More on mysteries


There’s another component that I left out of the last post. While it’s true that location is central, something the ancients themselves recognized:

It was not we who originally invented those rites, which is to our credit, but it was a Nikaian who was the first to institute them…let the rites be his, and let them be performed among his people alone…unless we wish to commit sacrilege against Caesar himself, as we should commit sacrilege against Demeter and her Daughter also, if we performed to them here the ritual used there; for they are unwilling to allow any rites of that sort… (P. Oxy. 1612)

What we moderns are also lacking, which no amount of research, experimentation and UPG can rectify, is unbroken lineage.

In fact, this is an obstacle that even the gods themselves cannot overcome.

If Dionysos appeared to me tomorrow and said, “Here Sannion, I’m going to download into your brain the complete teletai of my mysteries, exactly as they were carried out in antiquity! Now go forth and propagate the faith!” The faith that I propagated would still be a new faith. The line of descent of this faith would begin with me since these teletai were not transmitted to me by another human being, but rather by a god.

And that makes this hypothetical tradition* fundamentally different from something like the Eleusinian mysteries where you’ve got continuity stretching all the way from Keleos, Diokles, Eumolpos, Polyxeinos and Triptolemos on down to “the man from Thespiae who held the rank of Father in the mysteries of Mithras” and violated his oaths as hierophant of Eleusis, bringing the institution to a close according to Eunapios. That is thousands of years of one man passing the rites on to another – and not just the rites themselves but everything that comes with them: the knowledge, the experience, the power, the weight of tradition.

Think about it.

That last hierophant was touched by a man who had been touched by a man who had been touched by a man et cetera et cetera who had been touched by Demeter when she rested in her mournful search for her Daughter.

And that’s gone.

No one today, no matter how close they are with the gods, has that.

And think about the spiritual technology that has been lost to us, technology that was only imparted by teacher to student during the training process, never discussed with outsiders, never written down or otherwise preserved …

Without this knowledge, even if you had the rites you wouldn’t know how to use them, at least not the way that they did.

I know that there’s this component just from the public rites I’ve lead. It’s not as simple as people show up and then you do W, X, and Y and end up with result Z. What the audience sees is just a tiny fraction of what goes on behind the curtain or what I’m doing while their attention is diverted. (I suspect it’s because so many ritual leaders neglect this aspect of their art that so much neopagan ritual sucks, but I digress.) Imagine the body of ceremony, lore and techniques the priests and hierophants of Eleusis accumulated over all that time – none of which has come down to us.

So yes, while the mystery is from the gods and they have the power to reveal themselves to us at any time and any way they choose – they cannot create traditions. Only we can. Traditions are transmitted through us, given shape by our experiences and without the human element you simply do not have traditions in the proper sense. Revelations, yes. Traditions, no.

I believe that traditions can be restored, even after the centuries that separate us from our ancient predecessors in these traditions – but only as new, revived traditions. To give these traditions life and vitality they must be rooted in place and the present and open to new expressions – while still remaining faithful to the form, function and spirit of what came before.

And if it becomes too new, too different it must splinter off and become it’s own separate tradition to maintain the health and integrity of the whole.

So no. You will never succeed in reviving the Eleusinian mysteries and as long as you are engaged in that fruitless task you will deprive yourself of the experience of the mysteries that the gods are trying to reveal to us today.

* What I’m doing with the thiasos of the Starry Bull is entirely different; instead of Dionysos communicating a complete system to me I am developing a system based on certain experiences that I’ve had with a group of gods and spirits in the hope that I can replicate those experiences for others. If it works those people will in turn take others through these experiences and thus a new Bacchic Orphic tradition will have been born. And if it doesn’t work I’ll probably spend the rest of my days in prison – but as Orpheus said you don’t create a cosmos without getting cracked eggshell everywhere!

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8 thoughts on “More on mysteries

  1. [nods]

    Excellent job in explaining the difference between “revelation” and “tradition”. While there’s no tradition like a new tradition, there’s no tradition like an ancient one, going back hundreds, thousands of generations, either.

    It’s folly to chase old traditions and perform the mental gymnastics necessary to basically pull the wool over one’s eyes and convince oneself that one is practicing something that can be said to have a direct link to the ancients. Even those in Greece who claim to be doing something that has been literally unbroken, miraculously surviving underground since ancient times, I gotta take that with a grain of salt and, even if by some miracle they could, indeed, prove that their family’s religion goes back at least farther than the 15th Century, I gotta say that it still really isn’t the same thing that was done before the Christian era –because what happened prior the political rise of Christianity was something that, well, didn’t need to go underground. It may share much in common with pre-Christian Hellenic religion, but where are the temples? Where are the hecatombs of cattle sacrificed to Zeus?

    While I have immense respect for those in Greece who are practising the indigenous Hellenic polytheistic religion, the traditions have clearly changed in the 1500-1600 years since the last openly polytheistic generations were worshipping their gods freely.


    • Brilliant points! Of course, what always makes me suspicious is that none of these “underground, unbroken lines” tend to show enough change. There are plenty of things I’d consider authentic survivals of paganism in Greece – usually on the level of folk customs and syncretized Christian traditions, and yet what these people describe betrays no trace of that. It looks every bit like something that was cobbled together in the 1970s from current scholarship and a healthy dose of Theosophy. I’d have more respect for them if they were honest about that because at this point they’d have a legitimate tradition with a couple generations under their belt – but I also understand why they cling to this demonstrably false claim to antiquity considering the situation in Orthodox-dominated Greece.


      • Also good points. Obviously, you’re not going to convince any of the “true believers”, but such is life.

        And yeah, like on Eire, I’ll agree that there’s some form of pagan survival in the thinly-veiled syncretism with Christianity, the folk traditions for the nymphai, even the little random roadside shrines (some of which clearly are still centuries old) that place an ancient deity alongside a Saint. At best, any unbroken and explicitly polytheist traditions in Greece are maybe a hundred years old and has been adjusted here and there for new scholarship, as per the standard reconstructionist method (I know someone in YSEE claims that what most of its members practise, “the Stratioti tradition”, goes back to the 15th Century –I’ll really need to know more about that one –if we’re talking a Freemason type group that only recently “opened up”, then yeah, I’m sure it could easily survive underground a few centuries); that said, yeah, even only as far back as the 1960s/70s, we’re clearly talking about a tradition with a few generations under its belt, and that’s admirable, in and of itself


  2. Please tell me you’re going to give a class on constructing ritual at the conference. It’s such a necessary aspect of leadership in our community! And frankly, the secrets of meaningful ritual are a mystery in themselves . . .


    • I won’t actually be presenting at the conference though that would make a great round-table discussion.


      • I know that it would be insane to try to present at a conference you’re organizing, but I figured that didn’t rule it out. Dionysos and all.


  3. Reblogged this on Wolf and Raven.


  4. Pingback: Defining the indefinable | The House of Vines

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