When, in her sad wanderings lost,
Seeking traces of her child,
Ceres hailed the dreary coast,
Ah, no verdant plain then smiled!
That she here with trust may stay,
None vouchsafes a sheltering roof;
Not a temple’s columns gay
Give of godlike worship proof.
~ Friedrich Schiller, The Eleusinian Festival, Stanza III
The Greater Mysteries (into which the candidate was admitted only after he had successfully passed through the ordeals of the Lesser, and not always then) were sacred to Ceres, the mother of Persephone, and represent her as wandering through the world in quest of her abducted daughter. Ceres carried two torches, intuition and reason, to aid her in the search for her lost child (the soul). ~ Manly Palmer Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, p. 70
The above quotes relate to one example of what can be categorized as initiatory myth and ritual. In ancient times, and modern times to a lesser extent, the priestly cast underwent, and undergo still, rites to obtain hidden or occulted knowledge about their world handed down for generations and also by time itself through tradition, literature, and ritual. Initiatory rites have existed with man as long as man has had a social consciousness, or in other words as long he has been aware of hierarchy and his own lack of knowledge in relation to his elders.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were held in ancient Greece, namely in the city of Eleusis and later was moved to Athens. Apparently, the rites may have originated in Mycenaean times or possibly before. They were finally wiped out in 396 AD by Arian Christians under the command of the Gothic king, Alaric. The mythos of the mysteries (from the Greek word μυστήριον meaning “mystery or secret rite”) is based upon the story of Demeter and the search for her daughter Persephone who was kidnapped by Hades and brought to the underworld. Esoteric interpretation of this legend can be attributed to the twelve months of the year, four of which there is no growth and it is a time of dying, and the eight months when Persephone returns to her mother represent the springtime and growth, according to the Greek or Mediterranean climate. The exact rites are unknown to us as there was a law of silence held by the initiates to not divulge the secrets, but it is generally regarded that the Greater Mysteries represented rebirth and coming to a higher consciousness whereas the Lesser were about man’s birth into the illusory material world.
There were great rulers, philosophers, and many more important men who were initiated in those classical times. It was a serious institution in the community and held with reverence in eyes of the citizenry. Connections can be drawn to modern day Freemasonry with its various lodges, sects, and degree rituals, except, due to a lack of true spirituality within the culture, it has degenerated into a cult of material gain divorced from its metaphysical origin. Here it does well to quote Manly P. Hall again, but this time from his The Lost Keys of Freemasonry.
The average Mason, as well as the modern student of Masonic ideals, little realizes the cosmic obligation he takes upon himself when he begins his search for the sacred truths of Nature as they are concealed in the ancient and modern rituals. ~ pg. 27)
The reason why Mystery rites were kept secret and still are, is to hide these truths from those who cannot understand them. When the uninitiated attempt to comprehend divine truths, there is a risk that they will misperceive the truth and present it as evil, blasphemy, or “devil’s lies.” There is also the risk that they will take these truths and use them for personal gain only or worse, use it to make an oppressive and exoteric cult based on their egotistical fantasies.
A seeker of the Light, which is the Divine Truth illuminating the world and casting away the Darkness of Ignorance, must not fear these possibilities or doubt themselves if they are to learn the secrets of old. They must pass through the trials that have been put before them by nature and by society, there is no organized ceremony to attend any more. Such is the case in this age which is overflowing with nihilism, materialism, and postmodernism, in fact these elements are flooding Western culture and sinking the world much like the supposed flood that wiped out the fabled Atlantis. The individual is the most important aspect in our time, one must temper one’s feelings and shed the dead parts of oneself in order to be reborn on a higher plane of consciousness.
Christianity does have its own mysteries, which are revealed within its exegesis, however the same infection of egalitarianism has taken hold of the body of the church, both Catholic and Protestant, not particularly the Orthodox as of yet. Personally, I do not trust organized religion at all, I see the priests are deluded and ignorant of their own theology and history, much like common Masons. Where do we all turn when there is no physical thing to cling to? The answer is to turn inwards and be silent.
There must be a process of internal “alchemy” and a transfiguration of the soul. Lead can be turned to Gold, but the will has to be equipped with the proper instruments to complete the great work. This applies to society as a whole as well as the individual. “As above, so below.” Only as individuals acting in concert with the divine plan of the God or gods that rule the heavens, can we begin to shape the society we inhabit. There is no correct expression of this ideal, we all have our own spiritual experience, therefore tolerance must at least be faked, otherwise we will all be polarized into a dialectic which is false and threatens to bring more chaos into the world. The alchemists of Medieval and Renaissance time held to the motto, Ordo ab Chao.
The acceptance of hierarchy is vital to the seeker, there is a spectrum in all abilities of men, there are leaders, warriors, artisans, and farmers, but also priests. They are not equal, they defer to each other for different talents that each possess and come together for the common goal of civilization. Without this structure, which is elitist, there would be anarchy. Anarchy is primeval, chthonic some might say, where only the strongest among men governed the land, and there was constant war, suffering, and famine.
Wreathe in a garland the corn’s golden ear!
With it, the Cyane blue intertwine!
Rapture must render each glance bright and clear,
For the great queen is approaching her shrine,–
She who our homesteads so blissful has given,
She who has man to his fellow-man bound:
Let our glad numbers extol then to heaven,
Her who the earth’s kindly mother is found!
~ Schiller, The Eleusinian Festival, Stanza XXVII