By Paul Gillingwater
Based on a talk entitled "The Still-functioning Greater and Lesser Mysteries", given by Geoffrey Hodson at Krotona Institute, Ojai, California on 1st October, 1977
Union with God, or mystic awareness, can be attained through various means. Although no longer public, the ancient mystery tradition survives, and is fully active, although somewhat more secret. The purpose for the establishment and function of the ancient mysteries, and the purpose of meditation, has the same objective, namely, development of spiritual awareness.
Both occult ceremonial and spiritual contemplation were founded for the fulfilment of timeless human aspirations towards the gaining of direct personal experience of union with the divine presence within and thoughout all nature and all beings.
The touch of the rod of power (thyrsus) on the head, which formed part of the ancient ceremony, in the hand of the initiating hierophant, always had the same effect -- the attainment of spiritual illumination.
Hierophant (Greek: one who explains sacred things) was the title bestowed upon the highest adepts in the temples of the mysteries of old. They were the teachers and initiators of the candidates who were admitted to those temples.
Consciousness can be opened by regular meditation and contemplation of the divine. This can also be brought about through external assistance, the bringing of power, invoked from on high, through the initiator, through the touch of the thyrsus, directly upon the crown of the head of the candidate, who was thus brought into the divine presence. A survival of this exists in the dubbing with a sword as seen in some ceremonial orders of chivalry.
It is recorded that when that event occured, the touch of the rod of power would often cause the candidate to lose physical consciousness. Awareness of the higher self would then be freed, and enabled to enter more fully into the great realization for which the ceremony was performed.
The mysteries (Greek: muo, to close the mouth) were very secret. Little is now known of what actually occured. It is known that very solemn vows of absolute secrecy had to be repeated. No-one is known to have broken these vows.
They were established and enacted from remotest times, in Egypt, Chaldea, Crete and Greece. They lasted for at least 1,000 years in Greece, and also functioned in the earliest days of the Roman empire. The sacred mysteries were enacted in the ancient temples by various ritual officials for the benefit and instruction of the candidates.
Every symbol connected with the ceremonies had a profound hidden meaning, beneath its objective meaning.
They consisted of a series of dramatic performances, in which the mysteries of cosmogony (creation) throughout the universe, and nature in general, were personified by hierophants and neophytes. They enacted the part of various divine powers, gods and godesses, meaning superhuman and archangelic officials. [Lost some text.]
In Egypt, they were depicted in robes, with strange animal headdresses, e.g., ram, ibis, vulture, serpent. Each of these headdresses and other ornaments were symbolic of the creative power which the particular official represented. The regalia, and associated dramatic actions, were explained in their hidden meanings to the candidates for initiation.
There were several different enactments of the mysteries in Greece:
2. Dyonisian (Bacchic)
Hippocrates (related to healing)
Found in the city some 12 miles south east of Athens.
Agri was another smaller town where the lesser mysteries were performed. Every September, for 7 days, the citizens of Greece and other countries (particularly from Rome) gathered on the Athenian Acropolis. They travelled 14 miles to the city and temples of Elusis. All who came were permitted to participate in the preliminary ceremonies, but only a select few were permitted to participate in the inner ceremonies.
What happened in the sacred ceremony? Initiation into the mysteries, which brought about a spiritual birth, thus regenerating the whole individual. This was intended to reunite the personal self with the divine spirit of the kosmos as a whole. It was often accompanied by and aided the bringing about of enlightened comprehension. It also led to the development of intuitive insight and spiritual will-power as well as a deepening realization of oneness with all that exists, as well as a growing power to draw upon that oneness for the benefit of others.
The rites of Eleusis overshadowed the civilization of that time, absorbing other smaller schools, and influencing the development of democracy, culture and the arts.
Every year at Agree in the month of Boadroanian (September) there were celebrated the lesser mysteries. This sacred month was highly respected -- even if a war was on, it would be halted to allow its members to attend the mysteries. A truce was proclaimed, and fighting would cease, for example in Sparta, Thracia, and the Peloponesus, to allow participation. This also occured, incidentally, with the Olympic games.
The great processions gathered on the Acropolis, and made their way on foot to the sacred temples in Eleusis. Those who were to be initiated into the ceremonies which followed, came to the gateways of the temple precincts. After a long walk, the doors of the telestrion (the outer temple) were reached. They passed through, and the doors closed behind them. If they then proved worthy of further advancement, they were taken to a more secluded smaller temple, the Anaktoron (holy of holies), which is where the sacred rite itself was performed in the greatest secrecy.
What actually were the revelations made is entirely unknown. The solemn vows, under the penalty of death, ensured that secrecy was maintained. Archaeologists and historians have speculated on these secrets, but no-one disclosed what occured and what was revealed in the Anaktoron. Some contemporary writers however have provided hints as to what was revealed.
1. Philo Judeas wrote: "The mysteries were known to unveil the secret operations of nature."
2. Cicero wrote in De Legibus: "Though Athens brought forth numerous divine things, yet she never created anything nobler than these sublime mysteries, through which we have become gentler, and have advanced from a barbarous and rustic life, to a civilised one, so that we not only live more joyfully, but also die with a better hope."
3. Pindar the poet (522-543 BC) said "Happy is he who has seen the mysteries before being buried underneath the earth. He knows the end of life, and he knows its beginning, even by Zeus."
4. Sophocles, the Athenian dramatist (494-406 BC) wrote: "Thrice happy are the mortals who depart to the abode of Hades, after having seen the mysteries. They only will have life there. For others there will be nothing but suffering."
5. Plato, the great Greek philospher, who was known to be an initiate of the Eleusinia, wrote: "He who arrives in Hades without having been initiated, and without having taken part in the mysteries, will be plunged into darkness, but he who has been purified and initiated will abide with the Gods."
6. Plutarch, the Greek biographer, (46-120 AD) wrote" "Those who are initiated into the great mysteries perceive a wonderous light. Purer regions are reached, and fields where there is singing and dancing, sacred words and divine visions, inspire a holy awe. Then the man, perfected and initiated, free and able to move superphysically, without constraint, celebrates the mysteries with a crown on his head. He lives among pure men and saints. He sees on earth the many who have not been initiated and purified, buried in the darkness, and through fear of death, clinging to their ills for want of belief in the happiness of the beyond."
7. Scriptural evidence does exist that St. Paul was an initiate, as confirmed by H.P. Blavatsky. Occult tradition suggests that he was an initiate of the Greater mysteries supported by his use of certain terms:
a) As a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you. Let a man so account of us as the minister of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
b) Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to naught. How that by revelation, be made known to us the mystery of the Kingdom.
c) 2 Corinthians XII, v1-4: I knew a man in Christ, about 14 years ago, whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell, God knoweth. And such a one, caught up into the third heaven. And I knew such a man, whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell, God knoweth. How that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
8. Jesus was asked about his custom of teaching allegorically: Matthew 13. "Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given."
It appears that the mystery of death was solved for the candidate, allowing them to have personal knowledge of the after-death state.
Around the year 400 AD, all of these mystic ceremonies disappeared. Now we have only the ruins of their temples, in places like Luxor, Karnak, Delphi, Corinth, Epidiarus, Eleusis.
The deeply occult procedure of initiation has continued unto today, and will ever do so, for it is a law of the occult life that no single individual ever reaches the stage at which such minisatrations could be helpful without receiving them in full.
Unfortunately, the rise of the fanatical aspects of Christianity, as well as the cruel martyrdom of Hypatia in the 4th century, caused their public manifestation to cease. It is suggested that the need is greater today than ever for the actual presence of the mysteries. Some traces of the lesser mysteries exist even today in various forms. These include:
1. Certain Christian rituals, especially the episcopal rites, the mass and eucharist, may be viewed as beautiful unconscious continuations of the mystery tradition.
2. The Theosophical Society was thought to be an Adept-founded movement, and may be considered to be one of the modern expressions of the mysteries. Its adept-inspired literature might include Isis Unveiled, The Secret Doctrine and the Mahatma Letters.
3. The world-wide brotherhood of Freemasonry is also thought by some to be a relatively modern expression of the mysteries. In particular, the French order "Le Droit Humain", which has adopted a more occult form of the traditional ceremony, as well as admitting women on equal terms.
4. There is also a children's Order of the Round Table which seems to offer a survival of some elements of the mysteries, in which the chivalric ideas of knighthood are used to invoke spiritual powers through ceremony.
In Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Idylls of the King", he wrote: "Then the King, in low deeps tones, and simple words of great authority, bound them by so strait vows to his own self, that when they rose, knighted from kneeling, some were pale as at the passing of a ghost, some flushed, others dazed, as one who wakes half blinded at the coming a light. But when he spake, and cheered his table round with large divine and comfortable words beyond my tongue to tell thee, I beheld from eye to eye through all their order flashed a momentary likeness of the King."
It is taught that every single person thus aroused to altruistic service and thoughts of the divine, finds themselves drawn to a still existing form of the ancient mysteries, suitable to their religious or philosophical temperament, and thus to the feet of the Master whose blessing they seek. Thus, the way is kept ever open. A quote from Brother Lawrence: "He who is possessed with the gale of the Holy Spirit goes forward, even in sleep." How can we be worthy of admission to the mystery tradition?
The ideal is wonderfully defined by the Lord Buddha. In Pali, "Parinamana", which means declaration of altruism and self-denial, in which the individual is called upon to apply wholly one's merit to the welfare of others. The aspirant says: "Whatever good I have acquired by doing all this, may I appease and assuage all the pains and sorrows of all living beings. May I be like a healing drug for the sick. May I be a physician for them, and also tend them, until they are whole. May I allay the pain of hunger and thirst, by showers of food and drink. And may I myself be food and drink during the intermediate aeon of famine. May I be an inexhaustible treasure for poor creatures. May I be foremost in rendering service to them with manifold and various articles and requisites."
"The golden keys to the portal of the temple of the mysteries. The seven paramitas (perfections):
1. Dana -- the key of charity and love immortal
2. Sila -- key of harmony in word and act, the key that counterbalances the cause and the effect
3. Shanti -- patience sweet that naught can ruffle
4. Vairagya -- indifference to pleasure and pain, illusion conquered, truth alone perceived
5. Virya -- the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal truth out of the mire of the terrestrial
6. Dhyana -- whose golden gate, once opened, leads to a sinless being. The golden gate, once opened, leads towards the realm of bliss eternal, and its ceaseless contemplation
7. Prajna -- wisdom, the key which makes of man a God, creating him a Boddhisattva, son of the Dhyanis.
. "Such are the golden keys to the portals, before thou canst approach the last, oh weaver of thy freedom, thou hast to master these paramitas of perfection, the virtues transcendental." -- H.P. Blavatsky.
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