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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Author Topic: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten  (Read 1276 times)
Peggie Welles
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« on: January 25, 2009, 01:01:25 am »

certain, that the Mystery-side of religion was the initiation into its higher cult and doctrine; the highest praise is bestowed upon the Mysteries by the greatest thinkers among the Greeks, who tell us that they purified the nature, and not only made men live better lives here on earth but enabled them to depart from life with brighter hopes of the future.

What the primitive Mystery-cultus traditions along the lines of Orphic, Dionysiac, and Eleusinian descent may have been, it is unnecessary to speculate in this rough outline sketch; but if we come down to the days of Plato we find existing Mystery-institutions which may be roughly characterised as political, private, and philosophic.

The political Mysteries--that is to say the State-Mysteries--were the famous Eleusinia, with their The Political Mysteries. gorgeous external pageants and their splendid inner rites. At this period almost every respectable citizen of Athens was initiated, and we can easily see that the tests could not have been very stringent, when so many were admitted every year. In fact, these State-Mysteries, though providing for a grade or several grades of advancement along the path of right living and of right comprehension of life, had become somewhat perfunctory, as all departments of a State-religion are bound to become in time.

Alongside of the Eleusinia there existed certain private Mysteries, not recognised by the State, the The Private Mysteries. number of which subsequently increased enormously, so that almost every variety of Oriental Mystery-cultus found its adherents in Greece, as may be seen

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from a study of the religious associations among the Greeks known as Thiasi, Erani, and Orgeones; among private communities and societies of this kind there were to be found naturally many undesirable elements, but at the same time they satisfied the needs of many who could derive no spiritual nourishment from the State-religion.

Among these private foundations were communities The Orphic Communities. of rigid ascetics, men and women, who gave themselves entirely to holy living; such people were said to live the "Orphic life" and were generally known as Orphics. Of course there were charlatans who parodied them and pretended to their purity and knowledge, but we are at present following the indications of those whose conduct squared with their profession.

These Orphic communities appear to have been the refuges of those who yearned after the religious life, and among them were the Pythagorean schools. Pythagoras did not establish something entirely new in Greece when he founded his famous school at Crotona; he developed something already existing, and when his original school was broken up and its members had to flee they sought refuge among the Orphics. The Pythagorean schools disappear into the Orphic communities.

It is in the Pythagorean tradition that we see the signs of what I have called the philosophic Mysteries; it is, therefore, in the best of the Orphic and Pythagorean traditions that we have to find the indications of the nature of the real Mysteries, and not in the political Eleusinia

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or in the disorderly elements of the Oriental cults.

In fact the Orphics did much to improve the Eleusinia and supported them as a most necessary The Philosophic Mysteries. means for educating the ordinary man towards a comprehension of the higher life. It stands to reason, however, that the Mysteries which satisfied the aspirations of Orphics and Pythagoreans were somewhat higher than the State-Mysteries of the ordinary citizen. These Pythagoreans were famous throughout antiquity for the purity of their lives and the loftiness of their aims, and the Mysteries they regarded with such profound reverence must have been something beyond the Eleusinia, something to which the Eleusinia were but one of the outer approaches.

We have then to seek for the innermost religious life of Greece in this direction, and to remember Pythagoras and Plato. that the inner experiences of this life were kept a profound secret and not paraded on the housetops. Pythagoras is said to have been initiated into the Egyptian, Chaldæan, Orphic, and Eleusinian Mysteries; at the same time he was one of the chief founders of Greek philosophy. His philosophy however, was not a thing of itself, but the application of his intellect--especially of his mathematical genius--to the best in these Mystery-traditions; he saw that it was necessary to attempt to lead the rapidly evolving intellectuality of Greece along its own lines to the contemplation of the inner nature of things; otherwise in the joy of its freedom it would get entirely out of hand and reject the truths of the ancient wisdom.

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Plato continued this task, though on somewhat different lines; he worked more in the world than Pythagoras, and his main effort was to clear the ground from misconceptions, so that the intellect might be purified and brought into a fit state to contemplate the things-that-are. He spent his life in this task, building up not so much a system of knowledge, as clearing the way so that the great truths of the Gnosis of things-that-are, as Pythagoras termed it, might become apparent of themselves.

It is a mistake to suppose that Plato formulated a distinctly new system of philosophy; his main conceptions are part and parcel of the old wisdom handed down by the seers of the Mysteries; but he does not formulate them so much as clear the ground by his dialectical method, so that the mind may be brought into a fit state to receive them.

Therefore are the conclusions of his dialogues nearly always negative, and only at the end of his long life, probably against his better judgment and in response to the importunity of his pupils, does he set forth a positive document in the Timæus, composed of scraps from the unpublished writings of Pythagoreans and others.

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