In the Ancient Mystery Schools, the means of salvation, the most primitive, are based on the belief in the efficacy of ritual magic as practiced in the initiation ceremonies. Salvation is by self-effort, usually through the acquisition of esoteric knowledge, ascetic discipline, or heroic death.
Basic Context of Salvation
The quest for salvation from death is one for deliverance from subjugation to the destructive flux of time. The earliest known examples occur in ancient Egyptian religious texts. In the Pyramid Texts, the dead pharaoh seeks to fly up to heaven and join the sun god Re on his unceasing journey across the sky, in a mode of existence beyond change and decay.
The recognition that mankind is subject to the inexorable law of decay and death is generally based on the idea that the temporal process is cyclical, not linear. Into this concept, a belief in metempsychosis (transmigration of souls) can be conveniently fitted. For the idea that souls pass through a series of incarnations becomes more acceptable if the process is seen as being cyclical and in accordance with the pattern of time that apparently governs all the forms of being in this world. In the Orphic texts of ancient Greece, man’s destiny to endure successive incarnations is significantly described as “the sorrowful weary Wheel,” from which the Orphic initiate hoped to escape through the secret knowledge imparted to him.
Methods and Techniques of Salvation
The means by which salvation might be achieved have to be closely related to the manner in which salvation is conceived and to what has been deemed to be the cause of man’s need of it. Thus in ancient Egypt, where salvation was from the physical consequences of death, a technique of ritual embalmment was employed. Ritual magic has also been used in those religions that require their devotees to be initiated by ceremonies of rebirth (e.g., Baptism in bull’s blood in rites of Cybele) and by symbolic communion with a deity through a ritual meal in the Eleusinian Mysteries and Mithraism.
Esoteric knowledge is usually presented as divine revelation and imparted secretly to specially prepared candidates. In some instances, the knowledge imparted includes instruction in mystical techniques designed to achieve spiritual deliverance.