A. Introduction

    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 
personal deity. 

              [1] 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. 

              [1] 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 
their followers. 

    2. Once the concept of ownership of land for growing food gained a 
foothold, the need to defend the land from 'outsiders' became a 
primary concern. 

      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 

              [1] 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 
the city. 

    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 
their lives. 

           (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. 

              [1] 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 
vernal equinox. 

           (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 

              [1] 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. 

              [2] 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). 

              [1] 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. 

              [2] 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). 

             [1] 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. 

             [1] 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 
from Virginia. 

           (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. 

              [1] 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 
new Rome. 

          (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 
new country. 

                [1] 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. 

              [1] 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 
Piscean Age. 

        (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. 

              [1] 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. 

              [1] 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. 

               [2] 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 
their opportunities. 

               [1] Before the days of Alexander, the interests of the 
individual were quite submerged in comparison with those of the tribe 
or state. 

                  [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. 

               [2] 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 

               [1] 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 
nationalistic religions. 

           (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. 

              [1] 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. 

              [1] 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. 

              [1] 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 
the body. 

           (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. 

             [1] 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 

             [2] 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 
emotional variety. 

        (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 
Piscean Age. 

              [1] 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. 

              [2] 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. 

              [3] 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. 

              [4] 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 
in religion. 

      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 
correspondingly realistic. 

              [1] 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 
primitive settings. 

        (2) The baptismal rite, in particular, whether by water or 
blood, was regarded as marking the crucial moment in a genuinely 
regenerative process. 

           (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. 

              [1] 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 
century loyalty. 

          (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. 

             [1] 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. 

             [1] 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. 

             [1] The "commandments" of Mithraism were believed to be 
divinely accredited. The Magi claimed that Mithra himself revealed 
them to their order. 

             [2] 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 
future guarantees. 

        (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. 

  C. Summary

    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. 



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