antique mysteries

Antique Mysteries, Schools and Magical Initiations

“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

Antique Mysteries

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 I think many young people today interpret antique as meaning outdated, stodgy, and superseded by new methods and technologies.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. Continue reading “Antique Mysteries, Schools and Magical Initiations”

false limitations

False Limitations and the Two Worlds

“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.

Eleusinian school , Eleusinian mysteries

Eleusinian School Initiations and Mysteries

“In The Obelisk in Freemasonry, John A. Weisse describes the officiating personages of the Eleusinian Mysteries as consisting of a male and a female hierophant who directed the initiations; a male and a female torchbearer; a male herald; and a male and a female altar attendant. He states that, according to Porphyry, the hierophant represents Plato’s Demiurgus or Creator of the World; the torch bearer, the Sun; the altar man, the moon; the herald, Hermes or Mercury, and the other officials, minor stars.

“From the records available, a number of strange and apparently supernatural phenomena accompanied the rituals. Many initiates claim to have actually seen the living gods themselves. Whether this was the result of religious ecstasy or the actual cooperation of invisible powers with the visible priests must remain a mystery. …

“Women and children were admitted to the Eleusinian Mysteries, and at one time there were literally thousands of initiates. Because this vast host was not prepared for the highest spiritual and mystical doctrines, a division necessarily took place within the society itself. The higher teachings were given to only a limited number of initiates.” ~Manly P. Hall

Mystery Schools

The Eleusinian school of Greece was probably typical of the ancient mystery schools. While details differed, the main teachings of most of them was identical. Certain other facts were also common. First, initiates who were accepted into the school took an oath of secrecy. The teaching were not to bee shared with the general public. Second, the initiate was accepted on a trial basis, and probably had to be recommended by someone who was already in the school. Third, in most schools, the initiate had to turn over all his material wealth to the treasurer of the school. If he failed the trial period and was asked to leave, hi money was returned to him. If he stayed with the school, his money was used, along with all the other students, for the benefit of the entire school.

Male and Female

In the available histories of mystery schools, you don’t find many mentions of women. Usually these schools were exclusively for men. At least that is what we were led to believe. In actual fact, however, many such schools did have both men and women in them. We see in the above quote that the Eleusinian school not only allowed women, but that in their initiations and other ceremonies, women played an important part. Most mystic schools recognized that women and men are different, but that doesn’t make one sex better than the other. Both sexes have their strengths and weaknesses, and the best schools accounted for those differences, while still treating all as equals.

Some histories of the Essenes, one of the best known of the spiritual groups and schools, indicate that only men were allowed within their communities. But what some Essene groups actually did is separate men and women into separate camps. They accepted both, but in different places. Other Essene groups, however, had men and women together. The Essenes were also known to adopt unwanted children in whom they saw spiritual potential, and raise them within their communities. Continue reading “Eleusinian School Initiations and Mysteries”

initiation chamber

Initiation Chamber and Ceremony in a Mystery School

“Behind the sacred place in the temple, behind the place of flame, was the Thrice Hidden Door, and this led down to the Chambers of Darkness, which were before the Caverns of Initiation.
“Before the first Chamber of Darkness, there was an antechamber containing a small lamp and light. Cut on the wall were representations of Life and Spirit. The candidate had studied with the priests of the upper temple for seven years and been observed by one of the Twice Born for seven years. Now, here in the antechamber, he became an Anointed One.
“The anointed one went into the first Chamber of Darkness for testing by one of the Twice Born. Here it was discovered whether he truly desired the Great Illumination ad whether he had all earthly desires and ambitions under control.” ~The Kolbrin Bible (SOF:2:12-13)

Chambers Of Initiation

While the actual arrangement of initiation chambers varied, the idea is the same. When the initiate is deemed ready, he is brought to a special place for testing. This testing determines if he is ready to go on to more advance spiritual training.

It sounds strange that the initiate would be brought to Chambers of Darkness. I think the intended symbology here was to remind him that he was still in the world of darkness, despite his years of study and practice. Now, however, he was being tested to see if he was ready to go beyond into Worlds of Light.

It would have been nice if the writer had given more details on those carvings on the walls representing Life and Spirit. We can only speculate about them. Continue reading “Initiation Chamber and Ceremony in a Mystery School”