Mysteries, The [from Greek mysteria Mysteries from mystes one initiated into the Mysteries from mueo to initiate from muo to close the eyes or lips]
Applies chiefly to Greece, but once extended to Asiatic cults of religio-philosophical character, it acquired a wider range under the Romans, and is used in The Secret Doctrine in reference to equivalent institutions in any part of the world. The most celebrated in Greece were those of Eleusis pertaining to Demeter and Persephone, which gave rise to many branches and influenced schools of older foundation.
Others were those of Samothrace, the Orphic Mysteries, and the Festivals devoted to Dionysos. Schools like that of Pythagoras diffused their influence, as did Academies such as that of Plato. The history of Greece furnishes notable examples of great men who had been initiated into such Mysteries. The Mysteries came into Greece from India and Egypt, and their origin goes back to Atlantean times. They were in historic times, what remained of the means whereby man’s divine ancestors communicated truths concerning the mysteries of cosmos and of human nature and of the communion divinity and man.
In times when sacred knowledge was whole and not divided into sacred and profane, the human body, not yet desecrated, was held as sacred as any other part of function of human nature; so that the teaching embraced medicine, hygiene, singing, dancing, the useful arts and crafts; and the teachers of religion, philosophy, science, and of crafts, the founders of cities, and great artists derived their powers from this source.
The Mysteries were divided into the Greater and Less, inner and outer, esoteric and partly exoteric; and, as the former were guarded by well-observed secrecy the sources of ordinary information are mostly based on the latter. The more recondite Mysteries could not, from their very nature, be publicly divulged; they were revelations, appreciable only by an awakened spiritual perception and incommunicable to anyone not thus awakened. The Greater Mysteries were successive initiations for prepared candidates. The Less consisted of symbolic and dramatic representations for the public, in which, among other things, the profound symbology of the Greek mythology was employed.
The elevating and unifying influence of these institutions was acknowledged by Greek and Roman authorities and is apparent from a study of Greek history. With the advance of a cycle of materialism, the Mysteries became degraded, especially in Asia Minor in Roman times; the symbolism was perverted and even made to palliate licentious practices. What little was left to abolish was formally abolished by Justinian, who closed the mystic and quasi-esoteric Neoplatonic School of Athens in 529.
In a recognition of the ancient Mysteries we find a clue to the meaning of the universal prevalence, among peoples fallen into a degenerate and falsely called primitive state of life, of strange rites and black magical practices. These are the very dregs and distortions of the ancient holy teachings; but even here unprejudiced inquirers find that, when sympathetically approached, the existence of secret cults which preserve at least remnants of some of the essential teachings of the ancient wisdom.
As formal institutions, the Mysteries had their earliest origin during the fourth root-race, Atlantis, after its fourth subrace. Indeed, the still more primitive roots of the Mysteries can be traced to a much earlier time, probably during the third subrace of the Atlanteans, when the rapid degeneration of mankind into the worship of matter had brought about the absolute need of segregating the nobler and finer spirits of the human race into groups or schools where they could, under the vows of inviolable secrecy, study the deeper mysteries of nature and their own oneness with the divine. From that time the Mysteries became with every subrace more and more secret and entrance into them became ever more difficult. After the fifth root-race came upon the scene, the Mysteries had become well established in all countries of the globe, and their rites and functions, both of the Greater and the Less, were conducted as functions of the State.
Even from the time of the incarnation of the manasaputras in the third root-race, there has been an unbroken line, stream, or succession of lofty spiritual teachers guarding the ancient god-wisdom received in primordial ages from the dhyanis; and the Mysteries, even in their heyday of splendor and in their most secret lines of work, were the outer side of clothing of this inner stream of inspiration and sublime teaching. The light has not yet died from off the earth, and the spiritual stream still exists and does its work in the world, although for ages it has been acting more secretly and esoterically than ever. However, the time is coming when the Mysteries will again be reestablished and will receive the common reverence and respect from mankind that in former ages they universally had.