Have you ever had the feeling of having two selves who can’t get along? That your carnal desires prevent your spiritual self from progressing? Could it be that the needs of our body suppress parts of our soul?
Thousands of years ago, there once lived a man who was the first to attempt to explain the battle between body and soul. It was Orpheus, the founder of the religious system named after him. Orphism is the nascence of every mystic theory since, as also the source of most Christian dogmas.
There were about forty works about the orphic theology in the 6th century BCE, but unfortunately we only have a few excerpts of those and mostly coming from later editions. Information about the Orphics, is mostly saved for us by the Pythagoreans who embraced most of their opinions. The Orphic Hymns is one of the few extant texts. It constitutes of prayers and appeals to the gods. In sacred Mysteries, like the Eleusinian Mysteries, the believers would take part in the dramatization of the myths about the gods and their qualities. This process would lead the initiate to discover the hidden truth about life and death.
Each of the myths symbolizes a hidden truth. A truth unraveled during the theatrical performance. The initiate discovers the stages of the creation of the material world through the genealogies of the gods and cosmogonic myths. Each deity symbolizes the state of a material body and its powers. When participating in an act about the romantic mating of the gods, the believer can envision the unity of nature’s forces to create something new. Each of naughty Zeus’ lovers is just another attribute of the originating principle. And each of their children is another force deriving from this attribute. As when the initiate participates in an act of the moment when Cronus mutilates his father Uranus, he understands that when a stage of creation comes to its end, another one begins. In myths, every new order of gods beats the order it comes from. That’s because, old and new gods are the expression of the exact same principles, only at another development stage of the world.
The cosmogonic myth of the Orphics, tells us that the world was born when the “original fire”, a bright light, set the liquid element in motion. The result was the cosmic egg: The beginning of the world. This indivisible beginning is called Phanes (phenome = appear). Even though it is not a person or a figure, it appears in Orphic Mysteries as god Phanes or Eros, encapsulating both the male and female element. It’s worth mentioning that no one acted to create this first principle. No god or anyone else.
The orphic worship is centered on god Dionysus – Bacchus. This is the god who dies and resurrects like the human soul. It is not a coincidence that all ancient Mysteries (Eleusinian, Orphic, Bacchic, of Samothrace etc.) are related to him and to the goddesses of the Underworld, Demeter and Persephone. The initiates are bound under a heavy oath to never reveal anything that happens during these rituals. And that is why we know so little of. However, we know that the initiate was taught to read the sacred texts and to interpret the myths. He was also bound to use this knowledge for the good of mankind and his own.
The imprisoned soul
«Whatever we see when we are awake, is death. Whatever we see in our sleep, is a dream. », Pythagoras said. This was his explanation of the orphic belief that the life we live in the material world is not the true life. And as long as the soul is entrapped in matter, there is no true life in the living or dead body.
The myth of Dionysus, also called Zagreus, describes how the soul ended up being in this unpleasant situation. He was the son of Zeus and Persephone and his father had big plans for him. He would be his successor and he’d be the master of the world. In order to protect him from Hera, he gave him to Apollo and the Kuretes who hid him in the forests of Parnassus. But Hera, who always disliked his husband’s illegitimate children, persuaded the Titans to kill him. They disguised their face with plaster and deceived little Dionysus with various games and killed him in the end. Then, they dismembered him, cooked him and ate him. Zeus in fury, threw lightning onto the Titans, and this is how man was created: The fire of the lightning and the blood of the Titans mixed with soil to become the first matter of man.
In between, goddess Athena grabbed Dionysus’ heart just in time and handed it over to Zeus. He used it to make a potion and offered it to his mistress Semeli to drink. So, she conceived and gave birth to the New Dionysus who was worshiped in the classic era. He was assigned the task of liberating the human souls from their titanic elements.
The soul gets rid of the titanic elements by returning again and again into different bodies every time, trying to overcome carnal obstacles and finally to connect with Dionysus. But whenever there is a setback in the circle of incarnation (wheel, as Orpheus called it), the whole of the process is repeated until the soul is completely free of any material-titanic elements and is ready to coincide in every aspect with the spiritual-Dionysian elements.
These sacred truths would be revealed at the initiation into the Mysteries and only then. People who were impious, indifferent or who were contempt with the conventional worship of the gods, would not have access to these truths. The only way to understand the hidden truths was to participate in the sacred Mysteries and successfully complete the three initiation steps: To throw out the old, to change oneself and to enter the new situation.
Following Orpheus’ and Pythagoras’ example centuries later, Jesus would talk clearly to his disciples only. When talking to the crowd, he would only talk in parables, metaphors and similes. The Christian mystery of baptism too, incorporates the steps of the initiation in a shortened form.
The rite of passage to the orphic Mysteries was not the finishing line of the route. It was just the beginning of a course that would require devotion to strict rules and constant vigilance.
Listen to your hidden god: