“During the course of initiation, the candidate passed through two gates. The first led downward into the lower worlds and symbolized his birth into ignorance. The second led upward into a room brilliantly lighted by unseen lamps, in which was the statue of Ceres and which symbolized the upper world, or the abode of Light and Truth. …
“Ceres, or Demeter, was the daughter of Kronos and Rhea, and by Zeus the mother of Persephone. … In the mysteries, Ceres is represented riding a chariot drawn by winged serpents. …
“In the initiation of the Bacchic Mysteries, the role of Bacchus is played by the candidate who, set upon by priests in the guise of the Titans, is slain and finally restored to life amidst great rejoicing. The Bacchic Mysteries were given every three years, and like the Eleusinian Mysteries were divided into two degrees. The initiates were crowned with mistletoe and ivy, plants which are sacred to Bacchus.” ~Manly P. Hall
Two Gates, Two Worlds
Having the initiate pass through two gates was probably common in the initiation ceremonies of mystery schools. Of course, each school had its own ceremonies, but what they symbolized was the same. The initiate was embarking on a path to lead from the fallen, dark realm of matter to the realm of spirit, truth, and light. Putting the initiate in a dark room, cave, or coffin-like container was a way of reminding them that they were living in the world of darkness. Then bringing them into bright light showed where they were headed. Hall says the room with bright lights had no visible lamps. That could be because the lamps were hidden. It could also be because it was sunlight that was channeled to the underground room through tunnels with the aid of mirrors. In any case, the idea that matter is darkness and spirit is light was visually supplied to the student.
Ceres and her Chariot
Ceres was the goddess of grains, but she also represented the climb from ignorance to truth, darkness to light. Having a chariot drawn by two serpents goes along with that. While Christians generally think of a serpent as representing Satan, it represented wisdom to many of the ancients. Serpents represented rebirth and renewal. Twin serpents represent opposites. Dark and light, matter and spirit, etc. Two serpents working together creates a powerful path forward. Thus the two serpents pulled the chariot forward.
Death of False Limitations
One of the biggest things holding us back is limitations. Not all limitations, but false ones. As oxygen breathers, we can’t live in a place with no oxygen. That is an actual limitation. Our parents were poor, our grandparents were poor, therefore we are doomed to a life of poverty. That is a false limitation.
Hall says that in the rites of Bacchus, the initiate played Bacchus and was symbolically murdered by the priests of the temple. But he is then restored and everyone rejoices. This is often interpreted to mean that one must completely desert his physical life, have nothing more to do with it, before he can be reborn as a spiritual being. That is not an accurate interpretation. All it means is that we must give up the false limitations of the physical self if we are to awaken our spiritual self. We have to stop believing that while we are on Earth, we must function as purely physical beings. That is a false limitation. We must stop thinking that there is nothing spiritual and the soul is just a part of the brain-mind. Those too are false limitations. So the death acted out is not the death of the physical self, but the death of false limitations and beliefs.
These rites of the initiate were initiations. They were not intended to make any major changes in the initiate by themselves. They were only intended to prepare him for the real teachings and exercises to come. In many cases, we don’t know exactly what those teachings and exercises were. They were never put in writing unless codified with allegory, or some other method of hiding their meaning. We do know some things. We know that most, if not all, of the mystery schools had the students gaze at the sun. Not so much the physical sun, but the spiritual sun. When the divine soul is awakened by the spiritual sun, you have a true death of false limitations. Then you are ready to be a warrior of truth and light.