The Mystery Schools

Dionysian mysteries

Next to the Eleusinian mysteries in importance and popularity were the Dionysian, which were centered around Dionysus (Bacchus), a god of life, vegetation, and the vine who, because all things growing and green must one day decay and die, was also a divinity of the underworld. Those initiates who entered into communion with Dionysus drank large amounts of wine and celebrated with feasts that encouraged them to dress themselves in leaves and flowers and even to take on the character of the god himself, in an attempt to achieve his power. Once the god had entered into union with the initiates, they would experience a new spiritual rebirth. This divine union with Dionysus marked the beginning of a new life for the initiates, who, thereafter, regarded themselves as superior beings. And since Dionysus was the Lord of Death, as well as the Lord of Life, the initiates believed that their union with him would continue even after death, and that immortality was now within their grasp.

The rites of Dionysus were conducted on a much lower level than those of Eleusis, and often featured the sacrifice of an animal—usually a goat—that was torn to pieces by the initiates, whose savagery was meant to symbolize the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the divinity. Although the cult was not looked upon with high regard by the sages and philosophers of the day, amulets and tablets with fragments of Dionysian hymns upon them have been found dating back to the third century B.C.E. These magical symbols were buried with the dead and meant to protect the soul from the dangers of the underworld.

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