If you are lucky enough to be visiting Greece this summer, you might be interested to know that behind the azure seas and fun in the sun are some mysteries reaching back to the earliest days of civilization.
Ancient Greece seems to have been a hotbed of mystery cults such as those of Dionysus and Demeter whose initiates guarded their secrets closely - even with their lives. Obviously, because of the secret nature of the mystery cults we are not quite sure what many of them entailed, but we have a few tantalising clues regarding the Eleusinian Mysteries.
This ancient cult was based around the worship of the goddess of agriculture Demeter and her daughter Persephone. When Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, Demeter went into mourning and nothing would grow. Zeus found a way to rescue Persephone but it was only partially successful, so Persephone could only spend half the year with her mother, the remaining six months she continued to spend with Hades. Thus, according to myth, when Demeter is happily with her daughter we have summer, but when Persephone is with Hades and Demeter is distraught, we have winter.
We know the followers of the Eleusinian Mysteries held celebrations every Spring with a major festival every four years. It also seems that anyone could join the Eleusinian Mysteries as long as they were not murderers and could speak Greek. Tantalisingly, we know that the rites involved the contents of a sacred chest called a ‘kiste’ and a sacred box called a ‘kalathos’ but what was actually in them remains, suitably, a mystery.