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     Intro to Greek Mysteries and Eastern Religions

Intro to Greek Mysteries and Eastern Religions

The mystery religions have occupied such an important place in the study of Christian. They were in many bound to the traditional civic Cult. Of these, none was more official than the mysteries of Eleusis near Athens and Panamara in Caria, others at Andania in the Peloponnesus and of Apollo at Cyrene. Nonetheless, receiving initiation in a mystery was usually a matter of individual choice. The initiation ceremony itself was collective, not individual, and thus was a significant expression of personal religion.

Mysteries were native to Greece, but many of the eastern cults adopted mystery initiations when they entered the Greek world, attained international importance in Hellenistic.Roman times, and became especially prominent from Flavian times onward. The Hellenization of a cult was a cultural matter; Romanization was largely a political matter. The Greeks used the words mystria and teleti without our present distinction between "mysteries" and other sacred ceremonies. Mysterion (sing.) meant "secret rite" but had the added sense of "something secret, without any ceremonial associations. It could be used of any secret.philosophy, magic, alchemy, even sexual intercourse ("the mysteries of Aphrodite") .- and sometimes seems to be nothing more than a figure of speech. The verb (mye÷) in the passive often means "to be initiated." The Greeks had many annual or periodic ceremonies that were conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy and solemnity. "Mystery" used in its technical sense refers to a secret cult in which the uninitiated could not participate. Initiation was an objective, not a subjective, experience; while other ceremonies could be repeated as needed when a person wished to be freed from defilement, ini.tiation was received once for all. The important thing was, as Aristotle said, "not to learn, but to experience and be put into a state" (diatetherai) . An initiate was given special protection of the divinity by means of the ceremonies themselves, which worked automatically, and these ceremonies and their privileges were the exclusive property of a small group. The mysteries may be classified into the local and the universal. At the beginning of the Christian era a number of local mysteries, some of great antiquity, flourished in Greece and Asia Minor. In the first century A.D. the only mysteries whose extension may be called universal were the mysteries of Dionysus and those of the eastern gods, especially Isis.

Sources utilized in these pages may include:
  • Everett Ferguson's: Backgrounds of Early Christianity
  • Walker's: History of Christianity (out of print)

    (These links will take you to book detail pages at

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