These rites were practiced in Greece, and were a modification of the WIvstelies of Bacchus or Dionysus, and they were so called because their institution was falsely attributed to Orpheus. They were, however, established at a much later period than his era. Indeed, M. Freret, who has investigated this subject with much learning in the Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions (tome xxiii), regards the Orphics as a degenerate branch of the school of Pythagoras, formed, after the destruction of that school, by some of its disciples, who, seeking to establish a religious association, devoted themselves to the worship of Bacchus, with which they mingled certain Egyptian practices, and out of this mixture made up a species of life which they called the Orphic life, and the origin of which, to secure greater consideration, they attributed to Orpheus, publishing under his name many apocryphal works.
The Orphic rites differed from the other Pagau rites, in not being connected with the priesthood, but in being practised by a fraternity which did not pos sess the sacerdotal functions. The initiated commemorated in their ceremonies, which were performed at night, the murder of Bacchus by the Titans and his final restoration to the supreme government of the universe, under the name of Phanes. Demosthenes, while reproaching Aeschines for having engaged with his mother in these Mysteries, gives us some notion of their nature.
In the day, the initiates were crowned with fennel and poplar, and carried serpents in their hands, or twined them around their heads, crying with a loud voice, Enos, Sabos, and danced to the sound of the mystic words, Hazes, Attes, Attes, Hyes. At night the mystcs was bathed in the lustral water, and having been rubbed over with clay and bran, he was clothed in the skin of a fawn, and having risen from the bath, he exclaimed, "I have departed from evil and have found the good."
The Orphic poems made Bacchus identical with Osiris, and celebrated the mutilation and palingenesis, or second birth into a higher or better life, of that deity as a symbol teaching the resurrection to eternal life, so that their design was similar to that of the other Pagan Mysteries. The Orphic initiation, because it was not sacerdotal or priestly in its character, was not so celebrated among the ancients as the other Mysteries. Plato, even, calls its disciples charlatans. It nevertheless existed until the first ages of the Christian religion, being at that time adopted by the philosophers as a means of opposing the progress of the new revelation. It fell, however, at last, with the other rites of Paganism, a victim to the rapid and triumphant progress of the Gospel.
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Brother Ofotsu, Upper Marlboro, MD