Because I hope some of you are partaking in the Eleusinian Mysteries with us these coming days, at least a portion of this week's posts will be about the Mysteries, mostly about the little details. Today: food.

Initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries were instructed to fast each day from dawn until sunset, following the example of Demeter who would neither eat nor drink while searching for her lost daughter. Fasting, as we know, is a means of cleansing the body, a time when the body’s cells and tissues dispel impurities. More than that, it is a mental exercise of willpower and awareness. In the evenings initiates could eat and drink, except for the traditionally 'forbidden foods'. What these forbidden foods were, however, is cause for much debate.

Porphyrios, in his 'Abstinia' claims that meat, fowl, red mullet fish, red wine, apples, pomegranates, and beans were off the menu for the initiates of the Mysteries, as he says:

"In the Eleusian mysteries, likewise, the initiated are ordered to abstain from domestic birds, from fishes and beans, pomegranates and apples; which fruits are as equally defiling to the touch, as a woman recently delivered, and a dead body."

It also seems that at the entrance to the temple of Demeter at Eleusis, tablets were placed containing a list of forbidden foods. The list included several kinds of fish--the whistle-fish, gurnet, crab, and mullet. In all probabihty the whistle-fish is that known as Scicena aquila, a Mediterranean fish that makes a noise under the water which has been compared to bellowing, buzzing, purring, or whistling, the air bladder being the sound-producing organ. The whistle-fish and crab were held to be impure, the first because it laid its eggs through the mouth, and the second because it ate filth which other fish rejected. The gurnet was rejected because of its fecundity as witnessed in its annual triple laying of eggs, but, according to some riters, it was rejected because it ate a fish which was poisonous to mankind. It may well be that other fish were interdicted, but archeologists and historians agree Porphyry was probably exaggerating when he said that all fish were forbidden.

Birds bred at home, such as chickens and pigeons, were also on the banned list, as were beans and certain vegetables which were forbidden for a mystical reason which Pausanias said he dare not reveal save to the initiated. The probable reason was that they were connected in some way with the wanderings of Demeter. Pomegranates were, of course, forbidden, from the incident of the eating of the pomegranate seeds by Persephone, causing her annual return to the Underworld.

Eggs are a controversial matter. They are attested as banned foods in the Orphic Tradition, appear in lists attested to Pythagoras, and those of several other wise men. While there is no direct relation to the Eleusinian mysteries, Most--if not all--of the other foods listed as banned within the Eleusinian Mystery Tradition also appear on the lists of these other (Mystery) Traditions. As such, for me personally, I abstain from eggs as well. It makes sense seeing as they came to be through the process of a birth--something attested to being miasmic.

We do not encourage our members to go on a ten day fast, eating only ad night. What we do encourage is a one day fast, in the daylight hours of October 2, the day of the actual initiatory rite. Now, a few words of warning and wisdom: fasting is a practice that's reserved for healthy adults and non-pregnant women. It's not suitable for children, the elderly, pregnant women or anyone with medical or psychological conditions which may be triggered by a lack of food. If you're struggling with eating disorders or anything else that may be triggered by a fast, pick something that does not involve food or drink, like electronic devices. Go through the day without using a cell phone, your computer, the radio or the T.V.. Especially in a religious setting, it's the 'going without' part that matters most.