This paper argues that mystery cults constituted an optional addition to the polis religion – based on a personal decision, which complemented the traditional religious spectrum. Although the polis was exerting a crucial influence on the procedure of the festivals and the ritual practice, there was still room for individual experience. Essential was the initiation which was dramatically staged in order to make a lasting impression on the individual. During the rites the initiand experienced community, but also acquired superior knowledge, especially concerning the afterlife. Thus the mystai formed a privileged group among the citizens, distinguished by a heightened perception and awareness.