Eleusinian Dreams



I Introduction                           3

II The Call                                7

III The Lesser Mysteries       24

IV The Sacred Way              45

V The Greater Mysteries      65

VI Initiate                             115

Appendix                             126


Summary: An outline of the Eleusinian myth, and the 9-day celebration of the Mysteries.

The Mysteries were celebrated at Eleusis for nearly two thousand years. They began around 1500 BC, as Mycenaean Greece succeeded Minoan Crete, and ended with the establishment of Christianity at Rome, around 400 AD. They were the most sacred and revered of the Mystery schools of ancient Greece, preparing initiates to cross into the next world.

Our most important source document is the seventh century BC Hymn to Demeter, which concludes: “Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiated and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom.”

Much as Christian religion is based upon the life and teaching of Christ, the Eleusinian Mysteries are based upon Demeter and the death and resurrection of her daughter Persephone (or Kore). As Christ revealed the secret meaning of his parables to his disciples, so the secret teaching of the Mysteries was revealed to their initiates. But while the disciples spread the good news of Christ and even wrote down his teaching, initiates would be sentenced to death for revealing the Mysteries, and so we still cannot be sure of their contents.

The myths of Eleusis are like the parables of Christ. They give an outer story, which has an inner meaning for those with ‘ears to hear’. One of the keys to this inner meaning is a secret identity between apparently separate deities. Just as Christianity understands Father, Son and Holy Ghost to be three aspects of the One God, so Kore and Persephone were understood as two aspects of the same Life and Death goddess, and she was identical with her mother, Demeter, who was identical with her mother, Rhea, and so on.

Demeter is Earth Goddess, and sister of the trinity, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. Her story begins here as Persephone, picking flowers in a meadow. She reaches for a 100-petalled narcissus, when the ground suddenly opens to reveal Hades, god of the Underworld.  With Zeus’s permission, Hades carries the screaming Maid away in his chariot. Demeter hears the screams, and searches everywhere for her daughter. For 9 days she eats and drinks nothing, and the world too falls into famine and drought. She comes to rest by the Maiden’s Well – ‘maiden’ being the meaning of ‘Kore’. It is a link to the Underworld, and the same well (symbolically) where Jesus will offer eternal life to the woman of Samaria. Here she is made to laugh, with a sexual joke, and breaks her fast with a Communion cup of kykeon. It is a special brew including grain, water and mint. The mouth of the Grain-goddess becomes the well, as she swallows the body and blood of her daughter in the barley water.

A birth must follow this drink, which is at once a sacrificial death and insemination. So Demophoön is born to the Eleusinian king, and Demeter, who has left Olympus and taken human form in her anger with the gods, is asked to nurse (mother) the child. She shows her gratitude by teaching the king’s son, Triptolemus, the secrets of agriculture; and by asking for a temple to be built, in which initiates may learn the secrets of the crossing and gain eternal life. Jesus shows the connection between these two gifts when he says: ‘unless a grain of wheat falling into the earth dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’. Demophoön is a Divine Child – a Dionysus or Persephone or Jesus – who brings a mysterious renewal and salvation to the initiate. His birth around 1500 BC instituted the Eleusinian Mysteries, just as Christ’s birth instituted Christianity.

In a sub-plot, Demeter takes the form of a mare to escape the attentions of Poseidon. But the Sea god is not fooled and becomes a stallion to rape her, in a mirror image of Hades’ rape of Persephone. ‘Raging Demeter’ was later reconciled to this union, from which she gave birth to the winged horse, Arion, and a daughter known only as ‘the Mistress’ (herself reborn).

Old Hecate advises Demeter to consult the all-seeing Sun god for news of her daughter. Demeter’s grief turns to fury, when she learns the truth. She forbids plants to grow or trees to bear fruit, and the world (Demeter) approaches complete destruction. Zeus is alarmed, and he sends Hermes, the ‘Slayer of Argus’, to ask for Persephone’s return. Hades must agree, but he says Persephone can only return if she has been too unhappy to eat during her stay. But Persephone was not so unhappy. She had eaten some seeds of the pomegranate – a fertility symbol – which proved her marriage had been consummated and she is pregnant. She eats the pomegranate, as Demeter drinks the kykeon, to symbolise death and rebirth. Hades has proved the fertility of death (himself), and so he keeps his bride each year until the spring, when his wife becomes his daughter.

Persephone is the queen of Sky, Sea and Underworld, as may be seen from 3 versions of her birth.  She is born from her underground union with Hades; from the equine mating of Poseidon and Demeter; and from the union of Zeus and Demeter, as bull or snake. Some say that Zeus then pursued Persephone as a snake, who gave birth to Dionysus. But, as the Divine Child at Eleusis, Dionysus was also Demophoön or Iacchus or Brimus or Plutus, who was born from the love of Demeter and mortal Iasion.

The story of Demeter and Iasion is one of the most ancient, and shrouded in mystery. The two lovers were lying together in a thrice-ploughed field, when Zeus hurled his thunderbolt at the impertinent mortal. Most think the lightning killed Iasion, before it penetrated Mother Earth. But some say Iasion lived on as the lover of Demeter and principal teacher of her Mysteries. They consider the lightning of Father Zeus as a sign of his presence in his son Iasion (or Iasius), whose tradition continues today in Jesus.

Such was the myth, or parable, at the heart of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Remarkably, it is also the myth which appears in the dreams of a twentieth century American who is about to die. How often this myth might appear in dreams of the dying is hard to say. But Christopher began seeing a modern equivalent of the old Mystery teachers shortly before his diagnosis with Aids in 1986. Life expectancy then was just one to two years, and Christopher worked on his dreams with psychotherapist Robert Bosnak for eighteen months. They show that he died a full initiate into the Mysteries of the Crossing.

There were three stages of initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries. The first was at the Lesser Mysteries, which took place in Athens every spring. The second and third were at the Greater Mysteries, taking place at nearby Eleusis every five years in the autumn.

The Greater Mysteries lasted 9 days, like Demeter’s search for her daughter, which alluded to Persephone’s 9 months in the womb of Mother Earth. During this time the embryonic initiates grew towards their rebirth from mystes (veiled) to epoptes (unveiled). Historians do not wholly agree on the sequence of events during the 9 days, but it is thought to be something as follows:

Day 0: The sacred objects (hiera) are brought to Athens from their sanctuary at Eleusis.

Day 1: (Boedromion 15) The King calls an assembly of the people to invite all those who are eligible to participate in the Mysteries.

Day 2: The participants cleanse themselves in the sea, with each taking a small sacrificial pig to absorb any evil clinging to them.

Day 3: Sacrifices take place on behalf of the city.

Day 4: A festival is held for Asclepius, the god of healing and the interpretation of dreams, who was a late initiate of the Mysteries. Kerényi refers to him as ‘the ruler of the underworld, assuming the form of the god of healing’ [Eleusis p62]. It is no coincidence that Asclepius had the power to revive the dead, and was even killed and revived himself by Zeus – for this was the secret of Eleusis.

Day 5: (Boedromion 19) Kerényi describes this as ‘the first day of the festival which was called Mysteria, The Mysteries, for everything else was mere preparation’ [Eleusis p62]. The initiates, in fine clothes and myrtle crowns, escort the hiera back to Eleusis in a ritual procession led by the boy-god Iacchus (Dionysus) – some using carriages and pack animals on the fourteen-mile Sacred Way. (‘Myrtle’ was the plant (sacred to Aphrodite) that Hades required from Dionysus in exchange for his mother, Semele.) The procession stops at the shrine of the Holy Fig Tree. They cross the bridge at Cephissus (Kephisos), where they are ritually and good-humouredly abused – perhaps in honour of the lewd jokes that made Demeter laugh and break her fast. Then they cross a bridge over the salt-water lakes of Rhiti (Rheitoi), which hold fish sacred to Demeter and Persephone, and a yellow ribbon is tied around their right hands and left legs. Finally they enter Eleusis in a torch-lit procession, singing and dancing into the night.

Day 6: Fasting, purification and sacrifice prepare the initiates for their evening ceremony. They put on new clothes and drink the Communion kykeon, before rehearsing the holy story with the Goddess. Then, or the next day, they may witness a fire ceremony, with the birth of the Divine Child and a vision of the Underworld goddess.

Day 7: Initiates rest and prepare themselves for the evening ceremony (orgia). The initiation of the mystae is organised in three parts, described as ‘things done, things said, and things seen’. We can only guess from certain clues that the holy myth is rehearsed, teaching is given on the crossing, and the contents of the hiera are witnessed.

Those who are ready to become epoptai attend another ceremony in which they may participate in the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage, of ‘Demeter and Zeus’ (by whatever names). Finally the epoptai are thought to witness in silence a mown ear of corn, symbolising the resurrection of the soul (Corn-Dionysus).

Day 8: Libations and rites for the dead.

Day 9: (Boedromion 23) The initiates return to Athens, or else directly home.

It is extraordinary that the initiation at Eleusis, with the story of Demeter at its heart, should be repeated in the dreams of a twentieth century Christian. Even so, it is not wholly unique. Edward Edinger refers to one of his analysand’s dreams as ‘a modern individual version of the Eleusian mysteries’ [EA p204]. Robert Moss repeats a story of Sopatros (4 AD) about a man, who dreamed he had attended the Eleusinian Mysteries. The man recounted the secret rituals to an initiate, who was so shocked by the detail that he accused him of sacrilege. The man only avoided death by showing he had never been to Eleusis, and had received his initiation in a dream from the gods. Moss concludes: ‘Contemporary dreamers who have never heard of Eleusis have dreams of the same quality’ [DG p129]. And Jung presents a series of contemporary dreams relating to the Eleusinian experience in The Psychological aspects of the Kore [ACU pp182-203]

Nevertheless, I think in Christopher’s dreams we have the most complete and detailed example of this phenomenon. The correspondence between his dreams and the Eleusinian initiation is so high, and the spiritual purpose so clear, that deep questions arise about the nature of the soul and the need to prepare for death. In fact, the clear implication from Christopher’s dreams is that if we do not prepare our souls for death we may lose them. This preparation does not need to be left to the last minute, and people attended the Eleusinian Mysteries at different stages of life. But, if a person is not prepared, it becomes an urgent necessity before death. And it may happen more often than we realise, that people, like Christopher, are given the option to delay their deaths to prepare.

Christopher was also fortunate to have the help of an enlightened modern teacher of the Mysteries. Neither of them consciously picked up the Eleusinian correspondence, but with the guidance of Robert Bosnak, and his own devotion to the task, Christopher ended his dreams a full initiate of the Mysteries.


Summary: Chapter One follows dreams 1 – 11, from Christopher’s start with his therapist, Robert Bosnak, to his Aids diagnosis four months later. He is called by the Roman goddess of the ‘Eleusinian Mysteries’, and crosses to the Underworld to meet her. Their death wedding should be followed by a life wedding, but this is halted by the ‘rose and cockscomb problem’. Christopher has to solve the problem before he can continue, and it becomes the central task of the dreams. A training programme, in the Eleusinian manner, begins; but it is almost immediately interrupted by a severe illness, which nearly kills Christopher. In an amazing dream, he is given the option to die as he is, or stay on to unravel the Mysteries. He chooses to stay, and the Rose-goddess promises her help.

Christopher brings his first dream to Robert Bosnak in September 1985, about 4 months before he is ill and diagnosed with Aids.  He dies 18 months later, in March 1987.

18 Months Before Death

Dream 1. Visit Aunt Lib. I have to cross to the other side. 


(c) Ian Campbell

February 2007