Welcoem to the Eleusinian Mysteries! the PAT rituals have started so the coming days you will get a few Eleusinian-themed posts. For those interested, I did an Eleusinian Masterpost a while ago. You can find a lot of information on the Mysteries there. Today I would like to talk a bit about the semi non-mythical origins of the Mysteries. Why do I say semi non-mythical? Well, because we are talking about something that happened a long, long time ago and

Mythologically, the foundations of the Eleusinian Mysteries can be found in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Within the hymn, Demeter travels the globe in her grief over losing Her daughter. She eventually settles at the home of Keleus. Demeter plans to make one of his sons immortal in return for his hospitality but She is interrupted. Instead, she tells Keleus to build Her a temple and altar so she can teach human beings the knowledge they need to have a good life.

That is the most told story of the origin of the Mysteries. How the Mysteries came to be Athenian, however, has its foundations in another story, which concerns the union of Eleusis with Athens. For this, you must know of Erichthonios (Erechtheus, Ἐριχθόνιος). He was the child of Hēphaistos and Athena, through Gaea, who was half man, half snake, and left in a basket by Athena, to be cared for by three of Her young attendants at the Acropolis, with clear instructions not to open the basket. They did, of course, and were scared so by the sight of either a snake in the basket, or Erichthonios' deformities, they cast themselves off of the Acropolis in terror. Yet, despite his deformities, Erichthonios became king of Athens and ruled it long and well.

Erichthonios was at war with the Eleusinians, who were helped by one Eumolpos. Eumolpos was a legendary Thracian king who established the city of Eumolpias (also called Eumolpiada) around 1200 BC (or 1350 BC, depending on the source). Needless to say, he named it after himself. He was the son of Poseidon and Khione. Khione, daughter of Boreas and Oreithyia, pregnant with Eumolpos by Poseidon, was frightened of her father's reaction so she threw the baby into the ocean. Poseidon looked after him and brought him to shore in Ethiopia where Benthesikyme, a daughter of Poseidon and Amphitrite, raised the child, who then married one of Benthesikyme's two daughters by her Ethiopian husband. Eumolpos, however, loved a different daughter and was banished because of this. He went with his son Ismaros to Thrace. There, he was discovered in a plot to overthrow King Tegyrios and fled to Eleusis.

Under Erichthonios' guidance, Eleusis was conquered and its political leadership fell to Athens. Eumolpos and his family, however, became some of the first priests of Demeter and Eumolpos became one of the founders of the Eleusinian Mysteries. He was also the person who initiated Herakles into the Mysteries. The other family which held a priesthood in the mysteries, the Kerykes, were said to have been descended from Keryx, the son of Eumolpos; though the family itself considered its ancestors to have been Hermes and Aglauros, daughter of Erechtheus, and so genuine Athenians.

Now, this is the distilled version. There are a few variations: it might be that Eumolpos' son was not called Eumolpos but Immarados and that he was killed by King Erichthonios in the war. This could also be a secon son. In some sources, Erichthonios also killed Eumolpos, and Poseidon asked Zeus to avenge His son's death. Zeus killed Erichthonios with a lightning bolt or Poseidon made the earth open up and swallow Erichthonios. As I said: semi non-mythical. Remember these names, though, they will make a reappearance in the days to come.