Eleusis – Seeking ancient rituals

Indeed, it is quite a mystery. Elefsina (Eleusis), this most industrial area of Attica, was once the site of one of the largest ceremonies of mystical initiation of the ancient world, the Eleusinian Mysteries. Vowed to silence by those who took part, the mysteries remained just that, a mystery.

As such, little is known about this secret worship – of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and agriculture – that lasted 15 centuries and attracted thousands of initiates. The ritual centred on life and death and relied on the myth of Persephone’s capture by the god of the underworld, Pluto.

The annual celebrations of the Eleusinian Mysteries commenced in Athens. Headed by the head priestess and the sacred symbols of worship of Demeter, it was the starting point of an elaborate procession that took place toward Eleusis. The Mysteries ended with rituals in honour of the dead. Today, visitors seeking to visit the archaeological site pass through rundown industrial areas, which have been partly regenerated.

However, upon entering the ancient site, the present day seems to fade, as the sanctity of the area takes over. Take a moment to recall that for several centuries it was strictly forbidden to enter these temples, as access to the sanctuary of the Mysteries was granted only to those who had been initiated. Shedding light on the secrets of the Eleusinian Mysteries are the artefacts unearthed during the excavations of the sacred western cemetery that are exhibited in the adjacent Archaeological Museum of Eleusis.

It is no mystery, however, that Eleusis, European Capital of Culture for 2021, will experience a renaissance over the next years.