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Greece and Rome


Excerpt from the book Spiritual Sexuality by Georges Feuerstein and wikipedia annotations.
Mysteries are called ceremonies that came to the admission of initiates in certain dogmas of secret pagan cults for the public, after the initiation, the initiates returned to the cult of official religions. The information that we currently have about the different mystery cults is scarce because of the prohibition imposed on the initiates to talk about them to the uninitiated.

Its origins seem to go back to the neolithic. And as for the origin, it is not sure that it is oriental either. It has been claimed that the mystery religions seem to arise in Egyptian antiquity, in relation to the gods Isis, Serapis and Anubis. Its existence can also be seen in Phrygian religions, such as Mithraism, as well as in the cult of Attis and Cybele. The Egyptian mysteries seem to be the oldest, and those of Isis and Osiris brought to Rome under this name, they undoubtedly gave birth to the three great initiations called Orphic mysteries, Eleusinian mysteries and samotracic mysteries.
They are observed in the Hellenistic culture of Ancient Greece, their existence being already evident before the 600 a. C. in the mystery cults of Eleusis (Demeter: sister / wife of Zeus and Persephone: daughter of Demeter and wife of Hades) and in those of Dionysus and the Bacchae. They spread throughout the Roman Empire despite the efforts of several emperors like Augustus to avoid them.
Given its anchoring in ancient fertility rites, the Hellenistic mystery traditions preserved visible and diverse sexual elements. As we have seen, there was a tendency to corrupt the heritage of sacred sexuality. But not everywhere the schools had succumbed to vulgarization. Many remained vehicles of personal purification and some tempered sexuality by temporary abstinence. As Walter Burkert points out, Sexuality, more than an end in itself, was a means to break the framework of ordinary experience.
Despite the progress of the falciparum, it was difficult to inhibit socially the forces of veneration to the Great Goddess and these mystery cults were practiced in the shadow of the official religion. The mysteries were practiced in the whole area of ​​the Mediterranean, the mysterious ecstasy was a refuge from the hostility of the social environment, the faithful were mainly farmers and other social groups relegated. In the company of the erotic Divinity and its enthusiastic followers the social and economic differences were diluted, the women, usually relegated, could express themselves in freedom, the mystery religions were true emotional channels. Not infrequently the ceremonies became orgiastic, the historian and theologian S. Angus speaks of the subject.

The most remarkable mystery cults they were those of Demeter and Persephone, Aphrodite and Adonis, Cybele and Attis, Isis and Osiris, Eurydice and Orpheus and the androgynous god Dionysus. The Platonic and the Pythagorean mysteries also existed.
It was especially worshiped Demether in an annual ritual reserved for women, called thesmophoria. For three days the rules disappeared and the ritual contemplated copulations between snakes, pineapples or other facsimiles of male genitalia and piglets, which represented the female organs. At the climax some women, previously purified, went down to the pit to sacrifice the piglets and offer relics to the altar of Demeter, mixed with the seeds that would be sown in the new year. This was a way to maintain ties with the archaic tradition and religious spirituality.

The epic poem known as "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter" The mysteries referred to here are those of Eleusis, the most important of ancient Greece. For almost 2000 years, from about 1500 BC to the 4th century AD, these were celebrated in Eleusis, Greece, in honor of the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. It even became a pan-Hellenic institution of universal importance during the Roman Empire.
The poem tells you that one day, when Persephone, daughter of Demeter, was picking flowers in the pastures, was kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld. Her mother learned from Helios what happened and found out that her husband, Zeus, was involved in the abduction.
Dressed as a simple woman among mortals, she found lodging in the palace of the King of Eleusis, Keleos, and his wife Metaneira. In gratitude for his kind hospitality, Demeter founded a temple in Eleusis after revealing that she was a goddess. To punish the gods of Olympus for the abduction of his daughter, Demeter made all vegetation on the earth die, threatening humanity with its extinction. The gods feared not to obtain more sacrifices and prayers from mortals and implored Demeter to return fertility to the lands. This request was not satisfied until Zeus ordered his brother Hades, from the underworld, to return Persephone to his mother. Mother and daughter returned to El Olimpo, but since then Persephone had to spend a third of the year with her husband in the underworld. When he did it, winter reigned over the earth, When Persephone returned to Earth in spring, the vegetable world awoke with new flowers and fruits.
Before Demeter returned to Olympus, he gave the kings of Eleusis, Keleos and Triptolemus, instructions to celebrate the rites in his temple. These were secret precepts, mysteries to be kept. To divulge or desecrate them could be punished with death. Appreciating the propitious end of the drama of Eleusis, Demeter gave Triptolemus, the first initiate of Eleusis, a wheat branch and entrusted to instruct humanity in agriculture.

In the Eleusinian mysteries a great silence of years remained until the investigator R. Gordon Wasson discovered that they were taking a psychotropic fungus (ergot) considered phallic. It is possible that the cult of Demeter came from the Neolithic Crete, culminated in the so-called contemplation (epopteia) and showed the sacred reality that united the genres.
Although he was accused of indulging in orgies, the fact referred more properly to the followers of Dionysus.


The Dionysian mysteries or orgies represent in Greece a religious experience that conflicts with traditional religion. Careers in the forest, phallic representations and frantic dances provoke the sacred delirium through which the initiate, caught up in enthusiasm, identifies with the god himself. The Dionysian mysteries or orgies represent in Greece a religious experience that conflicts with traditional religion. Careers in the forest, phallic representations and frantic dances provoke the sacred delirium through which the initiate, caught up in enthusiasm, identifies with the god himself. In the ecstasy (mania) that seizes them, the bacchantes tear a wild animal -cervatillo, goat or calf- and consume their raw meat (homofagia). The adepts were recruited from all environments and in all social classes. The origin of the cult as well as that of the god Dionysus himself is imprecise. Dionysius, god of vegetable, animal and human fertility, is associated in Eleusis to Demeter-Gea, Yaco and Pluto. The success of the Dionysian cult is said to be due to the fact that it propitiated the spiritual and mystical evolution of Greece and the ancient world and gave birth to one of the original creations of the Greek world: the theater -the Dionysian sanctuary- and the dramatic representations of the dithyramb . Hellenized Dionysus revealed in divine drunkenness, a wisdom superior to knowledge.

Feuerstein explains that the Dionysian ritual refers to the Maenads, ecstatic women given to orgies after the ingestion of large amounts of wine and raw meat, these women possessed by the god danced ritual dances to the sound of a very rhythmic music. The ceremony strangely resembles that of the left hand of Tantrism, during which it is consumed, wine, meat and fish, normally forbidden to the pious Hindu.
Wine, speculated Walter F. Otto, has something infinite and brings to life the primordial world. The maenads dressed as a man and the god Dionysus as a woman, transvestism, it seems, was a predominant feature of Greek religious life, but it is true that throughout the world we find androgynous deities. The maenads are depicted with coiled serpents on their arms, reminiscent of the Serpent goddess of the Neolithic. In the artistic representations of orgies tend to appear satyrs, which are manifestations of Dionysus, are caricaturesque figures with horns and excessive genitals. In spite of their idiosyncrasies, they never violate, they limit themselves to mischief.
It is significant that the initiates themselves played the dramatic role of satyrs, among the followers there were circles lesbian rituals, this practice, not known in Greece, was usual in Lesbos. According to Eva Keuls, the Menádic rites may have derived from a previous Dionysian rite, in which men and women danced together and copulated in groups. If this were true, we would be facing a clear example of community sacred sex. There were also male circles that, if we give credit to the Bacchae of Euripides, were covered with furs to suggest the feminine apparatus (transgender).
The cult of Dionysus mixed the amazing relationship between ecstasy or eros and death (thanatos), besides being the herald of luminous visions, it was a dark and wild deity. The ecstatic madness of the followers of Dionysus put them on the threshold of the lower world, the realm of death. The relationship of Dionysus with death links with the Orphic cult.
The Romans secularized the splendid figure of the god, dissolving his erotic-sacred aura in the praise of sybaritic leisure.

Another mystery religion, arose in the s. VI BC, nourished in part by the cult of Dionysus. But the Orphic refined the idea of ​​ecstatic enthusiasm (from the Greek enthousiasmos, literally, to be infused with the divine) and developed a spiritual mysticism that would strongly influence Neoplatonists and Christians. Like certain Indian doctrines, they believed that it is possible to completely identify with the divine and escape the infinite cycle of reincarnations.
The story goes that Orfeo, desperate for the loss of his wife, can not accept his absence. Love, which rejects death, shows Orpheus the mysteries of the afterlife. Thanks to his trip to the kingdom of the dead, Orpheus acquired a power and deep respect among the ancient Greeks, who attributed the creation of a new religion, the Orphic cult.
The initiates in this new ritual could access the mysteries of the future life by meditating on the poems attributed to Orpheus.

When dealing with mysteries, we know very little about the rites of the Orphic religion. Although Orfeo comes from the region of Thrace, located in northern Greece, Orphism grew in Attica and southern Italy from the fifth century BC. He promised his faithful the immortal life of the soul and rewards in a life beyond the grave. That is why the initiates in the Orphic mysteries were buried with golden plates that declared their faith, as a kind of passport to eternity. In fact, numerous of these plates have been found in Italian excavations.
Unlike the Dionysians, the Orphics approached the redemption from asceticism. They were vegetarians. and they abstained from bloody sacrifices. According to Feuerstein, unfortunately they also shared the vision of many Eastern religions regarding the intrinsic vileness of the body. The body buried the soul and the adept must submit to catharsis to purify and make the soul shine in all its splendor.
Orphism with its negative view of the body influenced theocratic anthropology and the anti-sexual ethics of Christianity.
In Late Orphic rites, prominent use was made of sexual artifacts, the most famous of which was the lijnon, a basket full of fruits, from whose center came a long phallus. This artifact was not so much a symbol of the fecundity of the earth as of Dionysus's power to provide its adepts with a joyous eternal life.
In short, the purification to which the Orphics were subjected did not imply the abandonment of the commonly established sexual practices. But sexual imagery was used less as a celebration of sex than as a metaphysical symbol, for, abandoned the early Dionysian character, Orphism became increasingly a religion of salvation.
Transforming into symbol of post-morten beatitude, the phallus loses all its original, agricultural and procreative meaning. Only a cult of erotic denial could have conceived such a reversal. Like the Christian cross, the Orphic phallus aims beyond being beyond life. Transcendence is placed above creativity, a vision that influenced Christianity and dominated it for many centuries.

The message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for the world today:

Feurstein, Georges: Spiritual Sexuality

Dionysian Mysteries:

Morali, André: History of sexual relations. Publications Cruz O, SA 1992. 1ªed. 1980 Presses Universitaires de France

RTVE. The Orphic mysteries:



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