see what we do.” this Archpriest “Pete” guy said to me.  “We work with Demeter and Persephone.  I think you’ll like it.”  So, here I stood on this beautiful, warm sunny Friday morning, wide-eyed and excited, waiting to see, to experience, what promised to be nothing less that a trip to Eleusis itself.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Eleusinian Impact

Ye gods.

In 37 years, we've done a lot of Samhains together. But none like this one.

Naked and cold in the dark, in the cave.

Then the light flares, and the Mystery is revealed.

Of course, I already knew what the Mystery was; Hell, I'd helped write the ritual.

And still, it hit me like a thunderbolt, like love, with an impact frankly Eleusinian.

The mystery revealed in the dark. You see it, and you know that it's true.


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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Over and over, all around the wold, Samhain reveals itself. Happy new year, dearest!
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Amazing how similar our experiences were! There were few of us and it was cold and rainy, so instead of climbing the hill I once

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