Mysteries, in the religion of ancient Greece, were ceremonies of an exceptionally sacred character, participation in which was preceded by a course of special preparation called initiation. The initiated were not permitted to divulge what they saw and heard, so that any information concerning the mysteries is, for the most part, derived from Christian writers. It is probable that - at least in their full development and highest form - they represent a struggle after a deeper and more satisfying form of belief than any afforded by the popular religion of Greece. The mystes looked forward to a future life because he believed that the divine knowledge communicated at Eleusis had placed him outside and above the conditions of material existence. And this hio-her knowledge was not the privilege of a few favoured individuals; the mysteries were open to all who would submit to the severe and tedious process of initiation. The most celebrated mysteries were the Eleusinian, in which the worship of Demeter and Persephone (Cora) became associated with that of Dionysus. The stories of Demeter and
Persephone were originally nature-myths, explaining the vicissitudes of the seasons; but in the Eleusinian worship the primary meaning appears to have been lost sight of, and perhaps the secret lore and ineffable rites alluded to in the Hymn to Demeter, the hieros logos of Eleusis, embodied some new interpretation of the divine tale. The Eleusinian mysteries were celebrated on 22nd and 23rd Boedromion (September). They included the dramatic representation of incidents in the lives of the deities worshipped, the exhibition of relics connected with their history, the delivery of oracular utterances and the chanting of traditional songs. During the solemn procession from Athens which preceded these ceremonies the enthusiasm of the worshippers was raised to the highest pitch by means of constant worship at shrines along the way; and the awe-inspiring character of the subsequent ritual resulted in a state of tension and excitement very foreign to the ordinary character of Greek worship. The Orphic mysteries, though closely allied to the Eleusinian, soon passed into the hands of an inferior class of mendicant priests (like those of whose methods we have some account in Demosthenes' De Corona) and are condemned by Plato as demoralising in their tendencies. During the decay of Greek civilisation the Neo-Platonists exercised their ingenuity in inventing recondite meanings for the symbolic observances. In the last stage of their existence even the better class of mysteries had degenerated into licentious orgies.