Eleusinian Mysteries

“Aristotle once said the initiates came to Eleusis not to learn something, but to experience something.” — Brian C. Muraresku

One inscription found on the site [of the Eleusinian Mysteries] says, “death is for mortals no longer an evil but a blessing.” Pindar, perhaps the greatest lyric poet of Ancient Greece and a fellow initiate, wrote in the fifth century BC, “Blessed is he who has seen these things before he goes beneath the hollow earth; for he understands the end of mortal life, and the beginning [of a new life] given of God.” For Sophocles, one of the most renowned playwrights of the time, the world could be divided into those who had set foot in Eleusis, and those who had not. Just like Plato and Pindar, he stresses the visual nature of the experience: “Thrice blessed are those among men who, after beholding these rites, go down to Hades. Only for them is there life [after death]; all the rest will suffer an evil lot.” …

“Not only is there evidence of psychedelic beer and wine at the heart of the Greek and Christian Mysteries, but also evidence of their suppression by the religious authorities.” — Brian C. Muraresku

More troubling is the God of organized religion and his army of spokesmen — those priests, rabbis, and imams who stand between superficial definitions of heaven and a common-sense public who have every right to demand proof. When the answer to their doubts is condescending moralism, contrived from an outdated and impenetrable holy book, it’s time to cut out the middleman in the private search for transcendence. …

“In AD 364, the Christian emperor Valentinian abolished all nocturnal celebrations in an effort to shut down the [Eleusinian] Mysteries. The almost two-thousand-year march of pilgrims to Eleusis was in serious jeopardy of screeching to a halt. The Greek historian Zosimus credits Praetextatus with successfully convincing the powerful Valentinian to backtrack, permitting “the entire rite to be performed in the manner inherited from the ancestors.” But it’s what the initiate says to the emperor that, among all the strange things about Eleusis, always struck me as the strangest by far. It’s a prophecy of sorts. Faced with the obliteration of “the most sacred Mysteries,” Praetextatus declares that the shortsighted law “would make the life of the Greeks unlivable.” Having drunk the kukeon and experienced the vision for himself, the priest points to Eleusis as the one place that “hold[s] the whole human race together.” The Greek word for “unlivable” is abiotos (ἀβίοτος) — literally, the absence or opposite of “life” (bios). It’s a rare, evocative word. The eminent Hungarian scholar Carl Kerenyi is fascinated by it in his seminal 1962 book on the Mysteries, written in German, Die Mysterien von Eleusis. Kerenyi concludes that the word was consciously chosen to inform later generations that the Mysteries “were connected not only with Athenian and Greek existence but with human existence in general.”” — Brian C. Muraresku

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