Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
1. Meaning and usage.-The word ‘mystery’ (μυστήριον) is derived from the Greek μυεῖν, ‘to initiate’; but it is also connected with μύειν, ‘to shut the eyes or the mouth.’ Consequently it stands for rites and truths which must be closely guarded by those who possess them. J. E. Harrison (Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, Cambridge, 1903, p. 154) ventures to suggest as its source μύσος, ‘pollution.’ And, since in her judgment the aim of the mysteries is primarily purification, the μύσος, or pollution, from which the liberation is desired, gives the ceremonies of purification their name. But this derivation restricts the compass of the word, and leaves its use in the Scriptures unintelligible. Whence did it come into Christian use? Was it taken over from pagan sources, or did it reach the writers of the NT and of the early Christian literature through Jewish channels? There is sufficient ground to decide for the latter view. The word occurs several times in the Septuagint (e.g. in Daniel 2:18-19; Daniel 2:27-30; Daniel 2:47; Daniel 4:6); it meets us again in some of the apocryphal books (Sirach 3:22; Sirach 22:22; Sirach 27:16, Wisdom of Solomon 2:22; Wisdom of Solomon 6:22, Tobit 12:7; Tobit 12:11, Judith 2:2, 2 Maccabees 13:21). In these passages the word is applied to dreams and their interpretation, or else to the political and military plans of the king which have not been divulged. These plans are the king’s secrets, which no one should know until he has revealed them or put them in operation (G. Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 144; Hans von Soden, ZNTW [Note: NTW Zeitschrift für die neutest. Wissenschaft.] xii.  197). Von Soden says that without doubt the passages in the book of Daniel suggest the origin of the NT use of μυστήριον, ‘mystery.’ The idea of the king’s secrets becomes that of God’s secrets, the plans of God, which remain hidden until He reveals them. This is already apparent in the Book of Enoch (ciii. 2, civ. 10, cvi. 19). In the Gospels the word occurs in this sense. But singularly it is found in only one Synoptic passage (Mark 4:11, Matthew 13:11, Luke 8:10), which, according to Carl Clemen, contains no word of the Lord (Der Einfluss der Mysterienreligionen, p. 24), whereas in the Fourth Gospel, which some critics view as the most Hellenistic of all the Gospels, it is not found at all. From this solitary occurrence we may infer that the word had no attraction for the writers as a means for expressing their thought. But evidently it had a charm for St. Paul. He uses it 21 times in his Epistles, of which 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians give us by far the largest number of examples. In every case the word retains its Septuagint meaning, which leads Von Soden to affirm that St. Paul did not borrow the word from the Greek, but from Jewish sources. It may have already become characteristic of Jewish eschatology, but Von Soden intimates that it was now a term of Jewish Christian theology which St. Paul both used and developed still further (see A. Schweitzer, Geschichte der paulinischen Forschung, Tübingen, 1911, p. 141 ff.). It is possible that St. Paul made this term conspicuous in his Epistles in order to oppose it to the same term as used in the mystery-religions. But it has yet to be demonstrated that he was familiar with their thought, terms, and rites. W. M. Ramsay’s fine discussion of the matter in his Teaching of Paul in Terms of the Present Day, London, 1913, pp. 283-305, needs more proofs than those given by him to carry conviction. The only one of the mysteries prevalent in St. Paul’s sphere of work was the Attis-cult, but he gives no hint of a knowledge of it save in the obscure passage in Colossians 2 discussed by Ramsay.
The word occurs in the early Church Fathers with noticeable infrequency. It is absent in the writings of Clement, Barnabas, and Hermas. It appears three times in the Epistles of Ignatius (ad Eph. xix. 1, ad Magn. ix. 1-2, ad Trall. ii. 3) and twice this number in the anonymous Epistle to Diognetus (iv. 6, vii. 1-2, viii. 10, x. 7, xi. 2, 5). In the Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, it occurs only once (xi. 11). In these passages μυστήριον is no central conception and no sacrament, although T. Zahn explains the term ‘mysteries’ in Ignatius, ad Trall. ii. 3, as baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Ignatius von Antiochien, Gotha, 1873, p. 323)-an explanation rejected by both Lightfoot and Srawley. The mysteries are in the main the Incarnation and the Atonement of Christ.
The Apologists using the word took another step. In the writings of Aristides, Athenagoras, and Tatian the word is wanting; but in Justin it occurs many times, and usually signifies not any particular rite, but ‘the whole complex of religion’ in which the Passion of Christ pre-eminently appears (Apol. i. 13; Dial. 74, 91, 106, 121). It is placed by him on the same plane with symbol or parable or type, a usage which continues until the time of Augustine. The serpent is a mystery or symbol (Apol. i. 27); a prophecy is a mystery: ‘that which God said to David symbolically [ἐν μυστηρίῳ] was interpreted by Isaiah as to how it would actually come to pass’ (Dial. 68, quoted by E. Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek, Oxford, 1889, p. 60). Justin, however, does not go much beyond his predecessors except to emphasize cosmological and ethical aspects. But he is the first to compare the Christian μυστήριον in its individual features with the pagan mysteries (Apol. i. 66; cf. i. 25, 27). This was ominous, for it tended to weaken the idea that the Christian mystery is peculiar and distinct, although Justin shows in his condemnation of the pagan rite that he had no thought of bringing about this result.
Irenaeus uses the term in a Gnostic sense. It stands for what he calls ‘these portentous and profound mysteries,’ against which he writes his famous work, c. Haereses. Therefore little light is thrown by him on the word ‘mystery’ as it was used in the early Church. However, from him is drawn much of the information which enables us to determine to some extent the Gnostic conception of ‘mystery.’ Apparently he represents it as magical in character (see, e.g., Haer. I. xiii. 2). The Gnostic conception is important, for it is regarded by some as introducing the change of the idea of mystery in the Christian Church. Carl Schmidt, Harnack, and others view the sacramentalism of Gnosticism as an anticipation of Christian sacramentalism. But to this Catholicism replies that the relationship was just the reverse, and, therefore, that Gnostic sacramentalism found its source in the sacramental ideas of the Church (Schmidt, TU [Note: U Texte and Untersuchungen.] viii.  525; A. Struckmann, Die Gegenwart Christi, Vienna, 1905, p. 97; CQR [Note: QR Church Quarterly Review.] xlii.  412). Neither position has thus far been sufficiently substantiated to carry conviction.
Two great writers at the end of the 2nd cent. did exercise a marked influence on the Christian conception of ‘mystery.’ One was Clement of Alexandria, who brought the Christian sacramental idea still nearer to that of the pagan cults. Von Soden affirms that ‘with him an essential extension and a hellenizing change of the use of μυστήριον begins’ (ZNTW [Note: NTW Zeitschrift für die neutest. Wissenschaft.] xii. 205), and E. Bratke in his article ‘Die Stellung des Clem. Alex. zum antiken Mysterienwesen,’ in SK [Note: K Studien und Kritiken.] lx.  i. 647) is an ardent advocate of the same belief. Anrich takes a similar view but is more cautious in his support of it (Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 140). From the time of Clement the Christian sacraments began to be called the Christian mysteries; and, while it is possible that they already bore this name, the influence of Clement’s writings must have done much to establish it. He speaks of Christ as initiating us into the mysteries, and quotes from Euripides, Bacchae, 470-473: ‘Seeing those who see he bestows his mysteries. Of what fashion are these mysteries? Secret except to the initiate’ (Strom. iv. 25). Christianity is the true Divine mystery, a mystical miracle; consequently the Church is an institution of mysteries (Protrept. 11). We, as perfected Christians, are permitted by Jesus to communicate ‘those divine mysteries’ and ‘that holy light’ to persons capable of receiving them (Strom. i. 1). In the same chapter Clement says that ‘there are some mysteries before other mysteries.’ He also draws a direct parallel between Christianity on one side and the Eleusinian and Dionysiac cults on the other (Protrept. 12). Clement had no intention, as Bratke seems to imply (SK [Note: K Studien und Kritiken.] lx. 662; cf. Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 140), of breaking down all demarcations between Christianity and heathenism, nor was he bent on an accommodation of one to the other. But his use of mystery terminology, which he probably drew from the philosophy of his day rather than directly from the cults, must have affected the Christian conception of mystery and given it the idea of a secrecy that could be uncovered only to the initiated. His doctrine of the sacraments is still a matter of dispute; especially is his view of the Lord’s Supper difficult to determine. Almost all the Protestant historians of dogma deny that he believes in a real presence of the body and blood of Christ within and under the consecrated elements. Catholic theologians confidently attribute to him this belief (C. Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria, Oxford, 1913, p. 105; A. Harnack, History of Dogma, ii. [London, 1896] 145; Struckmann, Die Gegenwart Christi, p. 117; P. Batiffol, L’Eucharistic6, Paris, 1913, pp. 248-261).
The other great writer who exercised a marked influence on the Christian conception of ‘mystery’ was Tertullian. He accepted the term sacramentum as the Latin rendering of μυστήριον. The earliest use of the Latin word in connexion with Christian life occurs in one of Pliny’s letters (Ep. x. 96 ) wherein he speaks of the Christians as binding themselves by an oath (‘seque sacramento … obstringere’). But Pliny’s use of the term throws no light on its ecclesiastical meaning, for ecclesiastical Latin had not yet come into existence (E. C. S. Gibson, The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, London, 1896-97, vol. ii. p. 594). The adherents of the mystery-religions were familiar with the word as designating their rites of initiation, particularly the oath of allegiance taken at some point in them. It would be hazardous to state dogmatically how early the word took its place among their religious terms. But ‘the votaries of Mithra likened the practice of their religion to military service. When the neophyte joined he was compelled to take an oath (sacramentum) similar to the one required of recruits in the army’ (F. Cumont, Oriental Religions, p. xix). Livy records in his history of Rome the recognition, on the part of the Romans, of the use of the sacramentum in the mysteries. In a speech of one of the consuls condemning the Bacchanalian rites, the consul asks, ‘Can you think that youths, initiated under such oaths as theirs, are fit to be made soldiers?’ (‘hoc sacramento initiatos juvenes milites faciendos censetis?’, xxxix. 15; cf. x. 38). As an element in mystery terminology sacramentum would naturally assume a religious significance, and we understand why its use in the cults awoke hostile suspicions of them among the Romans of the Republic and the early Empire. Even Tertullian occasionally applies the word to the rites of the mystery-religions (adv. Marc. i. 13., adv. Valent. 30, Scorp. 10). Thus its association with the mysteries and its resulting religious character might easily suggest it as a rendering of μυστήριον itself. Points of contact between the two terms would become apparent (F. Kattenbusch, article ‘Sakrament’ in PRE [Note: RE Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche.] 3 xvii. 250). And this must have happened speedily, for sacramentum represents μυστήριον in the old Latin texts, with some of which Tertullian was evidently familiar. But he himself employed the term in a varied application. On the one hand, he applied it to types and prophecies in the OT (adv. Marc. iii. 18, iv. 40; adv. Judges 1:9-11, and many other passages in these two works). In this use it is purely a translation of the biblical μυστήριον. On the other hand, he employed it very frequently in the sense of an oath of allegiance or an obligation (de Cor. Mil. 11, adv. Valent. 30). Between these two applications all other uses of the word fall-namely, as designating baptism, the Eucharist, the rule of faith, salvation, and religion itself. Nothing could show more clearly that the word is not always a strict rendering of ‘mystery,’ and Tertullian at times seems to have realized this himself.
But how did sacramentum come to have the significance of obligation and pledge? Two conceptions are implied in the term: (1) that of a deposit of money, given by persons about to engage in a law-suit, relinquished to the deity by the loser, and thereby becoming actually a sacred or devoted thing; (2) that of the military oath of allegiance taken on the standard. The idea of sacred obligation is thus common to both conceptions. The two were brought closer together by the payment of award for military service (Tacitus, Hist. I. Leviticus 2). Thus sacramentum as a military oath assumed the meaning of a sacred bond between the pledge-giver and the pledge-receiver. This characteristic was carried into the significance of sacrament in the terminology of the Church and gave her sacramental rites the nature of pledges. But the idea embodied in μυστήριον was still retained, so that sacramentum became as well the outward sign of an inward meaning or a spiritual grace. From this it is apparent that sacramentum has a wider and more varied meaning than the Greek term, which it, rather than arcanum, was chosen to represent.
The full conception held by Tertullian of the sacraments is still a debated question. G. Thomasius (Die christliche Dogmengeschichte2, Erlangen, 1886-89, i. 425), Harnack (History of Dogma, ii. 145, n. [Note: . note.] 2), and Roman Catholic theologians (Struckmann, Die Gegenwart Christi, p. 229 ff.) attribute to him realistic views, while the great majority of Protestant theologians believe that he held symbolical conceptions. But Harnack is quite sure that ‘Leimbach’s investigations of Tertullian’s use of words have placed this [that Tertullian did not accept a symbolical doctrine] beyond doubt.’
2. The kinds of mystery-religions.-The mystery-religions differed from each other in various ways. Some were State religions, such as the mysteries of Eleusis, near Athens, and the mysteries of Samothrace, an island in the Thracian Sea. Others, enjoying no State recognition, were celebrated in secret associations by private individuals. To the latter class the Orphic mysteries and the mysteries of certain Oriental gods belong. Again, some centred about a male, others about a female divinity. The mysteries of Mithras constitute an example of the former, the mysteries of Cybele and Attis, and the mysteries of Isis, examples of the latter. Miss Harrison remarks (Prolegomena, p. 150 f.) that ‘in general mysteries seem to occur more usually in relation to the cult of women divinities, of heroines and earth-goddesses,’ which is a well-supported statement. In the majority of the cults the female deity plays the chief part; the male deity, Attis, or Adonis, or Osiris, occupies an inferior position. This may be explained by the assumption that the ceremonies of these cults had their remote source in pre-historic rites which were intended to renew the strength of the harvest field and enable it to produce abundant returns. Consequently Mother Earth, with her vegetation unfolding in the spring and disappearing in the autumn, was prominent in the primitive days, and retained her pre-eminence in the persons of the Egyptian Isis, the Phœnician Astarte, the Phrygian Cybele, and the Greek Demeter, although J. G. Frazer (GB [Note: B Golden Bough (J. G. Frazer).] 3, pt. v., Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, London, 1912, i. 40) distinguishes Demeter from Mother Earth. We reach here a striking contrast between the cults on the one side and Christianity on the other. While the pagan deity had his female associate, the Christ of the Christian in the earlier centuries was wholly unaccompanied. It was not until 400 years had elapsed that Mary the Virgin assumed a position in which her relation to Christ could feebly suggest the old association of female and male deities in the mysteries.
In many other respects the mysteries differed from one another. Dissimilarities marked off those of Eleusis from those of Isis; and the mysteries of Mithras possessed a genius or spirit of their own. And yet they were united in one purpose and aim. They were essentially similar; so that they mutually recognized each other and excluded no one on the ground that he belonged to another cult or compelled him on his initiation into the new to relinquish his membership in the old cult. Together they were supposed to confer on the initiate protection against danger, to bring healing to his infirmities, and to assure him of a happy pilgrimage through this world and a blessed immortality in the next. The question of the moral inspiration of the mysteries has been for some time a centre of earnest discussion. Eminent scholars are in disagreement here. So great an authority as E. Rohde (Psyche, Freiburg i. B., 1894, i. 298-300) believes that the pagan cults were not uplifting in their effect on the initiate. Others, as H. Lietzmann (An die Römer [=Handbuch zum NT. ii.], Tübingen, 1906, on Romans 6:1-4) and K.H.E. de Jong (Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 69), are equally positive in the belief that the moral effect of the mysteries was elevating and helpful. The fact that the mysteries were pre-eminently ritualistic and formal would support the former view. Their rites of initiation appear to have been regarded as fully capable of accomplishing all that was necessary to bring their subject into union with the deity. Amid such conceptions it is likely that little emphasis would be laid on the need of an upright moral life as an aid. On the other hand, the impressive and, in some respects, beautiful ceremonies would have their influence on the mind and heart of the candidates. It is possible that revolting features characterized the ceremonies of some of the cults. But, if such features, relics of the old Nature religions, accompanied the ceremonial, they were offset by others fitted to exercise an uplifting power. Isis herself was viewed and extolled as the guardian of chastity; and consequently her initiations could have been no stimulation to a careless life. The testimony of the early Christian writers, however, and even of Flavius Josephus (Ant. XVIII. iii. 4), concerning the moral tone of the mysteries should not be contemptuously dismissed. Granted that they were inclined to exaggerate the dark side of the ceremonial of the pagan cults, they can hardly be charged with complete falsification of their true character. On the whole, it is highly probable that Rohde was nearer the truth in his unfavourable estimation of the soundness of the moral tendencies of the mysteries.
(a) The mysteries of Eleusis.-Of the State cults the most famous were the mysteries of Eleusis and of Samothrace. The Eleusinian mysteries existed for at least 1,000 years, and were brought to an end in a.d. 395 by Alaric. The oldest documentary evidence of their existence is contained in the Hymn to Demeter (v. 274, 473-482), which may have been composed as early as the 7th cent. b.c. This poem narrates the story of the search of Demeter for her lost daughter Persephone, who while gathering flowers in a lonely field had been seized by Pluto and enthroned as his wife in his subterranean realm. Demeter, indignant at the outrage, checked the sprouting of sown grain and deprived the farmer of his harvest until her daughter should be restored to her. The rich fields lay desolate until Zeus, fearing lest the people should perish with hunger, commanded Pluto to surrender his bride to her mother. The unscrupulous ruler obeyed, but craftily induced Persephone to swallow the seed of the pomegranate, whose magic properties would compel her annually to come back to him and remain in the under world for a part of the year. Consequently Persephone returned to the world from which she had been stolen, and Demeter in her joy released the powers of the seed, and taught the happy Eleusinians her sacred rites and mysteries. The myth clearly had its origin in a time when men were used to deify the energies of the vegetable world, and to see in its springing life the embodiment of the deity herself. The gender of the deity was determined by causes which are still the sport of speculation; but in the Eleusinian mysteries the corn deity was a goddess, Demeter, who, originally solitary in her glory, was subsequently associated with a second goddess, Kore or Persephone. Demeter may have been the original Mother Earth, but Frazer (GB [Note: B Golden Bough (J. G. Frazer).] 3, pt. v., Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, i. 41), on the alleged authority of the Hymn to Demeter, regards her as separate from Mother Earth and as exclusively the personification of the ripened and harvested grain; while Kore represents the grain in its sown and sprouting state. As the corn goddess, reappearing from the soil, Kore naturally was related to Demeter as offspring and daughter, and appropriately received her celebration and worship in the early spring. But the perplexities which attend the myths will be dissipated only when the mythology of the old aegean or Minoan civilization, which is just coming into view, is better known, for the myth of Demeter and the myth of Kore probably have their roots in it.
At the time of the composition of the hymn, Eleusis was a petty independent State, and celebrated its mysteries without the co-operation of the neighbouring Athens. Its government then was in the hands of a ruler who combined in himself the powers of both priest and king, and who always belonged to the family of the Eumolpidae descended from Eumolpus, a supposed Thracian soldier and immigrant described in the hymn as founding the mysteries under the instructions of Demeter herself. As a result of the conquest of Eleusis by Athens the mysteries became the ruling cult of the whole of Attica, and subsequently, through the supremacy of Athens, the chief cult of the Greek world. But the conservatism of religion kept it centred at Eleusis and under the supervision of the Eumolpidae. The hierophant, or revealer and interpreter of the sacred objects, was always chosen from this family, and was the object of such profound reverence that the mention of his name during his lifetime was a legal offence. The qualifications required for his election were advanced age, personal charm, and a beautiful voice, which was needed particularly for the recitation of the sacred formulae. As second in rank, another priestly family, that of the Kerykes or ‘Heralds,’ shared the authority of the Eumolpidae. They were also the ‘torch-bearers,’ symbolizing under this term the search of Demeter for her lost daughter in the under world. These two families, the latter belonging to Athens, worked together for several centuries directing the mysteries, and apparently continuing in their co-operation the ancient council of Eleusis. With them were associated priestesses, few in number, belonging to the family of the Phillidae and enjoying a dignity almost equal to that of the priests themselves, and performing functions of an important character. But the enumeration of these individuals does not exhaust the official life of the cult. For there were several officers, four in all, who were not of the priestly circle; they were chosen by the people of Attica, and had under their care the financial affairs of the cult. Yet this arrangement did not exclude the priestly families, for one of their number must always be a member of the financial committee. The polity of the mysteries is noticeable, for it had no influence on the polity of the Christian Church. Bratke, who believes that the mysteries, through the writings of Clement of Alexandria, strongly influenced the sacramental life of the Church, excludes their influence in relation to the official ordering of the Church (SK [Note: K Studien und Kritiken.] lx. 695 ff.). It is singular that, if their influence was so potent in her sacramental sphere, it should have failed to extend its activity to her polity also. But no sign of this activity is perceptible in the ecclesiastical official life. The Christian deaconess might be designated as corresponding to the Eleusinian priestess. But women performed important religious functions everywhere in the Western religious world, both in the State cults and in the mystery-religions, except the cult of Mithras; and it is quite in keeping with their general recognition that they should assume some prominence in Christian worship. They held in the primitive Church, however, a position far less official than that allotted to the pagan priestess, and it was only after the lapse of several centuries that the deaconess acquired her limited sacerdotal character.
As a primary stage of initiation into the mysteries at Eleusis, mysteries were celebrated in the mouth of February at Agra, a suburb of Athens. Our information concerning their rise, their ceremonial, and their mystic significance is very defective. It is probable that they were once exclusively Athenian, and on the incorporation of Eleusis became subordinated to the Eleusinian rites. Clement of Alexandria calls them the ‘minor mysteries which have some foundation of instruction and of preliminary preparation for what is to come after,’ namely, the great mysteries at Eleusis (Strom. v. 11). The goddess who presided over them appears to have been exclusively Kore or Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. We learn from Hippolytus, a writer of the 3rd cent., that ‘the inferior mysteries are those of Proserpine [Persephone] below’ (Philos. v. 3). The scholiast on the Plutus of Aristophanes (845) also tells us that ‘in the course of the year two sets of mysteries are performed to Demeter and Kore-the greater were of Demeter, the lesser of Persephone, her daughter,’ although the genuineness of this passage is subject to doubt. Dionysus, also, was a sharer in the mysteries, and was known by the name of lacchos. On the Ninion Pinax, a monument dedicated by a woman named Ninion to the ‘Two Goddesses,’ he is represented as a full-grown man and as the bearer of the torch. Apparently he has no essential connexion with the mysteries, especially at Eleusis, and might be regarded as a visitor. The exact date of his entrance into the mysteries has not been determined. About these three deities the interest of the mysteries turns. On Demeter, Kore, and lacchos the devotion of the worshippers is centred.
In the month of Boëdromion, early in the autumn (September), the initiation into the greater mysteries occurred. On the 13th of the month the ἔφηβοι, soldiers still in their young manhood, went out, armed with spear and shield, to Eleusis to bring back the ‘holy things’ to the Eleusinion, which lay at the foot of the Acropolis of Athens. The ‘holy things’ were really in charge of the priestess, and, on their arrival in Athens on the following day, they were met by the Athenian priests and magistrates. On the 15th of the month the real festival began. The candidates were assembled for initiation, and the order was proclaimed by the hierophant in the Stoa Poikile that no one of unclean hands or of unintelligible speech should share in the mysteries. Thus two classes of persons were rigorously excluded. The first was composed of those who had been guilty of murder or homicide. These were invariably denied admission to all cults. The second class was composed of barbarians, or else of persons with defective speech, which would prevent their pronouncing clearly and distinctly the sacred words. All others, including children, whatever their position in life might be, were eligible for the reception of the secret rites of Demeter. It has been doubted whether slaves were numbered among them, but the doubt is not well supported. No dogmatic questions were asked, as in the Samothracian mysteries, all being admitted without assent to confessions of any sort. The only requirement to which all alike were subjected was ceremonial purity. Consequently on the 16th of the month the candidates again assembled and began their march of six miles to the sea, shouting as they went, ἅλαδε μύσται, ‘to the sea, ye mystics.’ The salt waters of the mysterious ocean were supposed to possess great purifying powers, and a relic of the belief may be seen in the sacramental use of salt in Christian sacramental practice. Euripides (Iph. Taur. 1193) alludes to the belief in his words θάλασσα κλύζει πάντα τάνθρώπων κακά (‘the sea washes away all evils of men’). Each candidate had provided himself with a young sacrificial pig which he drove before him, and on his arrival at the shore took it with him into the sea. Thus both were purified and the pig rendered fit for the sacrifice. The blood of the pig sprinkled on the candidate completed the purification, and the candidate himself, with head veiled, seated on a ram’s skin and grasping a winnow, was ready for the initiation. But at this point the festival of Asclepius, the Epidauria, which had been recognized in Athens as early as 421 b.c. and which had no vital connexion with the initiation, intervened, and lasted throughout the 17th and 18th of the month. During its celebration the candidates for the Eleusinian mysteries remained quietly at home, while the interval gave an opportunity to late comers to begin their initiation, or to complete the initial ceremonies, if they had already realized a part of them. On the 19th day of the month, perhaps one of the most solemn in the celebration, the procession of purified candidates set out from the Eleusinion on its tedious march over the sacred way leading to Eleusis. It followed the sacred image of lacchos, which was borne aloft before it, and it carried back to Eleusis the ‘holy things’ which the ἔφηβοι had brought to Athens. The number of those who composed it was comparatively great, sometimes 10,000 persons being in line: of course these could not all have been candidates, for the hall of initiation at Eleusis could not have contained so many. They were in part the initiated who accompanied the candidates and sang hymns in praise of lacchos on the way, or at certain places indulged in coarse ribaldry and witticisms in order to hold aloof the evil spirits. On the evening of the 20th the mystics reached the ‘holy city,’ which they entered with flaming torches, and passed the following day in rest or in offering the sacrifice. Probably on the 22nd the initiation took place in the Telesterion, a large square building surrounded by thick walls to shield its secrets from prying eyes. It was set almost in the centre of an extensive enclosure, which contained the large and small propylaea or massive gateways, through which the candidates were conducted past the small temple of Pluto along the sacred way leading to the doors of the Telesterion. Seats of stone, partly hewn from the native rock and partly constructed, rose tier on tier around the hall with a capacity for accommodating about 3,000 persons. The original building of course did not have this magnitude, for the Telesterion was repeatedly rebuilt, each time on a larger scale. What part the outer buildings played in the initiation is not known. Possibly the descent of Kore into the under world and Demeter’s search for her may have been represented in the temple of Pluto; but this is doubtful, for the ruins of the temple reveal no subterranean construction. It is more probable that the final initiation was begun, continued, and completed in the Telesterion. What the nature of the mystic ceremony was is not easy to determine. Clement of Alexandria tells us that ‘Deo [mystic name for Demeter] and Persephone may have become the heroines of a mystic drama; and their wanderings, seizure, and grief Eleusis celebrates by torchlight processions’ (Protrept. 2). Perhaps it would be precarious to take the word ‘drama’ literally. It may have had the character of a passion play, as L. R. Farnell suggests (Encyclopaedia Britannica 11 xix. 120); or it may have expressed the rehearsal of the story of Demeter in the pantomimic dance accompanied by songs, sacramental words, and other ceremonies, as De Jong suggests (Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 19 f.). But beyond such conjectures we know nothing of the manner in which the experiences, of which Demeter and Kore were the subject, were presented. In some way they were rendered so vivid, solemn, and impressive amid the dim light as to lift the observer up into a consciousness of union, even of identity, with the immortal goddess. Nor do we know what the ‘holy things’ were which the hierophant revealed at the most solemn moment of the initiation. Farnell (Encyclopaedia Britannica 11 xix. 120) suggests that they ‘included certain primitive idols of the goddesses’ and perhaps ‘ “a cut corn-stalk.” ’ A. Dieterich (Eine Mithrasliturgie, Leipzig, 1903, p. 125) would find among them symbols significant of phallic worship. The presentation of the corn token rests on the authority of Hippolytus, who says that ‘the Athenians, while initiating people into the Eleusinian rites, likewise display to those who are being admitted to the highest grade of these mysteries, the mighty, and marvellous, and most perfect secret suitable for one initiated into the highest mystic truths: [I allude to] an ear of corn in silence reaped’ (Philos. v. 3). Hippolytus may not be trustworthy in his statement. But the majority of our authorities, such as Frazer, Farnell, and De Jong, are inclined to think that such a token was really shown. De Jong believes that the rendering of the words referring to it should be ‘display … in silence a reaped ear of corn’ (Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 23, n. [Note: . note.] 1). Dieterich’s suggestion of the presence of the phallic symbol rests on the retention of the old reading ἐργασάμενος, which C. A. Lobeck (Aglaophamus, p. 26) found unintelligible and changed to ἐγγευσάμενος. His contention is that we have no right to alter a text, especially the text of a mystic formula, simply because we cannot understand it in its actual sense (Eine Mithrasliturgie, p. 125). If Dieterich’s interpretation of the difficult term is correct, we can hardly regard this element in the Eleusinian mysteries as morally elevating, even taking into view its religious significance. It may be that at this point in the ceremonies a ‘holy marriage’ was celebrated in imitation of the marriage of Demeter and Zeus, or of Kore and Pluto. Its possibility rests mainly on the assertion of Asterius, who lived at the close of the 4th cent. and who briefly alludes to the act (Encomium in SS. Martyres [PG xl. 325]). De Jong seems to place great reliance on his witness (Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 22), while Farnell regards the passage embodying it as doubtful. With this sacred marriage the words of Hippolytus may be connected: ‘by night in Eleusis … [the hierophant] enacting the great and secret mysteries, vociferates and cries aloud, saying, “August Brimo has brought forth a consecrated son, Brimus,” that is, a potent [mother has been delivered of] a potent child’ (Philos. v. 3). Brimo is commonly believed to have been another name for Demeter; but Miss Harrison explains it as another name for the Thessalian Kore and designating in the Eleusinian mysteries simply a maiden (Prolegomena, p. 553). Brimus, the child, is understood by J. N. Svoronos (‘Erklärung der Denkmäler des eleus. mystischen Kreisen,’ in Journal international d’archéologie numismatique, iv. ) to be Pluto, by Dieterich to be Iacchos (Eine Mithrasliturgie, p. 138). Frazer attributes reality to this feature of the ceremonies, and explains it as magical, ‘intended to make the fields wave with yellow corn’ (GB [Note: B Golden Bough (J. G. Frazer).] 3, pt. i., The Magic Art, London, 1911, ii. 138). If the ‘holy marriage’ really occurred in the mysteries, it must have been a relic of the old Nature-religions preserved in the cult and having the meaning which Frazer gives it. One more interesting feature of the mysteries of Demeter is the κυκεών, or sacred drink. Clement of Alexandria refers to it in the only confession he ascribes to the initiate: ‘I have fasted, I have drunk the cup (κυκεών); I have received from the box; having done (having tasted) I put it into the basket, and out of the basket into the chest’ (Protrept. 2). The κυκεών was a mixture of grain, water, and other ingredients, which was the first food that Demeter had taken after her long wanderings and fastings. Among these ingredients the sacramental wine must have been absent, for, while it was offered to other deities, it was not used in the cult of the underground gods (K. Kircher, Die sakrale Bedeutung des Weines im Altertum, Giessen, 1910, p. 21; P. Stengel, Opferbrauche der Griechen, Leipzig, 1910, p. 129). Stengel explains its absence on the ground that the chthonic cult reaches back to a remote time when the Greeks had not yet begun to cultivate the vine, and by reason of the conservatism of religion were disinclined, on the introduction of wine into use, to make any change in the practices of the religious cult. Moreover, the ancients were loath in their reverence for the chthonic deity to use anything which did not spring directly from the soil. However, the κυκεών was ‘a sort of soup’ (Miss Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 156) or ‘a kind of thick gruel,’ as Frazer describes it (GB [Note: B Golden Bough (J. G. Frazer).] 3, pt. v., Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, p. 161, n. [Note: . note.] 4). The part which it played in the progress of the ceremonies cannot be determined. But apparently it was not an important part, and therefore, in this respect, the κυκεών cannot be likened to the Lord’s Supper. It was a feature of the experience of Demeter in her search for her daughter, and, as every feature of that experience was closely followed in the pantomime, the manner in which she broke her protracted fast would be imitated. It is quite possible that sharing in the sacred drink meant also a formal induction into the community life of the mysteries and a reinforcing of the bonds which were binding its new members to the old. More than this-e.g. that the reception of it implied a belief of the presence of the deity with, in, and under its elements-can hardly be claimed for it. On the 23rd day, the last day of the festival, the final ceremony was performed. The worshippers assembled and, casting water from two vessels, now toward the east, and again toward the west, looked up to the heavens with the brief cry ‘Rain!’ and then looking down to the earth cried ‘Be fruitful!’ or ‘Conceive!’ The prayer, pregnant with significance, throws back a bright light on the real meaning of the mysteries celebrated at Eleusis.
We have no means of determining the extent of the influence of these mysteries. Numerous sanctuaries, dependent on the main sanctuary at Eleusis, arose in other parts of Greece. We hear of a sanctuary or chapel even in Italy. Of these daughter institutions we know but little that we can call trustworthy. The ‘truce of God,’ which suspended all hostilities during the Eleusinian celebration, was proclaimed in lands as distant as Syria and Egypt. Emperors, such as Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, gladly became initiated adherents of the cult, and when Valentinian I., in the year 364, forbade religious celebrations at night, he was obliged to make an exception of the ceremonies at Eleusis. An influence so extensive makes it possible that St. Paul knew of the mysteries. But if he did, it is singular that he did not allude to them in his speech at Athens on Mars’ Hill. The slightest apparent allusion to them would have been eagerly seized by those who affirm his familiarity with mystery-religions. But his silence would seem to show that he knew little or nothing of the Eleusinian mysteries, or else viewed them with a disfavour which the courtesy of the moment compelled him to refrain from revealing. Their influence on the Church can only be assumed, not proved. Svoronos, as quoted by De Jong (Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 29), affirms that the Greek Church is the successor of the Eleusinian cult, that she borrowed much from Eleusis. If this be true, the act of borrowing could have taken place only at a comparatively late period. Examples of this act are found in her celebration of important ceremonies at night, in her processions with their icons, in the revealing of holy objects, in the confession of sins before the Eucharist, and in the adoration of the Virgin Mary. With these are supposed to correspond the initiation at night in Eleusis, the procession bearing the image of Iacchos, the disclosure of ‘holy things’ in the Telesterion, the exclusion of the unworthy, and the practice of confession at Samothrace, the mourning of Demeter, having for her Christian parallel the ‘mater dolorosa,’ and the worship of Demeter, whose cult ceased just before the worship (hyperdulia) of the Virgin assumed unusual importance, and, therefore, seems to have replaced that of Demeter. One could speak more confidently of the exactness of these similarities if one knew accurately what the ceremonies in the Telesterion really were. Moreover, the origin of the ceremonial customs and rites of the Greek can be traced and has been traced to other sources than to the cult at Eleusis; and when more than one source can be ascribed to a practice, its assumed origin in a particular quarter is rendered doubtful. At all events, this comparison does not come within the limits of the primitive Church, for such rites as make the comparison possible had not yet been developed.
(b) The mysteries of Samothrace.-The Samothracian mysteries are far less known to us than the Eleusinian. They get their name from the fact that their chief seat was in the island of Samothrace, which was an object of superstitious regard from pre-historic times to a comparatively late period. The cult itself is very ancient, and seems to be a relic of the religious life of the old Pelasgian or aegean civilization which flourished even as far as Sicily before the Greek civilization arose. The ruins of its ancient sanctuaries in Samothrace reveal remnants of the same massive, Cyclopean walls, which are found elsewhere in the islands and on the coasts of the Mediterranean. Its mysteries were important in ancient times, and from the 4th cent. rivalled the Eleusinian. They attained their greatest distinction under Philip and his queen Olympia, who were initiated into them, and under the Ptolemys, who patronized them and cared for their sacred buildings. Later the cult extended its influence among the citizens of the Roman Republic. Among its adherents were such Roman soldiers and leaders as M. Claudius Marcellus. We know little about its ceremonies and formulae, which is a misfortune, for such knowledge might have thrown light on the growth of the religious terminology which St. Paul found and used. They centred in the Kabeiroi, concerning whom we have only the most meagre information. They seem to have belonged to the class of spirits known as demons, goblins, and satyrs. Originally they were chthonian deities or gods of the under world, as the excavations on the island reveal. Their name is probably of Phœnician origin, for it appears to be connected with the Semitic Kabeirim, the ‘mighty ones.’ They were really gods native to the islands of the aegean sea; but inasmuch as they were gods of navigation, the Phœnician sailors naturally were interested in them and gave them the name by which they came to be generally known. On Samothrace they were called presumably Axieros, Axiokersos, Axiokersa, and Casmilos. Like all deities of indeterminate character, they were identified at various times with deities of another name. The possible affinity of their mysteries with those of Eleusis led to the subsequent retirement of these barbaric names, and the substitution in the place of the first three of the names of Demeter, Kore, and Pluto or Hades. Cybele and Dionysus rival Demeter and Pluto as usurpers of the native Samothracian names. A worship of the Kabeiroi existed near Thebes also at an early period. Excavations of the sanctuary belonging to the cult have brought to light pottery dating from the end of the 5th and beginning of the 4th centuries b.c., which bears on its surface a figure apparently of Dionysus with the word ‘Kabiros’ written just above it. The god is evidently chthonic in character. Probably the Kabeiroi were remotely deities of vegetation; but their office in historic times was to safeguard the mariner. He who had been initiated into their mysteries and had the purple thread bound about his person was secure from the perils of the sea. We know nothing more of their mystic festival than that it was ecstatic, and that it contained a sacramental communion, if we accept H. Hepding’s interpretation of a Samothracian inscription (Attis, seine Mythen und sein Kult, Giessen, 1903, p. 185). Nor is there any way of determining their influence on the development of the religious life which finally found its complete satisfaction in the Christian faith.
(c) The mysteries of Andania.-The Andanian mysteries were celebrated at Andania in Messenia, the south-western part of Greece (Peloponnesus). Originally they were consecrated to Demeter and to Kore, who was called Hagne, ‘the Holy One.’ But at a later period Hermes, the Kabeiroi, and Apollo were added to these deities. The Andanian inscription of 91 b.c. gives us some information concerning their external rites. The manner in which the priests take the oath, the various crowns or head-dresses which the priests and the mystics should wear, the dress of linen in which they should be clothed, are described. Women are directed to be present with hair unbound and feet unshod, and the animals to be offered to the different deities are designated. Married women figure as priestesses, and grades of initiation appear here as in the Eleusinian mysteries. While evidences of required baptisms and anointings are apparent, there is no indication of a sacramental meal; but as such meals were customary in the secret cults, it is possible that it had a place in the Andanian mysteries. Of the purpose of these mysteries we know nothing, but we can conjecture that they were related to the harvest, and that they gave to the initiate a happy lot in the future world.
(d) The Egyptian mysteries.-As early as the XIXth dynasty the Egyptian cults had already begun to spread into other lands. They were founded on the legend of Osiris, who, like Demeter, was originally a deity of vegetation. The myth that centres about him is gathered from various sources, among which Plutarch’s account may be regarded as the chief. He is usually represented as the son of the earth-god Keb and the sky-goddess Nut, which is the reverse of the customary relationship of the parental deities. On reaching manhood he ruled his country for twenty-eight years, and proved to be a beneficent monarch. He taught his subjects how to cultivate their fields, to train their vines, and to work with tools. He even left his country and carried everywhere his knowledge of the arts of a helpful life. On his return his evil-minded brother, Set, persuaded him to test the capacity of a chest to receive his body, and, as soon as he had stretched himself in it, Set shut the lid, fastened it down, and threw the chest into the Nile. Isis, the sister-wife of Osiris, in an agony of grief went everywhere seeking him, and, finally recovering the body, returned with it to Egypt and hid it among the reeds by the river. But Set, while hunting at night, discovered it under the moonlight, and, dismembering it, scattered the several parts throughout the country. Isis renewed her search, and on finding the fragments gave them a fitting burial. Another version of the story tells us that Anubis, sent by Ra, came to her aid, and with the help of Thot and of Horus (in Greek times Harpocrates) fitted the parts together, enveloped them in a linen winding-sheet, and then by his magical power restored him to life. From this moment Osiris presided over the under world as its king and judge. All disembodied souls had to appear before him, make their confession to him, and receive at his hands the award of their deeds. In this capacity Osiris was viewed as the representative and giver of immortal life. In order to receive it, one must have become even identified with him and be called by his name. His great festival began on 28th October and ended on 1st November.
It was not until the time of Ptolemy I. (306-285 b.c.) that the Egyptian mysteries made rapid progress. He seems to have given the first impulse to the syncretism, or amalgamation of cults and divinities, which for six or seven centuries was to direct the religious life and practice of men, and which is supposed by some scholars to have deeply influenced even the beginnings of Christianity. The first step in this syncretistic movement was the adoption of the name Serapis for that of Osiris. The origin of the name is still doubtful. Some find its source in the Chaldaean Sar-apsi. But more probably it is simply the reduced form of Osiris-apis (Oser-hapi). The union of the god with the sacred bull, Apis, which was regarded as his incarnation, would suit Egyptian prejudices, and the name Serapis itself would appeal to the Greek mind. Thus Serapis, Isis, and Horus or Harpocrates were the leading deities in the Egyptian cults, Anubis, Jupiter Hammon, and the Sphinx ranking after them. They were invoked sometimes together, and sometimes separately. Usually the name Serapis leads the rest, and when alone is identified with Zeus and Helios, giving rise to the formula, inscribed on amulets, ‘Zeus, Helios, and Serapis are one.’ More frequently two names, Serapis and Isis, are united in one invocation, but Isis also often stands alone, as in Spain and Gaul, and receives the exclusive worship.
Under the Ptolemys the cults spread through the aegean islands and found numerous adherents along the shores of Asia Minor. In the same period they had reached Greece, and they arrived in Sicily about the year 298 b.c. The later progress of Christianity was hardly more rapid. The ability of the cult of Serapis by itself to arouse the emotions and fancies, its capacity to answer the ascetic longings, its power to amalgamate itself with other cults, and to meet the monotheistic tendency, combined to give it a victorious career. However, it was Isis, the queen deity, that became the more celebrated of the two. The charm of her personality attracted the affections of many peoples. Her gracious attitude toward women, especially young women, enlisted in her following one of the most potential aids to the dissemination of a religious cult. Her dark temples, solemn and mysterious, drew, rather than repelled, the religiously inclined. About 150 b.c. her cult reached Italy, but did not enter Rome until the middle of the 1st cent. b.c. There it encountered a determined opposition, its altars and images being destroyed four times in the course of one decade. But the cult was tenacious. The emperor Tiberius dealt it another blow in a.d. 19. Soon after this resistance gave way, for the cult of Isis did what the State-religions were not doing-gave to the worshipper the consciousness of direct and personal communion with the deity. In a.d. 38 Caligula built the great temple of Isis on the Campus Martius, which figures in the story of Apuleius. In a.d. 215 Caracalla placed the cult on a level with the State-cults and built for the worship of Isis one of her finest temples. The goddess of countless names, Isis Myrionyma, had conquered. She is rightly called Domina, Victrix, Invicta, Mater, Panthea; and, had her worship finally prevailed, the Creator of all things visible and invisible would have been conceived as the feminine rather than as the masculine principle of the universe. But her reign ceased, although years after every other mystery-religion had vanished. Her cult lingered on in southern Egypt, where probably, in pre-historic times, the goddess began her career, and in a.d. 560 Justinian closed her only remaining temple on the little island of Philae.
Our chief source of information concerning the mysteries of Isis is Metamorphoses, or Golden Ass, written by Lucius Apuleius (born a.d. 125). At the close of the work the author describes the experiences of one undergoing initiation into the Egyptian cult. We may accept the information with confidence, for the account is marked by too much sincerity to pass, like the story which precedes it, as a product of the imagination. Unfortunately, the information bears on the rites of preparation, not on the transactions in the sanctuary itself. We learn from it that the candidate for initiation had to await the summons of Isis, even after he had been assured by her that he was destined for her ministry. During this period of waiting he must carefully perform his religious duties and preserve a dignified silence. At the proper time Isis makes her will known to him in a vision, and the priest, to whom she has addressed herself at the same moment, in the ‘darksome night’ and by no ‘obscure mandate,’ informs him that Isis is ready to communicate to him her secrets. After certain ceremonies, whose significance is not disclosed, the priest ‘washed and sprinkled him with the purest water,’ and, after giving him further secret instructions, enjoined upon him abstinence for ten days from all but the simplest food. At the close of the fast he was led, clothed in new linen garments, to the inner recesses of the sanctuary, where the mysteries of the cult were revealed to him. Of course the revelations were inviolably secret, but no doubt they centred about the cruel treatment of Serapis, the search of Isis for his dead body, and the resurrection of the god. We should be glad to know what was said and done in the sanctuary.
‘I would tell you,’ answers Apuleius, ‘were it lawful for me to tell you; you should know it, if it were lawful for you to hear. But both the ears that heard these things, and the tongue that told them, would reap the evil results of their rashness’ (xi. 23).
The final initiation was consummated at night, as it was in all the mystery-religions; for it is in the midnight hours that mind and heart are the most deeply impressed.
In those hours, Apuleius goes on, ‘I approached the confines of death, and having trod on the threshold of Proserpine, I returned therefrom, being borne through the elements. At midnight I saw the sun shining with its brilliant light, and I approached the presence of the gods beneath, and the gods of heaven, and stood near and worshipped them’ (xi. 23).
In the morning he appeared crowned with palm leaves and dressed in a many-coloured robe, and was received by the people with joy and adoration. Apparently they regarded him as identified with the deity and worthy of divine honours. Christianity escaped this partial idolatry prevalent in all mystery-religions, for at no time in its history was the worshipper of Christ identified in like manner with the Christ Himself. No sacramental meal is mentioned as a part of the ceremony by Apuleius. He speaks of a ‘religious breakfast’ as a feature of the ceremonies of the third day; but this formed no element in the initiation itself. Since the Egyptian cults had become syncretistic they may have adopted the sacramental meal, for, as in the Semitic, so in the Egyptian religion, it was not emphasized in earlier times. The fact that it occurs in the Eleusinian mysteries is no proof of its presence in the mysteries of Isis; for, while the resemblances between the two cults are sufficiently striking, the differences are equally impressive. De Jong sums them up briefly: the respective tasks of Isis and Demeter are wholly unlike: the one sought her brother and husband, who is dismembered; the other sought her daughter, who remains physically sound. The initiation into the mysteries of Isis involved unreserved consecration to her service; initiation into the mysteries of Demeter did not make this extreme demand. In the one case the individual was initiated by himself; in the other the initiation embraced many individuals at once. The cult of Isis received the candidate at any moment, as her will decided, the cult of Demeter at a stated moment. The one was open to astrological ideas, the other was proof against them. These differences reveal a mutually independent development, although somewhere in pre-historic times they perhaps sprang from a common source.
The extent of the influence of the Egyptian cults can be more satisfactorily determined than the extent of the Eleusinian influence. Cumont regards it as very great. ‘At the beginning of our era,’ he says, ‘there set in that great movement of conversion that soon established the worship of Isis and Serapis from the outskirts of the Sahara to the vallum of Britain, and from the mountains of Asturias to the mouths of the Danube’ (Oriental Religions, p. 83). Again, he informs us that the priests of the Egyptian religion ‘made proselytes in every province’ of the Roman world (ib. p. 86). But Toutain disputes this conclusion and restricts the influence of the Egyptian mysteries. They did not take root in the provincial soil, did not modify sensibly the ideas and practices of the immense majority of the people, and remained always exotic cults in the Western world (Les Cultes païens, ii. 34). This conclusion is based largely on the absence of monuments and inscriptions in certain parts of the Roman Empire, and is, therefore, an inference from silence. But, as we determine the extent of the influence of a mystery-religion by the indications of its presence, the absence of such indications forms a reasonable basis for judgment. The Egyptian cults, however, were sufficiently extensive to make their influence felt in wide areas. Yet that influence cannot be said to have reached with any degree of potency the writings of the NT. Schweitzer seems to admit that St. Paul may have known of the cult of Serapis and Isis (Geschichte der paulinischen Forschung, p. 150, translation W. Montgomery, Paul and his Interpreters, London, 1912, pp. 191-192). But, if he did, his knowledge must have been extremely limited, for it exercised no perceptible moulding power over his thought. The effects of the cult on the ceremonial of the Church are more apparent; but even here the resemblances take the form of analogy rather than of genealogy. The division of the followers of Isis into believer and initiate corresponds with the Christian division into catechumen and faithful. But the Christian parallel would be more striking had the Christian division been into layman and priest, as in the Egyptian cult. The Egyptian fasts, processions, morning and evening worship, have their answering Christian ceremonies, but are not causally related to them to the exclusion of all other sources. The tonsure, it is possible, came directly from the Egyptian cults into the Christian Church. From the earliest times it was practised by the priest of Isis and Serapis for the purpose of cleanliness at the sacrifice. It was peculiar to him, for the Attis priest wore his hair long, like the modern dervish. From the Egyptian cult it passed into the Christian communities of Egyptian ascetics, and thence, by the end of the 5th cent., to the Christian clergy. Again, the derivation of the adoration of Mary, the mother of Christ, from the worship of Isis is not wholly convincing, for the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries may have been the sole factor in bringing about this fateful result. All this took place at a comparatively late period. At any rate, as Clemen intimates (Der Einfluss der Mysterienreligionen, p. 9), the influence of the Egyptian mysteries in the 1st cent. must not be assumed to be extensive in the sphere of the Christian Church.
(e) The mysteries of Asia Minor.-The mysteries of Attis and Cybele were the most famous and influential in the early religious life of Asia Minor. Nowhere and at no time does Attis appear to be worshipped apart from Cybele. He is related to her now as her lover, now as her child. The story of this double relation, like other mythological tales of leading deities, is various. One, the Lydian story, represents Attis as killed, like Adonis, by a wild boar. The other, the Phrygian story, represents him as driven to frenzy by the jealousy of Cybele, and as dying from the effects of self-mutilation under a pine or fir tree, which thereby became sacred to him. Cybele herself was the greatest of the deities of Asia Minor. She bore many names, and the seat of her worship was in the Galatian city of Pessinus. Here in very early times the stone of meteoric character, ‘a black aerolite’ (Cumont, Oriental Religions, p. 47), which was to play an important part in the religious life of Rome, was to be found. And here was the grave of Attis, over whose death the Phrygians mourned in their annual festival.
The primitive history of the cult is unknown. The supremacy of Cybele seems to point back to a matriarchal order of social life. And the name of Attis, for which no explanation has been reached, appears to have belonged to some remote and forgotten speech. A few scholars suggest the Hittite tongue. But possibly it may yet prove to be a relic of the old aegean civilization which had its seat in Crete and whose ruler bore the title of ‘Minos,’ as the ruler of the Egyptians bore that of ‘Pharaoh.’ Farnell thinks that ‘in following back to its fountain-head the origins of this cult, we are led inevitably to Minoan Crete’ (Greece and Babylon, Edinburgh, 1911, p. 92). It was Attis, not Cybele, who was the prominent figure in the mysteries. What Osiris was among the Egyptians, or Adonis among the Phœnicians, Attis was among the Phrygians. He bore the character of a chthonic deity, a god of vegetation, for he had his death and his resurrection, like the grain. His priests were called Galli, or Galloi, and the chief priest claimed the name of Attis himself. In honour of the god, and in a moment of extreme ecstasy, they unmanned themselves-an act which distinguishes the cult of Attis from all others, and whose source and explanation still baffle the investigator. In the year 204 b.c. the sacred stone of Cybele was taken from Pessinus and carried to Rome. This was done in obedience to a Sibylline oracle, which declared that the conquests of Hannibal in Italy would not cease until a sanctuary was established for the worship of Cybele in Rome. The stone was received with much ceremony and was placed in the temple of the goddess of victory on the Palatine. This inauguration of the worship of Attis and Cybele in Rome is regarded as the first step toward the conquest of the West by the Oriental cults. But at the outset the Phrygian cult gained no perceptible control over the Roman mind. Romans were forbidden by legislative acts to take part in its ceremonies. It was placed exclusively in the hands of Phrygian priests, who alone were permitted to perform its rites and to receive alms from the citizens for its support. This rigorous exclusion of Romans from the cult continued until the reign of Claudius (a.d. 41-54), who placed the Phrygian festival among the publicly recognized festivals of the city. The cause of this act is attributed by Cumont to the desire of Claudius to establish a rival of Isis, whose worship had already been favoured by Caligula, and whose processions were attaining a constantly increasing popularity. This early date is disputed, but both Hepding (Attis, seine Mythen und sein Kult, p. 145) and Cumont (Oriental Religions, p. 55) agree on its correctness.
The festival of Attis was brilliantly celebrated in Rome at the spring equinox in the second half of the month of March. It evidently possessed the main characteristics of the wild and ecstatic worship as practised in the native home of the cult. It was introduced by a preparatory ceremony on 15th March, when the cannophori, or reed-bearers, had their procession, commemorating some forgotten event or rite in the remote ceremonial life of Asia Minor. The reed played an important part in the commemoration of Cybele, but only speculation can explain its connexion with her worship. A week later, on 22nd March, a pine or fir tree was cut down in the sacred grove of the goddess and was borne by the dendrophori, or tree-bearers, in procession to the temple of the Idaean mother on the Palatine. Its branches were garlanded with violets and its trunk swathed with woollen bands. It represented the dead body of Attis, and the garlands were woven of violets, because violets sprang from the blood-drops which fell from his person when he unmanned himself at the foot of the pine. Julius Firmicus Maternus, who wrote about a.d. 347, is responsible for the statement that the effigy of a youth, apparently of Attis, was bound to the tree (de Err. Prof. Relig. xxvii. 1). The succeeding day was passed in mourning the death of Attis. It is possible that on this day the mourners joined in the Tubilustrium, or the Feast of Trumpets, when the trumpets, used at the sacrifice, were purified. But our sources do not assure us of this. The 24th was the dies sanguinis, the day of blood, when the mourning reached its highest intensity. Under the shrill sounds of various instruments, the hoarse cries of the Galli, and the spectacle of their whirling dances, the crowd of worshippers were lifted to unrestrained ecstasy, in which they slashed themselves with knives that the blood might sprinkle the statue of the goddess, and when the neophyte, insensible to pain, emasculated himself in her honour with a sharp stone. His use of the sharp stone to complete his self-consecration to the deity is but another indication of the conservatism of religion, which preferred to retain in the sacred rite the ancient means rather than adopt the more modern means of metal. Our sources, however, give us but slight information concerning this stage of the ceremonies. The real initiation was probably consummated under the light of torches and in the sanctuary of Cybele during the hours of the succeeding night. This can be gathered only from hints of early writers and from a few existing monuments relating to the cult. The 25th was called the Hilaria, the joyous festival, when the announcement of the resurrection of Attis was made and the expressions of mourning were turned into extravagant expressions of joy. It was characterized by a sort of carnival, when a certain amount of freedom was permitted in the public streets. Later, in the 3rd cent., this masked and hilarious procession had become one of the most important among Roman festivals. The next day was given up to quiet and rest. But on the 27th, called the Lavatio, the ceremonies were resumed. The silver image of the goddess was borne on a wagon drawn by cows from the sanctuary on the Palatine through the Porta Capena to the Almo, which entered the Tiber not far from Rome. There the Archigallus bathed the image in the stream, and thoroughly washed the wagon and the rest of the sacra. On the return of the procession to the sanctuary the wagon was filled with flowers cast into it by the people who lined the way, and the Galli made good use of their opportunity to receive alms from the charitable. So the great celebration of the rites of Attis and Cybele was closed.
We infer from formulae recorded by Firmicus and Clement of Alexandria that a sacramental meal was administered to the candidate during the initiation. Firmicus, quoting the Greek equivalent of his Latin formula, gives it as, ‘I have eaten from the tambourine, I have drunk from the cymbal, I have become a mystic of Attis’ (de Err. Prof. Relig. xviii. 1). Clement gives the same formula more fully (Protrept. ii. 15). It is probable that the rite was celebrated at the beginning of the initiation as a preparation for other rites, such as the ‘holy marriage,’ though we have but the slightest evidence that the ‘holy marriage’ figured in the cult. The elements of the communion were, according to M. Brückner (Der sterbende und auferstehende Gottheiland, Tübingen, 1911, p. 24) and Hepding (Attis, p. 186), bread, wine, and the fish. The belief that the fish was one of the elements is based by Hepding on the much-discussed inscription found on the tomb of Abercius, who he thinks was a follower of Attis, and not, as others affirm, a Christian bishop (Attis, p. 188). It is true that certain species of fish were sacred to Atargatis, the Phœnician goddess, and were eaten sacramentally by her priests. Phœnicia lay not far away from Phrygia. But the proof that the features of her communion meal characterized that of Phrygia resolves itself under close examination into mere supposition. Hepding himself confesses that his opinion rests only on assumption. How the Attis communicant regarded his sacramental meal is also open to conjecture. Dieterich, reasoning from words of Firmicus which follow his quotation of the Attis formula, concludes that the communicant recognized in this sacrament a real presence of the deity (Eine Mithrasliturgie, p. 103; see also O. Pfleiderer, The Early Christian Conception of Christ, London, 1905, p. 127). O. Seeck says dogmatically that ‘what he consumed was regarded as the flesh and blood of Attis, which he absorbed in order to deify his mortal body’ (Geschichte des Untergangs der antiken Welt, iii. [Berlin, 1909] 128). Hepding falls back on the theory of Robertson Smith that the solemn act of eating and drinking together is the ceremonial introduction to personal relationship to the deity and to the common life of the community (RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites (W. Robertson Smith).] 2, London, 1894, p. 265). Yet Hepding adds that, while in the mysteries the idea of admission to a brotherhood is not ignored, ‘the personal relation of the individual to the deity was emphasized’ (Attis, p. 188). Cumont takes a similar view of the sacrament (Oriental Religions, p. 69). But the evidence cited for the belief of the Attis worshipper in a real presence of the deity in, with, and under the elements is not wholly assuring. We do not know from any trustworthy source what conception he had of the elements, as consecrated, though the chances are that it was decidedly realistic. The position of the sacrament in the initiation is also unknown. It probably followed the fast, and, as Brückner suggests, was the first step in the ceremonies. The final ceremony was the resurrection of Attis. When the rites had reached their most impressive stage, amid the gloom and the singing of mournful hymns, a bright light suddenly irradiated the atmosphere; the tomb was opened, and the god arose. The priest whispered to the initiates, ‘Be of good cheer, oh mystics, the god is saved; for there shall be salvation to you from your trials’ (Firmicus, de Err. Prof. Relig. xxii. 1). The words are significant, for they reveal the aim of the mysteries of Attis-escape from perdition and the assurance of a bright immortality. Thenceforth, not through the sacrament, but through the resurrection of Attis and his share in it, the initiate was a mystic of Attis.
The taurobolium (less frequently criobolium, the offering of the ram) became a part of the rites of the cult after the middle of the 1st century. The mystic, swathed in linen as if prepared for burial, descended, while the spectators sang dirges, into a pit which was covered with lattice-work. The blood of the slaughtered animal streamed through the openings in the platform on the mystic below, who eagerly caught it, bathing himself with it and drinking it. When he ascended, red and dripping, from the pit, he was regarded as born again to eternal life, and was received by his associates with divine honours (Prudentius, Peristephanon, x. 1048). The idea of his re-birth was further emphasized by the nourishment of milk which was given him, as though he were a new-born babe. The taurobolium was not always regarded as lasting in its effects, but might be repeated by the individual after the lapse of twenty years in order to re-invigorate his spiritual life. In this respect it differed wholly from the Christian baptism by water, which was permanent and repeated only conditionally. The influence of the taurobolium on the formation of the sacramental doctrine of the Church could have been only very slight. It is more likely that the Christian idea of cleansing and purification ‘in the blood of the Lamb’ (Revelation 7:14) influenced the taurobolium. The source of the rite and even of its name is conjectural. It is not strictly Phrygian; it may be traced to the peoples of Syria, and even further to the deserts of Arabia. Cumont has changed his mind more than once concerning its origin, and his various conclusions are subjected by Toutain to sceptical criticism (Cumont, Oriental Religions, p. 66 ff.; Toutain, Les Cultes païens, ii. 86 ff.).
It was not until the second half of the 2nd cent. that the cult of Attis and Cybele began to command an extensive attention and interest in the Western world. In the time of Irenaeus it was already present in Lyons, which became the centre of its extension in this part of the Roman Empire (Toutain, Les Cultes païens, ii. 112-114). It had been brought thither by a few of its devotees, whose missionary zeal may have been inspired by the success of the Church in her missionary enterprise. Two factors greatly aided the spread of the cult. One was the taurobolium already mentioned. Its assurance of spiritual purification and immortality gave it an inestimable value in the eyes of the converts. To have experienced the taurobolium was to be free of sin either temporarily or permanently, and to possess, with this cleansing, the grant of a happy life hereafter. The other factor was the agrarian character of the cult. What promises to men an abundance of food is also dear to them. Consequently, the processions around the sown fields with the image of Cybele borne aloft, the accompanying songs and dances in her honour, the resulting assurance of a rich harvest, increased the capacity of the cult to win the affections of the common people. Thus a joyful life here and the anticipation of a joyful life hereafter made it a centre of attraction wherever it went. By the middle of the 3rd cent. its taurobolia, at first private, had become public, and were offered even for the welfare of the imperial family. By this time the cult had established itself in Gaul, Spain, and Africa. Where its sanctuary stood in Rome, the original centre of its propagandism, rises now the dome of the cathedral of St. Peter.
(f) The mysteries of Persia.-Mithras was the centre of devotion and worship in the Persian cult. In early Persian times he was associated with the highest god, Ahura, and afterwards was a modification of him. Specifically he was the god of light-that is, the light of day. Daily from the eastern to the western horizon he rode in his chariot drawn by four white horses. In him the dawn, the brightness of the noon, and the sunset glow were embodied. He was also the god of vegetation, not because he possessed a chthonic character, but because his warming light quickened the seed and brought forth the abundant harvest. It is possible that Mithras also was remotely a chthonic deity, like Demeter and Attis. His association with the cave, his worship in the underground chamber, and the representations of vegetable life on his monuments, might imply it. But as he is portrayed in Persian mythology he was a celestial deity and is devoid of all chthonic features (J. Grill, Die persische Mysterienreligion im römischen Reich und das Christentum, Tübingen, 1903, p. 28). The life-giving power of Mithras was naturally extended by human reflexion to the moral sphere. He was regarded as the inspirer of truthfulness, honesty, and bravery in his subjects. Before him the oath was taken, and he was the avenger of the violation of treaties. Under the Persian kings he became, as their protector, the god of war. Thus he was a soldier’s deity, which, in part, explains his charm for Roman legionaries. As the deity to whom appeal was made in battle, he became also a mediator between gods and men, and ruled the realm intermediate between the abode of Ahura and that of Ahriman.
The Mithras of the Roman Empire was not the same as the Mithras of the Persian kingdom. In the progress of his worship from Persia westward his cult experienced numerous additions and modifications. It is difficult to mark the moment when it became a mystery-religion, but the cult was already well advanced, theologically and sacramentally, in the 2nd cent. b.c. During its sojourn in Babylonia it fell under the influence of the Chaldaean astrology and absorbed much of it. Consequently, the instructions given the candidate, probably in the later stages of his initiation, assumed a partially scientific character. When the cult reached the Greek-speaking peoples, it suffered fresh modifications, but these did not vitally affect it. While pliant under the Chaldaean, it was unyielding under the Greek influence. This conservatism distinguishes it from other cults which were less sturdy in their capacity for resistance. The Romans, among whom it was to assume its greatest importance, first came into contact with it in their invasion of Asia Minor, especially when Pompey waged his war with Mithradates (66 b.c.), although a company of Mithraic worshippers had already appeared in Rome. The Roman soldiers, chiefly the officers, were at once drawn to this martial god, and, giving him their allegiance, became his most effective missionaries in the West. They carried his cult, as they moved from camp to camp, west of the Black Sea, up the Danube, to Central Europe, and then southward. However, only from the time of the Flavian emperors (a.d. 70-96) can it be said to have gained a foothold in the Roman Empire. In the meanwhile it failed to entrench itself on the shores of Asia Minor and in Greece. This failure had a serious effect on its destiny, for, when it came into conflict with the Christian faith, which had succeeded in capturing the culture of Greece, it found itself labouring under a great disadvantage. The religion which can interest the intellect to the greatest degree, as well as arouse the emotions, gains the day (A. Harnack, Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums, Leipzig, 1902, p. 271; but see Grill, Die persische Mysterienreligion, p. 55 ff., for additional reasons). From the end of the 2nd cent. its foothold in Rome was assured. There it allied itself with the Attis cult and flourished under the protection of the privileges granted this cult by the State. The reign of Commodus (180-192) marks an epoch in the progress of Mithras. The emperor offered himself for initiation into the mysteries, and raised the god to the position of patron deity of the imperial power; and in the reign of Severus, his successor, we find the name of a chaplain of the imperial court in the service of Mithras. The influence of the cult steadily grew in the West during the century, though it secured but slight control in Egypt and Spain. In a.d. 307 Diocletian and his associates dedicated a sanctuary to Mithras at Carnuntum on the Danube, and in that dedication recognized him as the ‘protector of the Empire.’ Fifty years later Julian became sole emperor of Rome (361-363); and, although educated a Christian, immediately announced himself to be a follower of Mithras. The cult was introduced into Constantinople; but its ascendancy lasted only a brief time. It quickly lost it, and, on the ascent of Theodosius to undisputed power (a.d. 394), it led a precarious existence until it vanished in its last place of refuge in Cappadocia and its neighbourhood.
The cult always conducted its worship in a cave, or, if a natural cave were not available, in a subterranean chamber. The underground temple was rectangular in form, and provided with rows of seats for the accommodation of the worshippers. It bore the name of Mithraeum, and could not have held more than 100 persons. Consequently, each congregation was small, but the limited number of ‘brethren’ was an advantage, for it brought the individual members into the closest acquaintance and sympathy with each other. Each congregation was well organized. It had its summus pontifex, or high priest, who had charge of the initiates, and, according to Tertullian, could marry but once. He superintended either in person or by delegated authority the numerous sacrifices, and kept the fire on the altar always burning. He directed the worship of the planets and the sun, to each of which a special day was devoted. Parallel with the duties of the priesthood there was also a system of duties assigned to elected officers of the corporation, which had the legalized right to hold property. A college of decurii governed it; besides these there were curators, who had charge of the financial affairs of the cult; advocates (defensores), who defended its interests in courts of law; patrons, whose private means helped to defray exceptional expenses. Thus its official ordering was somewhat similar to that of the cult of Isis (Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics vii. 436). Unlike the cult of Demeter, its polity seems to have been congregational, each community of worshippers being independent of every other.
The candidates for initiation passed through seven stages or grades, each possessing its own mask and robe, which the candidate wore on the completion of its rites. These seven stages answered to the spheres of the seven planets, which the soul of the devotee was supposed to traverse after it was liberated from the body. It was thus fitted to enter and leave in safety each sphere, for it was no longer a stranger to it, and knew how to answer the challenge of the guardian of it. At each grade the candidate received a special name, appropriate to the character of the grade-raven, occult or veiled, soldier, lion, Persian, sun’s messenger, and father. This is now the accepted list, though the names are variously recorded by different early writers (Porphyry, de Abstinentia, iv. 16; Jerome, Ep. 107). But the bearer of the last of them, ‘father,’ held a pre-eminent place in the mysteries; in fact, all the priests of the cult were called ‘fathers,’ as in the Attis cult. The high priest himself received the name of ‘father of fathers.’ The holders of the first three grades were regarded as servants. But when they had passed through the grade of ‘lion,’ which is the most frequently mentioned in inscriptions, they entered the rank of companions or ‘participants.’ During the initiation a system of tests was brought to bear on the candidate in order to prove his capacity for endurance. Vows of strict silence concerning the things revealed to him were required. Baptisms for cleansing appear in the various rites; and there are indications of the practice of a sacrament of Confirmation. We learn from Tertullian that the brow of the ‘soldier’ was marked with a sign: ‘Mithras set his mark on the forehead of his soldiers’ (de Praescr. 40). A communion which Cumont describes (Textes et Monuments, Brussels, 1896-99, i. 320, translation T. J. McCormack, Chicago, 1903, p. 158) figured among the rites. It belonged to an advanced stage of the initiation, and its elements were bread and water, though some (Cumont and Grill) believe that the water was mixed with wine, of which there is no convincing proof. Doubtless the communion was an imitation of the triumphant banquet, which Mithras, just before his glorious ascension, enjoyed with the sun-god. It was probably regarded by the communicant as magically imparting to himself the vigour of health, increased prosperity, illumination of mind, power to cope successfully with evil spirits, and finally a blessed immortality. De Jong appears to regard the communion as the culmination of the initiation. Others view the taurobolium, which was a rite in the Persian cult also, as the culmination, when the candidate emerged from his repulsive bath and received the homage of the people as one who had become identified with the god. Of the two opinions the latter may be viewed as the more correct.
The relation of the Persian to the Egyptian cult was close. There were Mithras-fathers who at the same time were priests of Serapis and Isis. It is significant that the priest who conducted Apuleius through the mysteries of Isis bore the name of Mithras. The idea of the service of the god as a life-long warfare was common to both; and the moral requirements received in them stronger emphasis than in the other mystery-religions. Further, the followers of Mithras, inasmuch as women with few exceptions were excluded from their cult, sought and received the admission of their wives and daughters into the Isis cult, where they were sometimes advanced to high official position. The relations of the Mithraic cult to the Attis mysteries were hardly less cordial. The Mithraeum in Rome adjoined the temple of the Phrygian mother, and the possession of the taurobolium by both formed a bond of sympathy. The attitude of Mithraism to the growing Christian Church also was kindly until the rivalry between them became intense, when goodwill gave way to animosity, and the Mithraic priesthood early in the 4th cent. inaugurated through the emperor a determined persecution of the Christians.
It has been affirmed that this rivalry was deepened by the similarity between the tenets and practices of the two religions. The similarity is striking. The Fathers of the Church-Justin and Tertullian, for example-were impressed by the likeness, and attributed it to the effort of Satan to imitate the Christian teachings and rites. Each religion had a revelation, a mediator, who was both creator and redeemer; the story of his birth into the world, of his adoration by shepherds; an atoning sacrifice for the salvation of men, a last supper, and an ascent into heaven; a baptism, a communion, a confirmation, a belief in the immortality of the soul, in a final judgment, in the resurrection of the dead, in the end of the world by fire, in a heaven for saints and in a hell for the reprobate. This parallelism of teachings and practices has suggested to some students a borrowing on the part of Christianity from Mithraism, or the absorption of Mithraism into it. But with the similarities there are equally impressive differences. Mithraism presents a pantheon, a personification of abstractions and forces; Christianity, the one living God who is Spirit and Holy Love; the one an eternal dualism of good and evil, the other a creation subject to the will of an unrivalled Creator; the one the controlling and inexorable power of fate, the other the government of a wise and beneficent Providence; the one a mythological saviour, the other a historic person, who lived a real yet sinless life and died a heroic death to rescue the world from sin. Mithraism saved exclusively by sacramentalism, Christianity by faith with sacramentalism subordinate to it. These distinctions colour the two religions through and through, imparting their distinctiveness to the minor features which help to characterize them. Further than this, Mithraism was established in the Western world only after the Christian doctrines had been wrought out in the Church. Christianity becomes more wonderful in our eyes if it could have absorbed a religion so disparate from itself and so powerful without becoming itself radically affected by the act. De Jong is quite right in rejecting utterly the plea that Christianity borrowed any of its tenets from the Mithraic cult (Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 60).
It was only at the end of the 2nd cent. that this mystery-religion began to assume importance in the life of the Empire, but it always remained local in its influence. It was a soldier’s religion, and naturally followed the Roman army from encampment to encampment. One can trace the movements of the army on the soil of Europe by the surviving Mithraic monuments. Outside of the army posts it got a footing along the great routes of travel, frequented by the Oriental, who would naturally carry his religion with him. As a military religion it was confined socially to a limited social life-from the officers of legions, governors of provinces, to their captives and slaves. Under such conditions extensive territories would lie beyond its influence (Toutain, Les Cultes païens, ii. 150-159). And from these territories, which were not dominated by Mithraism, the religion of Christ drew in great measure its converts. Throughout its career, therefore, the Persian cult could have had but slight direct influence on the Christian faith.
(g) The Orphic mysteries.-Orphism is the speculative element in the Thracian worship of Dionysus. The oldest witness to Orphism is Herodotus (ii. 81), who emphasizes the agreement of some Bacchic and Orphic customs with the Egyptian (Rohde, Psyche, ii. 103). Orpheus was its founder, and from him it received its name. There are two main conceptions of him, the one laying the stress on his humanity, the other on his divinity. The first presents him as a historic figure, an immigrant from the South, perhaps Crete, into Thrace and Thessaly (Miss Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 456 ff.). The second presents him as a god, either chthonic or celestial. His assumed chthonic character is based on the derivation of his name from ὄρφνη, the darkness of the nether world. If he was a god, he was originally identified with Dionysus. Seeck believes that the two were nearly related forms of the sun-god, whose cult was strongly influenced by that of Sabazius, who was Thracian as well as Phrygian, an unmistakable chthonic deity, his symbol being the serpent. But the problem of the original inter-relationship of Orpheus and Dionysus remains still unsolved. Miss Harrison confesses that ‘mythology has left us no tangle more intricate and assuredly no problem half so interesting as the relation between the ritual and mythology of Orpheus and Dionysos’ (Prolegomena, p. 455). Orpheus, however, failed to keep the position which his supposed identification with Dionysus gave him; for later he appears merely as a priest of Dionysus and a promoter of the Dionysiac mysteries. In spite of his close relationship to him there are distinctions which separate them and give to Orpheus an individuality of his own. Two distinguishing features characterize the cult, which often bears his name rather than that of Dionysus. The first was its capacity to embody the finer aspirations of the soul in fitting melody. This capacity was presumably due to Orpheus, whose soft and gentle music, varied in its expression, could easily be contrasted with the uniformly wild and strident strains, more customary among his actual or adopted countrymen. The second feature was its possession of an abundant sacred literature, such as was wanting in the other mystery-religions, with the exception, perhaps, of that of Isis. In its form it was poetical, and continued to increase in volume from the 6th cent. b.c. to the 4th cent. a.d. (Lobeck, Aglaophamus, pp. 341-347). In character it was dogmatic, presenting authoritatively its peculiar view of the world and of man. Time was the original generative power. Thence came aether or the heavenly world, and Chaos, the mighty void (πελώριον χάσμα). Time produced a silver egg which aether fructified and over which Chaos brooded. From the egg Phanes, the mystic principle of the world, was born. The new deity was two-fold in gender, male and female at once, and from its co-ordinated activities a universe emerged, which it reduced to harmonious arrangement. Then follows a succession of deities, among which are the Titans, and the sole ruler, Kronos, who swallows his own children and is finally conquered and supplanted by Zeus. Each succession of rulers introduces a new ordering of the world-a new epoch. At the end of the succession Dionysus appears, with the added name of Zagreus, possibly a chthonic deity. While he was still a child his father, Zeus, entrusted to him the government of the world. The evil Titans, the enemies of Zeus, approached him in disguise at the instigation of the jealous Hera, and gained his goodwill by gifts. While he was intent on one of the gifts they fell upon him, but Zagreus escaped from them by repeated transformations of himself. At last they caught him when he was in the form of a bull and tore him into pieces, all of which except the heart they swallowed. Zeus, hearing of his death, avenged it by smiting the Titans with a thunder-bolt, and out of their ashes the race of man arose, possessing according to its origin good qualities (dionysiac) and evil qualities (titanic). The legend which recounts the restoration of Dionysus to his former life and glory is varied. But he, as restored, introduced a new era in which mankind is now living. The story, thus briefly recounted, is very old. Onomacritus of Athens (530-485 b.c.) evidently had it under his hands. The Orphic theology begins with it and continues in it. For man by nature is dominated by an evil principle, from which he must seek to free himself. It is his original sin, which holds him down morally, and his hope of victory lies in Dionysus Zagreus, to whom the government of the world has again fallen. But in the effort to attain victory certain ritualistic practices are enjoined, such as abstinence from certain foods, meat, eggs, and beans, and wearing of white garments, and the offering of unbloody sacrifices.
The Orphic theology dealt with the soul not merely as it exists in this world, but with its fate in the future world. On the one hand, the Orphic doctrine of the state of the blessed dead was the reverse of the dreary conception which, applied to all but a few persons, was prevalent in the time of Homer. On the other hand, its doctrine of final retribution was almost as sombre as that of Chinese Buddhism. The idea of transmigration formed the central point of its view of the future. This idea, with others, seems to point to a close connexion at some early period between the cult and the Egyptian mysteries, and to sustain the theory that Orphism was derived mainly from Egypt. But the connexion of Orphism with Thracian beliefs and trends is too deep-seated and unmistakable to give room to this theory. The doctrine of transmigration, which we find alike in India and Egypt, must have been an extensive belief in remote times. No one knows whence it came, and it is likely to have been as native to Thrace and Thessaly or to lower Italy, where the cult early made its home, as to India or to Egypt. At a primitive period it made its way, as a religious conviction, into Orphic teaching, and so came, not from the philosophers to the priests, but rather from the priests to the philosophers (R. Falke, ‘Die Seelenwanderung,’ in Biblische Zeitund Streitfragen, Berlin, 1913, p. 5).
About the year 600 b.c. the Orphic influence began its march southward through Greece, inaugurating one of the greatest conversions the world has experienced. It embodied itself in the form of the Dionysiac religion, and reinforced the waning worship of Dionysus which had established itself in Greece as early as the days of Homer. But its advent was not graciously received (Plato, Rep. 364 E). Nevertheless, its missionary spirit was ardent and persistent. It not only continued to found its own sanctuaries, but is supposed to have exercised a profound moulding power over other cults. Thus far the precise degree of its influence on them has not been determined. Much discussion has been centred on its influence upon the Eleusinian mysteries in particular. But the verdicts of individual judges differ widely. Miss Harrison (Prolegomena, p. 540 f.), Seeck (Gesch. iii. 19), and B. I. Wheeler (Dionysos and Immortality, Boston, 1899, p. 35) give it great weight; while Rohde (Psyche, i. 285), one of our most distinguished authorities, gives it no weight at all. De Jong (Das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 28) justly feels that the utter denial of it would be rash. But its influence in other directions is undoubted. If it failed to touch the Eleusinian cult, it certainly helped to mould the thought of Pindar and Plato; it evidently contributed to the Pythagorean philosophy (Rohde, Psyche, ii. 109); and its teachings were prized by the Stoics, the neo-Platonists, and the Gnostic sects. Its influence on the Scriptures of the NT is quite problematical. The witness for the origin in Orphism of the custom, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:29, is too late to be important; and the story of the descent of Orpheus into Hades bears no close resemblance to that of Christ’s descent into hell. And it is more than doubtful whether the passages Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:11; Matthew 16:14, John 9:2-3 imply the Orphic view of the hereafter. Its degree of influence on the Christianity of later times is too elusive to be estimated. The painters of the Catacombs seem to have used Orpheus, ‘charming the wild beasts,’ as a symbol of Christ. But when one recalls the pantheistic trend of the Orphic conception of God, and the superficial character of its idea of redemption, one becomes sensible of the radical distinctions separating the Orphic and the Christian theologies.
On the whole, the mystery-religions exercised but a slight influence on the oldest Christianity (Clemen, Der Einfluss der Mysterienreligionen, p. 81). And when, after the beginning of the 3rd cent., they were in a position to exert it with any degree of potency, the Church had already substantially formed her doctrines. Similarities of terms used by both can be explained on the ground that both drew their expressions from a common stock of language, which the religious aspirations of the past had formed. St. Paul would naturally use the ordinary religious speech of his day, but the ideas expressed in it by him were not the ideas of the mystery-religions. They bore another character and breathed a different spirit. In its early ceremonies and customs Christianity gave no indication that it was a mystery-religion. Its Scriptures, its doctrines, even its sacraments, were open to the gaze of all. It was not until the 4th cent. that the secrecy which reminds us of that of the mystery-religions made itself conspicuous and began to be strictly enjoined on the communicant. But even then the substantial doctrines of Christianity, formed centuries before this, kept it steady under pagan accumulations, and enabled it in the course of years to throw off more or less of this accretion. For example, the secrecy, the arcani disciplina, attached to its rites in the time of Augustine fell away and disappeared not long after his death. Christianity can hardly be called a mystery-religion even of a higher order, and they who thus designate it have deceived themselves concerning the actual potency of the mystery-religions over it, or have forgotten the steady dominance and persistence of an inherited nature.
Literature.-L. R. Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, 5 vols., Oxford, 1896-1909, iii. and v.; F. Cumont, The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, Chicago, 1911; P. Gardner, The Religious Experience of St. Paul, London, 1911; H. A. A. Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery Religions, do., 1913; C. Clemen, Primitive Christianity and its Non-Jewish Sources, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1912; J. G. Simpson, The Sacraments of the Gospel, London, 1914; W. M. Groton, The Christian Eucharist and the Pagan Cults, do., 1914; J. Toutain, Les Cultes païens dans l’empire romain, 2 vols., Paris, 1907-11; C. A. Lobeck, Aglaophamus, Königsberg, 1829; C. Clemen, Der Einfluss der Mysterienreligionen, Giessen, 1913; R. Reitzenstein, Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen, Leipzig, 1910; K. H. E. de Jong, Das antike Mysterienwesen, Leiden, 1909; G. Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen in seinem Einfluss auf das Christentum, Göttingen, 1893; L. R. Farnell, article ‘Mystery,’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica 11 xix. 117 ff.; L. C. Purser, articles ‘Mysteria’ and ‘Orphica,’ in Smith’s DGRA [Note: GRA Dict. of Greek and Roman Antiquities.] 3, London, 1890-91, ii. 202, 297; W. Kroll, article ‘Mysterien’ in RGG [Note: GG Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart.] iv.  586.
W. M. Groton.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Mystery Mysteries'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/m/mystery-mysteries.html. 1906-1918.