Non-Demeter Mystery Cults

08/10/2007 12:58:00

Mystery cults in general Definition of mysteries • “esoteric initiation ceremonies connected with agricultural cycles and death” • initiation: passage into new social group, new state of being o birth, childhood > adulthood, marriage, death • esoteric: concerned with a chosen few o initiation a personal choice o generally outside oikos, polis control  exception: Demeter = “mainstream” mysteries o include secret rituals (arcane)  often underground or at night o roles for marginalized groups (women, slaves) comparative perspective • sacred space for initiated: Jewish Temple, Latter Day Saints • acts, words not revealed to uninitiated: fraternities / sororities • occur in ancient Near East, Greece, Rome o Greece transmits concepts across Mediterranean Typical elements of mystery cults • Procession: dramatizes passage into the sacred • Sacred space (telesterion < tejos, “end, goal”)

o Separation from oikos, polis Initiation: adoption into cult o Ritual act (dromenon): re-enacts suffering of deity o Explanation (legomenon, mythos): rationalizes the ritual

Theology/philosophy behind mystery cults Rites of passage: aspects unsatisfied by polis, oikos rituals • Psychology of growing up, marrying, parenting, dying • Preserve personal identity in afterlife (polis, oikos, collective) Death and rebirth: analogy of agricultural cycle • Figurative vs. literal: reincarnation, or passage to higher plane Reincarnation: rebirth of soul in new body (300-year cycles) • Goal of some mysteries: to escape reincarnation Laws of universe flexible (cp. Magic) • Initiation grants mortals a kind of immortality Mysteriosophy: use of themes from mysteries in philosophy • Ex: Plato’s cave Ancient Greek conceptions of the afterlife Soul (psyche): separable from body (immortal to some) • Resides in underworld without consciousness Ghosts: souls able to affect the living

Rituals: dead attend rituals; need to propitiate) Inconsistent with psyche in Hades Punishments and rewards Paradise: the Elysian Fields • Reserved to those with corrections Hell: Tartaros • Evolution of reasons for punishments (Odyssey to Pindar) Dionysiac religion Typical features of Dionysiac religion • Male worshippers; female worshippers (Bacchantes, Maenads) • Association with drinking, death, the wilderness o Ex: Anthesteria, “mainstream,” polis-based Dionysiac cult Euripides Bacchae o Dramatizes introduction of Dionysiac rites into the polis Dionysiac mysteries Dionysos Zegreus: alternative genealogy and creation • Son of Persephone and Zeus • Placed on Zeus’ throne • Hera induces Titans to eat Dionysos • Dionysos reborn from Zeus’ thigh: o Dying/reviving god •

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Zeus blasts Titans: ashes > humans Dualistic view of humanity o Pure soul: Dionysos’ heart o Impure body: Titans’ ashes • Dionysos and Persephone help souls o Provide solace o Escape death/rebirth cycle Dionysiac mystery rituals Initiation • Procession to telesterion (often in caves) • Ritual suffering, fear o Real: brand, lash (?: info often from hostile sources) o Symbolic: touch snake Ritual costumes, drinking, dancing, music Offerings • Toy votives (young god); snakes, phalluses: seek fertility (?) Goal of initiation and cult • “release from sufferings”: mental anguish, fear of death (?) • rebirth/ orphic-dionysias mysteries • myth: frees wife Eurydike from underworld with music •

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o katabasis: charms Persephone, returns from underworld • loses wife or ascent (cp. Lot’s wife) • renounces women, charms animals with music • is torn apart by Maenads; head floats down river singing Orpheus spreads word of Dionysiac mystery cult • Orpheus’ song to Persephone = Dionysiac theogony • Dionysiac literature: “Orphic Hymns” Special diet (no eggs, beans, wine): reincarnation; atonement • Absence of wine: distance from other Bacchic cults Goal of initiation and rituals • Transmigration of souls Orphic gold leaves (instructions for initiates in underworld) • Special access to underworld powers (Persephone, Hades) • Ex: hexameters on gold leaf from 4th century BCE Greek grave o Riddles: way to communicate secrets Pythagorean mysteriosophy Historical figure (late 8th c. BCE) • From Sanos: active in Greek south Italy • Politics (fate of Pythagorean party c450) Myth: travels to underworld (katabasis)

Retrieves sacred doctrines o Followers (Pythagoreans) preserve Teachings: focus on reincarnation • Secrets of universe through arithmetic (theorem) Rituals (obscure: evidence from hostile sources) • Diet: vegans; no beans or wine (cp. Orphics) • Interpreting sacred texts: enlightenment through knowledge • Organized as loose brotherhoods Near east and Egyptian imports Kybele / Magna Mater • In Greece by 600 BCE; assimilated to Demeter and Aphrodite • NE mother goddess and her lover, Attis / Adonis o Lover shared by Kybele/Aphrodite and Persephone (seasons) Rites ecstatic dance, sacrifice, prophecy o Large role for women • Initiation: fast, procession, o Rocky Mountain oysters, blood baptism Egyptian Isis and lover Osiris • Major cult in helleistic period • Myth: Orisirs killed, Isis resureects o They bring agriculture to mankind • Rites: abstianence, feasts • Initiation: symbolic death and rebirth o Goal of immortality •

08/10/2007 12:58:00

08/10/2007 12:58:00