The Eleusinian Mysteries have been a huge influence on many modern day traditions, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Like many other mystery schools and traditions offering initiation, the rites of Eleusis had their layers and levels of mystery. A chunk of this is also echoed in the provider cycle of the Chthonioi-Alexandrian tradition of initiatory Wicca, a trad in which I myself am initiated into.
While we don’t know absolutely everything that took place during the Eleusinian Mysteries, we do know a good chunk of its core teachings on the descent of Persephone into the underworld and its promise of life after death. The Greater Mysteries took place around the autumn equinox, and were open to initiates who had been initiated into the Lesser Mysteries in the spring. They had to wait until the following year however in order to partake of the Greater. While no one today is directly involved with the actual mysteries of that time, there are a number of people who have incorporated its ideas into other initiatory traditions and individual solitary practices. I myself honor both Demeter and Persephone during the spring and fall equinoxes.
In the spring, I wrote of Persephone’s ascent and the promise of the increase of light into the world. Now, it is the reverse and we prepare for the dark winter months ahead. For those of us in New England, we cherish the beauty of autumn knowing that the long days and nights of cold and snow will be here soon. The autumn equinox within various pagan traditions is also known as Mabon, and is celebrated through expressing gratitude for all that we have reaped thus far this year as we carry those harvests with us into winter. It is also a reminder that soon the festival of the dead will be upon us as we continue to both honor and celebrate what was.
But it’s not just time of gratitude; it’s also one of sacrifice. We as pagans, polytheists, and witches must acknowledge that death must exist in order for life to go on. As Persephone must make her way back to her husband her mother, the goddess Demeter may miss her, but the underworld needs her too. It is a mixed time, and bittersweet. We know that she will return. We know that she will miss her mother when she descends, and she will miss her husband when she ascends. Both worlds are kept in balance through the movement of the goddess, and both sacrifices and rewards are present with each passing. It’s this way with us, too. We have much to mourn when it passes but much to celebrate as we continue to make our way through life.
The cycles of nature are all about fertility and sacrifice, life and death. This is the fertility of the Craft, and without it nothing could live.