In antiquity, Eleusina was mainly known for the Great Mysteries, as the Eleusinian Mysteries were also called, the most famous secret religious rite of the ancient Greece. According the tradition, it was a nine – day festival which taking place in the shrine of Demeter and Persephone each September and it lasted from the Mycenaean time period (15th -13th century B.C.). In antiquity a festival was a period of holy days, sacred time, intended to please the gods and strengthen links between mortals and immortals. The celebration takes a PanHellenic character while many more pilgrims visit Eleusina from all over Greece. Its core was the myth of Persephone’s abduction and the initiates, probably through a symbolic reenactment of the “death” and “rebirth” of Persephone and other sequence of steps, claimed a better life after death. What, exactly this mystic ritual was, no one knows. Because of its secret character, the participants are forced not to reveal the form of this holy celebration. However, we do know that after all the pilgrims were relieved from the fear of death.
The myth and the rites are absolutely intertwined. According to the Homeric Hymn, Demeter, the goddess of fertility and harvest had an only daughter named Persephone who had been carried off and by some accounts, raped, by Hades the lord of Underworld. She was searching everywhere for Persephone for nine days until she finally came to Eleusina during the reign of King Celeus. There, disguised as an old woman, not to reveal her divinity, she presents herself to king’s family as nurturer for Damophon, the son of Celeus. The goddess, grateful for the hospitality, tried to make the baby immortal with ambrosia and secretly at night held him over the flames of the fire.
One night, however, the queen Metaneira, when she saw her holding the body of her son over the flames she became terrified and drove the old nurse from the palace. This fact was the real cause for Demeter to reveal who she really was threwing off her disguise and revealed her glory and her wrath. She ordered Celeus to build a temple for her in Eleusina. Angry with gods, the goddess shut herself up in the temple and brough drough and famine upon all the land until she succeeded in winning the return of her daughter.
Then, Zeus the king of the gods, persuaded Hades to return Persephone to her mother as, in Demeter's grief, the crops were dying, people starving, the gods not receiving their accustomed tribute. Hades agreed but had already tricked Persephone with some pomegranate seeds which symbolized her way back even for half the year. The other half she is free to spend with her mother on earth. So, while Persephone remained on earth, Demeter caused the world to be fruitful but when Persephone was in the underworld, all the nature withered and died.
The myth, an alive allegory for the season’s changing, is still so synchronous as the Eleusinian’s Mysteries! Even thousand years since the celebration taking place in Eleusina, an arcane, sacramental aura derives from the archaeological site to any corner of the city.