The Telesterion

Once located in the city of Eleusis before Athens took over, the Telesterion now lays in crumbling ruins. Like other ancient ruins, it's not always definite what has happened in such places, what history took place at this setting, and how much longer these ruins will remain. Most of the histories for these crumbing places are held in written documents-from first person accounts and descriptions to pictures of past excavations. However, the Telesterion presents a pragmatic debacle. We know that the Eleusian Mysteries took place in the Telesterion, but we do not know what actually happened during these rites since the initiates were forbidden to talk about it. We know that these Mysteries were in honor of Demeter and her daughter Kore, a type of ritual which symbolized Kore's dissent and emergence from the Underworld. The rest of what classicists think has happened here is based on these ruins and what they thought this building looked like in the past in its glory. For the background of this page, it is the image of how the scholars think the Telesterion might have looked based on the ruins. But just imagine what these ruins could tell us if walls could talk....

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Figure 1

Depicted to the left is Figure 1, a picture of the actual ruins back in 2003.  Starting at the bottom left of the picture, there is a single stone layer on an elevated platform from where the pillars are. there are two bricks placed side by side before the bricks continue behind the left brick. On this longer stretch of brick wall, you can see how the wall was not just a single brick layer at one point since the middle of the wall still has two to three layers still stacked on top of the foundation wall. Near the back continuation of this wall, there are what appears to be either several sets of steps leading to the bottom floor, or these are ruined examples of ancient Greek bleachers. Once on the bottom floor, there are numerous indications of columns or pillars. Starting on the rights side of pillars, there are a total of six remaining pillar foundations. To the left of this row, there is also indications of another six pillars in mirror reflection of the right hand side row.

Continuing to the left of the picture, the bottom third of the picture appears to be elevated. There are two separated rocks  near what looks like another brick wall that would exclude the two spaces-the upper and lower levels.  The land then becomes uneven and hilly. There are two prominent ruins on the left side of the picture. These two remaining structures mirror each other while there are two more markers for pillars on the right hand side of them. This theme of scattered stone structures continues back through two-thirds of the picture until houses appear in the distance of this historical site. There are several houses which now encompasses the ruins. Beyond the layers of houses and scattered green trees (tress which are absent inside the ruins) , there is a body of water with ship on the right hand side as well as an emerging ship creeping in on the left hand side. Even further beyond the separating water is the outline of green, hilly land.

When a Place Loses Purpose

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Figure 2

Ruinous. Destroyed. Crumbled. Weathered.

Reverse the sun dial.

           Drive your sun chariot backwards,

                       sun god Helios.

           Tock, Tick.

                          Tock, Tick.

                                     Tock, Tick.

                                                     Tock, Tick.

The cracks begin to seal. The crumbles begin

to stack upon each other once again. What

was now destroyed now becomes new again

as demonstrated in Figure 2. 

Yet Helios cannot reverse his chariot rides. 

Tick, tock.

                 Tick, tock.

                                    Tick, tock.

                                                        Tick, tock.

                            Between harsh weather and human interactions, the once solid foundation began to crumble to ruins.

Please take time to listen to the Telesterion mourn its loss

                  of its identity-it's original and sacred purpose                                    bestowed on it by the ancient Greeks.

                   

 

 

(brief note: while yes, men did take part in these                            mysteries as well, I opted to exclude them from

the practice for my narrative purpose to exploit more misery for the ruins.)

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Figure 3

                                                                                                                     Here I remain-broken, run downed, ruined, in shambles

                                                                                                                    scattered across this barren Greek earth. Like Atlas, I                                                                                                                          silently endure the weight of my past as each new                                                                                                                                tourist blinds me with their flashing camera and naively                                                                                                                      stomps upon my sacred floor. Yet Atlas deserved his                                                                                                                            punishment handed down by Zeus. He led the army of                                                                                                                        Titans against the Olympians after all. It's

                                                                                                                    fitting that he should hold up the world he very much                                                                                                                          wanted to destroy. But what did I do to deserve this                                                                                                                            ruin? What crime have I committed against the gods                                                                                                                          that would allow me to crumble, to lose all that I held                                                                                                                          dear? I upheld my duty to the humans, played my part                                                                                                                        in their rites, so why did they allow me to fall from                                                                                                                                grace?

 

I once was famous, prestigious, an attraction for all the women who wanted to gain the knowledge. They even had a dedicated pathway leading from Athens to the sacred city of Eleusis, a sacred place much like myself that has been abandoned. This pathway was known as the Sacred Way. Along this dirt path were temples and trees, places where the attendees and the mystoi (Greek word for those who were to be initiated into the cult) would partake in festivals, dancing, and drinking-all in preparation for the main event where I now lay in defeat. People from every social class would parade on the pathway including servants, kings, masters, and most importantly the women. I would hear them march towards me, hear the chanting as they sacrificed piglets to Demeter, hear the exchange of coin to the guides. But much like me, my Sacred Way is only sacred in name only. This path has been overtaken by industrial buildings, suburbs, and that horrible monastery that foreshadowed my demise. This once symbolic path which mimicked Kore's dissent into the Underworld now represents not only modern arrogance but also my own pathway into ceasing to exist on this earth.

 

Once all these tourists leave me for the night, I can still feel the earth vibrate as the people marched towards me. I can still recall their singing and chanting as they approached the courtyard. I smell the ashy smoke from the freshly lit torches, that remarkable burning sensation of the sparks hitting my ground. I remember feeling awe and amazed as the number of mystoi increased each year, how the humans had to reconstruct me several times in order to increase my capacity for all my new sisters. Hard to believe how a small ritual had turned into a major practice where thousands of women a year wanted to take part. I remember the excitement of the sun setting, the signal for the telete (the initiation rites) to begin. I allowed permission for the women to be guided through my inner gates, to enter upon my private property. The mystoi followed the hierophant, the priest who led the ritual, who guided them into a hall filled with pots of poppies and wheat, objects which were sacred to Mother Demeter. Following the hall, I felt as they maneuvered inside my darkened space until they came upon the cave, my own sacred entrance into the Underworld. Here the hierophant would initiate the mixing of the kykeon, a wine consisting of barley, water, mint, and most importantly, penny royal. Several chants filled my chambers as the women filled their stomachs of this concoction. Once the drink was gone, all my sisters were then led into the cave to my anaktoron, my inner sacred space where I protected the holy statue and relics of our Mother. It was also in this space where I offered them seats, layers of stone bleachers gradually creeping up my walls in order for them to have a clear view for what they were about to witness.

The hierophant continued to chant as I felt Mother's presence brush

the inside of my anaktoron. However, I was not the only one to sense

her. My new sisters began to rub their arms as their breath began to

fill the chilly air. They put their hands to the side of their heads as I

started to spin around them. The phasmata (ghosts) became present,

swirling within my walls. And then she came-our great sister Kore. Her

blush pink dress loosely fell across her body, a graceful sheer veil

protected her perfect hair ringlets. She held a golden goblet, giving

a toast to our expanding family as she granted them the sacred

knowledge for a better life, and more importantly, a better afterlife.

However, I dare not say more about the events which happened

once Kore arrived-I am already too close to death to risk exposing

what happened. Yet I will let you know how the mystoi would emerge

from me, returning from my version of the Underworld. The other people

who came along with them on the Sacred Way remained in the courtyard,

long awaiting their arrival. I relished how the people would commence the

festivities once again in celebration of the knowledge Kore presented to my

sisters. I remembered how I would smirk when I heard an ignorant male ask

my sister what exactly they saw. I would stand proudly as I witnessed my sister merely smile at their arrogance, replying how she could not tell him, or anyone else for that matter. This night would only belong to us-this was our bond, our connection. We had shared a once in a lifetime experience together, a sacred experience granted to us by Mother Demeter, and therefore, they become tied to me and what I have provided for them. Wherever my sisters would travel, they would take a part of me with them and what we shared.

 

But look at me now. I have been forgotten, abandoned, disgraced, by both my once proud sisters and our Mother. My once hardened bones are not just merely breaking; they have all been broken. Out of my many powerful pillars, none of them remain standing more than a couple feet high from the ground. My protective walls have vanished, leaving my innards on public display for the sadistic tourists to poke and prod as if I was a corpse ready for an autopsy. I am exposed, naked. Why can't these people understand the pain I feel, the embarrassment I was forced into in my current ruinous state? And why, for gods sake, do men feel like it's acceptable to enter me without my permission? I remained pure from the touch of man for a thousands of years. Why is it forgivable for men to come into me when I don't even have the to ability to close my gate...or even have a gate to close anymore? I am truly ruinous-broken, exposed, and violated.

 

Yet every time I see a woman enter my boundaries, a small flutter of hope fills me. For example, I once felt a young flip-flopped woman walk across my dusty floor, hands gently brushing against my wounds. When her hand touched me, flashbacks of my sisters came to me, how they would trace their hands on my walls as they follow my paths in my dimmed hallways. I felt as she unconsciously followed the path of the mystoi, through my hallway and to my anaktoron as if guided by a spirit. I felt the pressure of her body as she carefully sat down on my bleachers like so many had before her. How familiar this all felt to me. But my hope always leaves me as these women pull out their phones and snap a selfie, snapping photographic evidence of my ruin, taking this once in a lifetime experience into something portable, something she now has photographic evidence that she experience,d a photograph which would allow her friends to experience the same thing as well.

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Figure 4

How could I have been so foolish? As if these women understand what I had provided for women, as if that flip-flopped woman knew where to walk on purpose. I see all the women smile for the camera nowadays in order to remember their time here in Greece, a smile to send to their families and friends. Yet I remember making women smile for a different reason. They didn't smile to share me-they smiled to keep me a secret. But I continue to remain in ruin, waiting for the day when a woman would come to me to gain the knowledge of Kore once again. Maybe her distant relative was one of my mystoi, one of my family. Maybe this woman would come, would walk my dissolving paths, would feel the power of Demeter that once surrounded me. Maybe her distant relative had passed along what she had experienced, what secret knowledge we had shared together. Maybe this woman had come to pay her respects to me, to thank me for my services that I bestowed on her ancestor. This is just a fantasy though. My sisters would never break their vow of secrecy. But if one of them did, I would not be angry at them. I would thank them, thank them because they helped keep me alive.

 

                                                                                                     Yet here I stubbornly remain despite my shame. I am no                                                                                                                        longer sacred. I stay here as simple debris in the way for                                                                                                                        these arrogant humans. I continuously watched as they                                                                                                                          cut down my surrounding trees, how they degraded my                                                                                                                        Sacred Way with their industrial buildings, how their noisy                                                                                                                      commercial metal ships now pollute my once pristine                                                                                                                            water. I watch as their houses have slowly crept closer and                                                                                                                      closer to where my walls once stood. They are like                                                                                                                                  vultures circling around me, waiting for my death to                                                                                                                                completely devour me. They are waiting for my complete                                                                                                                      death to build another superficial mall, another fast food                                                                                                                      chain to make them fatter, another apartment complex as                                                                                                                      a temporary band aid to fix the overpopulation problem.                                                                                                                       I am merely a nuisance to them now. And I pray to Demeter that she allows me to remain a nuisance for as long as possible. If these humans, especially these men, wish to treat me in this way, this way as a mere tourist attraction, then I pray I stay in their way of “progression” as their divine punishment for degrading me to such a ruinous state.

 

But do not fear, you ignorant descendants. Soon, very soon, too soon, I will be eradicated just like you want. The last of my crumbling bones will turn into dust whether from your intervention or from the weather. The placard which states my identity will be removed, the last remaining marker of the glory I once had. I will then only exist in your disgusting selfies but you will not see my repulsion to this idea of taking pictures in such a sacred site. Sure, diagrams and models of what I once looked like in my former glory will grace the pages of textbooks and scholarly journals published for those who care about my past function, but soon those books will be covered in dust and those scholars who wish to find information about me will be unable to. Generations will pass, as time always moves forward. I truly will be insignificant in the near future. People won't even care to take those offensive selfies with me. You will build upon me-transforming me in such a way you never had before. But maybe my new look will bring Mother Demeter to visit me once again...if she ever craves a cheeseburger and fries, that is.

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Figure 5

References

Background: 

Krumwiede, Keith. Plan of Telesterion of Demeter, Eleusis. Archive of Affinities, Photo.https://www.pinterest.com/

     pin/422142165051145540/.

Figure 1: Gill, David. Telesterion. Eleusis, December 2003, http://www.davidgill.co.uk/attica/eleusis/eleusis_2726.htm.

Figure 2: Model of the Eleusian Sanctuary during the Roman Period. Alchetron, 25 June18, https://alchetron.com/Telesterion#References.

Figure 3: Temple, historic ruins. Telesterion, 2017, http://wikimapia.org/7155427/Telesterion.

Figure 4: Ninnion Tablet. Wikipedia, 11 October 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninnion_Tablet.

Figure 5: Adams, John Paul. The West Side of the Telesterion, with the steps. Demeter: The Cult at Eleusis, 23 January 

     2010, http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/demeter2.html.

Video: Dean, David. "Eleusianian Mysteries-reading for the Beyondness of Things." Youtube, uploaded by David Dean, 19 June 2020,

     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69fsDu8J8bQ&t=14s.

 

Hofmann, Albert, Ruck, Carl A., & Wasson, R. Gordon. The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries. North Atlantic Books, 2008.