Mystery religions

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Remains of the Telesterion, the initiation hall where the most secret ceremonies of the Eleusinian Mysteries were conducted

The word mysticism is thought to be derived from the Greek word meaning to close the eyes or lips. It was first used in connection with the Greek mystery religions. The “mystics” were those who promised to keep secret the rituals of their religion.

The world in which Christianity was born nurtured a variety of ideas about divine union. In Jewish mysticism, as well as in Greek, Roman and Egyptian mystery religions, people sought personal identification with God. They tried to accomplish this in several ways, one of which was the practice of a spiritual journey known as an ascent.

The ascent to God

The mystics sometimes described the ascent not as a journey upward into heaven but rather inward, into the sacred spaces of the heart. Usually the ascent culminated in either a vision of a divine being or in the experience of being transformed into a divine being. Being seated on a throne or being clothed in new garments often symbolized the transformation.

The mystics saw these soul journeys as practice runs for a final journey in which the transformation would actually take place. Some believed this transformation took place after death. Others sought it during life. In any case, the ascent is linked with transformation into God. Where we see a description of an ascent, we can postulate that people believed they could be transformed into God. In the mystery religions, this divinization, or deification, was based on an internal conquest—the conquest of self.

By teaching people that they could achieve union with God, the mystery religions—and there were many that thrived in the Greco-Roman world—were not implying that there is more than one God. Although some mystery religions worshiped Isis, others the god Serapis or Mithras, they all believed that there is but one God and that the different gods were simply forms of the one universal and transcendent God. Mystery initiates believed that when they achieved deification, they, too, would be manifestations of the one God.

In the mystery religions, external wealth or power were not criteria for spiritual progress. What was important was pursuit of a course of study that included systematic teachings, rituals and initiations designed to lead to soul growth and a mystical experience of rebirth or union with God. The concept of reincarnation went hand-in-hand with the view that man can become one with God.

Mystery religions in the ancient world

The goal of the mystery initiates—the perfecting of the soul through union with God—was the essence of spirituality for millions of people in the Greco-Roman world. Augustus, the first Roman Emperor (63 B.C.–A.D. 14) was an initiate, as was the statesman, orator, and philosopher Cicero (106–43 B.C.).

Among the many mystery religions in the ancient world were the following:

See also

Mystery school



Elizabeth Clare Prophet with Erin L. Prophet, Reincarnation: The Missing Link in Christianty.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet, June 27, 1992.