The mysteries (really such) of Eleusis

One of the reasons why the Eleusis (or Eleusinian) mysteries continue to exert considerable fascination in various areas of human research is undoubted because the content of the great mysteries (called “teletes”), as well as that of the final apotheosis (called “epopteia”), has always remained unknown and mysterious. If the first part of the long initiation ceremony (small mysteries) was public and representable in various artistic forms, the culmination of the process in the autumn period was to remain strictly reserved for those who crossed the threshold of the reserved area of Demeter’s temple.

Representation of a ritual of the Eleusinian (or of Eleusis) mysteries

There is nothing strange in the desire not to lightly divulge the content of the concluding ceremony, except for the fact that the initiation was by no means elitist, could be completed even by slaves, and the only condition necessary to take part was fluent knowledge of the Greek language (probably because of the numerous invocations and prayers the postulant had to address to Demeter). What can be deduced from this (without too much mental effort) is that the number of initiates was very high and that, given human nature, it is improbable that any communicable secret or mystery was kept occult in the face of the varied solicitations that the “secular” world indeed exerted.

There is no mystery more hidden than the idea that somewhere or through a specific ritual, concrete knowledge can be attained that bystanders recognize in the most invisible signs. Think of a simple experiment: tell a person that there is a hidden object in an empty room and make him believe that he can see it clearly; it is very likely that after the first protests, the person involved will begin to direct his attention even to the specks of dust to satisfy the “vacuum” created by his apparent lack of sensitivity. If we then also consider the hypothesis (consciously put forward by Albert Hoffman) that the initiates were given a drink with hallucinogenic effects, the game is up!

However, the question remains open as to the actual content of the mysteries, of which, to this day, there is no reliable record. Once again, referring to the natural human tendency to distinguish oneself even through the dissemination of “occult” knowledge, the only real possibility is that the great mysteries were about almost indescribable sensations (such as psychedelic effects) or that they had no content that could be communicated verbally! As absurd a hypothesis as it may seem, the latter, as mentioned earlier, is probably the reality with the most poignancy of meaning.

In short, the mystery had been stripped of all linguistic and symbolic trappings to build its transcendent structure. It had been assimilated, perhaps year after year, into a vacuity so pure that it could only be known through the bond of incommunicability. But isn’t this the structure of any “religious promise” after all? Just imagine showing something that transcends human nature to achieve a complete elevation of the spirit (such as the mystical experiences of St. John of the Cross). Do you think such an initiate could lightly return to his former activities, as described by many Greek historians, regarding the initiates of Eleusis?


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