The Festival at Eleusis

"The Eleusinian Mysteries, held annually in honor of Demeter and Persephone, were the most sacred and revered of all the ritual celebrations of ancient Greece. They were instituted in the city of Eleusis, some twenty-two kilometers west of Athens, possibly as far back as the early Mycenaean period, and continued for almost two thousand years. Large crowds of worshippers from all over Greece (and later, from throughout the Roman empire) would gather to make the holy pilgrimage between the two cities and participate in the secret rites, generally regarded as the high point of Greek religion."
     - Edward A. Beach, "The Eleusinian Mysteries"

Demeter, the goddess of corn and fertility, was seduced by a mortal called Iasion. Infuriated, Zeus killed Iasion with a thunderbolt and made love to Demeter himself. The result of this union was a daughter, Persephone.
Hades, "god of the Underworld, asked Zeus for Persephone as his wife. Zeus agreed, but, thinking that Demeter would not accept the match as she would lose her daughter forever to the Underworld, assisted Hades in Persephone's abduction. He asked Gaia to send up many lovely flowers near where Persephone dwelt, whilst she was picking them with her friends, Hades came up from the Underworld in a chariot and took the poor girl back with him. Demeter searched the world for many days and nights in the guise of a mortal. At every town she visited, she told men the secrets of the harvest...Demeter threatened famine to the earth unless her daughter was returned; but Persephone had eaten several pomegranate seeds which meant that she would have to stay in Hades for one-third of the year, during which period Demeter refused to allow the crops to grow. Festivals were held for the return of Persephone every spring. At Eleusis, Demeter leant her winged chariot, drawn by dragons, to the youth Triptolemus; he was to use it every year to scatter seed over the earth."
     - David Bellingham, An Introduction to Greek Mythology

"The myths and rites of Eleusis have their counterpart in the religions of certain tropical cultures whose structure is agricultural and matriarchal."
"At Eleusis, as in the Orphic-Dionysiac ceremonies, as in the Greco-Oriental mysteries of the Hellenistic period, the mystes submits himself to initiation in order to transcend the human condition and to obtain a higher, superhuman mode of being. the initiatory rites reactualize an origin myth, which relates the adventures, death, and resurrection of a divinity."
"None of these initiatory cults can be regarded as a creation of the Greek mind. Their roots go deep into prehistory, Cretan, Asiatic, and Thracian traditions were taken over, enriched, and incorporated into a new religious horizon. It was through Athens that Eleusis became a Pan Hellenic religious center; but the mysteries of Demeter and Kore had been celebrated at Eleusis for centuries. The Eleusinian initiation descends directly from an agricultural ritual centered around the death and resurrection of a divinity controlling the fertility of the fields."
     - Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation

The cult of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis "dates back to the second millennium BC; traces of a small temple-house of that date have been found which would fit the myth well. When Eleusis came under the power of Athens, there was expansion of the buildings, and by the time of the dictator Pisistratus in the sixth century BC it was becoming a pan-hellenic cult. The great Hall of the Mysteries, with its forty-two columns, belongs to the following century, and in Roman times the buildings on the site were greatly expanded and enriched.
"The cult was entrusted hereditarily to two families, who provided the chief officials - the Hierophant, or chief priest, and his assistant; the priestess of Demeter and other priestesses; the Torchbearer; the Herald; and the Altar-priest."
     - John Ferguson, An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Mysticism and the Mystery Religions

"The rites of Eleusis overshadowed the civilization of that time, absorbing other smaller schools, and influencing the development of democracy, culture and the arts.
     - Geoffrey Hodson, "The Still-functioning Greater and Lesser Mysteries"

"In the month of Anthesterion (February) the lesser mysteries were conducted near Athens, at Agrai by the Ilissos River, as something of a preparation for the greater mysteries celebrated in Boedromion [September]."
     - The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, Marvin W. Meyer, Editor

"This sacred month was highly respected -- even if a war was on, it would be halted to allow its members to attend the mysteries. A truce was proclaimed, and fighting would cease, for example in Sparta, Thracia, and the Peloponesus, to allow participation. This also occured, incidentally, with the Olympic games.
     - Geoffrey Hodson, "The Still-functioning Greater and Lesser Mysteries"

The ceremonies involved "ritual washing in the sacred rivers...enlivened by much joking and laughter. This was followed by several days of sacrifices at minor sanctuaries."
     - David Maybury-Lewis, Millennium

"The great processions gathered on the Acropolis, and made their way on foot to the sacred temples in Eleusis."
     - Geoffrey Hodson, "The Still-functioning Greater and Lesser Mysteries"

The Iacchos procession occurred on Boedromion 19. Initiates robed in white and bearing torches "marched along the sacred Way from Athens to Eleusis, singing, dancing, and carrying the 'sacred things' [hiera] of the goddesses back to the Telesterion (great hall of initation) in Eleusis."
     - The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, Marvin W. Meyer, Editor

Along with the sacred cult objects, the initiates bore "a statue of the boy-god Iacchos. The latter deity, who personified the shouts of exultation that the participants would periodically emit, was identified at least as far back as the days of Sophokles with Dionysos (cf. Antigone, vv. 1115 ff.)."
     - Edward A. Beach, "The Eleusinian Mysteries"

"Forward, now to the goddess's sacred circle-dance to the grove that's in blossom and play on the way for we belong to the company of the elect, and I shall go where the girls go and I shall go with the women who keep the nightlong rite of the goddess and carry their sacred torch.
Let us go where the roses grow and fields are in flower, in the way that is ours alone, playing our blessed play which the prosperous Fates today ordain for our playing.
On us alone the sun shines here and the happy daylight, for we are Initiates, we treat honorably all strangers who are here and our own people."
     - Aristophanes, The Frogs

"After a long walk, the doors of the Telestrion (the outer temple) were reached. They passed through, and the doors closed behind them."
     - Geoffrey Hodson, "The Still-functioning Greater and Lesser Mysteries"

"Only those who spoke Greek and had shed no blood (or had subsequently been purified) were eligible to participate in the rituals at Eleusis. 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."
     - Edward A. Beach, "The Eleusinian Mysteries"

"If they then proved worthy of further advancement, they were taken to a more secluded smaller temple, the Anaktoron (holy of holies), which is where the sacred rite itself was performed in the greatest secrecy."
     - Geoffrey Hodson, "The Still-functioning Greater and Lesser Mysteries"

"...The initiates gathered in a great hall, consumed a sacred drink, and witnessed the reenactment of a sacred drama concerning the goddess Demeter, her daughter Persephone, and Hades, the god of the underworld. The festival drew on ideas of fertility in agriculture - what is 'underground is the source of 'wealth; the grain is cut and dies but yields seed and grows again - to symbolize the journey of the soul. In this way, the promise was fulfilled that the initiate souls find that death 'is not only not an evil, but a good thing'."
     - David Maybury-Lewis, Millennium

"At the heart of the Eleusinian sanctuary was a cave, called the Plutonion, and an omphalos stone that was said to bring together the energies of the underworld and the regions known to mortal men and women. Beginning in the sixth century BC, the Eleusinian mysteries flourished for nearly a thousand years. And the omphalos at Eleusis came to embody for the Greeks their most profound feeling for the earth as the source of all fertility and wonder."
     - Earth Energies
Demeter and Persephone Reunitedc. 450 BCE

"What happened in the sacred ceremony? Initiation into the mysteries, which brought about a spiritual birth, thus regenerating the whole individual. This was intended to reunite the personal self with the divine spirit of the kosmos as a whole. It was often accompanied by and aided the bringing about of enlightened comprehension. It also led to the development of intuitive insight and spiritual will-power as well as a deepening realization of oneness with all that exists, as well as a growing power to draw upon that oneness for the benefit of others."
"What actually were the revelations made is entirely unknown. The solemn vows, under the penalty of death, ensured that secrecy was maintained. Archaeologists and historians have speculated on these secrets, but no-one disclosed what occured and what was revealed in the Anaktoron. Some contemporary writers however have provided hints as to what was revealed."
     - Geoffrey Hodson, "The Still-functioning Greater and Lesser Mysteries"

"As the festival wound down, the participants would dedicate special services in honor of the dead. Ritual libations would be poured on the ground, the consecrated liquid flowing in the eastward and westward directions. The initiates (probably exhausted at this point) would then return to Athens singly or in small groups. There does not appear to have been any organized procession. This was a time for reflection and meditation."
     - Edward A. Beach, "The Eleusinian Mysteries"