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Tuesday, August 6, 2013


"Two Right Hands"

For it appears to me that among the many exceptional and divine things your Athens has produced and contributed to human life, nothing is better than [the Eleusinian] mysteries. For by means of them we have been transformed from a rough and savage way of life to the state of humanity, and have been civilized. Just as they are called initiations, so in actual fact we have learned from them the fundamentals of life, and have grasped the basis not only for living with joy but also dying with a better hope.[1]

   It has been said that Freemasonry is a continuation of the various Mystery cults which flourished in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia – and even India, if we ascribe to the theories set forth by W.Bro. J.S.M. Ward[2] – before they were indiscriminately suppressed in favor of the new, growing, Christian religion, the same of which brought with it its own indomitable version of the ‘Sacred Mysteries.’ Gen. Albert Pike, 33° even declared that “Masonry is identical with the ancient Mysteries,” though he later added that this is so only to a limited extent. For in Pike’s estimation, Masonry is


“but an imperfect image of [the Mysteries’] brilliancy, the ruins only of their grandeur, and a system that has experienced progressive alterations, the fruits of social events, political circumstances, and the ambitious imbecility of its improvers.”


It is generally believed that central to many of these Mysteries, whether they were solar[3] or agrarian in nature, was the indoctrination of their participants regarding the reality of deity and the immortality of the soul[4]. In most cases, these doctrines appear to have been imparted via a complex ritualized dramatization of the traditional myths and legends surrounding the central deity of the cult, wherein the candidate himself was oftentimes made consubstantial with the deity, suffering his trials, death, and resurrection – and in some instances, even acting out the deity’s undertakings while sojourning through the Land of the Dead. It was precisely these ritualized reenactments that more often than not constituted the various ceremonies of Initiation into the ancient Mysteries, the completion of which veritably made one a bona fide member of the Mystery cult. Additionally, obligations of secrecy concerning all that had transpired during the ceremony of Initiation were enforced upon everyone present, the breaking of which, participants were duly informed, was punishable by penalty of death.


   The most popular of the ancient Mystery cults was indisputably that of the goddess Demeter and her daughter Kore or Persephone which were celebrated at Eleusis, Greece from around 1450 BCE to 392 CE. The mythos of this cult narrates the story of the grain goddess Demeter and the lengths to which she was willing to go in order to reunite with her beloved daughter Persephone, the latter of which had earlier been abducted by the subterranean god Hades or Pluto while she was gathering flowers with the other ‘Flower Maidens.’ In the end, Persephone was finally permitted to return to the land of the living and reunite with her mother, but only under the condition that she re-descend to the Underworld for one season out of every year – namely, winter – in order reassume her role as the Queen of Hades[5]. It was with this narrative of a periodical descent into the Underworld and subsequent return to the realm of the living that the Hierophants at Eleusis communicated to the candidates their cherished doctrine of the immortality of the soul[6].


   The primary celebrations observed at Eleusis are known to have consisted of two separate Mysteries: a Lesser and a Greater. The Lesser Mystery appears to have been celebrated between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, and entailed the preliminary indoctrination of the candidates regarding the central mythos of the cult. Participation therein constituted one a Mystis or Initiate, and was the mandatory prerequisite which prepared him for admittance into the Greater Mystery, the latter of which was celebrated between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. Unlike the Lesser, it is believed that the Greater Mystery did not involve a lengthy recapitulation of the cult’s sacred mythos, but rather consisted of something which was seen directly – hence the title of Epopt or Seer applied to Initiates of this level. Therefore, we can be confident that what the Mystae heard only at second-hand in the Lesser Mystery, the Epopt witnessed or experienced at first-hand in the Greater[7]. Additionally, participants in the Greater Mystery were expected to observe certain specific dietary restrictions, such as complete abstinence from foods including fish, legumes, apples, and most especially, pomegranates and “barndoor fowl” – all of which held a special, symbolic significance in regards to the Mysteries of Eleusis. “The pomegranate,” for example, says Greek scholar Jane Ellen Harrison, “was dead men’s food, and once tasted drew Persephone back to the shades.” Similarly, the rooster was said to have been consecrated to the goddess Demeter:


“Porphyry in his treatise on Abstinence from Animal Food, notes the reason and the rigour of the Eleusinian taboos. Demeter, he says, is a goddess of the lower world and they consecrate the cock to her…We are apt to associate the cock with daylight and his early morning crowing, but the Greeks for some reason regarded the bird as chthonic.[8]


It is due perhaps to these chthonic associations that the rooster also happens to be an important symbol within the gloomy Chamber of Reflection, where the candidate for Masonic Initiation is caused to tarry for a while prior to taking the 1°. Like Persephone in the Underworld, the candidate being held in the dungeon-like Chamber of Reflection is oftentimes surrounded with grim reminders of his own mortality, but as was also the case with Persephone, it is the rooster which heralds the illumination awaiting the candidate upon his release from the Chamber. It is noteworthy that the rooster was also said to have been a favorite pet of the psychopomp Mercury, whose image, according to W.Bro. John Yarker[9], was displayed within the temple at Eleusis along with those of Sol and Luna[10].[11]


   Another important celebration observed at Eleusis was the annual Haloa festival which was celebrated in honor of both Demeter and Dionysus in and around the winter solstice. This celebration, which Harrison called “the very counterpart” to the Eleusinian Mysteries, took place on Triptolemus’ threshing-floor, where the sacred barley grown on the Rarian plain, the same of which would be used to make the mysterious kykeon[12] potion drunk during the Greater Mystery, was ceremonially threshed. According to Harrison,


“The affiliation of the worship of the corn-goddess to that of the wine-god is of the first importance. The coming of Dionysos brought a new spiritual impulse to the religion of Greece…and it was to this new impulse that the Eleusinian Mysteries owed…their ultimate dominance. Of [the Eleusinian Mysteries] the Haloa is, I think, the primitive prototype. As to the primitive gist of the Haloa, there is no shadow of a doubt: the name speaks for itself. Harpocration rightly explains the festival, ‘the Haloa gets is name, according to Philochorus, from the fact that people hold sports at the threshing-floors, and he says it is celebrated in the month of Poseidon[13].’…[That] the Haloa was celebrated in the month of Poseidon[14] [is] a fact as surprising as it is ultimately significant. What has a threshing festival to do with mid-winter, when all the grain should be safely housed in the barns? Normally, as in ancient days, the threshing follows as soon as may be after the cutting of the corn; it is threshed and afterwards winnowed in the open threshing-floor, and in mid-winter is no time even in Greece for an open-air operation. The answer is simple. The shift of date is due to Dionysos. The rival festivals of Dionysos were in mid-winter. He possessed himself of the festivals of Demeter, took over her threshing-floor and compelled the anomaly of a winter threshing festival. The latest time that a real threshing festival could take place is Pyanepsion, but by Poseidon it is just possible to have an early Pithoigia and to revel with Dionysos. There could be no clearer witness to the might of the incoming god.”


It may be surprising to some to learn that the threshing-floor also happens to be an important symbol within Freemasonry.


      In the lectures of the so-called ‘American Ritual,’ which Mackey lamented as “being lost or becoming obsolete” even in his day, the candidate for Masonic Initiation is described as one who is travelling “to the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, where language was restored and Masonry found”.  The association of Ornan’s threshing-floor with Freemasonry stems from the fact that King Solomon’s Temple was said to have been erected on that very same site. The land had earlier been purchased from Ornan by King David, Solomon’s father, for the purpose of erecting there an altar, whereon David was to make sacrificial offerings after witnessing a vision of the “angel of the Lord” whom was seen standing within the vicinity of the threshing-floor. Before that time, all sacrifices would have generally been made on the ‘altar of the burnt offering’ which was housed in the tabernacle[15]. However, following David’s sacrifice, it was decreed that a permanent temple should be erected atop Ornan’s threshing-floor – a temple which would eventually come to replace the ‘tabernacle in the wilderness’ as the domicile of the Jewish deity. It is this permanent temple wherein the various Degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry symbolically take place. Therefore, it was said of the candidate for Masonic Initiation that he is allegorically travelling “to the threshing-floor of Ornan,” i.e., the Temple of Solomon the King. The threshing-floor is thus implicative of Initiation and the Masonic Lodge. In demonstration of this relationship, Bro. John S. Nagy says that it is


“[u]pon Initiation [that] Masons come out of the profane world, filled with much darkness, ignorance and confusion…and they approach the Masonic world, where there is Light…as at the Temple Built upon Ornan’s Threshing-floor”.


Other important symbols connecting Masonry to the Mysteries celebrated at Eleusis can be found in the lectures of the Fellowcraft Degree.


   On his symbolic Passage to the Middle Chamber of the Temple, the attention of the newly-made Fellowcraft is directed to a most peculiar image: a sheaf of wheat suspended near the bank of a river[16]. This depiction is usually found displayed on the South wall of the Lodge, located just behind the Junior Warden. The word associated with it, which can be translated variously as an ear of corn, a branch of an olive tree, and a stream of water[17], is equally curious. As Pike pointed out,


“We do not know when this word was adopted, and no one has ever been able to find any especial significance in it as a Masonic word. But I am entirely satisfied that there was originally a concealed significance in every word used in a Masonic degree. Some secret meaning and application was covered and concealed by each of them.”


The explanation provided for the word in question is similarly obscure. According to Mackey, “the Gileadites under Jephthah made use of [this word] as a test at the passage of the river Jordan after a victory over the Ephramites,” but Pike was admittedly not so convinced:


“We fail now to see the application to anything in Free-Masonry of the account given by the Hebrew chronicler of the use made of this word, by which to detect the men of a particular Tribe, who pronounced it differently from others.”


Bro. I. Edward Clark was likewise suspicious of the traditional explanation provided for the word in question, and in The Royal Secret he offered an alternative interpretation:


“A reference to the Eleusinian Mysteries will go far to clear up [the probable true meaning of “ears of corn hanging by a water-ford,” or “a sheaf of wheat suspended near the bank of a river,”] and give us the true import of this symbol. The Eleusinian Mysteries were derived from those of Isis, who was known to the Greeks by the name of Ceres, and also Cybele. Ceres, or Cybele, was the goddess of the harvest, and was represented, like the beautiful virgin of the zodiac, bearing spears of ripe corn. In like manner, Isis was with the Egyptians emblematic of the harvest season. In the Egyptian zodiac Isis occupied the place of Virgo, and was represented with three ears of corn in her hand. The Syrian word for an ear of corn is “sibola”…This word also means “a stream of water,” and the emblem of ears of corn or a sheaf of wheat near a water-course, or river, was one of the emblems of the Eleusinian and Tyrian (or Dionysiac) Mysteries. As the word had a double meaning, the picture formed a rebus. The river is the river Nile, the overflow of which enriched the soil and brought forth the abundant harvests of Egyptian corn, all of which was symbolically represented by the ears of corn hanging by a river[18].”


Other noteworthy symbols found in the Fellowcraft Degree which are readily relatable to the Mysteries celebrated at Eleusis include “those two famous, brazen pillars” between which the candidate is at one point in the ritual caused to pass.


   King Solomon’s Temple was said to have been fitted with two impressive, brazen pillars – one called Boaz and the other, Jachin – which were set in Temple’s outer portico as symbols of Strength and Establishment. In addition to the terrestrial and celestial globes which were placed upon their summit, we are told that those two magnificent pillars were lavishly ornamented with “a representation of net-work, lily-work, and pomegranates[19].” In the Fellowcraft Degree the candidate is informed that these decorations “are said to denote Unity, Peace, and Plenty,” for “[t]he net-work, from its connection, denotes unity; the lily-work, from its whiteness, and the retired place in which it grows, purity and peace; the pomegranates, from the exuberance of their seed, denote plenty.” However, they all three of them also happen to be symbols associated with the Mysteries celebrated at Eleusis. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the lily was specifically named as being among the flowers gathered by Persephone at the moment of her fateful abduction. Similarly, it was her naïve acceptance of the seeds of the pomegranate which secured for Hades Persephone’s annual return to the Land of the Dead. The accompanying net-work, too, can be related directly back to the story of Persephone’s abduction. In Greek mythology, nets are associated with the goddess Britomartis, the daughter of Eubulus and thus the grand-daughter of Demeter – both of whom were prominent figures within the Eleusinian Mysteries. In the third installment of Callimachus’ Hymn to Artemis, we read of Britomartis’ desperate retreat into the nets of some nearby fishermen in a final attempt to evade the ruthless advances of her pursuer King Minos of Crete. Following this episode, the goddess Britomartis came to be known fittingly as Diktyanna or the Lady of the Nets. According to religious scholar Edward Greswell,


“[T]he Britomartis of Crete…was absolutely the antitype of the Kore of Eleusis; and…she was originally conceived and proposed in the same relation to the Cretan Deo, as the Kore to the Eleusinian Demeter…We see too that as the Kore in her proper fable was represented as in danger from the violence of Aïdoneus  or Pluto, so was this Britomartis in the Cretan one, as similarly in danger from the violence of Minos; and as the Kore succumbs to this violence in her proper fable, and is actually carried away, so does this Britomartis in the Cretan fall a victim to that of Minos, though not in the same way, by being carried under ground, but by being forced into the sea [in fishing nets]. The same physical truth both might be, and probably was, adumbrated by each of these representations, only from a different point of view. The authors of the Grecian fable looked on the principle of vegetable life as residing chiefly in the ground; the authors of the Cretan looked a little deeper, and discovered, as they thought, the true principle and first beginnings of vegetable life, in the moisture of the ground imbibed by the seed; in the aqueous principle, the true pabulum of vegetable life in every form and shape; in the rains and the dews, from which the earth derived its moisture, and in the sea, as the ultimate source and fountain-head of both. And therefore with a stricter regard to the absolute order, connection, and dependencies of things, they chose to represent their Britomartis as lost at first in the sea, and as recovered at last from the sea[20].”


Thus we see that the symbolic representations of the net-work, lily-work, and pomegranates which adorned the pillars that were said to have been set within the outer portico of King Solomon’s Temple allude not only to the concepts of “Unity, Peace, and Plenty” referenced in the Fellowcraft Degree, but are also indicative of the Mysteries celebrated at Eleusis, wherein one was chiefly indoctrinated regarding the immortality of the soul.


   As explained above, the reality of deity and the immortality of the soul were in all probability the primary doctrines intended to be imparted during most, if not all of the Mysteries, including those celebrated at Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia, India, and elsewhere about the globe. In the case of those celebrated at Eleusis, the participants were instructed via a ritualized dramatization of the central myth associated with the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, wherein the candidate was made consubstantial with the latter in his symbolic descent into the Land of the Dead and miraculous return to the realm of the living. In the author’s estimation, it is no mere coincidence that Masonry requires of Her Initiates a belief in this same ideology. The adopted means of imparting those concepts, too, have their origin nowhere but in the rites and ceremonies observed during the celebration of the ancient Mysteries.


   The relationship between the ancient Mystery cults and modern Freemasonry is perhaps best reflected in W.Bro. J.S.M. Ward’s insightful and pertinent poem The Mysteries[21]:


In every race and ever clime,

Since the earliest days of Time,

Men have taught the Mystic Quest

Shown the Way to Peace and rest.


Bacchus died, and rose again,

On the golden Asian Plain;

Osiris rose from out the grave,

And thereby mankind did save:

Adonis likewise shed his blood,

By the yellow Syrian flood,

Zoroaster brought to birth

Mithra from His Cave of Earth.


And to-day in Christian Lands

We with them can join hands.




Clark, I. Edward. The Royal Secret

Callimachus. Hymn to Artemis

Duncan, Malcom C. Duncan’s Ritual of Freemasonry

Frazer, J.G. The Golden Bough

Greswell, Edward. Origines Kalendariae Hellenicae

Harrison, Jane Ellen. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion

Hutchinson, William. The Spirit of Masonry

Keller, Mara Lynn. The Ritual Path of Initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries

Mackenzie, Kenneth R.H. The Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia

Mackey, Albert G. The History of Freemasonry

Mackey, Albert G. The Symbolism of Freemasonry

Merkur, Daniel. The Mysteries of Manna

Meyer, Marvin W. The Ancient Mysteries

Nagy, John S. Building Boaz

Pike, Albert. Morals and Dogma

Pike, Albert. Sephir H’Debarim

Ruck, Carl A.P. Sacred Mushrooms of the Goddess

The Holy Bible, Master Mason Edition

Vail, Charles H. The Ancient Mysteries & Modern Masonry

Ward, J.S.M. Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods

Ward, J.S.M. The Entered Apprentice’s Handbook

Wasson, Hofmann, & Ruck. The Road to Eleusis

Yarker, John. The Arcane Schools

[1] Marcus, in Cicero, On the Laws (De legibus), 2.14.36, with reference to the Eleusinian mysteries
[2] See his 1921 work Freemasonry & the Ancient Gods.
[3] Hiram is identical with the Sun-Gods of all nations – it is a universal glyph, for all real Initiation is an internal process, a regeneration, the consummation of which is the Perfect Man or Master, the goal of human evolution. The Hiram Legend and the Master's Degree are derived from the Mysteries. They are the latest expression of the old Sun Myth and the Ancient Rite. We see thus that the story of Hiram is but a variation of the ancient and universal legend, in which Osiris, Adonis, Dionysus, Balder, Hu, and many more have played the principal part.” – Bro. Rev. Charles H. Vail, 32° (The Ancient Mysteries & Modern Masonry)
[4] “In a few words, then, the object of instruction in all these Mysteries was the unity of God, and the intention of the ceremonies of initiation into them was, by a scenic representation of death, and subsequent restoration to life, to impress the great truths of the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul.” – Ill.Bro. Albert G. Mackey, M.D. (The Symbolism of Freemasonry)
[5] See The Homeric Hymn to Demeter.
[6] “Substantially, [Demeter and Persephone’s] myth is identical with the Syrian one of Aphrodite (Astarte) and Adonis, the Phrygian one of Cybele and Attis, and the Egyptian one of Isis and Osiris. In the Greek fable, as in its Asiatic and Egyptian counterparts, a goddess mourns the loss of a loved one, who personifies the vegetation, more especially the corn, which dies in winter to revive in spring; only whereas the Oriental imagination figured the loved and lost one as a dead lover or a dead husband lamented by his leman or his wife, Greek fancy embodied the same idea in the tenderer and purer form of a dead daughter bewailed by her sorrowing mother.” – Sir J.G. Frazer (The Golden Bough)
[7] In The Symbolism of Freemasonry, Ill.Bro. Albert G. Mackey compares the two initiatory stages of Mystae and Epopt with the Masonic Degrees of Fellowcraft and Master Mason, respectively. The Degree of Entered Apprentice, on the other hand, is compared rather to the extraction of the oaths of secrecy and the ceremonies of purification which preceded the Mysteries proper.
[8] Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion
[9] See The Arcane Schools.
[10] “The images of the Sun, Moon, and Mercury were represented [at the Temple of Eleusis]…and they are still the three lights of a Masonic Lodge; except that for Mercury, the Master of the Lodge has been absurdly substituted.” – Albert Pike (Morals and Dogma)
[11] Yarker also noted that, like the Dormer Window which lights the Sanctum Sanctorum in some versions of the Master Mason ritual, “[t]he magnificent temple of Eleusis was lighted by a single window in the roof”.
[12] See Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck’s The Road to Eleusis for a thorough treatment of the subject of kykeon.
[13] December – January
[14] “At Eleusis, Poseidon was not yet specialized into a sea-god only; he was Phytalmios, god of plants, and as such…his worship was easily affiliated to that of Dionysos.” – Jane Ellen Harrison (Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion)
[15] For a consideration of the tabernacle and its relation to the threshing-floor, refer to the so-called Draught Ordeal discussed in The Mysteries of Manna by Daniel Merkur, Ph.D.
[16] Alternately: an ear of corn hanging by a water-ford.
[17] In The Spirit of Masonry, Bro. William Hutchinson translates the word in question rather as to revere a stone.
[18] Clark similarly interpreted the Masonic symbol of the beehive in light of the Eleusinian Mysteries: “The beehive was one of the emblems of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The goddess Rhea was represented with a beehive beside her, out of the top of which arose corn (wheat) and flowers, denoting the renewal of the seasons and the return of the sun to the vernal equinox.” (The Royal Secret, p. 117)
[19] See 1 Kings, 7 and 2 Chronicles, 3.
[20] This also explains the restriction placed on the eating of fish at the Greater Mystery – a food which, unlike the other dietary restrictions, has otherwise no relation to the corresponding myth.
[21] Excerpted from The Entered Apprentice’s Handbook.

Valley of Corinth, Orient of MS

Disclaimer: This paper entitled. "MASONRY & THE MYSTERIES OF ELEUSIS", was submitted to Tupelo Masonic Lodge No. 318 F&AM for publication by the author, P.D. Newman. The printing of this or any other writing does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Tupelo Masonic Lodge No. 318 F&AM or the Grand Lodge of Mississippi. Please read our Terms of Use for full details.

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