“Thrice blessed are those mortals who see these mysteries …”

Sheila quotes Sophocles’ words, as do many writers on this topic, and rightly so; they do seem underline in the mind and heart the loss we have all suffered with the forgetting of these rites.  But although we don’t know the central mystery, and almost certainly never will, at least we can fill in a little with our own sense of awe and blessedness.  Thanks to this booklet, I feel a tiny bit closer to understanding, although I cannot put that intuition into words – somehow it almost doesn’t matter.

I’ve been fascinated by mythology every since I was old enough to read and still, today, feel the old thrill and delight as I come across new material.  The tales of Demeter & Kore are a particular favourite; two goddesses, each mirroring the other, their journeys and relationships to the land, to the very existence of us all.  On a visit to Sicily I was struck anew by the centrality of this story to our ancestors, simply by the sheer number of representations of the two.  Whether originally Cretan, Sicilian or, indeed, North African, the feeling is of something very ancient and of the utmost importance.

I haven’t been to Eleusis, but had, like many, subscribed to the idea that the central mystery somehow involved the exposition of a single ear of grain.  But, as Sheila points out, most of the initiates in the Telesterion wouldn’t have been able to see it in such a vast space.  I wonder now, having thought about this some more, if the popularity of that theory didn’t perhaps reflect a wish retrospectively to connect the mystery with that at the heart of the Catholic Mass and the centrality of the bread, the body of the divine. Fascinating in this context, also, to read of the offerings of bread made from the first harvest to the Virgin Mary, continuing to this day.

But the booklet isn’t just descriptive of the sites and mysteries; it also movingly tells the story of Sheila’s own pilgrimage, with a deceptive simplicity - for me at least she elicited some hints and feelings of what might have been experienced by our ancestors. The many photographs are helpful and well described and those of the Ploutonian cave, in particular, sent shivers down my back.

Great for the armchair traveller – and would be very useful indeed to anyone planning their own visit or pilgrimage.  And thank you, Sheila – I finally know how to pronounce Eleusis!

©Geraldine Charles

The Eleusinian Mysteries: A Modern Pilgrimage, by Sheila Rose Bright, can be obtained for £5.00 plus postage. Email Sheila for details.