). The Mysteries, also called ὄργια
. The term τελεταί
employed, and the Latin equivalent is Initia (De Leg.
ii. 14, 36). The Mysteries were ceremonies in the ancient religions practised in seclusion and
known only to bodies of initiates. They were held at certain fixed seasons and were largely
symbolical in their character, though their origin is not very satisfactorily understood. It
is held by many that they were intended to strengthen men's hopes in a future life in which
the good who fail of a reward here should there receive it, while punishment should be visited
upon the wicked. Hence a part of the ceremonial had to do with the resurrection of the gods
and heroes; and we find some remarkable passages in the Greek poets that support this view.
Thus Pindar (Frag.
137): “Blessed is he who has seen them before he
goes below the earth;” and the inscription (Ephem. Arch.
): “To the initiated, death is not an evil; it is a gain.” Cf.
719; and Ran.
The Mysteries consisted of purifications, sacrifices, processions, songs, dances, dramatic
spectacles, and similar ceremonies. The formulae or liturgies (δεικνύμενα, λεγόμενα, δρώμενα
) were kept profoundly secret, to be revealed only
to those who had been fully initiated. The mystagogi
, or priests of the
Mysteries, had undoubtedly at their command an abundance of mechanical devices to produce
effects most startling and convincing to the credulous worshippers. All the arts, in fact,
were taxed to the utmost to astonish, dazzle, and appal. Marvels of light, sound, and colour
were displayed. Mysterious harmonies stole upon the ears of the attendant throngs; sighs and
whispers were audible amid the intervals of awful silence; lights gleamed in strangely
beautiful colours; and dazzling figures appeared and disappeared. In the earlier times the
fame of the Mysteries was very great. Herodotus speaks of some 30,000 persons attending them
(viii. 65); but in later times they degenerated, the secrecy was removed, and they became
orgies in the modern sense of the word, at which the most shameless indecencies were
practised, until under the Romans they had to be suppressed as public nuisances.
The most important Mysteries were those of Eleusis and the Thesmophoria, both symbolizing
the rape of Persephoné and the search for her by her mother Demeter (see Eleusinia
); those of Cybelé and Aphrodité, referring to the
mystery of procreation (see Aphrodisia
); those of Orpheus, who was regarded as the founder of
all Mysteries (see Orphica
); of Bacchus (see Dionysia
); of Zeus in Crete; of the foreign gods
Mithras (see Mithras
), Sabazius (see Sabazius
), the Cabeiri (see Cabeiria
), and Isis (see Isis
The most famous Mysteries of Roman origin were those of the Bona Dea (see Bona Dea
) and of the Arval Brethren (see Fratres Arvales
The principal works in modern times relating to the Mysteries are those of Creuzer,
Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker (1810-12)
which regards their nature as wholly symbolical; the profoundly learned treatise of
Lobeck, Aglaophamus (1829)
, anti-symbolistic and lacking in the
religious sense; Preller, Demeter und Persephoné
; Lenormant, Voie Sacrée Eleusinienne
Studien über den Bilderkreis von Eleusis (1872)
Förster, Der Raub und die Rückkehr der Persephone
; Haggenmacher, Die eleusinischen Mysterien (1880)
Stengel, Griechische Kultusalterthümer (1890)
Rubensohn, Die Mysterienheiligthümer in Eleusis und Samothrake
; and Gardner, New Chapters in Greek History
, pp. 381-402