The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Secret Agrarian Rituals | #GreekMyths

The previous time we talked about Persephone, the goddess of vegetation and queen of the underworld, who was the daughter of goddess Demeter and the wife of Demeter’s brother, Plouton. In today’s video, we will be exploring the Eleusinian Mysteries – the secret rituals of an agrarian* cult in ancient Greece.

It is important to clarify that the mysteries themselves were actually happening in real-life, they were not mythical; however, they did revolve around ancient Greek mythology, and because of the secrecy that surrounded them, a lot of the things that we know about them, might not be true.

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When were the Eleusinian Mysteries taking place?

Many scholars believe that the Eleusinian Mysteries were inspired by some older Egyptian rituals that involved Isis and Osiris or that they were directly connected to some other Greek rituals, known as “Cabeirian Mysteries”, which were dedicated to chthonic deities living under the surface of the Earth.

The information we have regarding these rituals come from the ancient Greek geographer, Pausanias, who said that, when the Athenians took over the city of Eleusina, they were able to control every aspect of the lives of the people living in Eleusina. But there was an exception. They had no control over the Eleusinian Mysteries, the secret rituals of an agrarian cult.

According to estimates by archaeologists, the mysteries were taking place for at least 2.000 years, between 1450 BCE to 392 CE. They were always held in the ancient Greek month Boedromion (August – September).

Persephone’s Myth and the Eleusinian Mysteries

The myth itself is related to Persephone’s myth, the one we covered in our previous video. Persephone was both the goddess of vegetation and the queen of the underworld. She was depicted as a joyful, young girl, but also as a chthonic, fearful divinity. Persephone would spend half of the year by the side of her mother, on the surface of the earth, gathering flowers in fields and protecting the nature. The other half, she would go back to her husband in the underworld, the same way that the seeds are buried under the ground till they grow and sprout.

The Mysteries are connected to this myth. The cycle of life and death, the change of seasons, and possibly, reincarnation. And during the rituals, it is said that the descent, search, and ascent of Persephone where depicted.

The Agrarian Cult of Eleusina

Eleusina is a town with one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece. It is located nearby Athens and it is visited by many schools and tourists every year. The entire area was of great spiritual significance in ancient times, since that was the place where Demeter spent most of her time searching for her daughter after she was abducted and held in Hades.

This town was a connection point for the devotees of Demeter and Persephone who would gather every year, at the end of the summer, to participate in some very secretive rituals. The rituals were said to be organized by an agrarian cult, meaning that this cult was highly interested in Mother Earth and the cultivation of land. The cult had members outside of Eleusina, spreading to Athens and other parts of Greece.

The rules of this cult were very austere; members were warned to never reveal what the rituals consisted of. Anyone who disobeyed would receive the death penalty. The same would happen to anyone who would make fun of the mysteries as well.

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What do we know about the Eleusinian Mysteries?

Since the Eleusinian rituals were so secretive, little is known as to what they consisted of. We know that they were open to all: males, females, children, the old, slaves, and free people. We also know that they incorporated some dramatical/theatrical elements, meaning that the experience was similar to watching or even participating in a theatrical play. The main goal was catharsis, the physical, emotional, and spiritual cleansing.

Another thing we know is that the people leading the rituals were a group of priests, priestesses, and hierophants, who were followed by the initiates, the new members of the cult, and then the older members; the ones that had already passed the “epopteia”, the process of learning the mysteries.

What we know about the Eleusinian Mysteries:

  1. The ritual involved baskets with poppy flowers and pomegranates.
  2. A chest with unknown offerings was also used.
  3. The Eleusinian rituals revolved around Persephone and the connection between life and death (when corps die, they are reborn through their seeds).
  4. When the rituals became popular in Athens, Athenians would walk to Eleusina through the “Iera Odos” (Sacred Road). In the same area there is now a motorway with the same name.
  5. Accusations of breaking the rules of the cult was popular among rivals. The penalty was death.
  6. The rituals were separated into the “Lesser Mysteries” and the “Greater Mysteries”. The latter would last ten days.
  7. The rituals involved animal sacrifices, feasts, and dances.

Speculations about the Eleusinian Mysteries:

  1. The participants would descent and ascent a cave; the journey from darkness to light was considered spiritually therapeutic. (Perhaps the Plutonian Cave of Eleusina?)
  2. Narcotics were given to the members of the cult for a more intense experience.
  3. The rituals involved human sacrifice (unpopular opinion – no proof).

The mysteries ended when Christianity took over the Hellenistic religion and was established as the main religion in Greece.

*agrarian= related to the cultivation of land.

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Tips for Learning Greek Fast | Learn Modern Greek

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Learning a new language might be challenging at first, especially when you are unfamiliar with the alphabet and the phonetics. A lot of English speakers or speakers of any of the Romance languages feel this way when contemplating whether they should learn modern Greek. It might seem intimidating but the truth is that you are already speaking Greek and you don’t even know it. If you follow these tips, learning Greek will turn into an easy and enjoyable process. No need to spend hours studying grammatical rules; learning Greek can turn into a fun hobby of yours.

Five Tips for Learning Modern Greek:

  1. Find Cheap/Free Study Materials
  2. Join an Online Course
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  4. Listen to Greek Music
  5. Join a Tandem Group/Befriend a Native Speaker

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Persephone: Queen of Hades | #GreekMyths

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Persephone and Demeter

Thousands of years ago, when refrigerators did not exist and growing and collecting corps required a lot of time and effort, people around the globe had a better understanding of the connection between climate and our own survival. Therefore, many civilizations had a deity dedicated to Mother Earth and her offerings.

The ancient Greeks believed in Gaia, the personification of the Earth, and Demeter, the Olympian goddess of the harvest, fertility, and agriculture. The latter was one of the most important goddesses since she was responsible for covering one of the most basic human needs: hunger.

What ancient Greeks couldn’t understand was why their beloved deity, the one that they adored and worshipped, would bring them so many hardships for months and months during fall and winter. And that is when the story of Persephone and the four seasons started to be told.

Persephone was the beloved daughter of Demeter. Her father was Zeus, Demeter’s brother, but incest among the Olympian gods is not exactly our topic for today.

The maiden loved spending time in nature, which comes as no surprise, thinking that her mother was the goddess who was associated the most with the Earth. She was known to be as very beautiful and she incorporated elements of purity and innocence. Soon enough though, her name became taboo and she herself became the dreadful queen of the dead, a chthonic divinity living in the darkness.

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Persephone and Plouton

It all started when one of her uncles became attracted to her and wanted her as his wife. The god was no other than Plouton, the ruler of Hades. Plouton had already talked to Zeus about his desire to marry Persephone. The maiden’s father had no objections to this but he warned Plouton that Demeter, her mother, would never allow this. She wouldn’t bear seeing her beautiful daughter being trapped in a dark place under the earth, living among the dead. Persephone’s wants were never taken into consideration, but everyone knew that the young woman wouldn’t like to spend her life in Hades. With that in mind, Plouton orchestrated Persephone’s abduction.

The Abduction of Persephone

It was a beautiful, sunny day and Persephone was gathering flowers along with Artemis, the virgin goddess of Hunting, and some other maidens. All of a sudden, the ground started to shake and a man emerged from the depths of the Earth. He was Plouton. Persephone had no time to scream; Plouton had grabbed her and was forcing her into the Earth. Persephone was led to the underworld, married against her will, and was given six pomegranate seeds. Eating these seeds would force her to stay in Hades.

Persephone’s friends did not realize what was going on until Persephone was long gone. The only witness was Helios, the sun. As any mother would do in this situation, Demeter searched everywhere for her daughter. Through fields and forests, by the lakes and rivers, in cities and villages. Persephone was nowhere to be found.

Demeter, Persephone, and the Four Seasons

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. The only thing that was in Demeter’s mind was the strange disappearance of Persephone. It was if she was swallowed by the Earth. The goddess had completely neglected her duties and the Earth was becoming infertile. There were less and less corps available and people were becoming hungry.

Helios, the personification of sun, could not bear seeing the people dying of hunger and finally revealed to Demeter that her brother, Plouton, had abducted her precious daughter.

It comes as no surprise that Demeter was angered by the news. She visited Zeus and demanded to have her daughter brought back to her. Until then, she refused to let the Earth bear corps. Humanity was destined to die.

Zeus was pressured to take immediate action. On one hand, he had given his blessings to his brother Plouton and taking it back would not look good on him. On the other hand, one of the most respected goddesses was hysterical and people were dying. And he finally did the right thing, not for the shake of his daughter’s happiness, but to be seen as the savior of humanity in a difficult situation like this.

Negotiating with Plouton was not easy but the god of the underworld knew that Zeus was the most respected and powerful of the Olympian gods. He agreed to let Persephone return to her mother but there was one condition; Persephone would have to come back to him after six months and the same cycle would repeat itself again and again. Zeus was obliged to accept this condition, and so did Demeter.

With the help of the messenger god Hermes, Persephone would return on the surface of the Earth every spring and she would spend time with her mother and her friends till the beginning of autumn. Then, Hermes would lead her back to Hades, where she would spend the rest of year. According to the myth, this is the reason why the Earth is less fertile during winter. Demeter refuses to keep the soil fertile while her daughter is away.

Persephone as a Chthonic Deity

It is important to note that Persephone never agreed to go to Hades. However, she felt like she had no power over her fate and she soon accepted her role as the queen of the underworld. Persephone grew from an innocent girl into a mature woman and was respected by the dead souls of Hades. She was the one welcoming the souls upon their arrival. The queen of the underworld, as they called her, was believed to be worshipped by secret cults who wanted to achieve immortality or a desirable afterlife.

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Origins of the Myth

The myth of Persephone is known from Homer’s epics and it is also mentioned in the poem “Theogony” by Hesiod. There are also numerous variations of the story, however, the main storyline stays the same. It is believed to be based on the myth of the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Inanna. It is worth mentioning that Persephone and Demeter are both associated with the “Eleusinian Mysteries”, the secret rituals that were taking place in the city of Eleusina from 1.600 BCE to 392 CE. These rituals were believed to offer an alternative and more desirable afterlife for the participants.

Thoughts about Persephone

Do you think that Persephone’s myth represents the connection between life and death? The way that dead matter fertilizes the Earth and new life is brought on the planet? Persephone was the goddess of vegetation and she became the goddess of the underworld later in life. The myth explains the change of the seasons, however, it could also explain the circle of life. How life is being recycled through the Earth. What do you think? Leave your thoughts down below 🙂

*Also referred as Hades.

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Hades: The Ancient Greek Underworld | #GreekMyths

Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, there was a place on Earth, or to be precise, under the surface of the Earth, that was feared by many people residing in Ancient Greece. This place was called Hades. It was the place were the souls of the dead resided, along with Pluto, the feared god of the underworld.

Like in many monotheistic religions nowadays, the ancient Greek polytheistic religion believed in souls and in the afterlife. Ancient Greeks believed that, after death, the soul separates from its physical body and, by taking the shape of this body, it was transported to Hades, the kingdom of the dead.

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The entrances to Hades

The main entrance of Hades was found somewhere in the river Acheron, a river that still exists in the western part of Greece. The souls would be transported there by boat and the ferryman was no other but the ancient Greek version of the Grim Reaper, Charon, known also as the psychopomp, the transporter of the souls. Each soul would actually have to pay for this journey and that is why ancient Greeks were buried with a coin under their tongues. Another entrance of Hades was found in the Peloponnese region, in Cape Tainaron or Cape Matapan. In this area there is a cave that many believed it could actually lead to Hades.

Cerberus: the terrifying guard of Hades

The gates of Hades were protected by a terrifying supernatural being that you might already know from popular culture. I am referring to Cerberus, a monstrous multi-headed dog that would scare away the living from entering the kingdom of the dead and the dead from exiting this realm. Dogs were already domesticated and were pets and guards of many ancient Greek households, including the palace of Odysseus or Ulysses. Therefore, it is not a surprise to see a dog guarding the entrances of the most feared place on Earth.

Where was Hades located?

Hades was believed to be under the surface of the Earth. It was a dark and cold place, however, it was not similar to hell, in the way that hell is described in today’s monotheistic religions. It was both heaven and hell and it was separated in different areas, where different types of souls would reside. The water element was strong, in fact, apart from the river Acheron, which would connect the worlds of the living and the dead, the souls would find four more water sources, including Lethe, the river of forgetfulness and oblivion, from which the dead would drink to forget their past life.   

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The areas of Hades

As I mentioned, Hades was separated in different areas, in which, different souls would reside. Most of us, would probably reside in the Asphodel Meadows. The Asphodel Meadows was dark and gloomy, but also quite beautiful. That was the place were the ordinary people would reside, people who lived normal lives, without doing anything too bad or too extraordinary either.

Now there were two places that were not so pleasant to spend the afterlife. These were the Mourning Fields, the place for those who waisted their life waiting to be loved by someone who did not love them back, and Tartara, which can be compared to the Judeo-Christian hell.  Originally, Tartara was the prison of the Titans, however, it became the place were the wicked souls received divine punishment. It was located deep inside the Earth, and the souls residing there were often referred to as “prisoners”. Tartarus was covered by Erebus, a darkness darker than someone could imagine, and the souls were tortured mentally, filled with guilt and shame for their heinous acts, such as killing their own parents or betraying their own city-state. It is not clear whether the prisoners were tortured physically, however, since they did not reside in their physical bodies, physical pain would not be possible.

Now, when it comes to the most desirable place of Hades, this would be the Elysium Fields, a place were the heroic souls would reside. The place could be compared to the Judeo-Christian heaven, with the difference that it was located under the surface of the Earth and it was not the home of the kindest people, but of the bravest and most heroic ones. Ethics have changed since ancient times and, although humility and compassion might be what would be considered a pass to heaven nowadays, bravery and a strong will were the traits that were the most admirable in ancient Greece.

Plouton: The ruler of the underworld

Plouton or Pluto (Πλούτωνας in Greek) is the ancient Greek god that was sent to rule Hades. Although he was the least popular god amongst the mortals, since meeting him meant that their lives had ended, he was not evil. He had indeed committed a heinous crime by today’s standard – he kidnapped and married his own niece, however, that was a common practice among the ancient Greek deities and if someone was guilty the most for kidnappings with sexual motives, that would be Zeus, the most popular and respected of the Olympian gods.

Plouton was the only god, along with Poseidon, who did not reside in Mount Olympus. He was in charge of all the different places of Hades, from Tartarus to the Elysium Fields, and he was neither a saint nor diabolical.

All the Different Ways to Say “I Love You” in Greek

There are two common ways of saying “I love you” in Greek. One being «σ’ αγαπώ» or «σ’ αγαπάω» and the other «είμαι ερωτευμένος μαζί σου». «Σ’ αγαπώ» or «σ’ αγαπάω» can be used universally, whereas «είμαι ερωτευμένος μαζί σου» translates to «I am in love with you». The first is often associated with the ultimate feeling of love, while the second refers to the romantic love that can fade away or transform into something bigger.
• Σ’ αγαπώ
• Είμαι ερωτευμένος/η μαζί σου

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Different Ways to Describe “Love” in Greek

In English, the word “love” can be quite ambiguous. It refers to different types of love; the motherly love, the romantic love, self-love, the love for god, as well as our personal interests and preferences. We love our friends, we love our partners, we love our favorite foods as well. In Greek, although there is a general term for “love”, «αγάπη», there are many different ways to express this emotion towards different people and objects.

Αγάπη – The Highest Form of Love

«Αγάπη» is the most general term used to express love in Greek and it usually refers to the highest form of love.

Έρωτας/ Έρως – The Romantic Love

The romantic feelings you develop for someone before being able to say whether you love  them or not are described as «έρωτας» in Greek. It is associated with Έρως, the Greek version of cupid.

Φιλία – The Friendly/Platonic Love

«Φιλία» is the exact translation of «friendship», however, it describes fondness in general. It is often used instead of “Platonic love”, the non-romantic love. Nowadays, the word is often used to imply sexual attraction, although «φιλία» was coined to describe non-sexual relationships.

Στοργή – The Familial Love

«Στοργή» describes the familial love, usually the relationship between a parent or caregiver and a child. It describes tenderness and loving care.

This terms for love are often found with latin letters:

  1. Agape
  2. Eros
  3. Philia
  4. Storge

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