Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

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

? RITÁTTEL TNV Olwrýv, 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 Korê, the Maiden, anything originally to do with Persephone: in Homer, Demeter is a goddess, but not the mother of Persephone, and Persephone is wife of the god Hades and queen of the dead, but is not the daughter of Demeter, and was not carried off by Hades against her mother's will. Yet in the “Homeric" Hymn to Demeter, which is much later than the Iliad and Odyssey, but is certainly not later than the middle of the sixth century B.C., Persephone has become identified with Korê, and it is participation in the worship of Demeter and Persephone which confers the better lot in the next world. But it was in the sixth century B.C. that Greece was invaded by the teaching that the next life was not necessarily and for all men the shadowy, empty, weary existence which it had hitherto been supposed to be, but that there were rites of purification and sacrifices of a sacramental kind which gave man a better hope of the next world. Sanctuaries, therefore, in which archaic ritual still prevailed, were eagerly sought out; and it so happened that just at this time one sanctuary, of which the rites were peculiarly ancient and striking, was now first thrown open to the Athenians—it was the sanctuary at Eleusis. To it, then, those Athenians who were touched by the new movement repaired, being convinced that its antique and mysterious ceremonial offered the kind of worship of which they were in search, and on participation in which future blessedness was conditional. But though the strange and unfamiliar rites satisfied the emotions, the mind still required to understand how and why the worship was connected with the doctrine of happiness in the next world. The necessary explanation took, as usual, the form of a myth, i.e. of a hypothesis such as the facts themselves seemed to point to. This myth is contained in the Hymn to Demeter, which accordingly is the source to which we must look for information as to the Eleusinian rites in their earliest form.

The soil of Attica was as a rule poor and thin, but there was one spot of exceptional fertility-the Rarian plain, the territory of the small State of Eleusis. The wealth which the fertility of its soil gave to Eleusis enabled it to maintain its independence long after all the other village-communities in Attica had been merged in the Athenian State; it was not until the time of Solon 1 that Eleusis was brought into political union with Athens, and the goddesses of Eleusis took their place amongst the deities of the Athenian State. The long resistance to this political synoikismos and religious fusion which the Eleusinians offered was probably due to religious causes. Like other primitive agricultural communities, the Eleusinians worshipped the corn which they cultivated, both the ripe ear the Corn-Mother, and the green blade or Corn-Maiden. Their cultivation of the corn was to them no mere agricultural operation, but a religious worship. Their abundant crops were due in their eyes not to their own skill in farming, or to the chemical properties of the soil, but to the favour which the Corn-Goddess showed to her true and faithful worshippers. Now that favour was earned by the minute and punctilious performance of the traditional rites and ancient worship of the goddesses, and it was not to be expected that the Eleusinians would either forsake their own goddesses, who blessed them exceedingly, for strange gods, or admit foreigners as fellow-citizens, fellow-worshippers, and partners in the blessings which the Eleusinian goddesses had the power to bestow.

The nature of the Eleusinian goddesses was obviously the same as that of cereal goddesses all over the world; and their ritual identical with that everywhere used in the worship of plant totems. Originally every ear of corn was sacred to the tribe which took corn for its totem, just as every owl was sacred to an Owl-clan. Then some one particular ear or sheaf of ripe corn was selected to represent the Corn-Spirit, and was preserved until the following year, in order that the worshippers might not be deprived during the winter of the presence and protection of their totem. The corn thus preserved served at first unintentionally as seed, and suggested the practice of sowing; and even when a larger and proper stock of seed-corn was laid in, the one particular sheaf was still regarded as the Corn-Mother, which, like the Peruvian Mother of the Maize, determined by her supernatural power the kind and quantity of the following harvest. In Eleusis this sheaf was dressed up as an old woman,* and was pre" Hdt. i. 30.

Cf. supra, p. 239, 241, 243.
Supra, p. 212.

H. H. v. 101 : yont halaiyevci evalllykios.

served from harvest to seed-time in the house of the headman of the village originally, and in later times in a temple. This sheaf was probably highly taboo, and not allowed to be touched or even seen except on certain occasions, and then only by those who had elaborately purified themselves of their uncleanness: the whole future harvest depended on the sheaf in question, and its sanctity would naturally be great and anxiously protected. It was at the time of sowing, after the seed had been committed to the ground, and during the period of uncertainty as to whether the young plant, the Maiden or Corn-Maiden, would ever appear above ground, that the favour of the Corn-Mother was especially necessary, and that her protection was particularly invoked. The rites by which the Eleusinians on this occasion annually sought to place themselves in close communion with their goddess, were rather solemn than joyous, more in the nature of a fast than a festival. They purified their fields by fire, running over them in all directions with lighted torches for this purpose.? Their children they purified in the same way, passing them through the fire by night, or making them jump over it, in a way which survives here and there in Europe even to the present day. The adults prepared themselves for the crowning ceremony by fasting * and abstaining from washing for nine days. They also “ renewed the bond” with their deity by offerings of their own blood, which they made to flow, not as in Polynesia by beating each other's heads with clubs, but by pelting each other with stones. At the end of this trying time of preparation and preliminary purification, they were ritually “clean” and prepared for the two great and solemn acts of worship by which they were to be united to their deity and to become recipients of her favour. The first was a sacrament. As the worshippers of animal totems at their annual sacrifice consumed the flesh of their god and thus partook of his divine life, so the worshippers of the Corn-Goddess annually partook of the body of their deity, i.e.

* For the consequences of seeing things taboo, see supra, pp. 59, 60.
? H. H. v. 48: otpwpâr' allouévas datdas perd Xepoiy xovra.
3 Tod. 289 : vớKras đề xpÚTreoke Typos u.vet.

4 Ibid. 49, 5 Ibid. 50 : oudè xpba Balleto lout pois. 6 For this practice elsewhere in Greece, see supra, p. 292.

« ForrigeFortsæt »