Adonis, Mysteries Of
An investigation of the Mysteries of Adonis peculiarly claims the attention of the Masonic student. First, because, in their symbolism and in their esoteric doctrine, the religious object for which they were instituted, and the mode in which that object is attained, they bear a nearer analogical resemblance to the Institution of Freemasonry than do any of the other mysteries or systems of initiation of the ancient world. Secondly, because their chief locality brings them into a very close connection with the early history and reputed origin of Freemasonry. These ceremonies were principally celebrated at Byblos, a city of Phoenicia, whose Scriptural name was Gebal, and whose inhabitants were the Giblites or Gebalites, who are referred to in the First Book of Kings (v; 18), as being the stone-squarers employed by King Solomon in building the Temple (see Gebal and Giblim). Hence there must have evidently been a very intimate connection, or at least certainly a very frequent intercommunication, between the workmen of the first Temple and the inhabitants of Byblos, the seat of the Adonisian Mysteries, and the place whence the worshipers of that Rite were spread over other regions of country.
These historical circumstances invite us to an examination of the system of initiation which was practiced at Byblos, because we may find in it something that was probably suggestive of the symbolic system of instruction which was subsequently so prominent a feature in the system of Freemasonry. Let us first examine the myth on which the Adonisiac initiation was founded. The mythological legend of Adonis is that he was the son of Myrrha and Cinyras, King of Cyprus. Adonis was possessed of such surpassing beauty, that Venus became enamored of him, and adopted him as her favorite. Subsequently Adonis, who was a great hunter, died from a wound inflicted by a wild boar on Mount Lebanon. Venus flew to the succor of her favorite, but she came too late. Adonis was dead. On his descent to the infernal regions, Proserpine became, like Venus, so attracted by his beauty, that, notwithstanding the entreaties of the goddess of love she refused to restore him to earth At length the prayers of the desponding Venus were listened to with favor by Jupiter, who reconciled the dispute between the two goddesses, and by whose decree Proserpine was compelled to consent that Adonis should spend six months of each year alternately with herself and Venus.
This is the story on which the Greek poet Bion founded his exquisite idyll entitled the Epilaph of Adonis, the beginning of which has been thus rather inefficiently "done into English" :
I and the Loves Adonis dead deplore: The beautiful Adonis is indeed Departed, parted from us. Sleep no more In purple, Cyprisi but in watchet weed, All wretched! beat thy breast and all aread " Adonis is no more." The Loves and I Lament him. " Oh her grief to see him bleed, Smitten by white tooth on whiter thigh, Out-breathing life's faint sigh upon the mountain high."
It is evident that Bion referred the contest of Venus and Proserpine for Adonis to a period subsequent to his death, from the concluding lines, in which he says:
"The Muses, too, lament the son of Cinyras, and invoke him in their song; but he does not heed them, not because he does not wish, but because Proserpine will not release him." This was, indeed, the favorite form of the myth, and on it was framed the symbolism of the ancient mystery. But there are other Grecian mythologies that relate the tale of Adonis differently. According to these, he was the product of the incestuous connection of Cinyras and his daughter Myrrha.
Cinyras subsequently, on discovering the crime of his daughter, pursued her with a drawn sword, intending to kill her.
Myrrha entreated the gods to make her invisible, and they changed her into a myrrh tree. Ten months after the myrrh tree opened, and the young Adonis was born. This is the form of the myth that has been adopted by the poet Ovid, who gives it with all its moral horrors in the Tenth Book (lines 29s-559) of his Melamrphoses.
Venus, who was delighted with the extraordinary beauty of the boy, put him in a coffer or chest, unknown to all the gods, and gave him to Proserpine to keep and to nurture in the under world. But Proserpine had no sooner beheld him than she became enamored of him and refused, when Venus applied for him, to surrender him to her rival. The subject was then referred to Jupiter, who decreed that Adonis should have one-third of the year to himself, should be another third with Venus, and the remainder of the time with Proserpine. Adonis gave his own portion to Venus, and lived happily with her till, having offended Diana, he was killed by a wild boar. The mythographer Pharnutus gives a still different story, and says that Adonis was the grandson of Cinyras, aud fled with his father, Ammon, into Egypt, whose people he civilized, taught them agriculture, and enacted many wise laws for their government. He subsequently passed over into Syria, and was wounded in the thigh by a wild boar while hunting on Mount Lebanon. His wife, Isis, or Astarte, and the people of Phoenicia and Egypt, supposing that the wound was mortal, profoundly deplored his death. But he afterward recovered, and their grief was replaced by transports of joy. All the myths, it will be seen, agree in his actual or supposed death by violence, in the grief for his loss in his recovery or restoration to life, and in the consequent joy thereon. On these facts are founded the Adonisian mysteries which were established in his honor.
While, therefore, we may grant the possibility that there was originally some connection between the Sabean worship of the sun and the celebration of the Adonisian festival, we cannot forget that these mysteries, in common with all the other sacred initiations of the ancient world, had been originally established to promulgate among the initiates the once hidden doctrine of a future life.
The myth of Adonis in Syria, like that of Osiris in Egypt, of Atys in Samothrace, or of Dionysus in Greece, presented, symbolically, the two great ideas of decay and restoration. This doctrine sometimes figured as darkness and light, sometimes as winter and summer, sometimes as death and life, but always maintaining, no matter what was the framework of the allegory, the inseparable ideas of something that was lost and afterward recovered, as its interpretation, and so teaching, as does Freemasonry at this day, by a similar system of allegorizing, that after the death of the body comes the eternal life of the soul. The inquiring Freemason will thus readily see the analogy in the symbolism that exists between Adonis in the Mysteries of the Gebalites at Byblos and Hiram the Builder in his own Institution.
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