Mystery Cults


MYSTERY CULTS

 

Mystery religionssacred Mysteries or simply mysteries, were religious cults of the Greco-Roman world, participation in which was reserved toinitiates.[1] The main characterization of this religion is the secrecy associated with the particulars of the initiation and the cult practice, which may not be revealed to outsiders. The most famous mysteries of Greco-Roman antiquity were the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were of considerable antiquity and predated the Greek Dark Ages. The popularity of mystery cults flourished in Late AntiquityJulian the Apostate in the mid 4th century is known to have been initiated into three distinct mystery cults. Notable among these late cults was the Mithraic Mysteries.

Due to the secret nature of the cult, and because the mystery religions of Late Antiquity disappeared after the 4th century (Theodosius I closed the Eleusian sanctuaries by decree in 392 AD), the details of these religious practices are unknown to scholarship, although there are educated guesses as to their general content-

Mithraeum

Mithraeum, a place for the worship of Mithras

DEFINITION

The term “Mystery” derives from Latin mysterium, from Greek musterion (usually as the plural musteria μυστήρια), in this context meaning “secret rite or doctrine.” An individual who followed such a “Mystery” was a mystes (a mystic) “one who has been initiated,” from myein ”to close, shut,” a reference to secrecy (closure of “the eyes and mouth”[4]:56) or that only initiates were allowed to observe and participate in rituals. The Mysteries were thus cults in which all religious functions were closed to the uninitiated and for which the inner-working of the cult were kept secret from the general public.

 

Dionysian

Place for Dionysian worship at Pompeii

CHARACTERISTICS

Mystery religions form one of three types of Hellenistic religion, the others being the imperial cult or ethnic religion particular to a nation or state, and the philosophic religions such asNeoplatonism. This is also reflected in the tripartite division of “theology” by Varro, in civil theology (concerning the state cult and its stabilizing effect on society), natural theology(philosophical speculation about the nature of the divine) and mythical theology (concerning myth and ritual).

Mysteries thus supplement rather than compete with civil religion. An individual could easily observe the rites of the state cult, be an initiate in one or several mysteries, and at the same time adhere to a certain philosophical school. In contrast to the public rituals of civil religion, participation in which was expected of every member of society, initiation to a mystery was optional within Graeco-Roman polytheism. Many of the cultic aspects of public religion are repeated within the mystery, sacrifices, ritual meals, ritual purifications etc., just with the additional aspect that they take place in secrecy, confined to a closed set of initiates.

This is important in the context of the early persecution of Christians: Christianity was seen as objectionable by the Roman establishment not on grounds of its religious tenets or cultic practice, but because early Christians chose to consider their new faith as precluding the participation in the imperial cult, which was seen as subversive by the Roman establishment.

The mystery cults offered a niche for the preservation of archaic religious ritual, and there is reason to assume that they were very conservative. The Eleusian Mysteries persisted for more than a millennium, more likely close to two millennia, during which period the ritual of public religion changed significantly, from the archaic cult of the Bronze to Early Iron Age to the Hero cult of Hellenistic civilization and again to the imperial cult of the Roman era, while the ritual performances of the mysteries for all we know remained unchanged. “They had, more often than not, come up from a barbarous underworld. They were singularly persistent. The mysteries at Eleusis near Athens lasted for a thousand years; and there is reason to believe that they changed little during that long period.” For this reason, what glimpses we do have of the older Greek mysteries have been taken as reflecting certain archaic aspects of common Indo-European religion, with parallels in Indo-Iranian religion in particular, by Janda (2000).

Face

The mystery cults of Greco-Roman antiquity include the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Dionysian Mysteries and the Orphic Mysteries. Some of the many divinities that the Romans nominally adopted from other cultures also came to be worshipped in Mysteries, so for instance Egyptian Isis, Persian Mithraic Mysteries Thracian/Phrygian Sabazius and Phrygian Cybele.

 

Isis


  Isis or in original more likely Aset (Ancient Greek: Ἶσις) was a goddess in Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. She was worshiped as the ideal mother and wife as well as the matron of nature and magic. She was the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, and the downtrodden, and she listened to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats, and rulers.Isis is the goddess of motherhood, magic and fertility.   The goddess Isis (the mother of Horus) was the first daughter of Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, the goddess of the Overarching Sky, and was born on the fourth intercalary day. At some time Isis and Hathor had the same headdress. In later myths about Isis, she had a brother,Osiris, who became her husband, and she then was said to have conceived Horus. Isis was instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris when he was murdered by Set. Her magical skills restored his body to life after she gathered the body parts that had been strewn about the earth by Set. This myth became very important in later Egyptian religious beliefs. Isis is also known as protector of the dead and goddess of children from whom all beginnings arose. In later times, the Ancient Egyptiansbelieved that the Nile River flooded every year because of her tears of sorrow for her dead husband, Osiris. This occurrence of his death and rebirth was relived each year through rituals. The worship of Isis eventually spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, continuing until the suppression of paganism in the Christian era  Temples Temple of Isis (Pompeii) Most Egyptian deities first appeared as very local cults and throughout their history retained those local centres of worship, with most major cities and towns widely known as the home of these deities. Isis originally was an independent and popular deity established inpredynastic times, prior to 3100 BC, at Sebennytos in the northern delta.[2] Eventually temples to Isis began to spread outside of Egypt. In many locations, devotees of Isis considered a number of the local goddesses to be Isis, but under different names. The worship of Isis was joined to that of other Mediterranean goddesses, such as Demeter, Astarte, Aphrodite, and more. During the Hellenic era, due to her attributes as a protector and mother, as well as a lusty aspect gained when she absorbed some aspects of Hathor, she became the patron goddess of sailors, who spread her worship with the trading ships circulating the Mediterranean Sea. Likewise, the Arabian goddess Al-Ozza or Al-Uzza العُزّى (al ȝozza), whose name is close to that of Isis, is believed to be a manifestation of her. This, however, is thought to be based on the similarity in the name. Throughout the Graeco-Roman world, Isis became one of the most significant of the mystery religions, and many classical writers refer to her temples, cults, and rites. Temples to Isis were built in Iraq, Greece and Rome, with a well preserved example discovered in Pompeii. On the Greek island of Delos a Doric Temple of Isis was built on a high over-looking hill at the beginning of the Roman period to venerate the familiar trinity of Isis, the Alexandrian Serapis and Harpocrates. The creation of this temple is significant as Delos is particularly known as the birthplace of the Greek gods Artemis and Apollo who had temples of their own on the island long before the temple to Isis was built. At Philae her worship persisted until the 6th century, long after the rise of Christianity and the subsequent suppression of paganism. The cult of Isis and Osiris continued up until the 6th century AD on the island of Philae in Upper Nile. The Theodosian decree (in about 380 AD) to destroy all pagan temples was not enforced there until the time of Justinian. This toleration was due to an old treaty made between the Blemyes-Nobadae and Diocletian. Every year they visited Elaphantine and at certain intervals took the image of Isis up river to the land of the Blemyes fororacular purposes before returning it. Justinian sent Narses to destroy the sanctuaries, with the priests being arrested and the divine images taken to Constantinople.[5] Philae was the last of the ancient Egyptian temples to be closed.] Priesthood Little information on Egyptian rituals for Isis survives, however, it is clear there were both priests and priestesses officiating at her cult rituals throughout its entire history. By the Greco-Roman era, many of them were healers, and were said to have many other special powers, including dream interpretation and the ability to control the weather, which they did by braiding or not combing their hair. The latter was believed because the Egyptians considered knots to have magical powers.

 

 

Isis or in original more likely Aset (Ancient Greek: Ἶσις) was a goddess in Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. She was worshiped as the ideal mother and wife as well as the matron of nature and magic. She was the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, and the downtrodden, and she listened to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats, and rulers.Isis is the goddess of motherhoodmagic and fertility.

Aset

The goddess Isis (the mother of Horus) was the first daughter of Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, the goddess of the Overarching Sky, and was born on the fourth intercalary day. At some time Isis and Hathor had the same headdress. In later myths about Isis, she had a brother,Osiris, who became her husband, and she then was said to have conceived Horus. Isis was instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris when he was murdered by Set. Her magical skills restored his body to life after she gathered the body parts that had been strewn about the earth by Set. This myth became very important in later Egyptian religious beliefs.

Isis is also known as protector of the dead and goddess of children from whom all beginnings arose. In later times, the Ancient Egyptiansbelieved that the Nile River flooded every year because of her tears of sorrow for her dead husband, Osiris. This occurrence of his death and rebirth was relived each year through rituals. The worship of Isis eventually spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, continuing until the suppression of paganism in the Christian era

TEMPLES

Temple of Isis (Pompeii)

Most Egyptian deities first appeared as very local cults and throughout their history retained those local centres of worship, with most major cities and towns widely known as the home of these deities. Isis originally was an independent and popular deity established inpredynastic times, prior to 3100 BC, at Sebennytos in the northern delta.[2]

Eventually temples to Isis began to spread outside of Egypt. In many locations, devotees of Isis considered a number of the local goddesses to be Isis, but under different names. The worship of Isis was joined to that of other Mediterranean goddesses, such as Demeter, Astarte, Aphrodite, and more. During the Hellenic era, due to her attributes as a protector and mother, as well as a lusty aspect gained when she absorbed some aspects of Hathor, she became the patron goddess of sailors, who spread her worship with the trading ships circulating the Mediterranean Sea.

Likewise, the Arabian goddess Al-Ozza or Al-Uzza العُزّى (al ȝozza), whose name is close to that of Isis, is believed to be a manifestation of her. This, however, is thought to be based on the similarity in the name.

Throughout the Graeco-Roman world, Isis became one of the most significant of the mystery religions, and many classical writers refer to her temples, cults, and rites.

Temples to Isis were built in IraqGreece and Rome, with a well preserved example discovered in Pompeii. On the Greek island of DelosDoric Temple of Isis was built on a high over-looking hill at the beginning of the Roman period to venerate the familiar trinity of Isis, the Alexandrian Serapis and Harpocrates. The creation of this temple is significant as Delos is particularly known as the birthplace of the Greek gods Artemis and Apollo who had temples of their own on the island long before the temple to Isis was built. At Philae her worship persisted until the 6th century, long after the rise of Christianity and the subsequent suppression of paganism. The cult of Isis and Osiris continued up until the 6th century AD on the island of Philae in Upper Nile. The Theodosian decree (in about 380 AD) to destroy all pagan temples was not enforced there until the time of Justinian. This toleration was due to an old treaty made between the Blemyes-Nobadae and Diocletian. Every year they visited Elaphantine and at certain intervals took the image of Isis up river to the land of the Blemyes fororacular purposes before returning it. Justinian sent Narses to destroy the sanctuaries, with the priests being arrested and the divine images taken to Constantinople.[5] Philae was the last of the ancient Egyptian temples to be closed.]

PRIESTHOOD

Little information on Egyptian rituals for Isis survives, however, it is clear there were both priests and priestesses officiating at her cult rituals throughout its entire history. By the Greco-Roman era, many of them were healers, and were said to have many other special powers, including dream interpretation and the ability to control the weather, which they did by braiding or not combing their hair. The latter was believed because the Egyptians considered knots to have magical powers.