From Ancient Mystery School to Culture Capital: Eleusis’ Secret Past is Recognized
The ancient city of Eleusis in Greece was the site of one of the most mysterious and revered religious rites of ancient Greece, the Eleusinian Mysteries . The exact nature of the rituals performed during the Mysteries is shrouded in secrecy, as initiates were sworn to silence and no written records of the ceremonies exist. The Mysteries were so highly regarded that participation in the rituals was considered a pinnacle of spiritual experience in ancient Greece, and their influence extended to the highest echelons of Greek society. Now Eleusis, home of the mystery school, has been designated as the 2023 Culture Capital of Europe.
Eleusis, also spelled Elefsina, is located 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) northwest of Athens in Greece. The Eleusinian Mystery school , which practiced secret religious rituals honoring the gods Demeter and Persephone, was based there. The festival of the Eleusinian Mysteries involved a journey of initiation and a symbolic reenactment of Persephone's descent into and return from the underworld.
According to an article in Greek Reporter , the ancient Greek city of Eleusis is now celebrating its nomination as the 2023 “Culture Capital of Europe,” along with the cities of Timișoara in Romania and Veszprém-Balaton in Hungary.
What really took place in the Eleusinian Mystery School? Source: AI Generated
A Mystery Under Every Block of Stone
Eleusis is a thriving matrix of archaeological sites and visitor attractions. Ancient sites such as the Sanctuary of Demeter and the Roman city of Eleusis are knitted together with museums and cultural institutions such as the Archaeological Museum and Municipal Gallery .
The city of Eleusis is currently being revitalized, and many new sites are being prepared for public display, for the city has been designated as a 2023 European Capital of Culture . And when all the works are complete the city will host an incredible range of well-considered exhibitions and events highlighting the region's long and mysterious religious history.
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The ancient site of Eleusis in Greece. Source: lic0001 / Adobe Stock
Indulging In Mystery
The Eleusinian Mysteries are ancient religious rites that date back to the Mycenaean period, around 1600 BC to 1100 BC. Ancient Greeks attended the festival each year from around 1600 BC to 392 AD and the ancient annual festival was regarded as the absolute most sacred of all the mysteries in the Ancient Greek religion.
It is generally agreed that the rituals were seeded by older agrarian cults, and archaeological excavations have revealed evidence of a private building beneath the Telesterion , which is considered as the main hall used for ritual performances and reenactments. The Eleusinian Mysteries are often described as both sacred and ‘secret’ rites, because virtually nothing is known about the rituals. However, mainstream archaeologists maintain that participants walked along the “Sacred Way” in a parade that lasted ten days.
Finally, when they reached the Temple of Demeter, abstaining from food for 3 days they consumed a sacred hallucinogenic drink called “Kykeon.”
Tripping Over Calendars
High on Kykeon, participants danced ecstatically and re-enacted the story of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, and her daughter, Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld. Demeter’s search for her daughter caused the crops to die, so Zeus told Persephone she could spend half the year with her mother on earth and the other half with Hades in the underworld.
If you didn’t already see the archetypes in this story, read it again and consider the changing of the seasons. The earth flourished when Persephone was together with Demeter, and crops withered when she was with Hades. Demeter represented motherly love and grief, while Persephone represented the eternal cycles of life and death.
Revitalizing That Which Has Passed
The Homeric Hymn mentions “the palace of King Keleos,” at Eleusis, which was mentioned in ancient Greek myths, further indicating the antiquity of the Eleusinian Mysteries and their importance in Greek religious history. Eleusis was also the birthplace of the great ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus (525/524 – c. 456/455 BC) an ancient Greek tragedian, who is often described as the father of tragedy.
Eleusis city officials have now drawn up a really attractive program of historically themed events which will unfold over 2023. Entitled “ Mysteries of Transition ” the website says “192 Greek and 137 international artists in seventeen different disciplines will deliver 465 events in thirty different locations.” According to Greek Reporter , to entrap these values, the 2023 event schedule is built on “three thematic pillars: people, society, and environment and work.”
The free public Opening Ceremony was held on February 4, 2023, on the city’s seafront, representing the official start of the 2023 artistic program celebrating Eleusis becoming the 2023 European Capital of Culture. City officials are confident that their nomination will attract tens of thousands of archaeo-tourists from all over the world.
You can join the Ancient Origins Greek Tour in August and join them, as the Mysteries of Eleusis – 2023 Culture Capital of Europe is on the exciting itinerary.
Top image: The Eleusinian Mysteries. Source: AI Generated
By Ashley Cowie