The Eleusinian Mysteries induced an “artificial crisis” in participants that effected a change in consciousness – metanoia. This occurred as a result of extensive immersion in ritual behavior. Ritual conditioned a susceptibility to arousal / quiescent neurological states that occur during extraordinary phases of consciousness. A brief description And overview of the nine days of the Mysteries And cosmological beliefs are reviewed. Socrates is described as a revealer of these Mysteries in Phaedrus. This may have been the basis of the indictment of “impiety” that led to his execution.
Mysteries were celebrated until 395 AD when the walls of the sanctuary in Eleusis were breached by Alaric’s hordes. For millennia before that, thousands of Initiates received a mystical experience.
Revealing the Mysteries was considered an act of impiety punishable by death. This accounts for classical authors’ reticence on this matter.
Imagine a multitude gathering two thousand years ago. As dusk falls, thousands of torches blaze under star strewn skies. Suddenly, those gathered are thrust into a frenetic dance.
Loud cries punctuate the din of stamping feet. They push and jostle each other amid tumult and shouting. The initiates wander, and run about in circles over uncertain roads.
So much dust rises from this human stampede that from miles away an army mistakes the dust cloud for an opposing army on the march. Almost violently, the initiates try to gain entrance to the great hall of initiation.
Suddenly, a gong sounds.
An enormous burst of fire fills the sky. The initiates experience the most bloodcurdling sensations of horror and the enthusiastic ecstasy of joy; then, just before the end, there are all kinds of terrors, with shivering, trembling, sweating, and utter amazement.
Filled with horror and astonishment, initiates are seized with loneliness And total perplexity. Unable to move a step forward, they are at a loss to find the entrance that leads to where they aspire.
Filled with horror and astonishment, initiates able to find their way thrill with rapture.
A goddess appears.
The initiates enter clean and verdant meadows, where gentle voices, choric dances, the majesty of holy sounds and sacred visions surround. Looking down upon the uninitiated and unpurified crowd below in the mud and fog, trampling itself down and crowded together.
The metanoia and conversion that results leave the initiates feeling “thrice blessed” because “only for them is there life; all the rest suffer an evil lot.”
All of this was covered in silence. The mystai discussed it only with other initiates in language coded And symbolic.
Diagoras the Melian revealed the secret and acted out the Mysteries in the marketplace. The Athenians put a price on his head: One talent if he were killed; two talents if he were captured alive. (A talent was equal to 6,000 drachma – A single person could live comfortably on 120 drachma a year.)
The politician and general Alcibiades – beloved by the Athenians – profaned the Mysteries and barely escaped with his life.
The dramatist Aeschylus was brought to court because those who attended his plays thought he revealed the Mysteries. He escaped only because he proved he was never initiated.
Yet over millennia whispers of the experience of the initiates flow: “dread … and desire … for this mystical telos.” (Aeschylus, fr. 387.)
“I escaped from evil, I found the better.” (Demosthenes, 18.259)
“I came out of the mystery hall feeling like a stranger to myself.” (Sopatos, Rhet. Gr. VIII, 114f.)
“Within this hall, the mystics were made to experience the most bloodcurdling sensations of horror And the most enthusiastic ecstasy of joy.” (Aristeides)
“…It is like Aristotle’s view that men being initiated have not a lesson to learn, but an experience to undergo and a condition into which they must be brought, while they are becoming fit (for revelation).” (Synesius Dio 1133)
“In the most sacred Mysteries before the scene of the mystic visions, there is terror infused over the minds of the initiated.” (Proclus)
“Now the details of the initiatory rite are guarded among the matters not to be divulged and are communicated to the initiates alone; but the fame has traveled wide of how these gods appear to mankind and bring unexpected aid to those initiates of theirs who call upon them in the midst of perils. (Diodorus Siculus V, 48, 49)”
“You ought to approach these matters in another way; the thing is great, it is mystical, not common thing, nor is it given to every man.” (Epictetus Discourses III, 21)
“… all of these terrible things, panic and shivering and sweat.” (Plutarch fr. 168.)
“They cause sympathy of the souls with the ritual in a way that is unintelligible to us, and divine, so that some of the initiates are stricken with panic being filled with divine awe; others assimilate themselves to the holy symbols, leave their own identity, become at home with the gods, And experience divine possession.” (Proclus, In Remp, ll, 108, 17-30.)