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Pagan and Christian Creeds

15. The Ancient Mysteries
Thus we come to a thing which we must not pass over, because it throws great
light on the meaning and interpretation of all these rites and ceremonies of the
great World-religion. I mean the subject of the Ancient Mysteries. And to this I will
give a few pages.
These Mysteries were probably survivals of the oldest religious rites of the Greek
races, and in their earlier forms consisted not so much in worship of the gods of
Heaven as of the divinities of Earth, and of Nature and Death. Crude, no doubt,
at first, they gradually became (especially in their Eleusinian form) more refined
and philosophical; the rites were gradually thrown open, on certain conditions,
not only to men generally, but also to women, and even to slaves; and in the end
they influenced Christianity deeply.[1]
[1] See Edwin Hatch, D.D., The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages on the
Christian Church (London, 1890), pp. 283-5.
There were apparently three forms of teaching made use of in these rites: these
were , things SAID; , things SHOWN; and , things PERFORMED or ACTED.[1] I
have given already some instances of things said-texts whispered for consolation
in the neophyte's car, and so forth; of the THIRD group, things enacted, we have
a fair amount of evidence. There were ritual dramas or passion-plays, of which
an important one dealt with the descent of Kore or Proserpine into the
underworld, as in the Eleusinian representations,[2] and her redemption and
restoration to the upper world in Spring; another with the sufferings of Psyche
and her rescue by Eros, as described by Apuleius[3]--himself an initiate in the
cult of Isis. There is a parody by Lucian, which tells of the birth of Apollo, the
marriage of Coronis, and the coming of Aesculapius as Savior; there was the
dying and rising again of Dionysus (chief divinity of the Orphic cult); and
sometimes the mystery of the birth of Dionysus as a holy child.[4] There was,
every year at Eleusis, a solemn and lengthy procession or pilgrimage made,
symbolic of the long pilgrimage of the human soul, its sufferings and deliverance.
[1] Cheetham, op. cit., pp. 49-61 sq.
[2] See Farnell, op. cit., iii. 158 sq.
[3] See The Golden Ass.
[4] Farnell, ii, 177.
"Almost always," says Dr. Cheetham, "the suffering of a god--suffering followed
by triumph--seems to have been the subject of the sacred drama." Then
 
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