One of the most important characteristics of the Greek religion was its educational function. The transition of the adolescent from childhood to adulthood was facilitated by a series of initiating rituals, with the temporary exclusion of the initiated from daily life a common characteristic. In their primitive form these procedures included the training of boys in hunting and of girls in basic domestic activities, such as in corn-grinding and weaving-speaning. During the Archaic period many complicated initiating processes had already been formed. Some of them were simply in the nature of a ritual, as the Apatouria in Athens. Other required some long-lasting service in a temple or in some special group, with the religious element stronger at times and the social one at others. Finally, some of the initiating rituals had already evolved into mystery cults.

The most definite rituals of initiation are known from Doric Greece, especially from Crete, Sparta and Thebes. Although our sources are of the Classical period and do not specifically refer to the religious element, it is clear that the practices that are described were dominant in the Archaic period and closely related to the festivals of the gods.

Crete is a characteristic example, where men were organized in clubs and participated in communal meals that took place in the andreion. The initiation of the adolescent into manhood included, among others, a mock abduction of the youth by an adult, as well as a pretend chase of that person by the boy's family. Nevertheless, his choice and the kidnap was an honour for the boy. Then the man and the adolescent retired to the countryside for two months and the initiation included hunting, political and sexual education. The institutionalised homosexuality was rather rare, even in the Doric tradition, although the myths of the abduction of Ganymedes by Zeus and Hyacinthus by Zephyrus had already spread to the rest of Greece. However, in Crete its role was decisive for maintaining the cohesion of the community. When the two lovers came back from the countryside, the older one had to give the younger one a suit of armour, an ox and a wine cup, thus providing him with a certain self-reliance. After this, the unmarried young men lived in groups, which were called "agelai", which they abandoned only in the case of marriage.

The transition of boys from girl's clothes to nudity also involved a ritual of initiation. Such was the case of Ekdysia in Phaestos and of Gymnopaidiai in Sparta. The same principle is also met in the story of Achilles in Skyros and that of Theseus' arrival in Athens. In Sparta a part of initiation was the celebrated krypteia. During this ritual selected young men were hidden and lived as thieves for a year. The practical importance of the specific venture was to assist the Spartan authority by killing helots without detection. Another cruel ritual of initiation included the whipping of boys at the altar of Artemis Orthia. Its context probably aimed at the definition of the age hierarchy, but in the imperial years ended up as a "tourist attraction".

For girls the most usual form of initiation was their stay (consecration) in a sanctuary, such as that of Artemis Brauronia, for a long period where the dedicated girls were called "arktoi". In Kea the girls that were at the age of marriage spent their day in the temple meeting young men and at night they had to find the time to do the housework.

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