Ancient Greek Religion
The Eleusinian Mysteries: Demeter and her daughter Percephone
Classical Greece, Eleusis, near Athens, Greece.
Perhaps they all believed that they were seeing the true risen Percephone and identified themselves with her through the sacrament of the pomegranate seed.
'No one knows what took place inside the Telesterion,' said Miranda.
'Telesterion?' asked Quintin.
'The main building in the temple at Eleusis near Athens where all the people gathered behind closed doors during classical times to be initiated into the mysteries,' replied Miranda. 'There were "things said, things shown and things done," according to later, Christian writers. Most believe that it involved a re-enactment of the story of Percephone's descent into the underworld, with priestesses taking the parts of the goddess Demeter and her daughter Percephone.'
'Like a sort of play?'
'Yea, I imagine so. The initiates may all have been on some sort of drug, since drinking the 'kykeon' at the outset of proceedings was obligatory, although there's no consensus as to what this might have been. Some have suggested a natural psychodelic substance, but no experiments seem to have hit upon any infusion that seems particularly plausible. Perhaps in this heightened state they were all required to take part in the play themselves, to believe that they were really there with the goddess Demeter, to re-enact a frantic search for Persephone, feel Demeter's anguish, perhaps to see a baby put into a fire, taken out unharmed, put in again, taken out again unharmed. Perhaps they all received a sacrament of a pomegranate seed to identify themselves with Percephone when she emerged from the gloomy halls of Hades back into the light of day at the end of proceedings. Perhaps a priestess playing the part of Percephone reappeared at the end in a blaze of theatrical glory, and the initiates, in their heightened mental state, all believed that they were seeing the true risen Percephone and identified themselves with her through the sacrament of a pomegranate seed which they took as a personal assurance of their own return to Earth after death.'
'It's caught your imagination, hasn't it!' said Quintin.
'It has,' agreed Miranda. 'And it's very interesting that when Demeter searches for her lost Percephone, and she disguises herself as an old woman, she claims, in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter:
Doso is my name, for my stately mother gave it me. And now I am come from Crete over the sea’s wide back...’.
'When were the Homeric Hymns written?' asked Quintin.
'Seventh century BC,' replied Miranda. 'Eight hundred years after the collapse of the Minoan civilisation.'
The Eleusinian Mysteries. Mycenaean Greece—early Christian Mediterranean, second millennium BC—fourth century AD.
Story fragment retold from: Homeric Hymns. Online Medieval and Classical Library. II. Homeric Hymn to Demeter.