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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Author Topic: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten  (Read 1170 times)
Peggie Welles
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« on: January 25, 2009, 01:00:35 am »

Many of these were based on the archaic fragments of the pre-Homeric times, and looked back to this archaic tradition as their foundation. But the mystic and mythological setting of these poems, their enthusiastic and prophetic character, though all-sufficient for many, were not suited to the nascent intellectuality of Greece which was asserting itself with such vigour. Therefore the greatest leaders of that thought sought means to clothe the ideas which were enshrined in myth and poesy, in modes more suitable to the intellectuals of the time; and we have the philosophy of a Pythagoras and subsequently of a Plato.

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But alongside of the public cults and popular traditions there existed an inner organism of religion The Mysteries. and channels of secret traditions concealed within the Mystery-institutions. If it is difficult to form any precise notion of the evolution of popular religious ideas in Greece, much more difficult is it to trace the various lines of the Mystery-traditions, which were regarded with the greatest possible reverence and guarded with the greatest possible secrecy, the slightest violation of the oath being punishable by death.

The idea that underlay the Mystery-tradition in Greece was similar to that which underlay all similar institutions in antiquity, and it is difficult to find any cult of importance without this inner side. In these institutions, in the inner shrines of the temple, were to be found the means of a more intimate participation in the cult and instruction in the dogmas.

The institution of the Mysteries is the most interesting phenomenon in the study of religion. The idea of antiquity was that there was something to be known in religion, secrets or mysteries into which it was possible to be initiated; that there was a gradual process of unfolding in things religious; in fine, that there was a science of the soul, a knowledge of things unseen.

A persistent tradition in connection with all the great Mystery-institutions was that their several founders were the introducers of all the arts of civilization; they were either themselves gods or were instructed in them by the gods

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in brief, that they were men of far greater knowledge than any who had come after; they were the teachers of infant races. And not only did they teach them the arts, but they instructed them in the nature of the gods, of the human soul, and the unseen world, and set forth how the world came into existence and much else.

We find the ancient world honey-combed with these institutions. They were of all sorts and Their Corruption. kinds, from the purest and most noble down to the most degraded; in them we find the best and worst of the religion and superstition of humanity. Nor should we be surprised at this, for when human nature is intensified, not only is the better in it stimulated but also the worse in it finds greater scope.

When knowledge is given power is acquired, and it depends on the recipients whether or no they use it for good or evil. The teachers of humanity have ever been opposed by the innate forces of selfishness, for evolution is slow, and mankind wayward; moreover, men cannot be forced, they must come of their own free-will, "for love is the fulfilling of the law"; and so again though "many are the 'called,' few are the 'chosen.'"

It is said that these earliest teachers of humanity who founded the Mystery-institutions as the most The Reason of it. efficient means of giving infant humanity instruction in higher things, were souls belonging to a more highly developed humanity than our own. The men of our infant humanity were children with minds but little developed, and only capable of

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understanding what they distinctly saw and felt. In the earliest times, according to this view, the Mysteries were conducted by those who had a knowledge of nature-powers which was the acquisition of a prior perfected humanity not necessarily earth-born, and the wonders shown therein such that none of our humanity could of themselves produce. As time went on and our humanity more and more developed the faculty of reason, and were thought strong enough to stand on their own feet, the teachers gradually withdrew, and the Mysteries were committed to the care of the most advanced pupils of this humanity, who had finally to substitute symbols and devices, dramas and scenic representations, of what had previously been revealed by higher means.

Then it was that corruption crept in, and man was left to win his own divinity by self-conquest and persistent struggling against the lower elements in his nature. The teachers remained unseen, ever ready to help, but no longer moving visibly among men, to compel their reverence and worship. So runs the tradition.

If, as we have seen, the origin and evolution The Various Traditions. of the popular cults of Greece are difficult to trace, much more difficult are the beginnings and development of the Greek Mystery-cultus. The main characteristic of the Mysteries was the profound secrecy in which their traditions were kept; we therefore have no adequate materials upon which to work, and have to rely mainly on hints and veiled allusions. This much, however, is

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