Ancient Mysteries

Each of the Pagan gods, says Warburton,1 had, besides the public and open, a secret worship paid to him, to which none were admitted but those who had been selected by preparatory ceremonies called Initiation. This secret worship was termed the Mysteries. And this is supported by Strabo2 who says that it was common, both to the Greeks and Barbarians, to perform their religious ceremonies with the observance of a festival, and that they are sometimes celebrated publicly, and sometimes in mysterious privacy. Noel3 thus defines them: Secret ceremonies which were practiced in honour of certain gods, and whose secret was known to the initiates alone, who were admitted only after long and painful trials, which it was more than their life was worth to reveal.

As to their origin, Warburton is probably not wrong in his statement that the first of which we have any account are those of Isis and Osiris in Egypt; for although those of Mithras came into Europe from Persia, they were, it is supposed, carried from Egypt by Zoroaster. The most important of these Mysteries were the Osiric in Egypt, the Mithraic in Persia, the Cabiric in Thrace, the Adonisian in Syria, the Dionysiac and Eleusinian in Greece, the Scandinavian among the Gothic nations, and the Druidical among the Celts.**

In all these Mysteries we find a singular unity of design, clearly indicating a common origin, and a purity of doctrine as evidently proving that this common origin was not to be sought for in the popular theology of the Pagan world. The ceremonies of initiation were all funereal in their character. They celebrated the death and the resurrection of some cherished being, either the object of esteem as a hero, or of devotion as a god. Subordination of Degrees was instituted, and the candidate was subjected to probations varying in their character and severity; the rites were practised in the dead of night, and often amid the gloom of impenetrable forests or subterranean caverns; and the full fruition of knowledge, for which so much labour was endured, and so much danger incurred, was not attained until the aspirant, well tried and thoroughly purified, had reached the place of wisdom and light.

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