THEOSOPHY, Vol. 27, No. 4, February, 1939
(Pages 147-153; Size: 20K)
(Number 48 of a 59-part series)
THE GREEK MYSTERIES
AT the time of the early Third Race, high Intelligences from previous periods of evolution incarnated upon this globe in order to form a nursery for future Adepts. These "Sons of Will and Yoga" taught infant humanity the arts and sciences and laid the first foundations for those ancient civilizations which still puzzle our modern scholars. Some of the men instructed by these Divine Teachers preserved their knowledge in all its purity. Others materialized and degraded it. By the time the first Atlanteans appeared, mankind had already separated into two distinct divisions -- the righteous and the unrighteous. The former worshipped the invisible spirit of Nature, a ray of which they felt within themselves. The latter separated themselves from the Great Mother, anthropomorphized her natural forces, and established the dark beginnings of all those subsequent religions which, as a Teacher says, "are the chief cause of nearly two-thirds of the evils that pursue humanity." This simple fact affords a clue to the origin of evil by showing that man himself separated the One from its two contrasting aspects, and must continue to reap the consequences until he himself repairs his work.
After the submersion of the last remnant of Atlantis some 12,000 years ago, an impenetrable veil of secrecy was thrown over the sacred teachings lest again they be desecrated. It was this secrecy which led to the re-establishment of the Mysteries, to preserve the ancient teachings for the coming generations under the veil of symbol and allegory.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Mysteries did not originate either in Egypt or in Greece, but can be traced at least to pre-Vedic India. The Greek Mysteries were the last surviving relics of the archaic wisdom enacted under the guidance of high Initiates. With their loss, the Dark Ages of Europe began.
Within the sacred crypts of the Mystery Schools the hidden secrets of nature and man were unfolded. Clement of Alexandria says that the evolution of the entire universe was divulged in the Greater Mysteries, "for in them was shown to the initiated Nature and all things as they are." Their moral value was stressed by Epictetus, while Plato asserted that their real object was to restore the soul to its primordial purity, that state of perfection from which it had fallen.
Herodotus informs us that the Mysteries were introduced into Greece by Orpheus, the son of Apollo, from whom he received his seven-stringed lyre, or the sevenfold mystery of initiation. Although Orpheus is commonly described as a "mythological" character,This alone may be depended upon, from general assent, that there formerly lived a person named Orpheus, who was the founder of theology among the Greeks; the first of prophets and the prince of poets; who taught the Greeks their sacred rites and mysteries, and from whose wisdom the divine muse of Homer and the sublime theology of Pythagoras and Plato flowed. (Thomas Taylor: Mystical Hymns of Orpheus.)Orpheus was a generic title, the name of one of those early instructors of the Third Race, which passed from teacher to pupil for untold generations. The Greek Orpheus is identified with Arjuna, the disciple of Krishna, who went around the world establishing the Mysteries. The word Orpheus, which means the "dark skinned," points to the Indo-Aryan ancestry of that Teacher, while the purely Eastern character of his philosophy indicates the real source of the wisdom of Greece.
According to Orpheus, all things may be traced back to a great Principle to which men have tried to give a name, although it is really indescribable and ineffable. Following the Egyptian symbolism, Orpheus speaks of this Principle as "thrice-unknown darkness, in the contemplation of which all knowledge is refunded into ignorance." Proclus, one of the most scholarly commentators on the philosophy of Orpheus, says he taught that a progeny of principles issued from the original Principle, each one of which was stamped with the occult characters of Divinity.
The Orphic system describes the Day and Night of Brahmâ as the Great Year of the Universe, at the end of which "Kronos squares the account of the gods, and re-assumes dominion of the most primeval Darkness." Orpheus declares that man's evolution is accomplished by means of innumerable reincarnations. Plutarch expresses the opinion that the myth of Bacchus, which was enacted in the Orphic Mysteries, "is a sacred narrative concerning reincarnation." In the sixth book of the Aeneid, which is an allegorical record of some of the Mystery rites, Virgil speaks of the time elapsing between earth lives:All these souls, after they have passed away a thousand years, are summoned by the divine ones in great array, to the Lethean river. In this way they become forgetful of the former earth-life, and re-visit the vaulted realms of the world, willing to return again into living bodies.The oldest Mystery School of Greece was situated on the island of Samothrace, which was first colonized by the Pelasgians, those Atlanto-Aryan immigrants who were the first settlers of Greece. The most famous of the Mystery Schools, and the last to be destroyed, was the Eleusinian, located in the hamlet of Eleusis, not far from Athens.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were divided into the Lesser and the Greater. The former were held at Agrae where, after a period of probation, the neophytes were known as the Mystae, or the "veiled." The latter were held at Eleusis, and those who were initiated therein were known as the Epoptae, or those who saw "face to face."
The Eleusinian Mysteries, from one point of view, were schools of Eastern psychology, in which the students learned the true nature of the soul, its relation to the body, and the method by which it could be purified and redeemed. The Lesser Mysteries illustrated, through dramatic performances, the condition of the unpurified soul, still entangled in the meshes of its own Karmic actions. The Greater Mysteries demonstrated the bliss of the soul which had been purified through spiritual vision and Self-realization.
In the Lesser Mysteries the neophytes were shown that the soul, when invested with a body, undergoes a form of death. "It is death to the soul," Plotinus wrote, "to be wholly immersed in a body and wholly subjected to it." This was demonstrated in the Eleusinian Mysteries by a dramatization of the myth of Ceres and Proserpine.
Ceres was one of the Immortals who dwelt on Mount Olympus. As a cosmic symbol she represented the fructifying principle in the all-pervading Spirit which quickens every germ in the material universe. As an individual symbol she typified the immortal Spirit which sheds its radiance upon every human being and which, being rooted in the Unknowable Causeless Cause, is both omnipotent and omniscient. Her daughter Proserpine symbolized the reincarnating Ego which, under Karmic law, descends into matter and slowly works its way back to the Source of All, taking with it the results of all experiences gained on the way. This myth is a magnificent description of the method by which the soul which has not yet incarnated upon this globe descends for the first time into a body of flesh.
Fearing that her daughter would be polluted by contact with matter, Ceres confined her in a house built by the Cyclopes, after which she returned to her own dwelling place among the gods. Jupiter, knowing that Proserpine's time for incarnation had arrived, sent Venus to tempt her out of the house. Venus found her weaving the net of destiny in which the embodied soul becomes entangled. Led on by the goddess, Proserpine went out into the fields where Pluto, the god of the nether world, saw her and desired her. Picking her up, he carried her down to his own world and shut her up in a dark cavern. There, with Night as a witness, he married her, and the soul and body were united.
One night Ceres dreamed of Proserpine, who begged her mother to come to her aid. Girding herself with a Serpent, and carrying two lighted torches in her hands, Ceres started out to find her daughter. After travelling throughout the world, she finally returned to Greece. Weary and sad, she sat down on a stone, where she remained in meditation for nine days and nights. The place where she sat became the site of the Eleusinian School, in which the final initiations occupied nine days and nights. Homer says that this period refers to the nine spheres through which the soul descends into the body. It also has reference to the nine months of pre-natal life which the soul needs to form its body.
After these nine days of meditation Ceres returned to Jupiter and begged him to release her daughter. Jupiter consented, provided that Proserpine had not eaten any food during her life with Pluto. But when Mercury, the messenger of Jupiter, reached the underworld, he found that Proserpine had sucked the sweet juice from a pomegranate which Pluto had given her, showing that she had tasted the fruits of earthly life and found them sweet. That was enough to prevent her complete release. A compromise, however, was effected, allowing Proserpine to spend one half of her time with Ceres, the other half with her husband, Pluto. So, from its first incarnation, the soul communes with its Higher Self during deep sleep and after death, while its waking hours and the years of its earthly life are spent wedded to the body and its interests.
The condition of the unpurified soul after death, which also formed part of the instructions in the Lesser Mysteries, is described by Virgil. After crossing the Stygian lake, Aeneas meets the three-headed monster Cerberus, who symbolizes Kama Loka and the beings detained there. Thomas Taylor classifies them as infants who have met an untimely end, executed criminals and suicides. Aeneas is then taken to the Elysian Fields, or Devachan, where he finds the souls occupied "in employments proper to the spiritual nature, in giving free scope to the splendid and winged powers of the soul, in nourishing the higher intellect with substantial banquets of spiritual food."
As the ultimate purpose of the Mysteries was to free the soul from the dominion of the flesh, the neophytes were shown the difficulties of the Path which lay before them. "Easy is the path that leads down to Hell," Virgil says, "grim Pluto's gate stands open night and day. But to retrace one's steps and escape to the upper regions, this is a work, this is a task." But however great the difficulties, Virgil assures us that they are not insurmountable, since "some few, whom illustrious virtue advanced to heaven, have effected it."
The first task undertaken by the probationary disciples at Agrae was that of purification: "For the Mysteries are not imparted to all who are willing to be initiated. It is necessary that those who are not excluded from initiation should first undergo certain Purifications." (Theon of Smyrna: Mathematica.) In this degree of the Mysteries the student learned to control his appetites, to restrain his emotions, to discipline his mind through the study of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. Only when the lower nature is under control, Plotinus says, "will the inner eye begin to exercise its clear and solemn vision."
The student who had passed through this period of probationary discipline successfully was then admitted to the Greater Mysteries of Eleusinia. Where at Agrae he had been permitted to see things "through a glass, darkly," he was now ready to see "face to face." Where before he had observed life through the eyes of Proserpine, the unpurified soul, he was now ready to look through the eyes of Ceres, the Higher Self. He was now prepared to have the myth of Ceres and Proserpine explained to him, and its different aspects unveiled in philosophical doctrines.
The instructions in the Greater Mysteries were given out by a high Initiate who was known as the Hierophant, or Interpreter. He was a sage, bound to celibacy, who devoted his entire time to this holy task. None of the students contacted him personally, and no one was allowed to mention him by name. The instructions were read from a book made of two stone tablets, known as the Petroma. They were imparted to the candidate orally, "at low breath," and were received under the pledge of secrecy, the breaking of which meant death.
The initiations took place in dark underground crypts, and were described as the "descent into Hades." After remaining in "Hades" for three days and nights, the candidate was then transported into the "Elysian Fields," after which he was considered as "one newly born," an Epoptes. This compound word means both a spectator and a Master Builder. The latter title, as found in Freemasonry, came directly from the Mysteries. When St. Paul spoke of himself as a Master Builder, he declared himself an Initiate of the Mysteries, having the right to initiate others.
The first initiation of the Mysteries was that of purification. The second was called the "tradition of the mystery." The third was known as "inspection." The fourth was called the "binding of the head and the fixing of the crowns," which Plato says is equivalent to having the ability to lead others to knowledge. The fifth and most awe-inspiring of the Mystery rites is described as "friendship and interior communion with God." Plato says that in that initiation he found himself liberated from the body and united with his Higher Self. At that time, he says, he became the spectator of "blessed visions, resident in pure light." Proclus hints as to what these visions really were by declaring that the gods "exhibit themselves in many forms and appear in a variety of shapes." The eleventh chapter of The Bhagavad Gita gives much light on this last and highest initiation of the Mysteries.
The Mysteries were not designed merely to initiate a chosen few into the secrets of nature, setting them apart from the rest of mankind. Their true purpose was rather to enable students to acquire an understanding of the ancient wisdom in order to be the better able to help and teach others. Every one initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, therefore, bound himself by the age old pledge: "I swear to give up my life for the salvation of my brothers, who constitute the whole of mankind, and, if called upon, to die in the defense of truth."
For many centuries the Mysteries of Eleusinia shed their bright rays over the land of Greece. But the day finally came when dark clouds of ignorance and selfishness began to obscure the light. In 510 B.C., on the advice of Aristogeiton, the State decided to use the Eleusinian School as a source of income. From that time on, every one who entered the School paid an admission fee. By breaking the occult law that spiritual truths cannot be bought or sold, the Mysteries began to degenerate, and by the end of the second century A.D. any one who had the price could become an "initiate." During those six hundred years, the epoptae disappeared one by one, leaving only the mystae behind. These half-knowing ones, who had never fathomed the depths of the secret teachings nor experienced union with the Higher Self, laid the foundation stones of modern Masonry. And from the uninitiated Freemasons Christian ritualism was born.
Although the less important Mystery Schools completely disappeared under the cruel and revengeful hand of the Christian Emperor Theodosius, the Mysteries of Eleusinia were not so easily abolished. But in the year 396 the vast Temple of Eleusis, one of the most famous buildings of the ancient world, was reduced to a pile of ashes. So perished the Mysteries of Greece.But, although the Greek epoptai are no more, we have now, in our own age, a people far more ancient than the oldest Hellenes, who practice the so-called "preterhuman" gifts to the same extent as did their ancestors far earlier than the days of Troy. (Isis Unveiled II, 102.)
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
KEYS TO THE MYSTERIES
The keys to the biblical miracles of old, and to the phenomena of modern days; the problems of psychology, physiology, and the many "missing links" which have so perplexed scientists of late, are all in the hands of secret fraternities. This mystery must be unveiled some day. But till then dark skepticism will constantly interpose its threatening, ugly shadow between God's truths and the spiritual vision of mankind; and many are those who, infected by the mortal epidemic of our century -- hopeless materialism -- will remain in doubt and mortal agony as to whether, when man dies, he will live again, although the question has been solved by long bygone generations of sages. The answers are there. They may be found on the time-worn granite pages of cave-temples, on sphinxes, propylons, and obelisks. They have stood there for untold ages, and neither the rude assault of time, nor the still ruder assault of Christian hands, have succeeded in obliterating their records. All covered with the problems which were solved -- who can tell? perhaps by the archaic forefathers of their builders -- the solution follows each question; and this the Christian could not appropriate, for, except the initiates, no one has understood the mystic writing. The Key was in the keeping of those who knew how to commune with the invisible Presence, and who had perceived, from the lips of mother Nature herself, her grand truths. And so stand these monuments like mute forgotten sentinels on the threshold of that unseen world, whose gates are thrown open but to a few elect. --Isis Unveiled.
THE FIRST GREEK PHILOSOPHERS
(Part 49 of a 59-part series)
Back to the
series complete list of articles.
Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".
Main Page | Introductory Brochure | Volume 1--> Setting the Stage
Karma and Reincarnation | Science | Education | Economics | Race Relations
The WISDOM WORLD | World Problems & Solutions | The People*s Voice | Misc.