A week ago, I wrote an introduction to the Eleusinian mysteries, with the promise I would talk about the festivals linked to the mysteries in my next Pagan blog Project post. It will come as no surprise that this blog post will be about exactly that. Now, I have written about many of the festivals linked to the mysteries before on this blog, so a description of those will consist of a summary and a link to lots and lots more information. A few, I have not written about before, so I will make a slightly longer summary, with the promise I will create a full blog post for them when they roll around.

The Eleusinian mysteries consist mostly of two festivals, but the worship of Demeter and Persephone consist of a cycle of seven festivals: the Greater Mysteries (13-23 Boedromion), Proerosia (6 Pyanepsion), Stenia (9 Pyanepsion), Thesmophoria (11-13 Pyanepsion), Haloa (26 Poseideon), the Lesser Mysteries (20-26 Anthesterion),  and the Skiraphoria (12 Skirophorion). These are placed in sequence of the Athenian year.

Greater Mysteries
The Greater Mysteries were the main event of the whole of the mysteries. When they roll around again, I will give a lengthy exposition on them, but for the purpose of this post, I will give a summary of the festivities. The Greater Mysteries lasted ten days, celebrated every five years in the beginning, but celebrated every year from 'before the time of Herodotos'. The Greater Mysteries most likely commemorated either Persephone's original kidnapping by Hades, her descent to the Underworld, or her return to the surface. The Hellenic agricultural season would led one to assume Persephone returned to the surface world during or around the time of the Greater Mysteries, but there is a reference in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter which indicated Persephone returned in the Spring. As such, the Greater Mysteries might also have focussed on Persephone's descent into the underworld:

"But when the earth shall bloom with the fragrant flowers of spring in every kind, then from the realm of darkness and gloom thou shalt come up once more to be a wonder for gods and mortal men. And now tell me how he rapt you away to the realm of darkness and gloom, and by what trick did the strong Host of Many beguile you?"

The other, major, focus was the initiation of the mystai, who were prepared at the Lesser Mysteries. On the thirteenth of the month, epheboi (youths) traveled to Eleusis, and back to Athens the day after, to bring the Ta Hiera (the Holy Things) to Athens, where they were received at the shrine to Demeter (Eleusinion) on the Acropolis.

On the first, actual, day of the Mysteries, the mystai were called forward by a herald (the Kerukes), and names were taken to ensure all who came to be innitiated, would be innitiated during the festival. The rest of the day, the innitiates would have spent preparing through spiritual exercises. On the second day, they would be purified by bathing in the sea, along with an offerign to Demeter. In early times, this was a pig, supplied by the state, which would be sacrificed that night. The mystai would be sprinkled with the pig's blood after the animal was killed.

Day three is recorded as a day of sacrifice to both Demeter and Persephone, and day four was spent preparing for recieving the mysteries. This day was called the Epidauria. Sacrifices to Asklepius and Hygieia would also have taken place on this day. On day five, the Ta Hiera were transported back to Eleusis by the mystai and their guides, the initiated mystai known as 'mystagogoi'. The procession would have started from the shine of Iakkhos, and Iakkhos was invited to come along to Eleusis by those in the procession. The mystai would sacrifice at all shrines along the way. The mystai would arrive in darkness, or at least guided by torchlight, as Demeter searched for Her daughter with a torch in hand. Upon arrival, sacrifices were made to Demeter.

On days six and seven, the initiation took place. There was a fast in the daylight hours, and the initiation itself took place at night. The mystai were given a kykeon to drink (see Proerosia below) which possibly contained some form of drug to heighten the experience. What happened during the initiation was regarded as the biggest secret, and the penalty of revealing this information was death. In the daylight hours of the seventh day, the last of the sacrifices were completed by the mystai: the tipping out of two water-filled amphorai, while reciting a spell or verse known only to those initiated. We are unsure about the eighth day.

Days nine and ten were used to round off the festival, make personal sacrifices, pack up belongings and go. There were state meetings both at Eleusis as in Athens, perhaps to evaluate how the ceremonies went. During these days, people left Eleusis and traveled back to Athens or their home much further away.

The Proerosia (Προηροσία) was a festival for Demeter’s blessings in preparation for the ploughing and sowing at the beginning of the agricultural season. In ancient times it was held at Eleusis. The name serves to convey the essence of the rites: 'sacrifice before ploughing'.

The myth goes that the whole of Hellas was suffering from a terrible famine or plague, and the oracle of Delphi was visited to ask how to stop this terrible affair, and the Delphic Oracle said that Apollo ordered a tithe to Demeter of the first harvest on behalf of all Hellenes. Except for disruptions during the Peloponnesian War, offerings arrived annually at Eleusis from all over Hellas. While Athens wasn't a big contributor to the rites--perhaps because they already made their own offerings of grain and first fruits to Demeter--most other city-states contributed generously, and the Athenians were welcome during the rites. For His help, Pythian Apollon also receives an offering during the Proerosia.

There is some confusion over the dating of the festival. Many modern sources date the festival on the fifth of Pyanpesion, but new research shows that, because of the placement of the Pyanepsia festival, in honor of Apollon and Theseus, the Proerosia could only have been celebrated in the daylight hours of the sixth.

The festival can be celebrated with first fruit-offerings, any offering related to grains (like bread, cakes, or pancakes), or a kykeon libation. The kykeon was made of barley, water, herbs, and ground goat cheese. Sometimes honey was added. Herbs that are described as part of the kykeon are mint, pennyroyal and thyme, although it seems any herb that was found to flavor the drink, was acceptable.

This festival was dedicated solely to Demeter and Persephone and was held three days before the Thesmophoria. During the Stenia, women came together and begun the extensive purification rituals needed to partake in the Thesmophoria. How, exactly, the women purified themselves is unknown but it is known that the women engaged in Aiskhrologia, insulting each other and using foul language, in honor of Iambe, who cheered up a grieving Demeter by either lifting her skirts or making a dirty joke. 

At the Stenia, some women, called 'Bailers', hiked to the chasm where the piglets had been thrown into months ago. Then, in a gruesome display of devotion, the women hauled out the rotting corpses of the piglets and carried them to the Thesmophorion, a site probably on the hillside of the Pnyx.

During the Thesmophoria, there was a male and female encampment at the Thesmophorian and the division was clearly set; no men were allowed in the female encampment, and no women in the male encampment. Sex was not allowed. All free women, except for maidens, were allowed to participate.

On the first day, called Anodos ('ascent') and Kathodos ('descent'), the women sacrificed the rotting piglets to Demeter and Persephone. The remains were mixed with seeds and would be plowed into the earth after the festival to assure a good harvest. The second day was called Nēsteia ('feast of lamentation'). On this day, the women did not eat. They recreated the time before Demeter taught humankind to cultivate the fields. The third day, Kalligeneia ('she who is of beautiful birth'), was a happy one. The women prayed to Demeter and Persephone for fertility for themselves, their loved ones and the earth. They celebrated the magic of new life, fertility and the kindness of the Gods.

This ancient Hellenic festival was held in honor of Demeter, Dionysos and a little bit in honor of Persephone. Like all festivals of Demeter and Persephone's 'Kore' persona, women were the only ones who were allowed to handle the religious and sacrificial side of it. For the men, the Haloa might have had an extra ritual part; honoring Poseidon as an agricultural Theos.

It was a rural festival, meaning it wasn't state-organized and widely spread, so most details are incredibly fuzzy. The Haloa is assumed to be a celebration of the pruning of the vines and the tasting of the wine after its first fermentation, or it may be to encourage the growth of corn from the seed. It is named after the hálōs (ἅλως), which means both threshing floor and garden. Since the first sense of the word would be inapplicable to a festival celebrated in January, scholars--including Nilsson in his 'Greek Popular Religion'--insist it must have been a gardening festival.

Some time during the festival, the entire population was invited by the priests of Dionysos and the priestesses of Demeter and Kore to give sacrifice to these Theos; to Demeter and Kore for the fertility of the earth in which the grapevines grew, and to Dionysos in remembrance of Ikários, who was such a fine winemaker that he could produce wine so strong, those who drank it appeared to be poisoned. Women danced, ate and drank together, and afterwards, the men who had been waiting outside of Eleusis were admitted to the grounds, and the women were encouraged by each other--including the priestesses--to take secret lovers for the night. A priest and priestess--with torches representing Demeter and Persephone--apparently sat watch on chests as they presided over the fertility celebration.

Lesser Mysteries
In ancient texts, the rituals of the Lesser Mysteries were often referred to as 'myesis', as opposed to the rites of the Greater, which were referred to as 'epopteia'. The word myesis means 'to teach', as well as 'to initiate', while epopteia has a similar meaning, but with an important difference; it means 'to witness', as well as 'to be initiated'. This difference equates the major difference between the two rites: in the Lesser Mysteries, candidates underwent a teaching course. They were educated on the gifts of Demeter, on the mythology surrounding Her and Her daughter, and on the mysteries. They went through a rite of purification--possibly in the river, and made sacrifices to Demeter and Persephone. Upon completion of the Lesser Mysteries, participants were deemed mystai ('initiates') worthy of witnessing the Greater Mysteries.

The Skiraphoria was one of the few days when the women of ancient Athens would gather in public to honor Demeter and bless the harvest. They refused to sleep with the men on this day and took part in a very odd tradition: casting piglets down into a chasm where they were left to rot until the Stenia.