Bremmer, Jan N., Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World (De Gruyter, 2013), has been published now as an ‘Open Access’ book, thus downloadable to read (thanks to Larry Hurtado for the info).
The publisher states: “It gives a ‘thick description’ of the major Mysteries, not only of the famous Eleusinian Mysteries, but also those located at the interface of Greece and Anatolia: the Mysteries of Samothrace, Imbros and Lemnos as well as those of the Corybants. It then proceeds to look at the Orphic-Bacchic Mysteries, which have become increasingly better understood due to the many discoveries of new texts in the recent times. Having looked at classical Greece we move on to the Roman Empire, where we study not only the lesser Mysteries, which we know especially from Pausanias, but also the new ones of Isis and Mithras. We conclude our book with a discussion of the possible influence of the Mysteries on emerging Christianity.”
The book kan be downloaded in chapters (as pdf files), or as a whole.
If you go to Greece, studying their ancient religious traditions, Elevsis (Elefsina), ca. 30 km outside Athens, is surely a place you ought to see.
Being one of the most famous sites of the ancient mystery cults, it has a history going back to ca 700 BCE. But to have a good understanding of the site, you need to know the story behind it, that is, the story of Demeter and Kore. You can read about the legend here:
The view when you enter the Site of Eleusis. The many stones laying around gives you a small but strong impression that the entrance must have been marvelous.
This detail from the entrance gate at Eleusis made me almost hear the sound of the doors getting opened and then being closed. I surely would not have been taken inside….
The place were according to the story Hades came up from the underworld and captured Kore.
It was somewhat strange to see that at the innermost of the Hades cave, someone had placed a bouquet of some flowers and some ears of corn. Still someone worshipping Demeter?
An overview of ancient Eleusis; compare it to the model below.
This model of ancient Eleuvsis is located in the Eleuvsis museum, on site.
Part of the great hall were family and friends were on-lookers to the rituals of initiation their friends were undergoing. The room shall have been able to keep ca 3000 persons. We can still see the seats on two of the sides, but not much is left of the rest of this location.