Mystery Religion

Mystery Religion

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Witchcraft/Wicca is a mystery religion similar to the ancient Greek mysteries. A mystery in this sense is a rite or religion that is kept secret from all but its initiates, who have been trained, prior to the revelations of the rite, by a heirophant, or "revealer of holy things."

There are various parts to a mystery religion initiation: a catharsis, or purification; a palingenesis, or symbolical death and rebirth, with the imparting of new knowledge; a heiros gamos, or sacred marriage with the deity; an orgia, or overpowering emotion, leading to an ekstasis, or getting out of oneself. (The Greek Theo Smyrnaeus referred to this as "the bliss of being god-beloved and sharing the life of the gods.") There is also a final triumphal procession.

Lawson suggests that the reason for secrecy in the mysteries was due, in part, to the intrusion of the Achaeans upon the Pelasgians, whose worship of Demeter was the most holy part of their religion. The Pelasgians would not accept the Achaeans into their rites, hence the performance of them in secret. Yet in Crete these same rites were open to all.

The leitmotif of the mysteries was the marriage of mortals with the gods. In the earliest period for which there is a written record, the principle deities of the mysteries were Demeter and her daughter Kore. (Kore was never styled Persephone in the official language of Eleusis.) The third deity, god of the lower world, was known by the names Pluto and Eubouleus, according to the Homeric hymn to Demeter (circa seventh century BCE) and reaffirmed in an ancient hymn of Pamphos. One view is that Dionysus entered at a somewhat later period, due to the great influence of the Orphic sects, while another view is that he was a part of some inner mystery.

Besides the greater mysteries at Eleusis, there were lesser mysteries at Agrae, on the banks of the Ilissus. Sacrifices were made to the same great goddesses at both. The Oriental mysteries associated with Attis, Cybele, Isis, and Sabzius, were akin to these and came into later Greece and early imperial Rome. However, their orgiastic ecstasy was more violent, with emasculation practiced by the devotees of Attis. Religious dramas were an important part of all the mysteries.

N AG A L I S M see SERPENT

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