The Eleusinian Mysteries were conducted at least 1000 years before Socrates was born. This is the real “pre-Socratic”. I think people imagine this festival like it was Woodstock or Bonnaroo or something like that, except with harps and flutes. Let’s get a clearer idea of what this ur-religion was about.
The central purpose was to achieve a ἐποπτεία, a vision, a super-vision, an over-seeing, or in other words, initiation.
The Greeks were gravely serious about this- if you talked about the mysteries revealed to you it was punishable by death.
These mysteries were held every year in autumn, around september.
In the Phaedrus Plato (who was himself an Eleusinian initiate) speaks of leaving one’s body during this rite. He speaks of merging into the pure light, which is a state of perfection.
That’s the positive side of it at least. This ritual was structured around a myth that’s pretty dark actually. It was a form of goddess-worship. And who was the goddess? None other than the Queen of Hell.
Isn’t this cover stunning?
I’m unable to find an image without text on it. Anyway, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Persephone, was out picking flowers one day and she was kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld.
There are variations of the myth. In one telling Demeter holds the world hostage with draught, another with perpetual winter, until her daughter is returned. (Demeter is the goddess of grain and cyclical fertility.) She takes the matter up with Zeus who agrees on the condition that Persephone did not taste the food of the underworld. Spoiler- she did. Thus she is condemned to only be able to return periodically.
Here is Hermes guiding Persephone to Demeter
Persephone is both the goddess of spring and the goddess of the dead.
All this to say that people were initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries via a sort of mimesis of Persephone- they likewise descended into the “underworld”. Their return to earth was like being reborn. So for a thousand years before Socrates the Greeks engaged in this ritual of death and rebirth.
So the burning question is how did people have these VISIONS? This death and rebirth did not occur during mundane consciousness.
This is how Pindar describes what is learned in the visions
joyful knowledge of life’s beginning and end
I believe these visions should count as centuries older than some Heraclitus fragment, Mr. Heidegger.
We CAN expect Heraclitus to himself have been an initiate though. And one of his fragments states that Hades and Dionysus are the same. Elsewhere it’s speculated that Dionysus was the child of Hades and Persephone. The name of the child technically though is Plutus. So yeah, the beginning of the life of the mind was founded on kidnap and rape, and the worship of the Queen of Hell, how do you like that? Women are going “I HAVE rape fantasies actually, so I like it quite a bit!” Well I guess the Greeks were just more honest then. I’m getting ready to go back to the old “abduction” ways myself.
Always joking around here, aren’t we. Again, the Greeks were gravely serious about this ritual- it was extremely hierarchical, and divided into greater and lesser mysteries. There were three phases to the ritual. The first, known as dromena, was when the “potion” was ingested. Oh, how do you think they had visions anyway? Well they were expected to fast beforehand too. The second phase, deiknymena, was when they were shown the Light of Apollo. Heidegger, you taking notes on this originariness? The third phase, legomena, was when the hierophant explained the Light to the initiate. I wouldn’t mind doing something like this every september, you? Seneca himself said that not everything of Eleusis is communicated at once and one must keep returning. These Mysteries lasted well into A. D. times by the way, until they were shut down by the Christian emperor Theodosius.
You could walk there in 3 hours from Athens
And not just Athenians participated in this ritual, people from all over the Greek-speaking world did. That’s why its close proximity to Athens is so glaring. It isn’t a coincidence that is where philosophy, science, drama, etc. emerged. You only go back to Parmenides, dude? Let’s try going back a thousand years before that. I don’t know, am I the only one who cares how philosophy, science, drama, etc. emerged?
An important hero associated with Demeter and Persephone was named Triptolemus
You heard that right- his name was TRIPtolemus. He showed Demeter hospitality while she was searching for her daughter and in gratitude she taught him the art of agriculture. He was sort of like a Matthew in relation to Jesus- he was one of the first priests of the Mysteries. Triptolemus was known to the Greeks as the one who taught humanity the craft of cultivation.
This is interesting
The Eleusinian Mysteries of Ancient Greece parallel the far more ancient traditions of Sacred Marriage Ceremonialism in Mesopotamia. This cultic mytho-ritual tradition is first attested in the Early Dynastic Period of Ancient Sumer (ca. 3000-2330 BC)
Sticking with Eleusis for now though- this is lame
long ago a Christian monastery was built there out of the ancient stones to obliterate the memory of the pagan traveler, and the surrounding pine forest is now the site for the annual Daphni Wine Festival.
I want to visit there and have a POTION festival.
Hofmann’s in/famous “bicycle ride” happened in 1943. You can guess what I think about that. People only had two years to experience this mystery rite in its full potential…
Imagine wandering around here zonked
Mr. Heidegger, what do you know about originary?
He was “old fashioned” like Eliade and didn’t take entheogens seriously.
Does this sound shady to you? Kidnapping and drugging? How about you try to live a little?
I’m messing with you, this is the beginning of the life of the mind!!
It could be argued that Plato and Aristotle wrote highly articulate accounts of said “visions”.
Aristotle himself said the initiates did not learn (mathein), but only experienced (pathein). They articulated the experience!
For those interested in the “origins of drama” angle-
We have a similar simulacrum with our “media” today. And before that we had the paltry communion wafer instead of the potion.
Anyway, Aeschylus and Sophocles were other known initiates. Aristotle reports that Aeschylus was accused of impiety for revealing some of the Mysteries on stage.
This isn’t about teenagers getting high and giggling at trivial geometrical patterns- here is Socrates in the dialogue concerning philosophy being about learning how to die
This is set during Socrates’ last hours before he is put to death for… revealing the Mysteries! And he thought it was important to talk about his initiation.
Just wanted to put this in a different perspective