The Theologian and Reformer of the ancient Greek Mysteries
Article by Mary Vareli
Mythology was a clever means, used by Orpheus, to preserve truths that would otherwise be lost. He is rightfully the father of Greek Mythology. Taking this into account it is not Mythology, but Theology, written in the form of Mythology, so that it can “travel” through time and remain unaltered. The same technique was used in Orphic Hymns. The information concerning the mysteries is spread in all works of Orpheus and it is quite a difficult task to build a concrete text, a wise effort to preserve the elements of the Greek Mysteries.
Over Orpheus there was and still there is a great controversy. Is it just because Orpheus was not a real person that lived in the distant past, or because his real nature had to be obscured out of fear and personal interest?
Mythology and Theology
Orpheus was a real person born on the northern side of Mountain Olympus in Thrace, approximately in -21,840 BC (S. Anemogiannis Sinanidis). In his doctoral dissertation, the astronomer K. Chasapis in 1967 states that the peak of Orphism took place between -1841 BC to -1366 BC, though there is still controversy in this research based on calculations on astronomical phenomena that appear in some Orphic Hymns. It is actually very difficult to trace the time and authenticity of Orphic Fragments. (Thrace is the area of the Peninsula of Haemus that covers the quadrilateral area that is formed by the Danube River in the North, Mountain Olympus in the South, Adriatic Sea in the West and Euxinus Pontus in the East.)
The name Orpheus means “the enlightened”, a version influenced by the Theosophical analysis of the name. Thirty two Greek writers of the ancient years mention him as “the theologian of the Greeks”, as he is the one who initiated and wrote what we know today as Mythology. Orphism was spread in three places; in North Italy, in the area now called Palestine, and in Attica, Greece, reaching also the area now known as Piraeus where the ancient celebration of Vendidion was held. The celebration was named after the word βενδις / vendis which means water in the ancient Thracian dialect.
The five main cosmogonies on which researchers base their comparative academic studies are the following: 1) Hieronymous and Hellanicus Cosmogony 2) Rhapsodian Cosmogony 3) Eudemus Cosmogony 4) Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius Cosmogony 5) Alexander of Aphrodisias Cosmogony.
The most original collection of Orphic fragments is that of O. Kern (1963), based on the study of Wilamowitz and on careful consideration by other respected researchers.
The Greek Mythology is rich in symbols. Examining symbols we must take into account a certain methodology that is unrelated to psychology, mathematics or demographics. To analyze a symbol one must follow two axioms:
A. Every symbol represents a Force.
B. Every symbol moves on two levels, the personal and the impersonal one.
Mythology was a clever means, used by Orpheus, to preserve truths that would otherwise be lost. He is rightfully the father of Mythology. Taking this into account it is not Mythology, but Theology, written in the form of Mythology, so that it can “travel” through time and remain unaltered. The same technique was used in Orphic Hymns. The information concerning the mysteries is spread in all works of Orpheus and it is quite a difficult task to build a concrete text, a wise effort to preserve the elements of the Greek Mysteries.
Orpheus managed in a poetic, metaphysical manner to transfer for thousands of years his precious knowledge of cosmic harmony and natural laws. A great number of sources
mention that Orpheus could tame wild animals using his music. The symbolic meaning of this is that he managed, by means of his work with the Mysteries, to harmonize everything. It is sad to observe that most information circulated on this divine being is false, with him being presented as a musician, an artist, as mere singer, a mystical poet in love. This fact undermines the value of the vast knowledge accumulated by him and spread throughout the aeons. Nevertheless, Orphic ideas survived as they were accepted and followed by Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and his successors. As opposed to Speusippus, Aristotle failed to understand and accept the Orphic theology, and this was the main reason why he did not become a successor in the Platonic Academy when the time came. Even if the works of Orpheus have been altered and mistreated the power of his influence is instilled in all Ancient Greek Philosophical Works.
Orpheus received the knowledge of the Eleusinian mysteries from his father Oeagrus who had received it from his own father,
Charops. A family of High Priests of the Mysteries. Oeagrus in ancient Greek means the one who hunts alone; isn’t the pursuing of true knowledge and initiation a solitary path full of obstacles and ordeals?
It is worth mentioning that the Greek mysteries were not intuitu personae, as they were never led by one single person. They were a series of analogies, of actions performed or displayed, so that the soul of man could acquire the proper vessel that would lead to its ability to correspond to the environment present after the death of the physical body. However, possessing this knowledge, Orpheus successfully managed to revoke his presence to a different plane than that of humans and in this manner he was in the position to initiate the Dionysiac function within the mysteries, to name the Gods and to regulate and reform the mysteries. An example of this is the introduction of the Dionysian element which prevails in the Eleusinian mysteries. An element which could not possibly originate in Minor Asia, as falsely believed by some historians, as the initiates there had no knowledge of how Zeus is related to Dionysus. He did not only reform the Eleusinian mysteries but also the Caberian ones in Samothrace and Limnos islands, but did not reform the Cretan mysteries as there was a “decay” in worship there, not preserving the secrecy and therefore not “touching” the Gods.
The two Cosmogonical Substances and the Creation of the Soul
Orpheus did not actually create the Greek theology, but reformed it, being able to do so as he exceeded the level of the people who initiated him. The Greek way of viewing life has always been a matter of spiritual materialism. There is no “Fall”, just increase from a lower material or spiritual state to a higher spiritual one. Orpheus had spoken in a cryptic way for the creation of the immortal soul; long before Plato, with his dialogue “Timaeus” [35A], before Timaeus and before Pythagoras.
As stated by Orpheus everything was created by the integration of the 2 cosmogonical substances, “Matter” (Earth) and “Hydor” (Water, form of Aether), which are symbols created by him referring to the Divided Substance (Cosmogonical Earth) and the Incessant Substance (Cosmogonical Aether) respectively. Everything around us is made of these two Cosmogonical Substances in all their possible forms. The hypo-atomic particles of the Divided Substance, also called Orphic Matter, can create everything, even protones, when under the force of the Incessant Substance , also called Orphic Hydor. The existence of Cosmic Hydor took the name “Aether”. Aether has three attributes / laws 1. Energy 2. Birth and 3. Memory.
The Soul is created by the two Cosmogonical substances, coming out of the pre- creation stage, inside this environment. This egress means motion, which is natural law 1, the Law of Motion. More precisely, the hypo-atomic particle is dilated , this exercises pressure to the surrounding Aether, which starts to recede as the hypo-atomic particle constantly recedes and contracts. In this was a “borrowed” Aether arises for the hypo-atomic particle, the largest part of which is characterized by inactivity and for this reason it does not follow the centrifugal, diastolic movement of its crust. This in turn creates a chasm in the hypo-atomic particle inside of which Aether enters. In this way we have the creation of the soul. The soul is simple, meaning it cannot break into parts, and immortal, but, most importantly, it is of a material nature.
The two cosmogonal substances are developed in terms of Time. Time is indicative of the numerical estimation of level of progression / metamorphosis of the two cosmogonical substances and their by- products. The two pulsating Cosmogonical substances are, following the thread of Time, metamorphosed in Chasm / Chaos and Aether, and then – by means of their combination – the Cosmogonical Egg emerges – it must not be identified with the Soul. In the next level a divine personal being appears , called Phanes – Eros – Metes – Erecepeus (both male and female). Chasm is of a receiving nature and Chaos of an active one. Orpheus never revealed what Pythagoras later revealed, about 21.000 after Orpheus, the four stages of the two Cosmogonical Substances in terms of their motion, earth, water, air, fire. Pherecides Syrus mentions that when Zeus wants to create he swallows Phanes, who is the one that makes apparent to Gods the types of Forms.
Orpheus introduced the scheme “beginning – end – middle”, as he speaks of the Cosmogonical Egg (beginning) and the personal God Phanes – Eros – Metes – Erecepeus (end), omitting the Soul (middle). He did this to place emphasis on the material nature of the Soul. (The scheme beginning – middle – end is the initial scheme of the triple Aetheric Law.)
His mythology starts from the idea that The Earth (Cosmogonical earth – Divided Substance / Orphic Matter) created Uranus (Cosmogonical Aether – Incessant Substance – Orphic Hydor). This is strange as it is quite the opposite of what Orphic Theology claims, in which the two cosmogonical substances are independent, managing to come out of the Pre- Creation Stage (the unmanifested but not empty one) without the one to be born from the other. Plato’s successor in the Platonic Academia, Proclus, explains that the term used by Orpheus, “birth”, is a situation in which something unmanifested becomes manifested. Therefore we have an explanation to this controversy as the Cosmogonical Earth has the ability to stimulate the Cosmogonical Hydor. More particularly, the Cosmogonical Aether was forced by the Cosmogonical Earth to come to the level that the latter defined. Orpheus defines Cosmological Earth as the Soul, which has a material, eternal, incorruptible and unbreakable into parts nature. In conclusion to this argument Uranus is a word used to define the upward limit of human consciousness. In the definition of cosmogonical pairs Uranus belongs in the area of Hydor, Aether; being a by- product of Aether.
In Orphic mythology Earth and Uranus give birth to Cronus. In a way the name Cronus comes from the Greek term “κορόνους” / koronus, which is indicative of clear reason. So Kurus and Kore, the female, mean “the clean one”; the Soul that manages to break the boundaries of reincarnations dressed in a male or female identity. The word “reason” is metaphorically used to to describe the high quality of Aether, therefore the term “κορόνους” / koronus refers to the divine world of pure Aether. Cronus must not be identified with the idea of Time. The pair Cosmologica Earth – Uranus is placed in a pre Cronus level while the pair Rhea and Cronus – who give birth to the Olympian gods, with Zeus born fifth – is placed in a pre-Olympian frame.
The aim of the mysteries was to preserve Connective Logos – called so by the last Neo Pythagorean philosopher Spyridon Nagos (Greek, 1869-1933), or else called Connective Aether. Connective Logos is the aetherial part which connects the immortal soul with the body, we can imagine it as something that functions like a plant and is constantly “upgraded”. A particle of Cosmogonical Earth, permeated with/by Aether, is initiated in the foetus, connected with its organism via an etheric ligament. This ligament is diffuse all over the body and by means of this the Soul can control the whole of it. Normally it dissolves 40 days after the person has perished, so the initiated with the help of the priests of the mysteries were trying to preserve their Connective Logos, the etheric ligament. Based on natural Law 4, that of Form the soul of a mortal is transformed into the soul of a god, only if, through the Mysteries, the Connective Logos is not dissolved after the 40th day following death but is preserved instead. In this manner this Connective Aether becomes eternal, become the soul of a god and then, due to the Law of Analοgy, the soul of an Olympian God.
In Greek Mythology every birth means an elevation, from a lower situation to a higher; and each death means metamorphosis. As mentioned before, Mythology and poetry were the safest techniques for Orpheus to save the authentic Greek Mysteries. The elevation of the soul of a human to the soul of a god took place during the 12th stage in the pre-orphic mysteries and in the 9th stage in the mysteries reformed by Orpheus.
More particularly, the Mysteries before Orpheus had a different structure as they were comprised of twelve degrees. Orpheus altered that to nine degrees, inserting innovative elements. In the older Mysteries the soul had to reincarnate again at the 12th degree of initiation, while in the reformed Mysteries in the 9th degree.
The Eleusinian mysteries were Mysteries of Demeter, “agricultural” Mysteries; symbolically for this reason΄ they cultivated the earth, an allegory for the soul. On Autumn Equinox (21/9) dissemination takes place, on Winter Solstice (21/12) the first shoot appears, in Spring Equinox ((21/3) the flowers appear and finally on the Summer Solstice (21/6) the harvest is ready, the seeds of which will fall on the earth. The mysteries are symbolic actions of Man’s travel to immortality, living on a higher, more subtle plane and moving on to higher planes with mysteries that take place in these dimensions respectively. A wreath made of a non-deciduous tree or plant, like a wild olive tree or laurel as a symbol of the Connective Logos that managed to remain intact even after the 40 days, it was worn on the head which is a symbol of the soul. It was considered a great honor for athletes of the Olympic Games to wear such kind of wreath.
After all these we realize that the Greeks of the past had an external region, it is better to call it “worship” as it was not a religion, the Olympic one, and an internal religion which was the precious mystical proceedings of Mystical Eleusis, reformed by Orpheus.
The original Greek mysteries do not involve any blood sacrifices, unlikely to what some researchers and historians claim. Even the sacrifice of Iphigenia in Aulide is symbolic of the sacrifice of Greek unity, taking into account that the Trojans were Greek too. Only bloodless sacrifices can approach the realm of the Immortals. Orpheus in his mystical work (Orphei) Lithic wrote: “First, urge the ones who sacrifice on altars to celebrate the Sun without blood. The Sun can see at a great distance the Earth as well, the Earth is the fertile source of food of everything, it is not admitted to offer an animal with a soul as a sacrifice.” This is the greatest proof. Other misunderstandings came from the false attempts to translate the Orphei Lithic. for example, it is mentioned that a young calf is taken from its mother by Orpheus himself and is offered as a sacrifice. the word calf in Greek is the same with word blossom, so as in the same work Orpheus advices not to sacrifice animals, isn’t it illogical to commit such a cruel action himself? By all means it is, as he refers to blossom!
There is also an ancient Greek celebration called Oschophoria (from “moschos” meaning blossom, in which noblemen holding branches of a vine with grapes were heading to the temple of Dionysus and then that of Athena. Symbolically they were moving from Feeling to Thinking. A soul like Orpheus would definitely feel as if taking a child from the mother, when he cuts a branch of vine full of its flowers to offer it to the divine forces, as a symbol of a soul that is ready to bloom. A very powerful act of sacrifice is leaving stones on the temples, representing a form of Aether stabilized by the powers of the cosmogonical matter. For the Orphic belief stones are living creatures.
Nevertheless, Orpheus respected the pre-orphic arrangement of mysteries, therefore he felt he had to introduce in the pre initiatory stage of the Eleusinian mysteries the following symbolic action of Thesmophoria; the sacrifice of a piglet and the burning of it on the eschara (type of Greek altar used to burn sacrificial offerings). The symbolic meaning of the sacrifice of the piglet is the metamorphosis of the purged part of the soul into one of a fiery nature. In this way the initiatory system presented to the neophytes the promise that one day maybe they will become divine beings. The neophytes also covered their faces with plaster to indicate symbolically that the soul, symbol of which is the head, has not yet manifested its specific, magnificent characteristics. The way they cleaned their faces remains unknown to the researchers.
The neophyte had to be present in front of all priests and priestesses of the mysteries, as it was considered important to see who his “teachers” would be. To be naked was also one of the prerequisites as he had to reveal every aspect of his being. The sacrifice of the piglets used to take place on a night of a full moon, as it was common knowledge in the mysteries that on such nights the aetherial part that connects the soul with the human organism (the Connective Logos) expanded, which was ideal for a ritual action. The more expanded, the closer to the Divine. During this ritual of Thesmophoria seven women, as seven are the psychic centers in humans, went on the southern part the Hill of the Nymphs, in Athens, and threw the piglets from the cliff.
What preceded is by no means an article that covers the vast subject of Orphism, it gives just an idea of a subject that has been the study of philosophers and researchers for centuries. It is wise to keep in mind it is mainly an oral tradition.
*Ανεμογιάννης Σινανίδης Δ. Χώρος και Χρόνος εις τα Ορφικά Αποσπάσματα, Αθήναι, 1978 (καθώς και άρθρα στο περιοδικό “Ιδεοθέατρον” και δημόσιες ομιλίες του ιδίου εις τον αρχαιολογικό χώρο της Ελευσίνος)
*Etymologicon Magnum, Gaisford, Th. Oxford (1848) Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1965
*Kern, O., Orphicorum Fragmenta, Berlin: Weidmann, 1963
*ORPHICA, Ed. ster. Lipsiae, 1829
“Orphic”, Macmillan Dictionary for Students, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 1984
*Πρόκλου Διαδόχου Εις τον Τίμαιο Πλάτωνος, εκδόσεις Diehl, E. Lipsiae. Teubner, 1903-1906, Aνατυπωση Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1965
*Sorel Reynal, Οι Ελληνικές Κοσμογονίες / Ορφέας και Ορφισμός, Αθήναι, Δαίδαλος, 2002
*Τραυλού Κ.,Tα “Λιθικά” του Ορφέος. Αθήναι, Νέα Θέσις, 2001
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