Orphic Mysteries

Orphic Mysteries – Like the Sumerian Descent of Inanna epic, the mysteries of the Greek hero Orpheus have been interpreted as being shamanic. In part, this is because Orpheus descended into the underworld to restore his dead wife to life. He is also the archetypal mystagogue or initiator and revealer of mysteries. However, like other classical-period mysteries, those of Orpheus privilege restraint rather than excess. The main link between Orpheus and ecstasy is in the stories of his frenzied dismemberment by female devotees of Dionysus annoyed by Orpheus’s rejection of all deities except the sober, solar Apollo. This is hardly an encouragement of trance or possession among his initiates. Nonetheless, Gloria Flaherty (1992) shows that Orpheus was considered preeminent among shamans, themselves considered preeminent religious virtuosi, by 18th-century Enlightenment writers such as Johann von Herder, Johann Goethe, and Victor Hugo. But it is as an inspired poetic performer rather than as an entranced otherworld journeyer that Orpheus is considered shamanic, thereby making the term too vague to be useful.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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