Dionysian mysteries

One of the most popular of the ancient mystery cults, the Dionysian mysteries were celebrated throughout Greece, and spread through most of the Mediterranean world after Alexander the Great’s conquests imposed Greek culture on most of the Middle East. The rite was based on the Orphic myth of Dionysus, in which the god was born of Zeus and Persephone, murdered by the Titans, and resurrected in the form of humanity, which was made from the mingled ashes of the Titans and the body of Dionysus. See Orphism.

A few scraps of information about the Dionysian mysteries have come down via classical authors. Candidates for initiation were purified with water, dressed in the garments of the god Dionysus, and given over to a conductor, who took them on a journey through darkness. They were symbolically killed by the Titans and placed in the pastos or tomb, and heard lamentations for the dead god and the search for his body. Finally the candidates emerged from the pastos as the reborn god. All this is classic vegetation myth, with Dionysus as deity of the crops buried with the seed and reborn with the green shoot. The same pattern can be found in most of the other ancient mystery cults, as well as in the Gospel story of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. See Christian origins; fertility religion; mysteries, ancient.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, scholarly writings about the Dionysian mysteries found a ready audience in many secret societies of the time, and secret society members in search of ancient roots for their traditions routinely turned to the Dionysian mysteries, as well as other classical mystery cults. Nineteenth-century books on the origins of Freemasonry generally list the mysteries of Dionysus as one of the ancient sources of the Craft. See Freemasonry, origins of.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006


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