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Ancient Mysteries & Symbolism
Mystery religions are commonly associated with the ancient Greco-Roman world. However, Hindu, Chaldean and Egyptian learning must be recognized as the actual source of this Greek wisdom. Manly P. Hall writes that in ancient times there had to be, “guardians of a transcendental knowledge so profound as to be incomprehensible save to the most exalted intellect and so potent as to be revealed with safety only to those in whom personal ambition was dead and who had consecrated their lives to the unselfish service of humanity”. It is clear that even in ancient times it was well known that this powerful knowledge could be subverted and used for individual selfish purposes. This is why even those of the positive orientation kept it hidden for so long. That is also why the esoteric spiritual teachings were taught to the discerning few and exotic literal interpretations were taught to the many. Vital forces and cosmic principles became personified as gods and goddesses.
Manly P. Hall writes in The Secret Teachings of All Ages, “While the ignorant multitudes brought their offerings to the altars of Priapus and Pan, the wise recognized in these marble statues only symbolic concretions of great abstract truths…[therefore] rejecting man-conceived dialects as inadequate and unworthy to perpetuate divine ideas, the Mysteries chose symbolism as a far more ingenious and ideal method of preserving their transcendental knowledge.”
Symbolism is the common language of the Mysteries because the ultimate effect of a symbol is to awaken the senses. Many of these symbols are geometric in nature. We cover this in the ‘Number’ section of Cosmic Core.
Freddy Silva writes in Secrets in the Fields that “symbols preserve information for thousands of years, unadulterated by the tides of time or whimsical changes in custom, religion and politics…In Greek, symballein is depicted as a boat, a receptacle of the sacred that acts as a mediatory vehicle between intuition – that is inner tuition – and physical reality, waking the individual and transporting it to its roots in the spiritual realm where everything is order, measure, and proportion. A church or cathedral served a similar purpose, and it’s not by accident that their vaulted ceilings symbolize the inverted hull of a ship, or why the passageway to the altar is called a nave, giving us navis, or boat.”
He then goes on to say that “symbol is related to that other primordial vehicle, myth. Myth stems from mutus, meaning mute, silent, signifying those things which are inexplicable to the physical world unless explained through a ‘verbal’ symbol. As such, myth relates a sacred and truthful story from outside the boundaries of temporal space, revealing a cosmological reality in a way no other method can. As such, myths are stories explaining phenomena of nature, the origins of humans and the exploits of gods.”
We will cover myth in more detail in other articles in the ‘Culture’ section.
“Those who can today discover [the] lost keys [of the Mysteries] may open with them a treasure house of philosophic, scientific and religious truths,” writes Manly P. Hall. We will now explore some of the different mystery schools of Western culture.
Druidic Mysteries of Britain and Gaul
Credit: yooperann: The Druid and the Ancient Oak
The Druidic Mysteries involve the high-ranking class in ancient Celtic cultures that date back to at least the fourth century BC. The main priest of the Druids was called Gwydd. The superior instructor became Der-Wydd (Druid) and the subordinate instructor was called Go-Wydd or O-Vydd (Ovate). As a whole they were all called Beirdd (Bards) and were known as teachers of wisdom. There were three degrees of initiation among their mysteries.
The Druids had a deep understanding of nature and her laws and worshiped the Supreme Deity through the Oak Tree. They adored Mercury, Apollo, Mars and Jupiter; and worshiped the sun, moon and stars.
The chief deities of the Druids were Hu, the Sun God, and Ceridwen, the Great Mother. The balanced male and female duality of their deities was important to them. The cross was a symbol of regeneration and the serpent was a symbol of Hu, the Druidic Osiris. These symbols were sacred to their society.
The Druid priests were seen as mediators between the gods and men. They studied geography, physical science, natural theology and astrology and had knowledge of medicine especially the use of herbs. Mistletoe grown on oaks was used as a universal remedy.
Eliphas Levi writes that “Druids lived in strict abstinence, studied the natural sciences, preserved the deepest secrecy, and admitted new members only after long probationary periods.”
They appreciated solitude and often withdrew to caves to meditate and pray.
They said, “Good and Evil are so exactly balanced that man has the utmost freedom and is able to choose or reject either.” They also believed in the immortality of the soul, transmigration and reincarnation. Manly P. Hall tells us that they “taught that all men would be saved, but that some must return to earth many times to learn the lessons of human life and to overcome the inherent evil of their own natures.”
There were many sacred days on their calendar. These included new and full moons, the 6th day of the moon, solstices, equinoxes; and at the dawn of the 25th day of December the birth of the Sun God was celebrated.
Mithraism was practiced in the Roman Empire from approximately the 1st to 4th century AD. This mystery religion began with the Persian mysteries which were later assimilated by the ancient Romans. Mithras is lord of the sun and has male and female aspects but is not androgynous in a sexual way. Mithras was more of a balanced personality containing both male and female qualities of the personality such as intuition (traditionally associated with females) and rational thinking (traditionally associated with males.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Cult of Mithras resembles early Christianity in that it shared the following aspects: “The fraternal and democratic spirit of the first communities, and their humble origin; the identification of the object of adoration with light and the sun; the legends of the shepherds with their gifts and adoration, the flood, and the ark; the representation in art of the fiery chariot, the drawing of water from the rock; the use of bell and candle, holy water and the communion; the sanctification of Sunday and of the 25th of December; the insistence on moral conduct, the emphasis placed on abstinence and self-control; the doctrine of heaven and hell, of primitive revelation, of the mediation of the Logos emanating from the divine, the atoning sacrifice, the constant warfare between good and evil and the final triumph of the former, the immortality of the soul, the last judgment, the resurrection of the flesh and the fiery destruction of the universe – [these] are some of the resemblances which, whether real or only apparent, enabled Mithraism to prolong its resistance to Christianity.”
There were three degrees of initiation in Mithraism, like Druidism, and these rites were performed in the darkness of caves. Initiates were called syndexioi – “those united by the handshake”. Only men were allowed entrance and those who passed were called Lions. A ladder with seven rungs appears in their initiation rites. These seven rungs represent the seven chakras and seven densities or levels of consciousness which are as follows:
- Mineral consciousness
- Plant/Animal consciousness
- Human consciousness
- Planetary consciousness
- Galactic consciousness
- Galactic Cluster consciousness
- Cosmic consciousness
It is believed by many that Mithraism is one of the forerunners of Freemasonry.
Mysteries of Asar-Hapi (Serapis)
Serapis comes from the word “Osiris-Apis” and was worshipped as a Greco-Egyptian deity. This mystery religion began around the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolmey I Soter as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians.
Therefore, the mysteries of Serapis were Greco-Egyptian in origin. As Manly P. Hall describes, “In an oracle delivered to the King of Cyprus, Serapis described himself thus:
A god I am such as I show to thee,
The Starry Heavens are my head, my trunk the sea,
Earth forms my feet, mine ears the air supplies,
The Sun’s far-darting, brilliant rays, mine eyes.”
Serapis was called Theon Heptagrammaton, or the god with the name of seven letters. Here again we see the importance of the number seven. Labyrinths, rather than caves, were connected with the Rite of Serapis.
Like Mithras, Serapis was a prototype of Christ. C. W. King writes, “Thee can be no doubt that the head of Serapis, marked as the face is by a grave and pensive majesty, supplied the first idea for the conventional portraits of the Saviour.”
Serapis gradually became the supreme deity of the Greeks and Egyptians and his power continued until the 4th century of the Christian Era. In 385 AD Theodosius ordered the destruction of the Serapeum at Alexandria – the gypsies were driven out of their ancient temple the Serapeum at this time. “According to the Secret Histories the gypsies were originally Egyptian priests,” Manly P. Hall tells us.
The Odinic Mysteries
The Odinic mysteries first appeared in the 1st century AD when Sigge, chief of the Asiatic tribe Aser, emigrated from the Caspian Sea through Europe and Russia to Sweden where he became master and took on the name of Odin. (Robert Macoy) Manly P. Hall writes, “After his death, the historical Odin was apotheosized, his identity being merged into that of the mythological Odin, god of wisdom. Odinism then supplanted the worship of Thor, the thunderer, the supreme deity of the ancient Scandinavian pantheon.”
The Odinic rituals were similar to the Greeks, Persians, and Brahmins. Mysteries and initiations were given in caves or underground crypts. It is to be noted that “Richard Wagner’s immortal composition, Der Ring des Nibelungen, is based upon the Mystery rituals of the Odinic cult.”
The Eleusinian Mysteries are the most famous of the ancient religious Mysteries. This branch of knowledge spread from Greece to Rome and finally to Britain. Their initiates became famous throughout Greece for the beauty of their philosophic concepts and their high standards of morality. Like most other mystery schools they taught transmigration and reincarnation.
Initiations occurred every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were believed to have been founded by Eumolpos around 1400 BC. They believed, as Manly P. Hall writes, that: “The soul of man, often called psyche, is essentially a spiritual thing. Its true home is in the higher worlds, where, free from the bondage of material form and material concepts, it is said to be truly alive and self-expressive. The human, or physical, nature of man, according to this doctrine, is a tomb, a quagmire, a false and impermanent thing, the source of all sorrow and suffering.
“Man is neither better nor wiser after death than during life. If he does not rise above ignorance during his sojourn here, man goes at death into eternity to wander about forever, making the same mistakes which he made here. If he does not outgrow the desire for material possessions here, he will carry it with him into the invisible world, where, because he can never gratify the desire, he will continue in endless agony.
“Those who made no endeavor to improve themselves (whose souls have slept) during their physical lives, passed at death into Hades, where, lying in rows, they slept through all eternity as they had slept through life.
“Birth into the physical world was death in the fullest sense of the word, and the only true birth was that of the spiritual soul of man rising out of the womb of his own fleshly nature.
“Man, gazing into the mirror of Nature and accepting as his real self the senseless clay that he sees reflected, loses the opportunity afforded by physical life to unfold his immortal, invisible Self.”
In their symbology “Ceres carried two torches, intuition and reason, to aid her in the search for her lost child (the soul).”
They also realized the soul left the body during sleep, or at least was capable of leaving the body.
As Porphyry explains, “God being a luminous principle, residing in the midst of the most subtle fire, he remains forever invisible to the eyes of those who do not elevate themselves above material life.”
“The Eleusinian Mysteries survived all others and did not cease to exist as an institution until nearly four hundred years after Christ, when they were finally suppressed by Theodosius who cruelly destroyed all who did not accept the Christian faith.” ~Manly P. Hall
Other Greek Mysteries
The Orphic Mysteries originated in the ancient Greek world as well as the Thracians. Manly P. Hall writes that “The lyre is the secret teaching of Orpheus; the seven strings are the seven divine truths which are the keys to universal knowledge.” Again, these seven strings and seven divine truths relate to the seven chakras and seven levels of consciousness.
Initiation into the Orphic Mysteries promised advantages in the afterlife, like many other mystery religions. Wikipedia states, “The main elements of Orphism differed from popular ancient Greek religion in three ways: by characterizing human souls as divine and immortal but doomed to live (for a period) in a “grievous circle” of successive bodily lives through metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls; by prescribing an ascetic way of life which, together with secret initiation rites, was supposed to guarantee not only eventual release from the “grievous circle” but also communion with god(s); and by being founded upon sacred writings about the origin of gods and human beings.”
Bacchic & Dionysiac Rites
Bacchus (Dionysus) was the Greek god of the grape-harvest, winemaking, wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theatre. He was called Bacchus by the Romans and Dionysus by the Greeks. The Bacchic rites center around Bacchus being torn to pieces by the twelve giant Titans of ancient Greek lore. Bacchus represents the rational soul of the inferior world; his heart the immortal center of the rational soul.
Manly P. Hall explains that “The Bacchic state signifies the unity of the rational soul in a state of self-knowledge, and the Titanic state the diversity of the rational soul which, being scattered throughout creation, loses the consciousness of its own essential oneness. The mirror into which Bacchus gazes and which is the cause of his fall is the great seas of illusion.”
Bacchus also represents the Sun who is dismembered by the twelve signs of the zodiac and from whose body the universe is formed. Like many other deities there are close parallels of the life of Dionysus with Jesus Christ such as the death and resurrection, the trial, and the celebration of a ritual meal of bread and wine.
On the other hand, Dionysiac Architects were an ancient secret society “bound together by their secret knowledge of the relationship between the earthly and the divine sciences of architectonics.” Architectonics refers to the ability to move matter, such as stone, using sound. It was believed CHiram Abiff, builder of Solomon’s Temple and eternal hero of Freemasonry, was an initiate.
Babylonian and Assyrian Myths
Babylon was an ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC. Assyria was an ancient Mesopotamian empire from the 25th century to its collapse in 612 BC. Babylonian and Assyrian myths deal with the myth of the dying god. Tammuz was the son and husband of Ishtar, the deity of agriculture or vegetation. Tammuz is referred to as ‘shepherd’ and ‘lord of the shepherd seat’. Ishtar was the most widely venerated deity of the Babylonian and Assyrian pantheon. Ishtar is identical to Ashteroth, Astarte and Aphrodite.
“The myth of Ishtar,” writes Manly P. Hall, symbolizes the descent of the human spirit through the seven worlds, or spheres of the sacred planets, until finally, deprived of its spiritual adornments, it incarnates in the physical body – Hades – where the mistress of that body heaps every form of sorrow and misery upon the imprisoned consciousness. The waters of life – the secret doctrine – cure the diseases of ignorance; and the spirit, ascending again to its divine source, regains its God-given adornments as it passes upward through the rings of the planets.” Again we see the sacred importance of the number seven and its spiritual significance.
Merodach and the Dragon was another mystery ritual originating from Babylon and Assyria. This myth is the source of Christian allegory of St. George and the Dragon.
Other ‘dying god’ Myths
Writes Manly P. Hall, “The myth of the dying god is the key to both universal and individual redemption and regeneration, and those who do not comprehend the true nature of this supreme allegory are not privileged to consider themselves either wise or truly religious.”
Adonis, meaning “Lord”, was a deity of ancient Egypt, Phoenicia and Biblos. He was born at midnight on December 24th. “After three days (months) in the tomb,” Manly P. Hall tells us, “Adonis rose triumphant on the 25th day of March, amidst the acclamation of his priests and followers, ‘He is risen!’”
Atys (Attis) was a deity of Phrygia. He was also a Savior-God born at midnight on December 24th. “To the rites of Atys the modern world is indebted for the symbolism of the Christmas tree. Atys imparted his immortality to the tree beneath which he died, and Cybele took the tree with her when she removed the body. Atys remained three days in the tomb, rose upon a date corresponding to Easter morn, and by this resurrection overcame death for all who were initiated into his Mysteries. Cybele, the Great Mother, signifies the vivifying powers of the universe, and Atys that aspect of the spiritual intellect which is suspended between the divine and animal spheres.” ~ Manly P. Hall
Sabazius (Sabaoth) was a deity that was possibly identical to Bacchus. Sabazius led to the Cabiric Mysteries of Samothrace.
The lost ancient civilization of Atlantis was described by Plato in the Critias. It was destroyed in 9600 BC from a nuclear war (between the Rama empire and the Atlantean empire), pole shift and flood that brought about its total destruction. This flood that wiped out Atlantis was the same flood of Noah discussed in the Bible.
Atlantis has been studied by many modern day scholars including Graham Hancock. Ancient ruins of stone cities have been found off the coast of Cuba (Cabo de San Antonio); off westernmost island coast of Japan (Yonaguni); and underwater in the Gulf of Khambat off western India. All these ruins have been dated to not have been above sea level since nearly 10,000 years ago making them all contemporary with the Atlantean civilization. It is believed, however, that the real Atlantis lies far beneath the ice sheets of Antarctica.
Atlantis is also described in the Law of One and mentioned by one of the world’s most famous psychics Edgar Cayce.
“Nearly all the great cosmological myths forming the foundation of the various scared books of the world are based upon the Atlantean Mystery rituals,” Manly P. Hall tells us.
In the middle of the main island of Atlantis there existed a tall mountain. “This sacred mountain, upon whose summit stood the temple of the gods, gave rise to the stories of Olympus, Meru, and Asgard. The City of the Golden Gates – the capital of Atlantis – is the one now preserved among numerous religions as the City of the Gods, or the Holy City. Here is the archetype of New Jerusalem, with its streets paved with gold and its twelve gates shining with precious stones.” ~Manly P. Hall
H. P. Blavatsky tells us that “The Atlantis race became a nation of wicked magicians. In consequence of this, war was declared; its substance may be found in the disfigured allegories of the race of Cain, the giants, and that of Noah and his righteous family…From the Atlanteans the world has received not only the heritage of arts and crafts, philosophies, and sciences, ethics and religions, but also the heritage of hate, strife, and perversion.”
Thoth Hermes Trismegistus
Thoth was regarded by the Egyptians as the embodiment of the Universal Mind. He was called Hermes Trismegistus – “Thrice Born” by the Greeks. He revealed to mankind: medicine, chemistry, law, art, astrology, music, rhetoric, magic, philosophy, geography, mathematics, geometry, anatomy, and oratory.
Manly P. Hall tells us, “While in all probability there actually existed a great sage and educator by the name of Hermes, it is impossible to extricate the historical man from the mass of legendary accounts which attempt to identify him with the Cosmic Principle of Thought…He was one of the few philosopher-priest of pagandom upon whom the early Christians did not vent their spleen.”
Forty two books of his were known. These disappeared during the burning of Alexandria and now only fragmentary pieces remain. These are The Emerald Tablets & The Divine Pymander. Supposedly the other volumes escaped and were buried in the desert at a location known to only a few initiates of secret schools. Others believe with good reason that they all still exist and are buried deeply within the Vatican Library.
The Seven Hermetic Principles
These principles are written in The Kybalion, a book published in 1908 based upon the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus. They are:
- The Principle of Mentalism – “The All is Mind. The Universe is Mental.”
- The Principle of Correspondence – “As above, so below; as below so above.”
- The Principle of Vibration – “Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”
- The Principle of Polarity – “Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.”
- The Principle of Rhythm – “Everything flows, out and in; everything has tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.”
- The Principle of Cause and Effect – “Every cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a name for Law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the Law.”
- The Principle of Gender – “Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.”
The Divine Pymander
The Second book of the Divine Pymander: The Vision reads: “The light was the form of the spiritual universe and the swirling darkness which had engulfed it represented material substance…The earth and the water next mingled, becoming inseparable, and the Spiritual Word which is called Reason moved upon their surface, causing endless turmoil…Reason is the offspring of Thought and Reason shall divide the Light from the darkness and establish Truth in the midst of the waters…The union of the Word and the Mind produces that mystery which is called Life. As the darkness without you is divided against itself, so the darkness within you is likewise divided. The Light and the fire which rise are the divine man, ascending in the path of the Word, and that which fails to ascend is the moral man, which may not partake of immortality. Learn deeply of the Mind and its mystery, for therein lies the secret of immortality.”
It continues: “Before the visible universe was formed its mold was cast. This mold was called the Archetype, and this Archetype was in the Supreme Mind long before the process of creation began. Beholding the Archetypes, the Supreme Mind became enamored with Its own thought; so taking the Word as a mighty hammer, It gouged out caverns in primordial space and cast the form of the spheres in the Archetypal mold, at the same time sowing in the newly fashioned bodies the seeds of living things. The darkness below, receiving the hammer of the Word, was fashioned into an orderly universe. The elements separated into strata and each brought forth living creatures. The Supreme Being – the Mind – male and female, brought forth the Word; and the Word, suspended between Light and darkness, was delivered of another Mind called the Workman, the Master-Builder, or the Maker of Things.”
Other selections from The Divine Pymander are as follows:
“This shall continue from an infinite beginning to an infinite end, for the beginning and the ending are in the same place and state.”
“Suffering is the result of the Immortal Man’s falling in love with His shadow and giving up Reality to dwell in the darkness of illusion.”
“He who through the error of attachment loves his body, abides wandering in darkness, sensible and suffering the things of death, but he who realizes that the body is but the tomb of his soul, rises to immortality.”
“To the ignorant the body is supreme and they are incapable of realizing the immortality that is within them. Knowing only the body which is subject to death, they believe in death because they worship that substance which is the cause and reality of death.”
“At death the material body of man is returned to the elements from which it came, and the invisible divine man ascends to the source from whence he came, namely the Eighth Sphere.”
“There is a great mystery in the Eighth Sphere, for the Milky Way is the seed-ground of souls, and from it they drop into the Rings, and to the Milky Way they return again from the wheels of Saturn. But some cannot climb the seven-runged ladder of the Rings. So they wander in darkness below and are swept into eternity with the illusion of sense and earthiness.”
“The path to immortality is hard, and only a few find it. The rest await the Great Day when the wheels of the universe shall be stopped and the immortal sparks shall escape from the sheaths of substance. Woe unto those who wait, for they must return again, unconscious and unknowing, to the seed-ground of stars, and wait for a new beginning. Those who are saved by the light of the mystery which I have revealed unto you, O Hermes, and which I now bid you to establish among men, shall return again to the Father who dwelleth in the White Light, and shall deliver themselves up to the Light and shall be absorbed into the Light, and the Light they shall become Powers in God. This is the Way of Good and is revealed only to them that have wisdom.”
“O people of the Earth, born and made of the elements, but with the spirit of the Divine within you, rise from your sleep of ignorance! Be sober and thoughtful. Realize that your home is not in the earth but in the Light. Why have you delivered yourselves over unto death, having power to partake of immortality? Repent and change your minds. Depart from the dark light and forsake corruption forever. Prepare yourselves to climb through the Seven Rings and to blend your souls with the eternal Light.”
“The sleep of the body is the sober watchfulness of the Mind and the shutting of my eyes reveals the true Light. My silence is filled with budding life and hope, and is full of good. My words are the blossoms of fruit of the tree of my soul.”
“As Above So Below” is an important Hermetic dictum as we saw above. Graham Hancock writes that “the pattern of things here on earth in the “real world” can only be understood properly when you realize that it manifests the workings of a higher unseen domain.”
In the Hermetica it is written: “There exists a Kosmos “imperceptible to sense”. This higher unseen domain imperceptible to sense is the metaphysical reality.
“As Above, So Below” relates to the fractal holographic model of the universe.
Selected passages from the Emerald Tablets are as follows:
Wisdom is power and power is wisdom,
one with each other, perfecting the whole.
Be thou not proud, O man, in thy wisdom.
Discourse with the ignorant as well as the wise.
Keep thou not silent when evil is spoken
for Truth like the sunlight shines above all.
Cause thou not fear for fear is a bondage,
a fetter that binds the darkness to men.
Follow thine heart during thy lifetime.
Do thou more than is commanded of thee.
If thou go among men, make for thyself,
Love, the beginning and end of the heart.
If one cometh unto thee for council,
let him speak freely,
that the thing for which he hath
come to thee may be done.
If he hesitates to open his heart to thee,
it is because thou, the judge, doeth the wrong.
Silence is of great profit.
Exalt not thine heart above the children of men,
lest it be brought lower than the dust.
If thou be great among men,
be honoured for knowledge and gentleness.
The wise man lets his heart overflow
but keeps silent his mouth.
Man is a star bound to a body,
until in the end,
he is freed through his strife.
Only by struggle and toiling thy utmost
shall the star within thee
bloom out in new life.
All through the ages,
the light has been hidden.
Awake, O man, and be wise.
Seek ye with wisdom.
Turn thy thoughts inward.
Close not thy mind to the flower of Light.
Seek not the kingdom of shadows,
for evil will surely appear.
For only the master of brightness
shall conquer the shadow of fear.
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