Mystery Cults

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Mystery Cults


in antiquity, secret cults of certain divinities. Only the initiated, or mystae, participated in the cults, which consisted of a series of sequential dramatized actions illustrating the myths associated with the worshiped divinities. The dramatizations were accompanied by a particular ritual and usually by processions, incantations, and orgies.

Mystery cults were engendered by the cults of the most ancient gods, who personified death and rebirth in nature. When class society developed, some cults broke away from official religion and became secret cults. The first mystery cults grew out of ancient Oriental rituals (the cults of Osiris and Isis in Egypt and Tammuz in Babylon). There is evidence suggesting the existence of mystery cults in ancient Greece from the seventh century B.C.

Among the best known of the early mystery cults are the Eleusinian mysteries in honor of the fertility goddess Demeter and her daughter, Persephone (Kore); the Orphic mysteries, which, according to tradition, were founded by Orpheus, a mythical Thracian bard; and the Samothracian mysteries, which honored the Cabiri, patrons of seafarers. Archaeological evidence suggests that a number of Oriental mystery cults, including those of Isis, Attis, Cybele, and Mithra (Mithras), were introduced into Italy as early as the second century B.C. Near Pompeii archaeologists have excavated the Villa of Mysteries, which has a central room containing unique representations of the practices of mystery cults. Many elements of the mystery cults of late antiquity, particularly those of Isis and Mithra, were borrowed by Christianity and became an integral part of Christian religious services.


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Kern, O. Die griechischen Mysterien der klassischen Zeit. Berlin, 1927.
Maiuri, A. La villa dei misteri. Rome, 1931.
Kerenyi, K. Die Mysterien von Eleusis. Zürich, 1962.
References in periodicals archive ?
In his 2016 book, "A Listener's Guide to Free Improvisation," the music writer John Corbett helpfully reminds us that improvised music "is not a mystery cult, esoteric language, or secret handshake.
It is believed that it most likely served a cult function and may have been closely associated with Jupiter Dolichenus, a god and mystery cult that was widespread in the Roman Empire from the early Second to mid-Third centuries AD.
Active for 1,000 years, the Eleusinian Mysteries were the most important mystery cult for the Greeks, and initiation promised one a better lot in the afterlife.
This book is an informative, historical trek through a celebration of the mystery cult of Artemis at Ephesos as it changed through time.
To be sure, by using Eisner's ritual-centered visuality to refer to the ritual-sensitive viewing and framing that allows the viewer to see the divine in the conceptual framework of mystery cult, we are taking it out of its original context--its conceptual birth place being the cultural milieu of the Second Sophistic and the scopic regimes of the pilgrim Pausanias in his periegetic travelling and of Lucians viewer in Dea Syria (Eisner 2007, 1-26).
Ancient mystery cult sanctuaries are ecological food for thought in Georgia Maull's "Stream, Stone, Oikos, Polls: Sacred Space and Ancient Mystery Cult Sanctuaries." Maull illustrates how natural materials were used for both instrumental and cultic purposes in sacred sanctuaries and mundane cities (poleis), respectively.
The mystery cult, meanwhile, was a distinctively Mediterranean form of religious worship, a cult within a cult, as it were, in which esoteric beliefs withheld from the general populace were taught and secret rites performed.
Or might an eighth-planet mystery cult have actually existed, guarding itself so well that it left no trace?
They include several new versions of the Bible - "Solomon had 300 wives and several hundred porcupines", "Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread made without any ingredients" and "Christianity was just another mystery cult until Jesus was born".
The rich image we get of early Christianity is that of "a mystery cult in which same-sex love was not only idealized, [but] was an integral element of its oldest rite," a hint of which can still be located in the unexplained verses in the gospel of Mark, in which a "certain young man [neaniskos] was following [Jesus], wearing nothing but a linen cloth," who flees naked just as Jesus was being captured in the garden of Gethsemane.
The brutal sacrifice of another (animal or human) during the secret ritual of a mystery cult become the moral self-sacrifice of a person's own desires, but even more than that, the responsibility of sacrificing oneself for another, the ultimate gift of death.