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THE ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES
In the last chapter we were concerned with religious associations which were founded and organised by private individuals, which to the end remained as they had been from the beginning in the hands of private individuals, and so may be called “private mysteries.” But there also arose in Greece, as a consequence of the wave of revivalism which spread over that country in the sixth century B.C., “public mysteries," and it is of importance that the meaning of the term “public” in this connection should be clearly understood. The term does not imply that these mysteries were more widely open to the general public than the “private” mysteries were: both alike were open to all who chose to go through the ceremony of initiation. Nor does the distinction consist merely in the fact that more persons availed themselves of the permission in the one case than in the other ; for, though it is true as a matter of fact that a greater number did go to the "public" mysteries, yet that was simply because they were more widely known, and their wider fame was due to the fact that they were under the management of some famous State. This, however, indicates that in some cases the State's attitude towards the new movement was not one merely of tolerance but one of actual participation : for some reason or other the State adopted the new principle of initiation, uúnors, instead of the old principle of birthright, of citizenship, as the qualification for admission to the worship of the State gods. Now, this was a violation of all the traditional ideas, according to which none but the members of a tribe or state would be listened to by the gods of that state or tribe, and the human members of the community were as jealous as the divine of strangers. It is therefore important to note that it was only in the case of one State, Athens, that the sixth century wave of revivalism broke through this jealous exclusiveness—though in after years other States imitated Athens—and it was only one cult in that State which was thus thrown open to all Greeks, bond or free, men or women. The worship of Demeter in Eleusis became a “mystery," i.e. was thrown open to all who chose to become initiated, become myste, but the worship of the same goddess elsewhere, e.g. at the Athenian Thesmophoria, was not thrown open thus.
What distinguishes then “public" or State mysteries both from the ordinary public worship and from“ private” mysteries is that in the State mysteries, by an exception wholly alien to the spirit of the antique religions and strictly confined to an exceptional case, the State adopted initiation as the qualification for joining in the national worship of a national god, as the qualification for admission to a cult hitherto confined to citizens. Private mysteries, on the other hand, were not attached to an ancient cult; they sprang up independently; membership in them conferred admission to their own rite, not to any State-sanctuary or State-worship. But State mysteries threw open some one particular cult and adopted exceptionally rúnois as the qualification for admission to that one cult and that alone. But an innovation which might have led to the substitution of an international religion for the hitherto prevailing national worships, an innovation which certainly accustomed men who were dissatisfied with their customary religion to project their thoughts beyond their local gods, an innovation which at the least is a strange and unparalleled departure from the prevailing traditional ideas, is a change which, it might be thought, requires some explanation. The Athenians themselves in later times were quite aware of the necessity of some explanation, and found it in the comfortable doctrine of their own “liberality.”i We may, however, be sure that that is not the right reason to be given for so great a departure from the very essence and life of antique religion. And why did their liberality extend no further ? why did it choose this particular cult rather than
2 Lsoc. Paneg. 28 : OŰTWS À This nuwr ... pilave púrws boxev.
any other in which to display itself? There is no reason in the nature of the cult itself to account for its being singled out. The probability is that its selection was purely accidental and wholly undesigned. The great changes in institutions and constitutions are rarely deliberately planned; they generally spring from some accidental departure fron the traditional path, so slight as originally to be overlooked altogether, or condoned, if challenged, as of no practical importance. The variation may die out altogether; it may soon prove so mischievous as to call for complete repression; or, from unforeseen circumstances, it may bring unforeseen advantages and commend itself by its success in spite of its irregularity. The Athenian explanation of the conversion ai the cult of the Eleusinian Demeter into a “mystery" obviously unhistorical. Modern scholars have paid little or no attention to the point; and it is a problem which we shall have to endeavour to solve for ourselves in this chapter.
That little regard has been paid to this important point, is probably due to the long prevailing but now slowly dissolving view that the chief characteristic of the mysteries was secrecy, and that the most important problem was to discover their secrets. Hidden wisdom and esoteric doctrines were supposed to have been handed down from priest to priest, and by them communicated under a vow of secrecy to the initiated. But the mysteries were not secret societies : they were open to all without distinction; and all could be initiated into every grade, even the last and the highest. The priests, again, formed no secret order, but were plain citizens, having no such superiority in education or political or social position that they could be in exclusive possession of any sublime religious knowledge—and, as we have said, the whole Greek world was at liberty to learn the whole of what they had to teach. But the priests were not preachers or teachers : their official duties consisted simply in knowing and performing the traditional ritual. About the doctrine of immortality and the future blessedness of those who partook in the mysteries, there was no concealment whatever: Pindar, Æschylus, and Sophocles openly refer to it; Aristophanes parodies it; the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which was an official publication, so to speak, states it expressly and explicitly. It is therefore not surprising to find that no oath of secrecy was required of the candidate for initiation. The herald called indeed for silence, but it was for silence during the sacred ceremonies, the silence that befits religious worship, and naturally accompanies the concentration of the mind upon higher things. It is true also that silence was observed afterwards as to the ceremonies by the initiated, but this too was a reverential silence rather than an attempt at concealment, and the motive which prompted it was the same as that which required the candidate to be prepared by fasting and purification before participating in the mysteries : things sacred must not be polluted by contact with things or persons unclean ; indeed, such contact is, owing to the infection of holiness, dangerous to the unclean. Hence, if participation in and knowledge of the mysteries were withheld from all who were not duly initiated, the object of such exclusion was not a desire to keep the mysteries a secret, but fear of the danger which contact between the holy and the unclean would bring upon both. So, too, the silence observed after initiation was not for the sake of concealment, but in order to prevent pollution and its consequent dangers. The identity, or at least the close connection between a thing and its name, not only makes the utterance of a holy name an invocation which ensures the actual presence of the deity invoked, it also makes the holy name too sacred for common use or even for use at all. Thus even to speak of the mysteries to the uninitiated, the profane, would be just as dangerous as to allow such unclean persons to take part in the sacred ceremonies. Hence the revelation of the mysteries was a crime which the State undertook to punish—not because of any violation of secrecy, but because of the danger to the unclean, and in order to avert the divine wrath which such pollution might bring on the community at large.
The secrecy, then, which shrouded the celebration of the mysteries was accidental, and not deliberately designed for purposes of concealment. Failing to observe this, however, many modern scholars have supposed that, where so much Concealment was practised, some marvellous secret must have been hid; while other scholars, arguing from the fact that
TÉTLTÉTTEL TINY Owańv, Sopater in Waiz, Rhet. Gr. 8. 118. 24 ff.
nothing marvellous in the mysteries has ever been discovered, have concluded that the secret was so well kept simply because there was nothing to reveal. The truth may well lie between these extremes : there must have been something to reveal, else Æschylus, for instance, could not have been prosecuted for revealing it; but that something need not have been anything marvellous—it probably simply consisted in certain ancient ritual acts which appeared mysterious to the worshipper because their original meaning had been forgotten, and which were chiefly impressive because the worshipper believed that through them he reached closer union with the Divine Nature, and received the hope of eternal life. It will therefore be necessary to attempt not only to ascertain the nature and original meaning of this archaic ritual, but also to guess how the new doctrine of future bliss came to be attached to the worship of Demeter. The latter problem is sometimes solved by the simple assertion that Demeter was a “chthonic," i.e. underground deity; and as such naturally exercised an influence over the underground world to which the souls of the dead departed. But not all deities are chthonic that are simply asserted to be so; and the proposed solution fails to explain how it is that of the many places in which Demeter was worshipped, Eleusis was the only spot in all Greece in which Demeter was sufficiently "chthonic" to be connected with the doctrine of a future life. Another way out of the difficulty is sometimes found by the aid of mythology: the daughter of Demeter is Persephone, the seed-corn, which descends below the earth only in due time to be raised again to life, and it is from this mythical analogy that the Greek belief in immortality arose. But this explanation fails to explain the very thing which requires explanation. It is not the Greek belief in a future life which requires explaining—that existed from of old. It is the belief in future blessedness, in a “heaven," as distinct from the weary, dreary Hades of Homeric times, that requires to be accounted for; and the analogy of the seed-corn, the myth of Persephone's rape, could not have produced that.
Neither Persephone, then, nor Demeter had originally any connection with the belief in a happy other-world : both were goddesses long before the retribution theory made its appearance in Greece. Neither had Demeter or her daughter