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Out of the deeps rises the mysterious lotus. Stop in for refreshment, heka, and reflections from the sacred waters of ancient Egypt.

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Who Knows the Mysteries?

b2ap3_thumbnail_herculaneum-isis-temple.jpgBlest is the happy man
Who knows the Mysteries the gods ordain (Euripides)

It is a mystery – that we can be One and also separate, and likewise the gods.

It is a mystery – that we can have a solitary experience which then links us inextricably with others who have shared that same experience, or one like it.

The ancient mysteries, the cults of Osiris, Demeter and Dionysus, for example, were a way that entry into a group could awaken within the initiate an entirely individual gnosis, a transformation which stayed in his consciousness for the rest of his life.

One idea central to the classical mysteries is that myth is the first gate into the mystery.  By learning the literal story of the gods, we have set the stage to move to a next level of living in harmony with them, a second initiation.  A final initiation reveals the truth that the myths may or may not be literally “true” and that such fact is irrelevant to the real purpose – transformation.

Life, death, burial and rebirth to a new life are the consistent themes in the mysteries.  Whatever our belief system or practice, or whatever culture is native for us, we all share that earthly cycle.  In the Himalayas or on Easter Island, Newfoundland to the Falklands, Japan to Soweto, every one of us is born and every one of us dies.  Many of us feel that we have a non-physical aspect which also lives on and is reborn in another form.  But whether that is factual or not, we do know that our bodies return to the earth and we are most definitely reborn in some form as part of the landscape, often nourishing the life forms which fed us while we were still corporeal.

If this is the frame in which our life takes place, how then should we live?  Answering that question is the real point of the mysteries.  Joseph Campbell once told Bill Moyers that once you have climbed the mountain and seen what is on the other side, you can return back down the mountain, but you can never forget what you saw.  Intensified by fasting, theatrical staging and other effects, the mysteries indelibly marked the initiate with a new understanding of the cosmos and her role in it.  Many initiates returned to their homes, sometimes long journeys away, never to return or have any contact with the cult temple again.  But they carried what they saw on the other side of the mountain into their life as a person “reborn”.  Cicero leaves no doubt about the impact:

“These Mysteries have brought us from rustic savagery to a cultivated and refined civilization.  The rites of the Mysteries are called ‘initiations’ and in truth we have learned from them the first principles of life.  We have gained the understanding not only to live happily but also to die with better hope.”

In the centuries that followed, religion came to be nearly synonymous with rigid codes of behavior.  But Cicero makes clear that a “cultivated and refined civilization” were a natural result of gaining the understanding revealed in the mysteries.  May each of us seek to understand our own mysteries, so that we can live out a full, abundant life as the gods that we are.

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Holli Emore is Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the premiere educational resource for Pagan and other nature-based religions (, founder of Osireion (, editor/writer for Wild Garden: Pagans in the Growing Interfaith Landscape at, and serves on the board of directors for Interfaith Partners of S.C. (  She is co-founder of the original Pagan Round Table,, and author of "Pool of Lotus," available in print, or for Kindle or Nook, at


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