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Dionysian Mysteries

These mysteries were celebrated throughout Greece and Asia Minor, but principally at Athens, where the years were numbered by them. They were instituted in honor of Baccus, or, as the Greeks called him, Dionysus, and were introduced into Greece from Egypt. In these mysteries, the murder of Dionysus by the Titans was commemorated, in which legend he is evidently identified with the Egyptian Osiris, who was slain by his brother Typhon. The aspirant, in the ceremonies through which he passed, represented the murder of the god and his restoration to life, which, says the Baron de Sacy (Notes on Saint-Croix, ii 86), were the subject of allegorical explanations altogether analogous to those which were given to the rape of Proserpine and the murder of Osiris.

The commencement of the mysteries was signalized by the consecration of an egg, in allusion to the mundane egg from which all things were supposed to have sprung. The candidate having been first purified by water, and crowned with a myrtle branch, was introduced into the vestibule, and there clothed in the sacred habiliments. He was then delivered to the conductor, who, after the mystic warning, meaning in English, Bygone, begone, all ye profane.' exhorted the candidate to exert all his fortitude and courage in the dangers and trials through which he was about to pass. He was then led through a series of dark caverns, a part of the ceremonies which Stobaeus calls "a rude and fearful march through night and darkness. " During this passage he was terrified by the howling of wild beasts, and other fearful noises; artificial thunder reverberated through the subterranean apartments, and transient flashes of lightning revealed monstrous apparitions to his sight.

In this state of darkness and terror he was kept for three days and nights, after which he commenced the aphanism or mystical death of Bacchus. He was now placed on the pastos or couch, that is, he was confined in a solitary cell, where he could reflect seriously on the nature of the undertaking in which he was engaged. During this time, he was alarmed with the sudden flood of waters, which was intended to represent the deluge. Typhon, searching for Osiris, or Dionvsus, for they are here identical, discovered the ark where Osiris had been secreted, and, tearing it violently asunder, scattered the limbs of his victim upon the waters. The aspirant now heard the loud lamentations which were instituted for the death of the god.

Then commenced the search of Rhea for the remains of Dionysus. The apartments were filled with shrieks and groans; the initiated mingled with their howlings of despair the frantic dances of the Corybantes; everything was a scene of distraction, until, at a signal from the hierophant, the whole drama changed--the mourning was turned to joy; the mangled boded was found; and the aspirant was released from his confinement, amid the shouts of Eyprksapeu, EU7XQLPUMel x meaning in Greek, We have found it; let us rejoice together. The candidate was nova made to descend into the infernal regions, where he beheld the torments of the wicked and the rewards of the virtuous.

It was now that he received the lecture explanatory of the Rites, and was invested with the tokens which served the initiated as a means of recognition. He then underwent a lustration, after which he was introduced into the holy place, where he received the name of epopt, and was fully instructed in the doctrine of the mysteries, which consisted in a belief in the existence of one God and a future state of rewards and punishments. These doctrines were taught by a variety of significant symbols. After the performance of these ceremonies, the aspirant was dismissed, and the Rites concluded with the pronunciation of the mystic words, Konx Ompax (which see elsewhere in this work). Sainte-Croix (Mysteries of Paganism ii, 90) says that the murder of Dionysus by the Titans was only an allegory of the physical revolutions of the world; but these were in part, in the ancient initiations, significant of the changes of life and death and resurrection.

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