amwriting, The Crows

The Eleusinian Mysteries

CW: Genitalia, probably not in the way you expect

Extract from Fairwood House: A History, by Harold Bishop (1987)

Sir Peter Sauvant (d. 1892) was the leader of an occult group who called themselves the Eleusinians, after the ancient rites performed each year in Ancient Greece by the devotees of Demeter and Persephone, based at Eleusis. Such an agrarian cult suited the surroundings of the East Sussex coast, but the name was a pretty deceit and had less to do with the harvest as it did with tampering with things men ought to leave alone.

The Journals of Sir Peter Sauvant, eds. P. Cheung, M. Dewser and C. Rickard, (Pagham-on-Sea History Society Publication 27, 2019)

12 January 1888

I have today persuaded C and H[1] to join our little group, which in truth was hardly a difficult feat. The harvest last year was worse than the one before, and the farmers are becoming desperate. I am quite sure that C is a skeptic, but is persuaded at least that such ‘frivolities’ can hardly do more harm. H is, I believe, amenable to the idea that something might come of our little experiments. After much research of my own into the Ancient Greek rites,[2] combined with some passages from certain rare texts kept in the British Library and British Museum,[3] I have all the notes I need to put together a rite of our own. Admittedly, not all the incantations relate to Persephone or Demeter, but with such sparse material at my disposal I dare say the extraneous sections can be adapted.

Mrs T,[4] a most sensible woman and not given to flights of fancy, has looked over my drafts and made some invaluable observations. It seems fitting that she be the one to lead us in our first attempt, and while we have no temple, I feel that the cellars of Fairwood would be adequate. We will begin in the garden, of course, and offer libation at the well.[5] My ancestors have held the well in high regard for generations, and although I myself am not a Believer in the powers of the well, I suppose I am of the same mind as C in that regard, namely, that it can hardly hurt.

We will meet once a fortnight to prepare for the rites, and I must coach Mrs T in her part if she is to be our Priestess. Our first attempt will be on the first Saturday in March. Everyone is agreed on the need for secrecy, since the revival of rites like these will bring with them their fair share of scorn and unwelcome scrutiny.

28 January 1888

Mrs T came as directed – we spent an hour and a quarter on the wording of certain passages. It is a daunting task. I reviewed my notes from my last visit to the British Museum. We may be able to work in another section that I thought irrelevant, but Mrs T has pointed out the symbolism of certain phrases[6] that I must confess had eluded me upon the first reading. Shall try within our own rite.

3 February 1888

Mrs T came again, as with the changes to the rite it is important that she get the pacing and inflection right. We are still considering what one part of the rite should consist of in order to convey the deep symbolism inherent in the final act. The premise is that the climactic moment in the cellar will be the cutting of a sheaf of corn: those inducted into the Eleusinian Society should have had their minds so opened by the preceding acts of symbolism that they will at once see the full mystery in that final act, while for the uninitiated, there is no greater mystery than the cutting of a sheaf of corn. Without the full participation in the liturgy and the rites as a whole, it will not be possible to understand the act nor the great power within it. Nor will it be possible for one so inducted and enlightened to explain what they have seen and understood to an uninitiate. It is not something that can be rationally expressed in mere words but must be seen to be understood. I fear that we will not be able to achieve such lofty ideals on the first attempt and that our Society will stumble at the first hurdle. I have hidden my doubts from Mrs T, who is an excellent woman but, as I am learning, has a horror of failure and will not tolerate the thought of this venture failing before it has begun.

11 February 1888

Mrs T came by to rehearse the procession, but since we were a small number this day we rehearsed only for a short time. Mrs T last to leave. She confided to me that the losses they incurred last year and the year before are driving R. T.[7] to distraction and he is already in far more debt that I realised. Mrs T most distracted herself: she found my comfort most beneficial.[8]

[Next few entries redacted by editor: see note 8]

20 February 1888

…Mrs T persuaded me by means of [redacted by the editor] that we are ready to move the first Mystery to the 1st. How will I look R. T. in the eye after several weeks of looking his wife in the [redacted by Sir Peter] [redacted by the editor] ? Fortunately, BB[9] has insisted on cloaks and masks.

29 February 1887

That it should fall on a leap year must surely give our rites added significance, although my hands shake with nerves and excitement as I write. For we perform the first rite tomorrow! All of our hard work will culminate in a marvelous spectacle, and more than that, I feel it will have an effect. I know the others are still skeptical, but even C is showing signs of enthusiasm and is becoming uncommonly defensive on the subject, which betrays his investment. I feel sure that we – all of us – will walk away changed in some way, and for the better. I have constructed the words, but when they are brought to life and performed for the first time, taken into the lives and souls of people other than myself, they will become something far more than I could have imagined alone. Should it not make a difference to the soil, should Demeter and Persephone be nothing but myth, should nothing hear our prayers and incantations or answer us with profound understanding, our minds will be open and we will See. And now, to bed! But I shall barely sleep for thinking of it.[10]

3 March 1888

Oh God! The horror! The unspeakable horror! I can barely put pen to paper to write what we saw, but I must, or the memory will fade and I will look back on it as a half-forgotten nightmare, unable to trust my own recollections.

The libations were poured out over the well. We were all present and in masks and robes as agreed, which made H and L quite giddy but under Mrs T’s stern instruction they behaved themselves and performed their parts with a more becoming seriousness. C, BB, G and GW were tense. I think they felt the pressure of the moment quite keenly: the hour had come! The moment of crisis was upon us!

We processed in order, chanting the words (committed to memory, of course) in perfect unison. I cannot begin to describe the kind of feelings that came over me. Before we had even re-entered the house it was as if I had been transported, my mind was not fully my own, and I experienced a sense of weightlessness and the instinctive knowledge that this was a shared experience. The words, as I had hoped, while familiar to me, took on new shapes and layers of meaning hitherto unseen.

We passed around the side of the house and through to the dining room, where we paused for the second symbolic act, and this too took on a greater meaning than its literal, mundane form. The fruit we offered in a bowl was more than fruit: the plump, juicy mounds became something else entirely, and it was in this room that our orgiastic frenzy began…[11]

[next section redacted by the editors]

…It is only now I see that introducing sections of ancient texts that I did not fully understand was a terrible error. For not only did we indulge ourselves so shamefully – we finished together in a climax like clockwork, all at once in a shuddering chime as the clock struck the hour! Oh, the bells! The bells! Even now I cannot bear them! And we rose to continue, as if nothing more had happened than a reel at a dance!

The liturgy continued and it seemed as though the words had taken on solidity now, while we were aethereal, [sic] no longer of this plane. My own vitality seemed drawn out of me, as if sucked into the wood and stone of the house, leaching away into the soil. We came to the cellar, our collective consciousness thus elevated and altered, and prepared for the final rite – the moment the Mystery would be revealed to us, and we would See the Truth! Oh the anticipation! It built up within me as the [redacted by the editor] and I could barely contain my excitement.

Finally, in the perfect moment, Frances stood with her shears high, and cut the golden stalk. Oh! What wonders we expected to see! And as she held the sheaf high in the candlelight, there came a breeze from another world, the scent of pomegranates… oh but the horror! For when that breeze whispered through the cellar and Frances turned, the sheaf aloft, and we saw what was in her firm pale hand…

C gave a great shout, our rapture broken.

Frances dropped the offending thing with a shrill scream, blood flecked across her robe and soaking into the floor.

For O! There was no corn!

And lying on the flagstone floor there was only the severed member of a man, only it belonged to none who were with us in that cellar room!


1 ‘C’ is presumably Mr Frederick Causley of Causley Farm, while ‘H’ is probably his wife, Hannah Causley.

2 Sir Peter is referring here to the cult of Demeter and Persephone, whose rites were performed at Eleusis and referred to as the Eleusinian Mysteries. They were thought to be fertility rites, and performed by a priestess. We do not know the form these rituals took, but we do know that those who took part in them were seemingly changed for the better and no longer feared death.See: Joshua J. Mark, ‘The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites’, in Ancient History Encyclopaedia (2012), https://www.ancient.eu/article/32/the-eleusinian-mysteries-the-rites-of-demeter/

3 The editors have failed to ascertain exactly which texts these might have been.

4 Mrs T is most likely Mrs Frances Thomas, the wife of a gentleman farmer well-known to the baronet.

5 The well in question is the wishing well at the back of the property, which is surrounded by family superstition. If items of great personal value are thrown in, a wish will come true. The well apparently makes a distinction between items of great financial value and great sentimental value – the family legends state that sentiment wins over worth. The well was boarded up after a particularly tragic incident in 1917, where the then-baronet’s daughter tried to throw her first-born child into the well upon learning her husband and three brothers had been killed. The child was rescued by the quick-thinking of the gardener, and Adeline Lambert-Sauvant had a stay in a private sanitorium until 1922. The well was boarded up and never used again.

6 The liturgy itself and most of Sir Peter’s notes have been destroyed, but we can surmise that he is referring to sections of a poem or incantation discovered during his research trips. We are not sure what this was, but given the context of later passages in his journal (most of which are regrettably irrelevant to the Eleusinians and so are not reproduced here, although they would fascinate sex historians) they probably refer to procreation or are overtly erotic in tone and content.

7 R. T. would be Richard Thomas, Mrs Frances Thomas’s husband.

8 From this point onwards, Frances Thomas makes daily visits to Fairwood and Sir Peter’s entries become increasingly pornographic. He seems to have recorded their encounters to titillate himself after the fact, but was not, unfortunately, a gifted writer of erotica. These entries have been omitted to spare the reader the editors’ own confused mixture of baffled amusement at some of the anatomical descriptions and profound boredom at the extended passages describing the mechanics.

9 BB might be Bernard Beddowes, one of Sir Peter’s school friends known to be visiting him from London at this time, but elsewhere in his journals Sir Peter refers to Rev. Albert Boniface, the vicar of St Michael’s (the parish church of Pagham-on-Sea) as ‘Brother Berty’.

10 The next entry is the 3 March and its first lines have an edge of inevitability about them…

11The use of the word ‘mounds’ in the previous sentence to describe fruit erotically is all the reader need know about Sir Peter’s style, and the extended passage describing his feverish recollections of the orgy is best left to the darkest corner of the reader’s imagination since, as the editors have discovered, it cannot be unread.

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