This is a magical book. Author Charles Stein takes us on a journey into the heart of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a spiritually transformative process that culminated in a rite at the temple in Eleusis, a village near Athens after a week-long festival dedicated to Persephone and her mother Demeter.
The Mysteries were famous in the ancient world and mentioned by many people. However, the initiates who went through this process were sworn to secrecy as to the exact nature of the experience, so it has been hard to reconstruct what may have happened. Using ancient sources and modern scholarship, Stein has attempted to penetrate the veil of secrecy.
The mysteries were popular because they promised relief from the terrors of the afterlife, pictured in the ancient Greek mind as the terrors of Hades. Each initiate had to undergo an eighteen-month process of preparation, which culminated at the festival dedicated to Persephone and Demeter, which was held every year for thousands of years. In this festival, the initiates participated in dietary restrictions. On the last day of the week-long festival they marched the 14 miles from Athens to Eleusis. Along the way, they were each given a potion to drink which may have contained chemicals similar to LSD. On arriving at the temple there, they engaged in sacred dancing and were then ushered into the temple to witness the rite, which took place at night by the light of torches. It is not known exactly what happened then, but the whole experience ended with the “appearance” of Persephone.
To those of you who view the world primarily in scientific and rationalistic terms, this book may make your eyes roll. But if you are looking for something else, such as an evocation of what it may actually have been like to be there, then this book contains some wonderful descriptions to help you picture it in your mind’s eye. Five stars.