“The mysteries of the antique world appear to have been attempts –often by way of a merely magical initiation—to ‘open the immortal eyes of man inwards’: exalt his powers of perception until they could receive the messages of a higher degree of reality. In spite of much eager theorizing, it is impossible to tell how far they succeeded in this task. To those who had a natural genius for the infinite, symbols and rituals which were doubtless charged with ecstatic suggestions, and often dramatized the actual course of the Mystic Way, may well have brought some enhancement of consciousness: though hardly that complete arrangement of character which is essential of the mystic’s entrance on the true Illuminated State. Hence Plato only claims that ‘he whose initiation is recent’ can see Immortal Beauty under mortal veils’
“’O blessed he in all wise,
Who hath drank the Living Fountain
Whose life no folly staineth
And whose soul is near to God:
Whose sins are lifted pall-wise
As he worships on the mountain.’
“Thus sang the initiates of Dionysus; that mystery cult to which the Greeks seem to have expressed all they knew of the possible movement of consciousness through rites of purification to the ecstasy of the Illuminated Life.” ~Evelyn Underhill
I prefer to call them “ancient mysteries” rather than “antique mysteries”. I think many young people today interpret antique as meaning outdated, stodgy, and superseded by new methods and technologies. Some feel the same way about “ancient mysteries,” but I think that phrase has fewer problems than “antique mysteries”.
Many who call themselves spiritual these days don’t object to either term, but to the fact that these mystery schools had students who spent years studying and gradually awakening their spiritual faculties. In this age of computers and nearly-instant gratification, they seek overnight solutions. Sadly, there are popular authors of books who give it to them—sort of. But these happy books with instant solutions are the McDonald’s of spiritual growth. They are to real spirituality what McDonald’s is to a healthy gourmet meal. The Antique Mysteries were real, not pretend.
I don’t know if Underhill meant it as an insult when she says that the ancient’s attempts to “open the immortal eyes” were often attempted by way of a “merely magical initiation.” Does she mean that merely by this initiation, the initiate was awakened, or does she mean that she doesn’t believe that mere magic would do the trick? Since nearly everything she wrote about these antique mysteries was positive, I will assume it was the first case. Either way, initiation alone will not produce enlightenment. Otherwise, such schools where students spent years studying would not have been necessary.
I think we need to know at what point such initiation was performed in order to understand its effects. A new student just accepted into the school might go through a form of initiation. That initiation might reveal a few truths to him, but would not be likely to result in a true awakening of the spirit and soul. Not overnight, anyway. But if the initiation Ms. Underhill is talking about is the kind that was done with an advanced student preparing to move up to a higher level (adept), then it might culminate in an awakening, if only a temporary one. So either way, we see that the students in such schools did not expect, and did not receive, instant enlightenment. And no matter how awake they became, they knew there was always more to learn, always higher levels of consciousness to achieve.
Powers of Perception
Underhill says this initiation int the antique mysteries would “exalt the powers of perception”. This is true, but not in the way you might think. They didn’t make you see any better, or hear any better. They had little, if any, effect on the physical senses. What they did do is help awaken the spiritual senses of the spirit and soul. Only those senses can truly recognize the worlds of spirit and communicate with the beings that live in them. In most cases, biblical stories of Jesus opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf did not refer to the physical senses, but to these spiritual ones. Jesus was a spiritual master, a Messiah. He didn’t care about the physical condition of people. He cared about their spiritual condition. In a few cases, He did take pity on someone with a physical ailment or deformity and heal them, but usually, it was the spiritual senses that He helped awaken in them.
The tricky part is getting these spiritual senses to communicate with the brain-mind once awakened and fully functioning. Very often, only the subconscious mind is aware of anything that has been revealed through these spiritual senses, and then vaguely because the spiritual realms are so different from the physical. We may think we haven’t had any access to the spiritual world and get disappointed, but such access has happened on a spiritual and subconscious level.
Underhill is quoting Plato when she mentions the immortal beauty. While vague, it is certainly a good description of what it is like to experience a brief glimpse into the spiritual world. It is a place of great beauty, pure light, peace, and harmony. It cannot be described in physical terms because it isn’t physical.
When the song from the Dionysus’ school mentions drinking from the Living Fountain, it is talking about that spiritual light. It is also called God’s grace or God’s word, for in it is found all truth, all wisdom. This is the real Fountain of Youth which foolish materialists search for in physical places. This fountain flows from the spiritual sun. Those schools of antique mysteries taught that, but it was later suppressed by governments and state-approved and controlled churches. Now that we are in the End Times, and the Sun of Righteousness is now shining down on us, those teachings are coming out of hiding and being taught again. At least they are in legitimate spiritual schools that are the offspring of those antique mysteries.