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Origins of the Eleusinian Mysteries
by Frater S.R.

“Konx Om Pax,” (Light rushing forth in a single ray) the Hierophant tells us, was spoken at the Eleusinian Mysteries. But what were these Mysteries, and what is the meaning of this ray of Light? The answers lie hidden by myth, millennia and by a veil of secrecy, which was an integral element of all the Mystery religions.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were the Mysteries of Demeter and Eleusis, located to the west of Athens, Greece. The greatest of the Mystery religions attracted many men, women, and even children. The initiation hall held five thousand people at one time, and was almost certainly full on a regular basis, despite the great cost of joining this religion (the equivalent of several months pay).

All of the Mystery religions promised something greater in afterlife, at a time in history when most believed either that there was no afterlife, or that the afterlife consisted of only two possibilities: eternal torment in Tartarus, or preferably, a boring, gloomy existence in the Elysian Fields. The Mysteries of Demeter gave hope, and the belief that there was something greater beyond the gates of death.

Demeter was the sister of Zeus. She was a peaceful goddess of planting and harvesting and was revered by farmers. She often gifted mortals with corn or wheat, and she remained close to the earth, avoiding materiality and war. She and Zeus had a daughter named Persephone whom she loved. Persephone, however, was fated to fall victim to the machinations of other gods.

Aphrodite was disturbed by the fact that Hades, god of the Underworld, had no wife or lover, so she asked her son, Eros to shoot Hades with a golden arrow. Once pierced with the arrow, Hades left the Underworld and the first person he saw was Persephone, who was picking flowers with her friends. Under the compulsion of Eros’ arrow, Hades drove his chariot forward and abducted Persephone from the field of flowers. Hades then struck the earth which opened beneath him, and amidst the screams of Persephone and the crashing of the earth they disappeared in the Underworld.

Demeter was devastated by the disappearance of her daughter, and not knowing where to search for her, began wandering the earth. At one point in her travels, she stopped at the city of Eleusis. A young girl saw Demeter sitting on a rock, looking sad. She ran and told her father, who approached the goddess and invited her into his home. At first she declined the offer of hospitality, telling him to be at peace and enjoy his daughter, as she had lost her own. He finally persuaded her to enter their home and rest. Once inside, Demeter learned that the man’s son, Triptolemus, lay sick with a fever. Demeter restored the boy to health with a kiss. When night fell, Demeter returned to the boy and speaking a charm three times, laid him in the hearth. His mother, not realizing that Demeter was a goddess, jumped and snatched Triptolemus from the fire. At this point, the goddess allowed her radiance to shine forth revealing her true nature. She told the woman that, had she not interfered, her son would have become immortal, but he would still become a great man, teaching others the secret workings of the earth. Then Demeter wrapped herself in a cloud and, mounting her chariot, disappeared from Eleusis.

Demeter’s travels took her to Sicily and the banks of the river Cyane. The river nymph had witnessed the abduction of Persephone but could not tell Demeter because she feared the wrath of Hades. Instead, she took up the girdle that Persephone had dropped while running from the god of the Underworld and floated it to the feet of the goddess of agriculture. Thinking that the earth was at fault, Demeter withdrew her favor from the land causing famine, draught, plague and floods. At last Arethusa, another nymph who had been turned into a fountain to escape the affections of a river god, told Demeter that the earth was innocent ad had opened unwillingly to Hades, who had stolen Persephone away. She also told Demeter that she had seen her daughter in the Underworld looking sad but that she had become the queen of the dead.

Demeter went directly to Olympus and demanded of Zeus that he force Hades to release Persephone. Zeus consulted the Fates, against whom even Zeus had no power, and told Demeter that she could only have Persephone back if she had not eaten in the Underworld. Hermes was dispatched to Hades to demand her release but Persephone had sucked the sweet pulp from a few seeds of a pomegranate that Hades had given her and could not be freed. Eventually a compromise was worked out in which Persephone would spend half her time with Hades in the Underworld and the other half in the light with her mother, Demeter.

Demeter restored her favor to the earth and returned to Eleusis. There she instructed Triptolemus, the boy she had lain in the fire, in the arts of agriculture and the secrets of the earth, which now experienced cycles of death and rebirth as Persephone retreated to the land of the dead and then rejoined her mother in the land of the living. Triptolemus grew to manhood, built a temple to Demeter in Eleusis, and established the Eleusinian Mysteries, which remained the most popular of the Mystery religions for centuries, until Christianity displaced it. Little is known of the teachings of the Eleusinian Mysteries because the oaths of secrecy were well kept. Anyone suspected of revealing the Mysteries was tried for impiety. It is known, however, that initiates were taught that death is to be embraced and not to be feared. Demeter’s role as goddess of agriculture, and her connection to he Underworld gave visible signs to the initiated that death is followed by a rebirth.

Every spring when Persephone leaves behind the kingdom of the dead and rises toward the land of the living, she must feel great joy when she sees that first single ray of Light, for long has she dwelt in darkness. Perhaps she speaks the words, “Konx Om Pax” as she quits the night and seeks the day.