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3.2.1 Pagan Mysteries – Generalities

Pagan Beliefs
Paganism is generally thought to be a polytheistic religion because the Pagans believed in many gods, while Christians believe in one god only and are therefore monotheistic. Christians described Paganism as idolatry. The truth is that many Pagan leaders believed in one god only such as in Egypt where Osiris was considered the “Supreme Being, Heir of the World, and the One God”. There were, of course, some Pagans believing in many gods that represented aspects of nature. However these many gods represented the many nature of the One and Only Supreme Being.

The Pagan Mysteries had both “exoteric”, or “outer” mysteries that were open to all, and “esoteric”, or “inner”, Mysteries that were revealed to the purified and spiritually prepared initiates. In the same way in early Christianity, there were “Lesser Mysteries” for beginners on their way to spiritual knowledge and “Greater Mysteries” revealed to the initiates. Like Pagan initiates, Gnostic initiates were forbidden to reveal the content of the Inner mysteries to non-initiates. It is believed that Mark, in addition to the Gospel included in the New Testament for the use of beginners in the faith, taught three other Gospels suitable for different higher levels of initiation. According to Plato, belief is dealing with the appearance of things, while knowledge is searching for the inner reality. The Christian Literalists taught the spiritual value of faith, while the Gnostic sages, like the previous Pagan master before them, taught that, through initiation in the Inner Mysteries, the initiates experience Gnosis, and discover the truth by themselves. For the Gnostics, faith was only the first step towards Gnosis. For them and before for the Pagans, all doctrines are only approach to the Truth that is beyond words and concepts, and can only be found by people who have personally experienced Gnosis.

One of the more important saying in the Pagan Mysteries was “Know Thy Self”; it meant that the initiates must search for self-knowledge. People who still identify themselves with their mortal part (eidolon), see their immortal self (Daemon) as an independent guardian angel, a spirit guide to their spiritual destination, and not as their true self. The aim of Gnosticism initiation is to bring the lower self into union with the Higher Self so that enlightenment can occur. The search for self-knowledge leads the Pagan and Gnostic initiates on a journey of discovery, from Eidolon to Daemon, that at first appears to be an outside guide, an angel, to be understood at the end as their Higher Self. Moreover this Higher Self is unique and shared by all people, it is the soul of the universe, the Consciousness that is in all of us.

The initiates in the Pagan Mysteries, and later the Christian Gnostics, believed that the soul reaches Gnosis over many lifetimes following reincarnation.

Initiation in the Pagan Mysteries, and later in Christian Gnosticism, was open to both men and women. Moreover, women, like men, could become priestesses and prophetesses. Even the bible tells us that Jesus broke the Jewish rule by speaking freely to women, some of whom were among his close disciples.

Pagan Miracles
Some of Jesus’ miracles had also been attributed to Pagan Godmen. On the night of January 5, Dionysus is said to have changed water into wine. Asclepius is said to have cured the sick and raised the dead. Many of the prophets of Osiris-Dionysus were known as wandering wonder-workers who made the same miracles that Jesus is said to have done. Pythagoras performed many healings; he calmed the waves on rivers and seas to allow his disciples to cross them; he helped his disciples to get a lot of fish out of the water. Empedocles, another wandering miracles-worker, said that he was an “immortal god” and no longer a “mortal human being”. People followed him requesting miracles. He predicted the future, taught spirituality, controlled the wind and rain, raised the dead, and cured the sick. Many other Pagan sages did the same miracles but they did not pretend to be God’s sons.

Many of Jesus’ miracles, events and behaviour have precedents in the previous Mystery schools:

  • According to the Gospel, Jesus rode in Jerusalem on a donkey greeted by many people waiving palm leaves. Palms have symbolic meaning in the Mysteries and are associated with Attis. Dionysus is often represented on a donkey riding in triumph and to his death
  • Jesus is said to be an innocent and just man taken by the Jewish priests to the Roman governor Pilate and condemned to death on vague charges. The same happened to Dionysus five centuries before as related in Euripides’ play “The Bacchae”. Dionysus is also a stranger with a long hair and beard who created a new religion
  • Before his death, Jesus organised a “Last Supper” of bread and wine. The godmen of the Mysteries are also associated with the same ceremonies
  • According to the gospels, Jesus was crucified on a cross -even if a better translation would be a “stake”. Dionysus is also said to have been hung on a wooden pole, a crown of ivy was put on his head; Dionysus, like Jesus, was dressed in a purple robe, both were given wine mixed with gall
  • Jesus is said to have died to redeem the sins of the world. Osiris-Dionysus died for the same reason
  • At the beginning of the Christian era, the Pagans said that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was an imitation of the resurrection of Attis and the Christians said the opposite
  • Jesus’ mother, Mary, is said to have ascended bodily to heaven like her son. In the same way Dionysus’ mortal mother, Semele, ascended to heaven too.

Pagan and Christian Symbols
The fish is now generally used as a symbol of Christianity but its origin is to be found in Pagan secret geometry. Two circles, symbolic of spirit and matter, are brought together in a “secret marriage” and when the circumference of one reaches the centre of the other we have the shape of a fish (vesica piscis).

Jesus had 12 disciples; this number is said to be symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel that are symbolic of the 12 signs of the zodiac. Osiris, Dionysus, Mithras, Aion and Helios are represented as the centre of the circling zodiac. During the initiation ceremonies Mithras had 12 disciples, like Jesus. Jesus is seen as the “saviour” but so was Dionysus.

Pagan Myths and Christian Stories
The Pagans saw Jesus’ story as a poor imitation of the Osiris-Dionysus myth. Early Christians, educated in pagan philosophy, were aware of the similarities between the two doctrines. It is true that Jesus’ teachings and the mysteries’ wisdom are very similar:

  • Christians are proud of their moral doctrines, and they tried to show that the Mysteries were morally bad. This is completely false. The initiates are more pious, upright and better that before as initiation was also about bringing moral regeneration
  • Jesus taught the need to confess one’s sins but this concept existed already before in the mysteries. Initiates were obliged to make a public confession of their failings and misdeeds
  • Jesus preached a new concept of a God of love. This was also at the base of the Mysteries
  • Jesus teaches his followers to be humble and live in poverty just like the Pagan cynic philosophers. Both called their religion “the way”
  • The notion of afterlife, heaven and hell were unknown and considered heretical by the Greeks until Egyptian Mysteries were introduced in the country. Once again the Christians took these concepts from the old Mysteries
  • In the Gospels Jesus predicts the coming apocalypse and a New Age but the Pagans too expected a New Age

Myths and History
The Pagan sages did not consider the myths of Osiris-Dionysus as part of history that cannot be changed, but like allegorical myths that can be adapted to the circumstances. In the same way, the Gnostics did not believe that their gospels were historical documents, but allegories that recorded eternal truths that could be developed. Each initiates was assumed to interpret the myths and teachings in their own way following their own personal experience of Gnosis. In the Pagan Mysteries the Inner Mysteries revealed the allegorical meaning of the myths of the Outer Mysteries. In the same way the Gnostics said that their Inner Mysteries aimed at revealing Gnosis, and that the Outer Mysteries of Literalist Christianity were only a first stage. Jesus too taught two different sets of truth: in public he spoke in parables, but to his disciples he revealed the inner meaning of these allegories. At the heart of the Pagan Mysteries was the belief that mystical teachings could be encoded in mythical stories. The Christian Gnostics followed the same approach and they believed that the Literalist doctrines were superficial; they were surprised that anybody could take them literally, since they are allegorical.

The codes of the Myths of the pagan mysteries as well as those of Gnostic Christianity are very complex and their decoding almost impossible to the non-initiate. Both used symbols, images, numbers, and mathematical formulae. Mathematics and Geometry were seen as secret sciences by the Pagans and Gnostics who believed that they revealed the working of God’s mind, and as such were at the base of their doctrines. In the ancient Greek alphabet, each letter was also a number, so that each word had a numerical value that could be used to represent mathematical information. For instance the numerical value of the Greek Gods’ names had a meaning.

When the Greek adopted the Egyptian Mysteries in the 5th century BC they replaced Osiris by Dionysus, a Greek minor God, to make the new religion look “indigenous” and as such more acceptable. All other Mediterranean culture did the same. For the same reason the Jewish Pythagorean community, the Therapeutae, who wanted to introduce the Ancient Mysteries to the Jews, needed an indigenous mythological God to be transformed in Osiris-Dionysus. Unfortunately the Jews had only one God, Jehovah, but he lacked a mythological story. Only one Jewish mythological figure, the Messiah, could be transformed in Osiris-Dionysus. The Messiah, or Anointed One, or Christ in Greek, was also known as the Redeemer who would free the Jewish people from their Roman invaders and restore the Jewish state under a King of the line of David. In the last century BC, the Messiah looked like the only solution to free the Jews. The Jesus story was the only possibility that the initiates in the Jewish Mysteries saw to bring their aspiration to life. Their Jewish Messiah had to die and resurrect like the Godman of the Mysteries. The Gospels, with all their contradictions, describe a myth encoding secret teachings and their authors knew it too. They presented a genealogy to show that Jesus was of the David line, although they also said that he was the Son of God. To those who were initiated, it was obvious that Jesus was Osiris-Dionysus, the Son of God and a virgin mother. While being as close as possible to the Messiah the Jews were expecting, the Jesus story shows that he is something else. The Jews expected a warrior Messiah who would liberate their country while Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. My kingly authority comes from elsewhere”. Traditional Jews could not accept that their Messiah would die like a common man, that he would save his country scarifying his own life. They expected a winning warrior and not the Pagan Osiris-Dionysus-type Godman of the Mysteries that he showed to be through his death and resurrection. Claiming that Jesus will return in glory to defeat the enemies of the Jewish people, and fulfil the expectations of the Jews, was a face saving explanations. It is clear that the Jesus Mysteries were based on previous Jewish mythology such as, for instance, the Jewish Passover that became the sacramental meal of the Mysteries where Jesus gives bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood. The initiates of the Jewish Mysteries used inter-testamental literature, that were part Pagan and part Jewish mythology, to create the Jesus’ myth. Some of these ancient myths prefigured Christianity and were the link between it and Paganism.

Gnostic Christian Mythology
The Pagan Mystery godmen were mythological figures whose biographies were not to be taken as true. The first genuine letters of Paul do not describe Jesus as a historical figure, but as a Mystical Messiah who by his death and resurrection brings rebirth to his followers. This early Jesus’ myth could have existed for many centuries as a secret and, for this reason, unknown myth of the Jewish Mysteries. The Messiah that the Jews were waiting for was a warrior who would liberate them. If the Jewish Osiris-Dionysus Jesus was to become the Messiah, the myth had to be changed in a historical story. However, this Messiah could not have existed in the past like the Pagan mystery Godman since he was assumed to liberate the Jewish people now. He had then to be alive at that time. The Old Testament, even if it is interpreted as a mystical allegory, appears to be a historical book; setting Jesus’ story, as a record of actual events would then fit perfectly with the Jewish scriptures in style, place, and time. In 66 AD the Jews revolted against the Romans in Judea but they were defeated, and about 1,000,000 of them died and 100,000 were sold in slavery on a population of about 3,000,000. Jerusalem itself was destroyed in 70AD and many Jews felt abandoned by their God, Jehovah. It was a few years later that the Jesus myth was rewritten in historical mode by Mark. Obviously it was this crisis that forced the believers in the Jesus Mysteries to transform the myth of the dying and resurrecting Godman into history, as the people needed something more that St Paul’s mystical Christ; they needed a Messiah that had come to save them. Jesus Christ was not a political revolutionary; he offered mystical salvation, and not liberation from the invaders. This story gave the Jews an alternative to the disaster represented by the Jewish revolution. Jesus, in his new presentation, offered a mystical possible salvation, a way to give meaning to their life. Many people were attracted to the Outer Jesus Mysteries when they heard his newly created “historical” story. Later on, when their understanding had increased, they were initiated in the Inner Mysteries that revealed the mystical allegory of the Jesus story. Both Outer and Inner Mysteries brought hope to the defeated Jews who could not see any hope in the future before. A spiritual saviour who offered salvation and freedom through mystical Gnosis replaced the expected political Messiah who was to set them free. Strange enough the Jesus Mysteries were not very popular among the Jews. Instead of introducing the Pagan mysteries to the Jews -with the Pagan Godman disguised as the Jewish Messiah- it brought Jewish tradition to the Pagans as Jesus was transformed from a Jewish Messiah into a universal saviour. This process started with St Paul who believed that the new -Pagan- teaching of the Jesus Mysteries had made the old Jewish Laws unnecessary.

Some people wanted to keep the Jesus Mysteries fully Jewish, but they were not very successful, and remained confined to Jerusalem. St Paul attracted very few Jews to the Jesus Mysteries but, on the opposite, his messages was well received among the Pagan Gentiles who saw this as a new Mystery cult that put together Jewish traditional concepts together with the old wisdom of the Pagan Mysteries. Where the Jews could not accept the view that their Messiah was put to death as a criminal, the Gentiles were happy to join the new cult of Christianity that claimed, once the myth became historical, that the Godman had been on earth in the recent past. In the second century, only Gentiles were members of the Jesus Mysteries, and Jesus was described as coming not to save the Jews, but to save all the people willing to join his movement, independently of their race and religion and, in this way, save the world and not a race. Soon enough, unfortunately, the Christians split into two groups, the Literalist and the Gnostic. Most members would only have been initiated in the Outer Mysteries, they did not know much about what Christianity was, and they believed in the “biography” of Jesus the Messiah. Moreover, they were cut off from the centre of the Jesus mysteries in Alexandria and did not know anything about the Inner Mysteries, as they had no contact with the teachers of Gnosis. As a consequence, most of these early Christians thought that the Outer Mysteries was all that was offered to them, they believed that Jesus was really the dying and resurrecting Son of God. These early “Literalist” Christians could not see any reason for the Inner mysteries, and they never thought that the Gospels could be allegories and not historical records. Their leaders became known as “bishops” who taught them that salvation was acquired by believing that the “historical” story was true; this limited form of Christianity based on the Outer Mysteries became the Roman Catholic Church. The original Jesus Mysteries known now as Gnosticism continued to exist as it was created in Alexandria; Literalism grew faster, and was centred on Rome where it became a centralised authoritarian religion. The Gnostics could only look in disbelief to the growing Literalist Church but their influence decreased fast. They had created the Jesus story and now they were seen as heretics.

Pagan and Christian Baptism
In some Mystery rites, sprinkling of holy water on the head or the body symbolised baptism, while in other it was done by total immersion, sometime in the sea as at Eleusis. In the Mysteries the allegorical interpretation of baptism was:

  • Entering water meant death
  • Immersion symbolised burial
  • Emergence symbolised resurrection

In the Mysteries purification through baptism was not by water only, but also by air and fire. Early Christians knew of the similarities between Christian and Pagan baptism rites. Early Christians followed the same procedure. Jesus’ mission began with his baptism by John the Baptist. However, baptism is an ancient and central rite in the Mysteries. Long before Christianity was born, ritual purity was the condition of salvation, and people were baptised to wash away their sins. Basilides, an early Egyptian Christian, believed that Jesus was baptised on January 6, a date known as “the day of Osiris” in ancient Egypt. Other Christians believed that Jesus Christ “sanctified the water” on this date. They also believed that on January 6, the water was holy and possessed purifying powers just as the Ancient Egyptians did for many centuries.

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