Mysticism: from the Eleusinian Mysteries to Today


  • Maria Kellis


In the Hellenistic world, ‘mystical’ referred to “secret” religious rituals, specifically starting with the Eleusinian Mysteries in Ancient Greece. The mysteries were taken up in the same form in the Roman Empire and then morphed, as the dominant religion in the West shifted from the Olympians to the Way. This paper first focuses on the original meaning of the word, specifically as it refers to the Eleusinian Mysteries, the most significant Pan-Hellenic transcendence initiation ceremony aimed at accepting death and opening the consciousness into the superhuman understanding. The origins of the concept of mysteries, exploring in particular the Eleusinian mysteries, are briefly described, by investigating accounts from classical texts and archeological evidence. In the beginning of the last century the term mysticism reappeared and evolved in definition in religious studies and an account of the understanding is presented in the second part. The definition of the term “experience” is complex in general and even more complex for a term such as “mystical experience”. The last part of this paper explores the idea of what constitutes a mystical experience and how it relates to the accounts from the Eleusinian Mysteries. This paper uses literary and scholarly sources, in Ancient Greek, Greek and English. 

Author Biography

Maria Kellis

Maria Kellis is a graduate student in the college of religious studies at Mahidol University, Thailand. She can be reached at: maria.