PBP: E is for Eleusis and Elaphebolia

First I want to say that I loved Eleusis when I got the opportunity to visit and have my naming ceremony there. The first thing you see when you enter the entrance is the temple of Artemis, as daughter of Poseidon and Demeter. I have spoken of this interpretation before in my blog as one that is actually rather common and Pausanias especially speaks of it in the Peloponnese where Artemis is given a higher status as Despoina, the mistress. In Eleusis we don’t know much of her though aside from the fact that she has a temple there at the entrance of the sacred precinct. There are some who like to try to assign the temple to Hekate because Hekate shows up in mythic context to the rape of Persephone and in imagery of Persephone’s return out of Hades, yet Artemis has a very important cultic link to the mysteries of Persephone too. It is she who is said to have been with Persephone when she was kidnapped. The Orphic Argonautika suggests that this was in purposeful design in arrangement with the plans of Zeus, though other myths have it that Artemis ran after the chariot of Hades as he swept Persephone away from Artemis and Athena, her playmates.

Not far from the temple of Artemis, between the temple and the temple of Demeter is an upright giant relief of two crossed torches, likely the symbol of the two torch bearers in the mysteries. Some say that these are Dionysos and Hekate, but given the nature of the context of what we know of the roles that Artemis and Apollon play in the mysteries OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof Demeter and Dionysos elsewhere, it is more likely that it is the Bacchic gods Apollon and Artemis. It has been suggested in one book, the Road to Eleusis, that the leader of the procession are representative of the sun and the moon. Though Apollon and Artemis are not the sun and the moon, their domains are associated with the functions of the sun and the moon as it were, as both bodies of light have agricultural importance and are keepers of the passage of time (In one post I spoke of Apollon and Helios as per the Orphic hymns which you can find here.) As fiery deities of light, it makes perfect sense that these divine twins and chorus leaders, be the perfect leaders of the procession. I wrote more of it here specifically in regards to Apollon. On the part of Artemis her presence here is a bit more clear as if we look at other parallel mystic cults of Demeter throughout Hellas we often find it concert with Artemis as Despoina (which is likely linked to Artemis in earlier manifestation as Potnia Theron, Potnia referring to Mistress) and also as bearer of light and leader. In fact at one particular temple of Demeter and Despoina Artemis is represented as all three in the same temple as one most first pass through the temple of Artemis Hegemone (the leader) in order to enter the temple of Despoina where the goddess is also represented not only as Despoina seated by Demeter, but also as a figure holding a torch in one hand and in the other dragons.

This is not to dismiss the importance of Hekate but rather that Hekate, Dionysos, Apollon and Artemis serve very specific functions at Eleusis as I have indicated before in the above linked post in regards to Dionysos and Apollon. There is of course philosophical traditions which state that Dionysos and Apollon are the same god, which we find immediately from Plutarch, a philosopher and priest of Delphi, and likewise Artemis and Hekate were at one point viewed as the same deity. I don’t particularly agree with this so much in point, but I do think that they have very closely occurring roles. Therefore you have Artemis involved directly in the leaving of Persephone and chasing after the chariot, which may be the true origin for the running maiden figure from Eleusis. Then you have the light bearing youth (a form of Apollon) who aids Demeter in search of her daughter, even as Apollon is called the god who brings the golden harvest in other places and is likewise intimately connected with harvest of beast and vineyards as a god of light. Meanwhile you have Hekate who aids Demeter by bringing news of hearing the cries of Persephone from her cave, and Hekate who is the leader of the goddess specifically in her return. There are those who use the Homeric Hymn for Demeter as evidence that this is Hekate (line 52) but here we see Hekate with her torches as an announcer of what she had witnessed, paying attendant on Demeter which does not say that she was associated with the initiates. This is not the first instance in which we see Hekate as a companion or leader of a goddess as she has been called the handmaiden of Aphrodite and in one vase painting seems to be leading the return of Artemis as she stands before a chariot of deer. There is thus a very interesting relationship here between the liminal Artemis and the Khthonic role of Hekate playing out, just as there are a very clear relationship between Apollon and Dionysos at harvest. Demeter brings the grain, Dionysos brings the liquid wealth in his wine as both he and Persephone (representing the ear of wheat) cycle through seasonal life and death for these gifts….son and daughter of Demeter, with Apollon and Artemis (also considered children of Demeter as we see particularly represented by Diodoros Siculus in his description of the mysteries via a layer of Egyptian creative interpretation) as liminal keepers of time, transitioning and moving forward life’s development/growth and sacrifice/harvest.

Therefore when I think of this image of Eleusis that is what I think of.  Whereas at the other side of her temple is the sacrificial pit where the pigs were thrown into the fires for the sake of the initiates. Beyond the temple of Artemis is the great temple of Demeter, beside which sits her well. As a tourist you walk through the temple to get to the other side where the road progresses from her temple, past the Ploutonian Cave (where there is also a small temenos with an altar) to the road leading to the gates of the Telesterion into which the initiates entered, and that is where I had my naming ceremony. Within the Telesterion you can imagine how glorious it was anciently, and as you walk to the far end you can see sacred markers. The bundle of wheat ear, the bull, the double torches, the drum and so on. I had taken pictures of these painstakenly and pray that I can get my portable harddrive fixed where they are stored because I found them to be truly touching and quite profound.

The Lesser Mysteries are coming shortly as they were said to have occurred toward the end of Anthesterion at which time those who desired to be initiates were purified and became mystai. These mysteries are said to have been instituted on behalf of Herakles at the time in which he wishes to participate but the Greater Mysteries were closed to him as a foreigner (apparently this changed over time as the Eleusinian Mysteries became known as being accepting of just about anyone who spoke Greek and could afford the price of a pig). The Lesser Mysteries therefore largely served to induct new initiates even as we have the return of Persephone. It may have been believed that Persephone herself was receiving the new initiates even as she was received, as we find Persephone is given credit for decisions for the fate of souls after death. Persephone and Dionysos by their nature are credited as the only gods that can save souls from the fate of death suffered by mortals for instance. And in the Orphic hymn to Hermes Khthonios we see that his position of leading the dead to Hades is also bestowed by Persephone. Even at Ephesus the return of Admetus’ wife Aclestis shows the queen returning with a token of Persephone, likely indicating that Persephone granted this just as she was the main player in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that caused Eurydice to be allowed to ascend with her husband to the world of the living (though a shame that he failed to wait to look upon her and so lost her again. So I would take it that the Lesser Mysteries were celebrated in part as the acceptance of Persephone for those who are initiated to her care.

Just following the end of Anthesterion and the Lesser Mysteries the month turns to Elapheblion and the festival of Elaphebolia celebrating Artemis as the slayer of deer. This seems to me to be placed very particularly in which we see a contrast in two vital functions of Artemis. We see her as the torch-bearer in the Lesser Mysteries closing out the month of Anthesterion, and then we find her as the huntress. I have discussed before on this blog the close association between the functions of Artemis as nurturer and huntress. She is called in Crete first and foremost the nurse and companion of the midwife goddess Eliethyia. It follows that the goddess which nurturers the young of all life, is also the goddess that pursues them through development and slays them at the end of their life. This which we find in co-supporting role with Apollon in which Apollon and Artemis are often placed together nurturing, rearing and destroying the males and females of all living species. Therefore Elaphebolia directly following the Lesser Mysteries plays and important reminder, and perhaps plays an even more subtle reminder of the role of Artemis in the mysteries in the abduction of Persephone, to all of us as Artemis throughout the yearly festivities transitions back and forth between her two primary functions, just as we see following Elaphebolia the celebration of Mounykhia and Brauronia that honors Artemis as the goddess who cares for young girls and her instrumental relationship in their transition out of childhood which we particularly see in her early autumn festival Kourotrophia during which youths and maidens dedicated to her the tokens of their childhood by giving their toys to her altar.

The assertion made here that Herakles in acting as the torch-bearer in the Lesser Mysteries was acting in the place of Hekate makes more logical sense if we consider that the pair of twins were torch bearers in which case Herakles was most probably taking the role of Apollon as he did in his  youth in another festival Daphnephoria where he played the part of the bearer of the laurel as the god coming to the temple. Herakles has many intersecting points with Apollon in his myths, and so it seems plausible that if the Lesser Mysteries were established in their legendary history by Herakles that he would have been taking the part of the male torch bearing god, Apollon.


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