The First Mystics: the Eleusinian Mysteries
The title “Mystic” was the name given to ordinary citizens of Athens who made an annual pilgrimage to a set of mysterious caves at Eleusis, 30 miles from the center of modern Athens on the Adriatic coast. Every September, for an entire week before the autumn equinox, Eleusis played host to the most significant annual religious festival in ancient Greece. From at least 500 BC (for over 700 years), thousands of pilgrims would flock every year from all over the known world to this sleepy agricultural city, 15 miles from Athens, to take part in one of the great secrets of the ancient world, initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries and into the “Nature Mysteries” of Demeter.
The only requirements to become an initiate and participate in the mysteries at Eleusis were that the “Mystic” had to speak Greek and have no blood on their hands — of course, there was a quick fix available to purify yourself in case the opposite was true. Each new initiate, known as a “mystes” — from which the word mystic originates — would receive preliminary instructions from an experienced guide called a “mystagogos” and would then go through a series of initiation rites that would transform their personalities forever.
“I fasted; I drank the kykeon; I took from the kiste, having done my task, I placed in the basket, and from the basket into the kiste” (Clement of Alexandria -Protrept, II, 18)
After 5 days of preparation and rituals, and fasting for one full day, the new Myste was welcomed into the mysteries of Demeter by participating in a ritual that involved taking a drink made of barley called Kykeon –a drink many believe that had a hallucinogenic property similar to LSD — and then were exposed to the most amazing and mind-expanding rituals and displays of visions and drama within the inner sanctum. This ritual was of such visionary significance to the mystes that no one in the 800-year history of this ritual ever spoke about the actual ritual in any detail.
It not only kept Greek society bound together spiritually but also deeply connected them to Gaia, the Earth, and also made them realize that they were part of an incredible cosmic mystery. What was the mystery that the mystes were being initiated into and why did it sustain such secrecy and devotion for over a full millennium? We can only speculate.
According to notes by Aristotle and Clement of Alexandria, In Eleusis, the Mystics were initiated into an age-old mystery about the rebirth of nature from the underworld through the idea of the earth as mother and through this experience which entailed a dramatic hallucinogenic experience and a vision that must have been quite life-altering, were left with a life long understanding that they belonged to a mystery much greater than themselves. They realized that they were part of the wonderful cycles of nature.
Today we have so few similar rituals — apart from Ayajuasqueros or Evangelical Holy Spirit Churches or Group hugs from Mata Amrita or perhaps even Burning Man and Bhakti Fest. We seem so disconnected from our mystical selves and from the earth and the cosmos as a whole. Time to heal and reconnect with our elemental true selves. Time to retune and reconnect.
Raja Choudhury is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, teacher on The Shift Network, digital creative, founder of A Thousand Suns Academyand he speaks, writes, and produces films and websites about consciousness, spirituality, history, and wisdom.