Mystery schools were peppered throughout the ancient world. Renowned schools once existed in Greece, Egypt, and Mesoamerica. Mystery Schools, both ancient and modern, explore the nature of life/death/rebirth as they take their initiates through experiences of spirit. Death and rebirth experiences are especially key to the living a rich spiritual life. Why is this? The answer is fear. We human beings fear what we don’t know and don’t understand. And what is the greatest unknown we face in our lives? Death, our inevitable physical death. For this reason, spiritual teachers and spiritual systems as well as the mystery schools focused specifically on the issues inherent in our mortality. How can we deal with our fears of death? The answer that Mystery Schools give to is provide opportunities for individuals to experience through rites and rituals, death and rebirth in our own lives.
Fundamentally, mystery schools brought the lessons of Nature to the attention of initiates in a very intimate and vital manner. Nature moves in cycles. By following Her rhythms we know how a period of withering and death is followed by a time of renewal and new growth. As an integral element of Nature, we humans follow this rhythm as well. This is why the cross cultural teaching of an “ear of wheat” is so powerful.
The seed of the wheat (or barley) needs to “die” off the living plant and fall into the dark, fertile earth so that it can grow roots and regain life. This lesson given in Egyptian texts as far back as 1700 BCE and was repeated by Jesus and Hippolytus (3rd century Roman theologian) in relation to the Eleusinian mysteries in Greece.Whether I live or die I am Osiris I enter in and reappear through you . . . The gods are living in me for I live and grow in the corn that sustains the Honored Ones, I cover the earth, whether I live or die, I am Barley. I am not destroyed I have entered the Order (Cosmos). excerpted from Egyptian Coffin Text #330 [i] Verily, verily, I say to unto you, Except a corn of wheat falls into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. John 12:24 The Phrygians, the Naasseene[ii] says, assert that God is a fresh ear of cut-wheat, and following the Phrygians the Athenians, when they initiate in the Eleusina exhibit in silence to the epoptai[iii] the mighty and marvellous (sic) and most complete epoptic mystery, an ear of cut-wheat. Hippolytus, Philosophoumena, v, 8[iv]
The image for this post is the entrance to the oracle’s city of Delphi which sits atop an exquisite mountainside. Delphi was one of the locations of the Grecian mystery schools. Next up, more discussion about how the mystery schools operated.
[i] Malkowski, Edward F, The Spiritual Technology of Ancient Egypt, Inner Traditions, 2007; 362-363.
[ii] Greek gnostic sect from ca. 100 CE.
[iii] Eyewitness, likely an initiate. Epoptic comes from a word meaning “secret.”
[iv] Eliade, Primitives; 301.