Essay on Mystery Cults in Graeco-Roman Society

Essay on Mystery Cults in Graeco-Roman Society

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Mystery cults were a parallel across Greek and Roman society and were based upon many myths, including the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, myth of Dionysus and other Orphic Hymns. These mystery cults were centred around a belief that human beings have a soul and that belonging to a mystery cult can affect what will become of the soul after death. In essence, mystery cults promised initiates a better afterlife. With the terrifying myths associated with the realm of Hades and it’s divisions, citizens of ancient Greece had a great desire to better their afterlife and avoid going to Tartarus; the most horrifying level of the underworld. This paper will explore the mystery cults of Orpheus, Dionysus, Artemis and Demeter and will discuss their significance and popularity in the Graeco-Roman world.
Mystery cults or religions in these ancient societies involved the intertwining of myth and religion. Those belonging to mystery religions worshipped specific Greek deities, participated in an initiation of some sort and were said to have exclusive knowledge that was not available to the general public. Although mystery religions were exclusive organizations, individuals were not limited to joining only one, there was not a limit on the number of cults one could be initiated into. By being members of these mystery cults, individuals participated in rituals specific to the cult such as taurobolium or tauroctony; baptism by bulls blood and killing of a bull. Members were promised a superior afterlife over those who did not participate in the religions. This was essentially the draw toward being a member of a mystery cult, the enticing notion of a better life after death.
Orphic mystery religions are credited with being the first of many mystery c...

... middle of paper ...

... popularity in the ancient societies due to the prevalence of this belief and the fear of what would become of the soul when it departs from the physical body.

Cosmopoulos, Michael B. Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology and Ritual of Ancient Greek Secret Cults. London: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2003
Euripides. The Tragedies of Euripides, translated by T. A. Buckley. Bacchae. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850.
Homer. Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914.
Morford, Mark P.O., Robert J. Lenardon and Michael Sham. Classical Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2011.
Ovid. Metamorphoses. Translated by Brookes More. Boston: Cornhill Publishing Co., 1922.
Sokolowski, F. Harvard Theological Review: A New Testimony on the Cult of Artemis of Ephesus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965

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