I. DEVELOPMENT OF THE MYSTERY RELIGIONS
1. The development of agriculture had a profound and far reaching
effect upon the spiritual development of humanity.
a. No longer content to worship the Goddess of the Wild Things
and the Lord of the Hunt, early mankind sought to interpret their
deities in the physical surroundings of the places where they settled
to grow their crops.
(1) Volcanic mountains, such as those surrounding ancient
Persia, gave rise to Fire Gods whose priests evolved a cosmology which
postulated a universe based upon a struggle between good and evil.
(a) A Fire Priest named Zoroaster would eventually lay the
foundation for Zoroasterianism, which would lead to Mithraicism, which
would greatly influence religious thinking of the early Christian
(b) Even today, the spiritual center of the Japanese people
is the volcanic mountain Fujiyama.
(c) And the major deity of the Hawaiian people is the
volcano Goddess Pele.
(2) Natural opening into the earth were seen as gateways into
the domain of the deities and shrines were built around them.
(a) The most famous of these openings was the shrine at
Delphi where, through a succession of goddesses and gods who served as
patrons, the priestesses received visions of the future for a fee paid
to the temple.
(b) There is some conjecture that the visions were brought
about by inhaling the gases rising from the chasm, over which the
priestesses were suspended on a tripod seat.
(3) In the British Isles, prominent hills or Tors, such as
Glastonbury Tor in Somerset, and the Welsh mountains in Snowdonia,
became the focus for local rites.
(a) In Ireland, each river was believed to have its own
Goddess, was well as the Goddesses which hold sway on dry land.
b. The one common thread running through all of this was that
while the people were becoming urbanized, they still felt a need to
identify with the countryside around them and religious rites evolved
around some natural power spot so that anyone wishing to partake of
the religious experience of these rites had to make a pilgrimage to
that religious shrine and be initiated into those rites by the local
priestesses or priests.
c. As the cities grew up it became necessary to spread out into
the countryside and the shrines were sometimes enclosed in temple
building and sometimes opened 'branch offices' on the other side of
the city, or in neighboring cities, for the people who could not or
would not make the pilgrimages.
(1) This led to the establishment of temples, for public
worship and offering, in all the cities of the ancient world.
(a) Usually, these temples were dedicated to the local
Goddess or God, that the people of the city worshipped as their
 An example would be Athens, which was named for its
patroness Pallas Athena, who is the Greek Goddess of Wisdom and
(b) Not surprisingly, these deities were sometimes tribal
deities, which were urbanized as the city grew in size.
 And the rites that grew up around the temple were
seasonal rites performed to insure the common well-being of the city
as a whole.
[a] Religious rites for personal spiritual
development was a foreign concept to all but a very few members of the
priest/esshood who were responsible for seeing after the well being of
2. Once the concept of ownership of land for growing food gained a
foothold, the need to defend the land from 'outsiders' became a
a. This led to the development of standing armies and navies
whose purpose, while initially defensive, soon became offensive.
(1) Time and again, the justification for attacking their
neighbors was wrapped in religious robes and it became a matter of one
city's Goddess/God supplanting the other in the conquered city.
(a) Usually this did not create too much of an upheaval for
the common citizen because the attacker was usually a nearby neighbor
and through long years of trade with each other, they were familiar
with one anothers rites and beliefs.
(b) Most people saw it as a problem only for the
priesthoods, who lost control of the temple monies to the conquering
 Sometimes it was seen as an improvement for the city
could only benefit from having a more powerful God/dess ruling over it
and as long as the priesthood kept up the seasonal rituals to insure
prosperity the common citizen was not too worried about who was ruling
3. The founding of the Mystery Religions can be tentatively dated
back to 331 BCE, when Alexander of Macedonia completed his conquest of
the world around the Mediterranean and the Near East.
a. To give some perspective on how this brought about such a
drastic change in the world order we need to look at astronomy and see
if we can discern a pattern that repeats itself.
(1) Ancient humanity used astronomy and astrology to guide
(a) The zodiac was seen as a measurement system which
allowed humankind to divide the solar year up into 12 equal parts,
although some believe that the original zodiac had only 10 signs.
(b) The sign of Virgo-Scorpio was broken into two parts by
inserting Libra (the Balance) in between them. This created eleven
signs plus Libra, establishing the 'balance' at the point of
equilibrium between the ascending northern and descending southern
(c) Each year the sun passes entirely around the zodiac and
return to the point from which it started, the vernal equinox, and
each year it falls just a little short of making the complete circle
of the heavens in the allotted space of time.
 As a result, it crosses the equator just a little
behind the spot in the zodiacal sign where it crosses the previous
[a] Each sign of the zodiac consists of 30 degrees,
and as the sun loses about one degree every 72 years, it regresses
through one entire constellation or sign in approximately 2,160 years,
and through the entire zodiac in about 25,920 years.
(2) Among the ancients, the sun was always symbolized by the
figure and nature of the constellation through which it passed at the
(a) For nearly the past 2,000 years the sun has crossed the
equator at the vernal equinox in the constellation of Pisces (the two
 Christianity developed about the beginning of the
Piscean Age and the fish was an early symbol for them.
[a] Christianity was only one of two new religions
that were based, in part, on the teachings of Judaism.
 About 630 years after the founding of Christianity,
Mohammed founded the religion of Islam, and his followers are known as
Muslims or Moslems.
(b) For the 2,160 years prior to then, it had crossed
through the constellation of Aries (the ram).
 Just as the Age of Aries began, a new religion
developed which would prove to be one of the most enduring
Monotheistic religions on Earth.
[a] Judaism was founded by Abraham of Chaldea, who
made an agreement with Jehovah that he and his offspring would spread
the doctrine that there was only one God.
[b] In return Jehovah promised Abraham the land of
Canaan (Israel) for his descendants. The only problem is that the Jews
and the Arabs both trace their beginnings back to sons of Abraham, and
now both claim Israel as offspring of Abraham.
 About 600 years later Hinduism developed in India.
[a] From 600-300 years before the Age of Aries gave
way to the Age of Pisces, Buddhism, Taoism, Confuscianism,
Zoroastrianism and Mithraicism developed.
(c) Prior to the Age of Aries, the vernal equinox was is the
sign of Taurus (the bull).
 In ancient Egypt, it was during this period that the
Bull, Apis, was sacred to the Sun God.
[a] And the Winged Bull was the spiritual symbol of
the Assyrians back when they had city-states dedicated to Goddesses.
[b] How interesting - that just as humanity was
discovering agriculture during the Age of Taurus, the bull was
domesticated so that it could pull a plow.
(d) We are about to enter a new age. The Age of Aquarius
which promises to turn the world upside down.
b. Getting back to gaining a perspective on how Alexander the
Great changed the world order, we need to understand that there is a
pattern where the world order changes about every 2,000 years -
militarily, economically and religiously.
(1) At any given time through history one or two of these
conditions may change, but it is rare that all three change around the
same time. When they do people live in what the chinese philosophers
called 'interesting times'.
c. The 400 years preceding the Age of Pisces can be compared
with the same period of our time, which is bringing in the Age of
(1) About 331 BCE an upstart military leader named Alexander
of Macedonia led an army into the very depth of what was then known as
the Persian Empire after defeating the troops of Persia who were
trying to maintain control of Greek cities in Asia Minor.
(a) Once he had effectively wrested control of the empire
from the Persians, he proceeded to take the best of what the empire
and his native land had to offer and he created a new world order by
which he and his generals divided up the known world and planned to
(b) After Alexander's death the generals ruled as best they
could, but they slowly lost control of the great empire until a new
military power, Rome, came along and took over.
 It is important to keep in mind that the Roman empire
did not spring up over night. Under the inspiration and protection of
the Macedonian Empire from foreign intervention the Romans were able
to defeat the Etruscans who had ruled most of Italy until that time.
[a] It was the peace brought about by the Grecian
empire that allowed the Roman republic to last for 200 years and
embrace many of the loftier ideals of Greek culture.
(2) In the mid 1700's, a colonel in a rag tag band of
irregulars attached to regular troops of the British Empire, started
to make a name for himself among the colonists of a British
(a) The British, who were the ruling elite just under 300
years ago, thought of the colonial colonel as an uneducated barbarian
and did not take him seriously when the colonials declared their
independence and named as their supreme military leader the barbarian
(b) History has recorded how George Washington had his day
in the sun when, after defeating the mercenary troops of Britain at
Valley Forge, General Cornwallis surrendered to him at Yorktown.
 Again the world was turned up side down, and the
empire of old was supplanted by a new order, only on a smaller scale.
[a] While it is true that the British Empire did not
collapse with the loss of the American Revolutionary War, it marked
the beginning of the breaking up of the Empire.
[b] And despite recurring clashes, like the War of
1812, the new country was allowed to grow and develop as a Republic
for 200 years until now it is very common to refer to America as the
(3) Like Alexander before him, Washington and his supporters
took the best of what they liked in Britain and combined it with the
best thoughts and ideas of the Colonies.
(a) Washington refused to be made the king of America,
and they hammered out a new form of government, new laws of commerce,
and assurances that the old religious order would not hold sway in the
 Not long after the American Revolution, the French
Revolution, based on American ideals, rocked Europe with its
deliberate shaking off of aristocratic rule.
[a] Even the Russian Revolution was originally a
revolt of the people against their aristocracy. It was only after the
revolution left a vacuum of leadership that the Communists stepped in
and assumed power.
d. If you look around at our capitol, you will see that the
architecture is reminiscent of Grecian and Roman Temples, and the
principles that our country was founded upon, principles like freedom
and democracy, are Grecian Ideals.
(1) This is not a coincidence. The Founding Fathers were
scholars of Greece and Rome, for knowledge of the history of these two
countries was considered an integral part of a classical education.
(a) It will be interesting to see if America, like Rome,
falls into the trap of being forced into becoming an Imperial power in
order to support the welfare state at home.
 One of my favorite sayings is "A people who refuse
to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it."
B. The Social Significance of the Mystery Religions
1. In order to understand the needs and desires which found
satisfaction in mystery religions, it is necessary to take a broad
view of the general social situation in the Greco-Roman world.
a. And to define, if possible, the outstanding religious
interests of the Mediterranean people in the 1st century of the
(1) Greco-Roman society with all of its complexity was, even
so, a closely knit social fabric unified in large and significant
(a) Politically, the Mediterranean world of the Augustan
Age was a unit for the 1st time in history, welded together by 300
years of military conquests preceding the beginning of our era.
 To hold this Mediterranean world together in an
imperial unity, Rome had thrown over it a great network of military
highways reaching to the farthest provinces and centering on Rome
(b) Cultural and commercial processes operated even more
effectively than military conquests and political organization to
unify the peoples of the Mediterranean area.
 Society under the early Empire continued to be as
highly Hellenized as it had been during the 300 years previous.
[a] Greek continued to be the language of culture and
commerce, with Latin as the lingua Franca of diplomacy.
 The sea, cleared of pirates, was a great channel of
commerce that led to all the Roman world, and the military highways
provided the necessary land routes.
[a] Because of the easy means of communication,
there was a free mingling of races and classes in the centers of
(c) Free competition on a world scale gave the individuals
 Before the days of Alexander, the interests of the
individual were quite submerged in comparison with those of the tribe
[a] The larger social group was the end-all of
existence and personal concerns were properly subordinated thereto.
[b] But in the changed conditions of the imperial
period, all was different.
 Individual interests came to the fore and those of
the state receded to the background.
[a] The Roman Empire meant far less to the citizen
than the Greek polis had meant.
[b] Rome was too large and too far away to be very
dependent on each citizens support or to contribute to their
(d) In the ruthlessness of conquest and the stress of
competition, local customs were ignored, traditions were swept aside,
and the unsupported individuals were thrown back upon their own
 Happiness and well-being, if won at all, must be
won by the individual, and for the individual alone.
2. Religion, like the other phases of Greco-Roman life, felt the
effect of these changed social conditions.
a. For the masses, the former religious sanctions and guaranties
no longer functioned.
(1) In the old, pre-imerial days, the individual was well
satisfied with group guaranties that were offered by local and
(a) Granted, the relationship to the state deity was only
an indirect one - through the group to which they belonged.
(b) Also granted, the goods sought were chiefly social
benefits, which were shared with their fellow citizens.
 But so long as the God/desses protected the state
and the state protected the citizen, they were well content.
(2) Successive conquests by foreign powers, however, rudely
destroyed this complacency, and the victory of Macedonian and Roman
arms wrecked the prestige of merely local and national deities.
(a) As racial barriers were broken down and the individuals
felt free to travel and trade, they became conscious of needs and
desires they had never known before.
3. As a practical matter, the time honored customs of an
individuals parent and grandparent could not be maintained in foreign
lands. New sanctions and assurances of a more personal sort were
a. In line with the general social movements of the times, there
was a distinct breakdown of traditional religion, and national cults,
popular in the Hellenic period, fell into disuse.
(1) But the masses of people did not become irreligious by any
means, they instead turned to religions of another type and sought
satisfactions of a different variety.
(a) Their quest was no longer for a god/dess powerful
enough to save the state but rather for one who was benevolent enough
to save the individual.
 Oracles were consulted, not so often in the interest
of the community but more frequently for the guidance of individuals
in their personal affairs.
[a] More than ever before the home became a temple
and the daily life of the family was filled with the trappings of
[b] The shrines of the healing gods/esses were
overcrowded, and magicians, who were considered the chief mediators of
divine power, carried on a thriving business.
4. In particular, people turned for the satisfaction of personal
desires to the group of mystery religions, which were very ancient
cults that had hitherto been comparatively insignificant.
a. Most of them came to the Greco-Roman world from the Orient,
with the authority of a venerable past, with an air of deep mystery,
and with rites that were most impressive.
b. But the chief reason for their popularity at this time was
the satisfactory way in which they ministered to the needs of the
(1) Completely denationalized and liberated from racial
prejudices, they could be practiced anywhere within or without the
(a) They no longer depended upon a natural focus such as a
cave or spring or mountain, so it was possible to worship anywhere
they found themselves.
 This allowed popular cults like that of Isis to
spread thoughout the Roman empire with little or no resistance
(b) Being genuinely democratic brotherhoods in which rich
and poor, slave and master, Greek and barbarian met on a parity, they
welcomed men of all races to their membership.
C. What the Mystery Religions had to offer Humanity
1. A new birth for the individual
a. When the neophyte was initiated into the cult he became a new
(1) In earlier centuries, when the emphasis in religion was
tribal or national, this had no special advantage.
(a) Then the individual felt certain of his salvation
because of his birth into a particular tribe or race. This still holds
true for tribal religions like Judaism, where it is not enough to be a
good Jew. All Jews must be good because they are the chosen people and
their God will not make good on His promises until the whole tribe
meets his requirements.
(2) Men in the Roman world had confidence in neither racial
connections nor in the potentiality of human nature.
(a) The first century Roman wanted a salvation that
included the immortality of the soul as well as the present welfare of
(b) An essential change of being was felt to be necessary,
and the mystery religions guaranteed this by means of the initiatory
b. The mystery initiation met the basic religious need for
individual as opposed to racial guarantees.
(1) Mystical experience was a common denominator of all the
Greco-Oriental cults of the mystery type.
(a) The imperial age was a time when religion was turning
inward and becoming more emotional, while philosophy, converted to
religion, was following the same trend.
 There was a cultivated antagonism between spirit and
matter and a conscious endeavor to detach one from the other by means
of ascetic practices.
[a] It was a period of world-weariness and other
 There was a demand for fresh emotional experiences,
and the culminating effort was to overleap the bounds of nature and to
attain union with the divine in the region of the occult.
[a] These experiences found expression in the popular
religions of redemption, in the mysteries of Eleusis and Attis and
Isis and the rest.
2. Fulfilling the yearning for the mystical type of religious
a. Two considerations that have a direct bearing on why the
yearning for mystical religious experience arose at this time are:
(1) The thought world of the average person had suddenly
enlarged to proportions that were frightening. The horizon of a Syrian
trader in Nero's time was vastly more inclusive than that of a few
hundred years before. And this new horizon included a far greater
number of facts to be classified and accounted for, and a constantly
enlarging group of problems and difficulties to be settled. This
expanded thought-world of the middle of the 1st century was in a very
chaotic state. The social structure of an earlier age had been
completely wrecked. Greek democracy and Oriental despotism alike had
been crushed by imperial power. National and racial distinctions, once
considered very important, had been all but forgotten. Whole classes
in society had been wiped out. Old things had passed away and what
chiefly impressed the ordinary man about the new order of things
imposed by Rome, was not so much its orderliness as its newness. The
citizen of the Greek Polis had lived in a friendly town that was his
own; but the Roman citizen found himself bewildered in the crowded
streets of a strange city that was everyman's world.
(2) The man of the early empire felt that the ultimate control
of his disordered universe was not at all in his own hands, but that
it rested with supernatural powers on the outside. According to the
1st century point of view, the more important relationships of life
were with the controlling powers in the supernatural realm. Whether
these powers were friendly or unfriendly or both or neither according
to circumstances, there was a great variety of opinion; but generally
speaking there was no doubt of their power.
(c) One way the common man had of establishing safe
relations with the occult powers was the way of mysticism. He either
projected himself emotionally into the supernatural realm and so came
into contact with deity, or else by magic and sacrament drew the God
down into the human sphere and in this fashion realized the desired
alliance. Not until this 'unio mystica' was accomplished did many men
feel completely secure in the face of the uncertainties of life. The
mystery religions offered this form of salvation through union with
the lord of the cult. This alliance with the lord of the cult robbed
the unknown spiritual world of its terrors and gave the initiate the
assurance of special privilege in relation to the potent beings who
controlled the destinies of men. In the background of each of the
mysteries hovered the vague form of the supreme power itself. The
Anatolian Magna Mater Deum. Or the Ahura Mazda of the Persians. In the
foreground, ready for action, stood the mediator who chiefly mad the
divine power manifest in life and nature. The youthful Attis, or the
invincible Mithra. The mystery Gods and Goddesses were also potent as
netherworld divinities. Persephone reigned as queen of the dead and
Osiris presided as judge of the souls of the departed. By means of
initiation into their cults, the devotee was enabled to share vividly
in the experiences of these divinities and even to attain realistic
union with them.
(d) United with the Gods themselves, the initiate was in
touch with currents of supernatural power which not only operated to
transform his very being but rendered him immune from evil both in
this life and in the next.
3. Providing emotional stimulation through the mystical experience
of contact with a sympathetic savior.
a. The mysticism of the cults was not of the intellec- tualized
type but rather of a more realistic, objective, ecstatic and highly
(1) This emotional character of cult mysticism answered
directly to an inordinate appetite for emotional stimulation among the
(a) This abnormal craving, directly or indirectly, was due
to the terribly depressing experiences through which society had
passed during the wars that filled the years immediately preceding the
 For 400 years the wars had been unceasing. The
Mediterranean world had known war at its worst, and this long series
of conquests, civil wars, proscriptions, and insurrections had
produced an untold amount of agony.
 All these military operations had entailed terrible
suffering for all classes. There was, of course, the killing and
maiming of the combatants themselves. Bread- winners had been drafted
into service, leaving their families to fend for themselves. Crops
over large areas had been destroyed to prevent the enemy from living
off the land when the armies retreated. Leaving the local farmers as
well as the invading army to starve. Conquered lands had been plunged
into debt and bankruptcy, while thousands of men, women, and children,
formerly free, had been sold as slaves.
 The indirect consequences of these military
operations were quite as disastrous for the happiness of large numbers
of people as were the direct results. One of the most deplorable
effects was the practical destruction of the middle classes, which had
been the backbone of the society. This left a bad social cleavage
between the wealthy aristocratic class on the one hand, and the
masses, including the slaves, on the other. Conditions were such that
the upper classes had the opportunity of becoming more wealthy and
prosperous, while the proletariat correspondingly became more
destitute and wretched. Enormous sums of gold and silver, the
accumulated wealth of the east, was disgorged on the empire. This
created a demand for more luxuries, raised the standard of living for
the rich, and multiplied the miseries of the poor. Throughout the
period, the number of slaves was constantly being augmented. This
lowered the wages and drove free laborers to the idleness of cities
where they were altogether too willing to be enrolled on what we would
call welfare. The first lesson new Emperors learned, if they were to
keep their crowns, was to feed and entertain this huge number of idle
workers so that they would not decide to overthrow the government.
This is where the phrase "give them bread and circuses" came from.
 With such an unequal distribution of the goods of
life, it was inevitable that both extremes in Roman society should
feel the need of special emotional uplift and stimulation. The
aristocrat felt the need of it because he had pleasures too many.
There was a disgust with life, bred of self-indulgence and brought to
birth by satiety. It was the weariness that comes when amusements cloy
and the means of diversion seem exhausted. And the poor freeman
because he had pleasures too few. There was a genuine sensitiveness to
suffering in this age born of a sympathetic understanding of its pain
and an earnest attempt to provide alleviation. It was a period when
all classes were sensitive to emotional needs, but chiefly the
inarticulate masses who were most miserable and knew not how to
express their misery.
b. Generally speaking, the officials of the state religion
remained unresponsive to this need and the marble Gods of Greece and
Rome had no word for men in agony.
(1) Judaism, which had itself gone through a prolonged
martyrdom, should have learned from suffering to minister to personal
need, but it had not, for its hope was still a national one, not
c. The religions of redemption that came from the east furnished
exactly the emotional satisfaction that the age demanded.
(1) They told men of savior-gods that were very human, who had
come to earth and toiled and suffered with men, experiencing to an
intensified degree the sufferings to which flesh is heir.
(a) These savior-gods had known the agony of parting from
loved ones, of persecution, of mutilation, of death itself. In this
hard way they had won salvation for their devotees and now they stood
ready to help all men who had need.
(2) The rites of these mystery religions were impressively
arranged to represent the sufferings and triumphs of the savior-gods.
(a) In this way it was possible for the initiate to feel as
his God had felt, and sometimes more realistically, to repeat the
archetypal experiences of his lord. His initiation was a time of great
uplift, that elevated him above commonplace worries and gave him an
exalted sense of security. In after days the memory of that great
event remained with him to bouy him up amid the hardships of his daily
lot, or in such special crises as might come to him.
4. By means of initiatory rites of great impressiveness, the
mystery cults were able to satisfy the desire for realistic guarantees
a. The majority of people were not satisfied with a merely
emotional assurance that the desired mystical union had taken place.
(1) Something more tangible and objective was required to
supplement the evidence furnished by subjective experience.
(a) Both the Greek and Romans conceived of their Gods as
being very real and humanistic.
(b) They gave them admirable representation in painting and
sculpture and sought to secure their favor by rites that were
 At the beginning of the imperial period, when the
uncertainties of life made man feel more dependent than ever on
supernatural assistance, the operations whereby they strove to assure
themselves of the desired aid became, if anything, more realistic than
ever. In such an age and amid people who thought in these vivid terms,
the rites of religion, in order to satisfy, had to give actual and
dramatic representation of the processes they were intended to typify
and induce. This was what the ceremonies of the mystery cults did, and
this was another reason for the great attractive power of the cults.
b. Most of the rites of the mystery religions had come down in
traditional forms from an immemorial antiquity.
(1) Originally performed among primitive people in order to
assure the revival of vegetable life in springtime, they were enacted
in these later imperial days for the higher purpose of assuring the
rebirth of the human spirit.
(a) Yet, among the masses at least, the efficacy of these
ceremonials was as little questioned as it had been in their original
(2) The baptismal rite, in particular, whether by water or
blood, was regarded as marking the crucial moment in a genuinely
(a) Once reborn the initiates were treated as such, their
birthday was celebrated and they were nourished in a manner
appropriate for infants.
(b) Childish though those rites may seem, yet they were
frought with spiritual significance for the initiate.
(3) The semblance of mystic marriage and the partaking of
consecrated foods were other realistic sacraments in which the
neophyte found assurance that he was really and vitally united with
his lord and endowed with the divine spirit.
(a) What usually gives the modern student pause is the very
sincere conviction of pagan initiates that their spiritual
transformation was not only symbolic, but was also really accomplished
by these dramatic ceremonies.
5. The personal transformation which was the initial feature of
cult mysticism had its ethical as well as its religious aspect, thus
producing a blend of ethics and religion.
a. The early imperial period was a time of great moral disorder
and confusion, paralleling the stress and strain in other areas of
b. The continuous social upheavals of the Hellenistic and
republican times, the free mingling of populations in commerce and
conquest, and the enormous increase of slaves furthered the process of
cutting thousands of human beings loose from moral restraints.
c. However, the general trend in society as a whole was not only
a period of moral anarchy but of ethical awakening as well.
(1) Interest was alive on moral questions.
(a) Almost every characteristic vice in Roman society was
being met with the most vigorous protests and sometimes by active
measures to correct them.
(2) There was at this time a particular demand for a greater
correctness in ethical teaching.
(a) Teachers of the time studied the writings of
philosophers and moralists to find texts and maxims to use with their
(b) Catalogues were made of virtues and vices and the
former were summarized as certain cardinal qualities especially to be
(c) There was a call for living examples, which could be
referred to as demonstrations of the practicality of these ideals.
(3) The conditions of life were such that most men did not
have confidence in their own unaided ability to achieve character.
(a) They looked to the supernatural realm for the powers
that controlled personal conduct as well as the more ultimate
destinies of humanity.
 What the men of the 1st century wanted was not so
much ideals, but the power to realize those ideals; not a code of
morals, but supernatural sanctions for morality. In the last analysis,
it was divine will, and not human welfare, that was the generally
accepted criterion whereby the validity of any ethical system was
tested. Accordingly, the religion which could furnish supernatural
guarantees along with its ethical ideals had a preferred claim to 1st
(b) The stern morality of Judaism was very attractive. The
element that fascinated was not the inherent excellence of Jewish
rules for living, but the fact that there were venerable sanctions
bearing the impress of divine authority.
 The Law of the Jews was quoted as the ipse dixit of
Yahweh himself and the scriptures were referred to as authentic
documents proving the genuineness of the representation. Such
confirmation was impressive to men who were seeking for divine
authority to make moral conduct obligatory.
(c) The religion of the Egyptian Hermes was one that offered
supernatural guarantees for its ethical ideals.
 In the process of Hermetic rebirth, the powers of the
God drove out hordes of vices and left the regenerated individual
divinely empowered for right living.
(d) That was Mithraism's point of strength also, and accounted
not a little for the vogue it continued to enjoy for some time after
the beginning of the Christian Era.
 The "commandments" of Mithraism were believed to be
divinely accredited. The Magi claimed that Mithra himself revealed
them to their order.
 One of the chief reasons why the high Mithraic ideals
of purity, truth, and righteousness had real attraction, was because
Mithra himself was the unconquerable champion of these ideals and the
ready helper of men who were willing to join with him in the eternal
fight of right against wrong and good against evil. Mithraism was the
outstanding example of a mystery religion which gave supernatural
sanctions to the demands of plain morality.
d. The mysticism of the mysteries came in effectively at just
this point to give both realistic content and divine authorization to
the ethic of brotherhood.
(1) The ideals of the group found personification and
embodiment in the divine Lord or Lady who was the object of the cult
(a) Osiris was the model righteous man who functioned in
the divine state as the judge of the departed. Hence the Isian
initiate, reborn as the new Osiris, was supposed to exhibit the
Osirian type of righteousness.
(2) So, too, in the other mystery systems, the initiate
realistically united with his Lord, and actually transformed by the
virtue of the union, had his ideal incorporated within himself as a
part of his very being.
(a) In the end, mystical experience became the theoretical
basis and practical incitement to good conduct.
(b) In this close articulation of mysticism and morality,
the cults made an important and distinctive contribution to the
ethical life of the age.
6. The mysteries were unusually well equipped to meet the need for
assurances regarding the future.
a. The ultimate pledge that the mystery religions made pertained
not to the present but to the future.
(1) It was the assurance of a happy immortality.
(a) Whatever attitude a man might adopt on the continued
existence after death, he could not well avoid the issue.
b. The mystery cults from Greece and the Orient specialized in
(1) Originally intended to assure the miracle of reviving
vegetation in the springtime, they were perfectly adapted to guarantee
the miracle of the spirit's immortality after physical death.
(a) These were the cults which in the form of Dionysian and
Orphian brotherhoods had first brought the promise of a happy future
life to Greece in the religious revival of the 6th century BCE.
(b) In Hellenistic times the Greek cults merged with
similar religions from the east which offered equivalent guarantees,
and in this syncretized form came into their own.
(2) In the early imperial period of Rome, they were more
popular than ever, for they gave positive and definite answers to the
questioning of the common man about the future.
(a) Their answer had the authority of revelation and it
included the guarantee of divine aid in the realization of that
blessed after-life which they vividly depicted to their devotees.
1. When consideration is given to the fundamental character of the
interests represented by the mystery religions, one can well
understand their popularity in the Greco-Roman world.
a. In an era of individualism, when men were no longer looking
to religion for guarantee of a racial or national order, the mystery
cults offered the boon of personal transformation through
participating in rites of initiation.
b. At a time when men were seeking a larger life through
contact with supernatural powers, the mysteries guaranteed absolute
union with the divine beings who controlled the universe.
c. In an age when men were craving emotional uplift, mystery
initiation gave them such encouragement as they could scarcely find
d. At a period where realism characterized thought in all
departments of life, the religions of redemption offered men realistic
rites to guarantee the actuality of spiritual processes.
e. The supernatural sanctions were sought to validate ethical
ideals, the mystery cults provided a unique combination of mysticism
and morality that was effective.
f. When, as never before, people were questioning about the
future fate of the individual soul, the mysteries, through initiation,
gave guarantee of a happy immortality.
2. At every one of these points the mystery religions of
redemption were effectively meeting the needs of large numbers of
people in Greco-Roman society.
END OF LESSON 3 PART A
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