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But the question is not so easily settled,. my friend; and I insist upon it that you have an interest in it. Were I to ask you the meaning of Freemasonry, you would think that of importance; you could not utter the name without wonder; and it may be that there is even more wonder in it than you suspect, -though you be an arch-mason yourself. But in sight of Eleusis, freemasonry sinks into insignificance. For, of all races, the Grecian was the most mysterious; and, of all Grecian mysteries, the Eleusinia were the mysteries par excellence. They must certainly have meant something to Greece,-something more than can ever be adequately known to us. A farce is soon over; but the Eleusinia reached from the mythic Eumolpus to Theodosius the Great,-nearly two thousand years. Think you that all Athens, every fifth year, for more than sixty generations, went to Eleusis to witness and take part in a sham?
But, reader, let us go to Eleusis, and see, for ourselves, this great festival. Suppose it to be the 15th of September, B. C. 411, Anno Mundi 3593 (though we would not make oath to that). It is a fine morning at Athens, and every one is astir, for it is the day of assembling together at Eleusis. Then, for company, we shall have Plato, now eighteen years old, Sophocles, an old man of eighty-four, Euripides, at sixty-nine, and Aristophanes, at forty-five. Socrates, who has his peculiar notions about things, is not one of the initiated, but will go with us, ask him. These are the élite of Athens.
Then there are the Sophists and their young disciples, and the vast crowd of the Athenian people. Some of the oldest among them may have seen and heard the "Prometheus Vinctus"; certainly very many of them have seen " Antigone," and "Edipus," and "Electra "; and all of them have heard the Rhapsodists. Great wonders have they seen and heard, which, in their appeal to the heart, transcend all the wonders of this nineteenth century. Not more fatal to the poor Indian was modern civilization, bringing swift ruin to his wigwam and transforming his hunting-grounds into the sites. of populous cities, than modern improvements would have been to the Greek. Modern strategy! What a subject for Homer would the siege of Troy have been, had it consisted of a series of pitched battles with rifles! Railways, steamboats, and telegraphs, annihilating space and time, would also have annihilated the Argonautic expedition and the wanderings of Ulysses. There would have been little fear, in a modern steamship, of the Sirens' song; one whistle would have broken the charin. A modern steamship might have borne Ulysses to Hades, - but it would never have brought him back, as his own ship did. And how do you think a ride to Eleusis by railway to-day would strike this Athenian populace, to say nothing of the philosophers and poets we have along with us?
But they are thinking of Eleusis, and not of the way to Eleusis; so that we may as well keep our suggestion to ourselves,
- also those pious admonitions which we were just about to administer to our companions on heathenish superstitions. A strange fascination these Athenians have; and before we are aware, our thoughts, too, are centred in Eleusis, whither are tending, not Athens only, but vast multitudes from all Greece. Their movement is tumultuous; but it is a tumult of nat
ural enthusiasm, and not of Bacchic frenzy. If Athens be, as Milton calls her, "the eye of Greece," surely Eleusis must be its heart!
There are nine days of the festival. This first is the day of the agurmos, (ayvpuós,) or assembling together the flux of Grecian life into the secret chambers of its Eleusinian heart. To-morrow is the day of purification; then, "To the sea, all ye that are initiated!” ('Αλαδε, μύσται !) lest any come with the stain of impurity to the mysteries of God. The third day is the day of sacrifices, that the heart also may be made pure, when are offered barley from the fields of Eleusis and a mullet. All other sacrifices may be tasted; but this is for Demeter alone, and not to be touched by mortal lips. On the fourth day, we join the procession bearing the sacred basket of the goddess, filled with curious symbols, grains of salt, carded wool, sesame, pomegranates, and poppies, symbols of the gifts of our Great Mother and of her mighty sorrow. the night of the fifth, we are lost in the hurrying tumult of the torch-light processions. Then there is the sixth day, the great day of all, when from Athens the statue of Iacchus (Bacchus) is borne, crowned with myrtle, tumultuously through the sacred gate, along the sacred way, halting by the sacred figtree, (all sacred, mark you, from Eleusinian associations,) where the procession rests, and then moves on to the bridge over the Cephissus, where again it rests, and where the expression of the wildest grief gives place to the trifling farce, even as Demeter, in the midst of her grief, smiled at the levity of Iambe in the palace of Celeus. Through the " mystical entrance" we enter Eleusis. On the seventh day, games are celebrated; and to the victor is given a measure of barley, as it were a gift direct from the hand of the goddess. The eighth is sacred to Esculapius, the Divine Physician, who heals all diseases; and in the evening is performed the initiatory ritual.
Let us enter the mystic temple and be initiated, though it must be supposed
that a year ago we were initiated into the Lesser Mysteries at Agræ. ("Certamen enim,— et præludium certaminis ; et mysteria sunt quæ præcedunt mysteria.") We must have been mystæ (veiled) before we can become epoptæ (seers); in plain English, we must have shut our eyes to all else before we can behold the mysteries. Crowned with myrtle, we enter with the other myste into the vestibule of the temple, blind as yet, but the Hierophant within will soon open
But first, for here we must do nothing rashly,-first we must wash in this holy water; for it is with pure hands and a pure heart that we are bidden to enter the most sacred inclosure. Then, led into the presence of the Hierophant, he reads to us, from a book of stone, things which we must not divulge on pain of death. Let it suffice that they fit the place and the occasion; and though you might laugh at them, if they were spoken outside, still you seem very far from that mood now, as you hear the words of the old man (for old he always was) and look upon the revealed symbols. And very far indeed are you from ridicule, when Demeter seals, by her own peculiar utterances and signals, by vivid coruscations of light, and cloud piled upon cloud, all that we have seen and heard from her sacred priest; and when, finally, the light of a serene wouder fills the temple, and we see the pure fields of Elysium and hear the choirs of the Blessed; — then, not merely by external seeming or philosophic interpretation, but in real fact, does the Hierophant become the Creator and Revealer of all things; the Sun is but his torch-bearer, the Moon his attendant at the altar, and Hermes his mystic herald. But the final word has been uttered: "Conx Ompax." The rite is consummated, and we are epopta forever!
One day more, and the Eleusinia themselves are completed. As in the beginning by lustration and sacrifices we conciliated the favor of the gods, so now by libation we finally commend ourselves to their care. Thus did the Greeks begin
all things with lustration and end with libation, each day, each feast,- all their solemn treaties, their ceremonies, and sacred festivals. But, like all else Eleusinian, this libation must be sui generis, emptied from two bowls, the one toward the East, the other toward the West. Thus is finished this Epos, or, as Clemens Alexandrinus calls it, the "mystical drama" of the Eleusinia.
Now, reader, you have seen the Mysteries. And what do they mean? Let us take care lest we deceive ourselves, as many before us have done, by merely looking at the Eleusinia.
Oh, this everlasting staring! This it is that leads us astray. That old stargazer, with whom Esop has made us acquainted, deserved, indeed, to fall into the well, no less for his profanity than his stupidity. Yet this same star-gazing it is that we miscall reflection. Thus, in our blank wonder at Nature, — in our naked analysis of her life, expressed through long lists of genera and species and mathematical calculations, as if we were calling off the roll of creation, or as if her depth of meaning rested in her vast orbs and incalculable velocities, -in all this we fail of her real mystery.
To mere external seeming, the Eleusinia point to Demeter for their interpretation. To her are they consecrated, of her grief are they commemorative; out of reverence to her do the myste purify themselves by lustration and by the sacrifice that may not be tasted; she it is who is symbolized, in the procession of the basket, as our Great Mother, through the salt, wool, and sesame, which point to her bountiful gifts,- while by the poppies and pomegranates it is hinted that she nourishes in her heart some profound sorrow: by the former, that she seeks to bury this sorrow in eternal oblivion, by the latter, that it must be eternally reiterated. The procession of the torches defines the sorrow; and by this wild, despairing search in the darkness do we know that her daughter Proserpine, plucking flowers in the fields of
light, has been snatched by ruthless Pluto to the realm of the Invisible. Then by the procession of Iacchus we learn that divine aid has come to the despairing Demeter; by the coming of Esculapius shall all her wounds be healed; and the change in the evening from the myste to epopta is because that now to Demeter, the cycle of her grief being accomplished, the ways of Jove are made plain,— even his permission of violence from unseen hands; to her also is the final libation.
But the story of the stolen Proserpina is itself an afterthought, a fable invented to explain the Mysteries; and, however much it may have modified them in detail, certainly could not have been their ground. Nor is the sorrowing Demeter herself adequate to the solution. For the Eleusinia are older than Eleusis, — older than Demeter, even the Demeter of Thrace, certainly as old as Isis, who was to Egypt what Demeter was to Greece, the Great Mother* of a thousand names, who also had her endlessly repeated sorrow for the loss of Osiris, and in honor of whom the Egyptians held an annual festival. Thus we only remove the mystery back to the very verge of myth itself; and we must either give up the solution or take a different course. But perhaps Isis will reveal herself, and at the same time unveil the Mysteries. Let us read her tablet: "I am all that has been, all that is, all that is to be;
*The worship of this Great Mother is not more wonderful for its antiquity in time than for its prevalence as regards space. To the Hindu she was the Lady Isani. She was the Ceres of Roman mythology, the Cybele of Phrygia and Lydia, and the Disa of the North. According to Tacitus, (Germania, c. 9,) she was worshipped by the ancient Suevi. She was worshipped by the Muscovite, and representations of her are found upon the sacred drums of the Laplanders. She swayed the ancient world, from its southeast corner in India to Scandinavia in the northwest; and everywhere she is the "Mater Dolorosa." And who is it, reader, that in the Christian world struggles for life and power under the name of the Holy Virgin, and through the sad features of the Madonna?
and the veil which is over my face no mortal hand hath ever raised!" Now, reader, would it not be strange, if, in solving her mystery, we should also solve the Sphinx's riddle? But so it is. This is the Sphinx in her eldest shape, — this Isis of a thousand names; and the answer to her ever-recurring riddle is always the same. In the Human Spirit is infolded whatsoever has been, is, or shall be; and mortality cannot reveal it!
Not to Demeter, then, nor even to Isis, do the Eleusinia primarily point, but to the human heart. We no longer look at them; henceforth they are within us. Long has this mystic mother, the wonder of the world, waited for the revelation of her face. Let us draw aside the veil, (not by mortal hand, it moves at your will,) and listen :
"I am the First and the Last,-mother of gods and men. As deep as is my mystery, so deep is my sorrow. For, lo! all generations are mine. But the fairest fruit of my Holy Garden was plucked by my mortal children; since which, Apollo among men and Artemis among women have raged with their fearful arrows. My fairest children, whom I have brought forth and nourished in the light, have been stolen by the children of darkness. By the Flood they were taken; and I wandered forty days and forty nights upon the waters, ere again I saw the face of the earth. Then, wherever I went, I brought joy; at Cyprus the grasses sprang up beneath my feet, the golden-filleted Hora crowned me with a wreath of gold and clothed me in immortal robes. Then, also, was renewed my grief; for Adonis, whom I had chosen, was slain in the chase and carried to Hades. Six months I wept his loss, when he rose again and I triumphed. Thus in Egypt I mourned for Osiris, for Atys in Phrygia, and for Proserpina at Eleusis, all of whom passed to the underworld, were restored for a season, and then retaken. Thus is my sorrow repeated without end. All things are taken from me. Night treads upon the heels of Day, the desolation
That, reader, is not so difficult to translate into human language. Thus, from the beginning to the end of the world, do these Mysteries, under various names, shadow forth the great problem of human life, which problem, as being fundamental, must be religious, the same that is shadowed forth in Nature and Revelation, namely: man's sin, and his redemption from sin, his great loss, his infinite error, and his final salvation.
Sorrow, so strong a sense of which pervaded these Mysteries that it was the name (Achtheia) by which Demeter was known to her mystic worshippers,-human sorrow it was which veiled the eyelids; toward which veiling (or muesis) the lotus about the head of Isis and the poppy in the hand of Demeter distinctly point. Hence the myste, whom the reader must suppose to have closed their eyes to all without them,-e -even to Nature, except as in sympathy she mirrors forth the central sorrow of their hearts. But this same sorrow and its mighty work, veiled from all mortal vision, shut out by very necessity from any sympathy save that of God, is a preparation for a purer vision,- a second initiation, in which the eyes shall be reopened and the mystæ become epopta; and of such significance was this higher vision to the Greek, that it was a synonyme for the highest earthly happiness and a foretaste of Elysium.
As this vision of the epopte was the vision of real faith, so the muesis, or veiling of the myste, was no mere affectation of mysticism. Not so easily could be set aside this weight of sorrow upon the eyelids, which, notwithstanding that, leading to self, it leads to wandering, leads also through Divine aid to that peace which
passeth all understanding. Thus were the Hebrews led out of Egyptian bondage through wanderings in the Wilderness to the Promised Land. Even thus, through rites and ceremonies which to us are hieroglyphics hard to be deciphered, which are known only as shrouded in infinite sorrow, -as dimly shadowing forth some wild search in darkness and some final resurrection into light,through these, many from Egypt and India and Scythia, from Scandinavia and from the aboriginal forests of America, have for unnumbered ages passed from a world of bewildering error to the heaven of their hopes. To the eye of sense and to shallow infidelity, this may seem absurd; but the foolishness of man is the wisdom of God to the salvation of His erring children. Happy, indeed, are the initiated! Blessed are the poor in spirit, the Pariah, and the slave,- all they whose eyes are veiled with overshadowing sorrow! for only thus is revealed the glory of human life!
There are many things, kind reader, which, in our senseless staring, we may call the signs of human weakness, but which, by a higher interpretation, become revelations of human power. The gross and pitiable features of the world are dissolved and clarified, when by an impassioned sympathy we can penetrate to the heart of things. We are about to pity the ragged vesture, the feeble knees, and the beseeching hand of poverty, and the cries of the oppressed and the weary; but, at a thought, Pity is slain by Reverence. We are ready to cry out against the sluggish movement of the world and its lazy flux of life; but before the satire is spoken, we are fascinated by an undercurrent of this same world, earnest and full toward its sure goal, of which, indeed, we only dream; but "the dream is from God," and surer than sight. There is a profounder calm than appears to the eye, in the quiet cottages scattered up and down among the peaceful valleys; the rest of death is more untroubled than the marble face which it leaves * Iliad, I. 63.
as its visible symbol; and sleep, "the minor mystery of death,” (ύπνος τὰ μικρὰ τοῦ θανάτου μυστήρια, *) has a deeper significance than is revealed in any external token. So what is sneeringly called the credulity of human nature is its holy faith, and, in spite of all the hard facts which you may charge upon it, is the glory of man. It introduces us into that region where "nothing is unexpected, nothing impossible." It was the glory of our childhood, and by it childhood is made immortal. Myth herself is ever a child,- a genuine child of the earth, indeed, but received among men as the
child of Heaven.
Upon the slightest material basis have been constructed myths and miracles and fairy-tales without number; and so it must ever be. Thus man asserts his own inherent strength of imagination and faith over against the external fact. Whatsoever is facile to Imagination is also facile to Faith. Easy, therefore, in our thoughts, is the transition from the Cinder-wench in the ashes to the Cinderella of the palace; easy the apotheosis of the slave, and the passage from the weary earth to the fields of Elysium and the Isles of the Blessed.
This flight of the Imagination, this vision of Faith, these, reader, are only for the epopta. It matters not, that, by naked analysis, you can prove that the palaces of our fancy and the temples of our faith are but the baseless fabric of a dream. It may be that the greater part of life is made up of dreams, and that wakefulness is merely incidental as a relief to the picture. It may be, indeed, in the last analysis, that the ideal is the highest, if not the only real.
For the sensible, palpable fact can, by the nature of things, exist for us only in the Present. But, my dear reader, it is just here, in this Present, that the tenure by which we have hold upon life is the most frail and shadowy. For, by the strictest analysis, there is no Present. The formula, It is, even before we can give it utterance, by some subtile chemistry of logic, * Euripides. † Archilochus.