The Eleusinian Mysteries are believed to be of considerable antiquity, deriving from religious practice of the Mycenaean period and thus predating the Greek Dark Ages. One line of thought by modern scholars has been that the Mysteries were intended “to elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him.” Comparative study shows parallels between these Greek rituals and similar systems — some of them older — in the Near East. These cults are the mysteries of Isis and Osiris in Egypt, the Adoniac of Syrian cults, the Persian mysteries, and the Phrygian Cabirian mysteries. Some scholars argued that the Eleusinian cult was a continuation of a Minoan cult, probably affected by the Near East.
The lesser mysteries were probably held every year, the greater mysteries only every five years. This cycle continued for about two millennia. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, King Celeus is said to have been one of the first people to learn the secret rites and mysteries of her cult. He was also one of her original priests, along with Diocles, Eumolpos,Polyxeinus and Triptolemus, Celeus’ son, who had supposedly learned agriculture from Demeter.
Under Pisistratus of Athens, the Eleusinian Mysteries became pan-Hellenic and pilgrims flocked from Greece and beyond to participate. Around 300 BC, the state took over control of the Mysteries; they were controlled by two families, the Eumolpidae and the Kerykes. This led to a vast increase in the number of initiates. The only requirements for membership were freedom from “blood guilt”, meaning never having committed murder, and not being a “barbarian” (being unable to speak Greek). Men, women and even slaves were allowed initiation. – wikipedia
Demeter, an ancient Greek Goddess of the cultivation of grain is best known for her fierce defense of her daughter, Kore. Later known as Persephone, Kore, a beautiful young maiden was playing in the fields on the Eleusis Plain and as she plucks a narcissus, the hand of Hades reaches up from the underworld and kidnaps her. Demeter heard her daughter cry out, but could not find her. Carrying a torch for nine days and nine nights, she searched for her daughter without stopping to rest. On the tenth day Helios told her who had abducted Kore.
Demeter took refuge in Eleusis and refused to return to Olympus until her daughter was returned. Because of her departure, the earth became sterile and famine threatened all mortals. Zeus, finally disturbed by this turn of events, commanded Hades to allow Kore to return to earth. However, because she had eaten of the pomegranate, which was a magical symbol of living with the dead, also often a symbol of the marriage bond, it was decided that Kore (now Persephone) would live with her mother two-thirds of the year and remain with Hades for one-third of the year.
This is the ancient and essential myth of the agricultural world. This, to me, is what Thanksgiving is all about. It is a celebration of that place where the inner and outer worlds, the underworld and the upperworld, the spiritual and the material worlds meet and their matchmaker is life and death.
Perhaps tomorrow you should consider an Eleusinian feast to celebrate celebrate these mysteries, just as our forebears have for thousands of years:
It was said that those who once enacted the Mysteries would gain their immortal souls in this world and in the next. To gain a soul is to gain the ability to walk in two worlds, to be admitted to that other dimension inhabited by the gods. The only way across is the arduous and mysterious path of dying to what one was and is so that one can be reborn.