Essay On Mystery Cults

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Essay On Mystery Cults

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Three Ancient Roman Mystery Cults

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These characteristics are equally apparent in a variety of media, including clay, gold, stone, ivory, and bronze. From B. If the Mycenaeans were not responsible for this destruction, they certainly took advantage of the events—administrative records from this period are written in Linear B, the script of Mycenaean Greeks. Contemporary pottery shows a blend of Minoan and Mycenaean stylistic traits.

Eventually, by the beginning of the eleventh century B. Higgins, Reynold. Minoan and Mycenaean Art. New York: Oxford University Press, Visiting The Met? Terracotta vase in the form of a bull's head. Agate Lentoid. Terracotta pyxis cylindrical box. Terracotta larnax chest-shaped coffin. Terracotta stirrup jar with octopus. Bronze rod tripod. Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete. New York: Routledge, Dickinson, Oliver. The Aegean Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Hood, Sinclair. The Minoans. New York: Praeger, Egypt in the New Kingdom ca. It is not so much that Christianity was influenced by the Mystery Cults, or borrowed from them, but that in the long process of history this religion developed. It, Christianity, is the expression of the longing of people for light, truth, salvation, security.

Underneath all expression, whether words, creeds, cults, ceremonies is the spiritual order—the ever living search of men for higher life—a fuller life, more abundant, satisfying life. Never stop with the external, which may seem like borrowing, but recognize there is the perennial struggle for truth, fuller life itself. So through experience, knowledge, as through other forms, the outer manifestations of religion change.

The inner spiritual, continues ever. The Greco-Roman world in which the early church developed was one of diverse religions. The conditions of that era made it possible for these religions to sweep like a tidal wave over the ancient world. The people of that age were eager and zealous in their search for religious experience. The existence of this atmosphere was vitally important in the development and eventual triumph of Christianity. These many religions, known as Mystery-Religions, were not alike in every respect: to draw this conclusion would lead to a gratuitous and erroneous supposition. It is not at all surprising in view of the wide and growing influence of these religions that when the disciples in Antioch and elsewhere preached a crucified and risen Jesus they should be regarded as the heralds of another mystery religion, and that Jesus himself should be taken for the divine Lord of the cult through whose death and resurrection salvation was to be had.

Even Christian apologist had to admit that fact. Christianity triumphed over these mystery religions after long conflict. This triumph may be attributed in part to the fact that Christianity took from its opponents their own weapons, and used them: the better elements of the mystery religions were transferred to the new religion. We can understand the Christianity of the fifth century with its greatness and weakness, its spiritual exaltation and its puerile superstitions, if we know the moral antecedents of the world in which it developed.

This universal law is expecially true of religion. It is inevitable when a new religion comes to exist side by side with a group of religions, from which it is continually detaching members, introducing them into its own midst with the practices of their original religions impressed upon their minds, that this new religion should tend to assimilate with the assimilation of their members, some of the elements of these existing religions. It is at this point that we are able to see why knowledge of the Mystery religions is important for any serious study of the history of Christianity. It is well-nigh impossible to grasp Christianity through and through without knowledge of these cults.

Therefore it is necessary to study the historical and social factors that contributed to the growth of Christianity. In speaking of the indispensability of knowledge of these cults as requisite for any serious study of Christianity, Dr. Moreover, much from the Mysteries has persisted in various modern phases of thought and practice. This is not to say that the early Christians sat down and copied these views verbatim. But after being in contact with these surrounding religions and hearing certain doctrines expressed, it was only natural for some of these views to become a part of their subconscious minds. When they sat down to write they were expressing consciously that which had dwelled in their subconscious minds.

It is also significant to know that Roman tolerance had favoured this great syncretism of religious ideas. Borrowing was not only natural but inevitable. The present study represents an attempt to provide a survey of the influence of the mystery religions on Christianity. The latter method is apt to neglect the distinctive contribution of each cult to the religious life of the age and, at the same time, to attribute to a given cult phases of some other system. However, in the conclusion I will attempt to give those fundamental aspects, characteristic of all the cults, that greatly influenced Christianity.

The first Oriental religion to invade the west was the cult of the Great Mother of the Gods. The divine personage in whom this cult centered was the Magna Mater Deum who was conceived as the source of all life as well as the personification of all the powers of nature. At an early date there was associated with Cybele, the Great Mother, a hero-divinity called Attic who personified the life of the vegetable world particularly.

Various writers gave different Versions of the Cybele-Attis myth. However these specific differences need not concern us, for the most significant aspects are common in all the various versions. Attis was the Good Shepard, the son of Cybele, the Great Mother, who gave birth to him without union with mortal man, as in the story of the virgin Mary. At the death of Attis, Cybele mourned vehemently until he arose to life again in the springtime. The central theme of the myth was the triumph of Attis over death, and the participant in the rites of the cult undoubtedly believed that his attachment to the victorious deity would insure a similar triumph in his life.

It is evident that in Rome there was a festival celebrating the death and resurrection of Attis. This celebration was held annually from March 22nd to 25th. On March 24th, known as the Day of Blood, the High Priest, impersonating Attic, drew blood from him arm and offered it up in place of the blood of a human sacrifice, thus, as it were, sacrificing himself. That night the priests went back to the tomb and found it empty, the god having risen on the third day from the dead; and on the 25th the resurrection was celebrated with great rejoicing. There can hardly be any doubt of the fact that these ceremonies and beliefs strongly coloured the interpretation placed by the first Christians upon the life and death of the historic Jesus.

Peter now stands upon the very spot. Another popular religion which influenced the thought of early Christians was the worship of Adonis. As is commonly known Antioch was one of the earliest seats of Christianity. It was in this city that there was celebrated each year the death and resurrection of the god Adonis. When we come to Christian thought the influence seems even greater, for even the place at Bethleham selected by the early Christians as the scene of the birth of Jesus was none other than an early shrine of this pagan god—a fact that led many to confuse Adonis with Jesus Christ. It was believed that this god suffered a cruel death, after which he descended into hell, rose again, and then ascended into Heaven. The festival ended with the celebration of his ascention in the sight of his worshippers.

This coincidence had led many critics to suppose that the story of the burial and resurrection of Jesus is simply a myth borrowed from this pagan religion. In fact the idea did not appear in the church as a tenet of Christianity until late in the Fourth Century. The Egyptian mysteries of Isis and Osiris exerted considerable influence upon early Christianity. These two great Egyptian deities, whose worship passed into Europe, were revered not only in Rome but in many other centers where Christian communities were growing up.

Osiris and Isis, so the legend runs, were at one and the same time, brother and sister, husband and wife; but Osiris was murdered, his coffined body being thrown into the Nile, and shortly afterwards the widowed and exiled Isis gave birth to a son, Horus. Meanwhile the coffin was washed up on the Syrian coast, and became miraculously lodged in the trunk of a tree. This tree afterwards chanced to be cut down and made into a pillar in the palace at Byblos, and there Isis at length found it. In the records of both Herodotus and Plutarch we find that there was a festival held each year in Egypt celebrating the resurrection of Osiris. While Herodotus fails to give a date for this festival, Plutarch says that it lasted four days, giving the date as the seventeenth day of the Egyptian month Hathor, which, according to the Alexandrian claendar used by him, corresponded to November 13th.

It is interesting to note that the Christian feast of all Souls, in honor of the dead, likewise falls at the beginning of November; and in many countries lamps and candles are burned all night on that occassion. There seems little doubt that this custom was identical with the Egyptian festival. The festival of all Saints, which is held one day before that of all Souls is also probably identical with it in origin.

However this is not the only point at which the Religion of Osiris and Isis exerted influence on Christianity. There can hardly be any doubt that the myths of Isis had a direct bearing on the elevation of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to the lofty position that she holds in Roman Catholic theology. As is commonly known Isis had two capacities which her worshippers warmly commended her for. Firstly, she was pictured as the lady of sorrows, weeping for the dead Osiris, and secondly she was commended as the divine mother, nursing her infant son, Horus.

In the former capacity she was identified with the great mother-goddess, Demeter, whose mourning for Persephone was the main feature in the Eleusinian mysteries. In the latter capacity Isis was represented in tens of thousands of statuettes and paintings, holding the divine child in her arms. Now when Christianity triumphed we find that these same paintings and figures became those of the Madonna and child with little or no difference. It is also interesting to note that in the second century a story began to spread stating that Mary had been miraculously carried to Heaven by Jesus and His angels.

It is celebrated annually on August 13th. But it was this very date that the festival of Dianna or Artemis was celebrated, with whom Isis was identified. Here we see how Mary gradually came to take the place of the goddess. In the first century of the Christian era the Eleusinian mystery cult was more favorable known than any of the cults of Greece. The origin of this cult is obscure and uncertain. Some writers traced its origin to Egypt while others upheld Eleusis in Greece as the place of its birth. It is stated with sufficient elaboration in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. In this myth, Persephone is depicted playing in the meadows of Mysia in Asia with the daughters of Oceanus and Tithys.

While playing she was stolen by Pluto and carried off to the underworld to be his bride. The mother, frenzied with grief, rushed about the earth for nine days in search for her lost daughter, 25 As a result of her wandering, she came to Eleusis where she was seen, although not recognized, by the four daughters of Kekeas sitting near a public well called the Fountain of Maidenhood. After telling a fictitious tale of her escape from pirates, she won the sympathy of the girls who took her home and at her own request was given a job to nurse their infant brother, Demophon.

After making herself known, she commanded the people of Eleusis to build her a temple. In connection with the temple, she established certain ceremonies and rites for her worship. During her short stay at the temple of Eleusis, the whole earth grew barren. Men began to die for the lack of food while the sacrifices to the gods decreased in number because the animals were dying out. The other gods pleaded with her to relent but she refused to do so until Persephone was restored to her. Pluto, also called Hades therefore, at the request of Zeus released her but not before he had caused her to eat a pomegranate seed which magically required her return after a period of time.

Demeter, in her joy at the restoration of her lost daughter, allowed the crops to grow once more and institute in honor of the event the Eleusinian mysteries which gave to mortals the assurance of a happy future life. The significance of this story is immediately clear. It was a nature myth portraying a vivid and realistic picture of the action of life in the vegetable world in regards to the changing seasons. Every year nature passes through a cycle of apparent death and resurrection. Spring, the time when all plants come back to life, indicates the return of plenty when the goddess maintains all life until autumn when her daughter returns to Hades and the earth becomes once more desolated.

The myth is also an example of poignant human experience, reflecting the joys, sorrows, and hopes of mankind in the face of death. The mysteries of human life and death are vividly enacted by Demeter, Persephone, and Hades. In this legend, human beings, who are always loved and lost, are depicted as never or seldom loosing hope for reunion with their God. These fundamental human experiences and the life of nature are the main substances of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Now when we observe the modern Greek Easter festival it seems certain that it preserves the spirit if not the form of the old Eleusinian worship. And today similar experiences are represented by Greek Christians. After mourning over the dead Christ, represented most conspicuously by a wax image carried through the streets, there comes an announcement by the priest, on the midnight before Easter Sunday, that Christ is risen.

At this moment the light from the candle of the priest is passed on to light the candles of his companions; guns and firecrackers are discharged as they prepare to break the Lenten fast.

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