Orphic Gods

Orphic Gods

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

To understand Orphic religion we have to return to the time of the ancient Greeks. Bacchus (a.k.a. Dionysus; see Greek Gods and Goddesses) was the god of music, wine, and partying. His popular worship involved Bacchanalia: drinking a lot, running naked through the woods, and doing all the things associated with a good fraternity toga party.

But extreme religions usually come with a flip side. In this case it was Orphism. Orpheus may or may not have been a historical figure. He is most famous for accompanying Jason in the Argonaut expedition, searching for the golden fleece, when Orpheus's music-making got the group out of a serious jam. (Stories written much later picture Orpheus as a wandering philosopher engaged in a search for truth and knowledge.)

But Orpheus's main claim to fame, and the reason he spawned a religion, was that he married Eurydice. She died from a serpent bite, and Orpheus was so distraught he went down into Hades to get her back. Once again his music came into play. His performance so enraptured the gods that they let her go, with the condition that she never look back while on her journey back to the surface of the world. Of course she did.

Orpheus was so angry he decided to never have anything to do with women again. Hence, a religious myth directly opposed to the lusty Dionysus and the Bacchanal.

Over the course of time Orphic teaching began to establish a number of theological patterns. Music was important, of course, and many hymns were composed. The most committed Orphists were vegetarians, and wine was used only as a sacrament. But more important, life was viewed as an endless round of pain and suffering. The goal was to escape from earthly existence to eternal life. Afterlife became very important. In a Greek form of Karmic Hinduism and Buddhism (see Hinduism; Buddhism), Orphic religion sought escape from endless incarnations of suffering. They believed the universe was created by the great god Chronos, from which is derived the word chronology, a way of ordering time. Hence, time is the field in which we suffer. Only when we go "out of time" can we be free from pain.

The rather gloomy picture Orphism presents gave the world a great gift, for out of this background grew the Greek tragedy and the religious drama. Pythagorus, patron saint of mathematicians, was a devout follower of Orphism. Plato wrote concerning the concept of soma, or soul:

The Orphic poets gave it this name with the idea that the soul is undergoing punishment for something; they think that it has the body as an enclosure to keep it safe, like a prison.

An early blues musician once wrote that there has never been a really good musician who had a happy childhood. Misery is the source of emotionally charged art. If that is the case, it helps explain Orpheus's musically ability. One song coming from the Orphic tradition is the beautiful hymn, "To Adonis":

Many-named and best of Spirits hear my prayer, Golden-Haired lover of deserts, Infusing all with joy, by all desired, Many-Formed, male and female, charmed and beautiful Adonis, You rise and set with splendid fire, the glory of the skies, Two-Horned and lovely, much wept for are you, Sweet lover of Aphrodite, rejoicing in the chase, all-graceful, Son of Persephone, It is Your fate to descend to the realm of your Mother, Then rise and race through the illustrious heavens Your temporal glory restored. Come, Blessed Adonis, bring the fruits of Earth, and in these flames delight.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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