Sunday, 17 October 2010


"Happy is he who, having seen these rites, goes below the hollow earth, or he knows the end of life and he knows its god-sent beginning."
The Eleusinian mysteries once so secret are now two thousand years away and far from mysterious. They have been reconstructed many times from fragments left by Pinder and Aristophanes, by Herodotus and Aristotle; but like the Persephone myth, the meaning or rather the experience of it, has been stolen and buried under an obscuring layer of rational, intellectual attempts at understanding.

Even after the destruction of Eleusis the mysteries themselves continued, though the original mythology has been over written, updated -if you will- from Eleusis and into churches all over the world. The blood sacrifice has become communion, whilst the promise of resurrection and rebirth in the Elysian fields of Heaven remains relatively unchanged.

The basic myth has been altered to fit a new religion, it was never lost.

It would be a mistake to see the destruction of the mystery (and preservation of broken fragments of the ritual) as the triumph of the rational, though the philosophy of Plato was instrumental  in this change. Plato's philosophy forms the basis for much that is considered to be *Christian* . Yet the dread of the pain and fear death brings in its wake, is not intellectual or easy to dismiss by rational argument, nor is the human desire for an encounter with mystery easily assuaged by common sense. The Eleusinian mysteries once provided a way to approach both fear of death and a desire for the numinous. Once the mysteries were abandoned the need and desire lost none of its intensity, only the original focus changed and became fragmented. I don't believe that human nature changes.

The older religions gave mystery a prime role, at times religion was entirely mystery . In Christianity mystery was given a secondary, rather than a prime role. From the Christian (Platonic)  point of view the mystery religions were nothing more than cheap thrills (despite the expense!) and not religious at all; perhaps more importantly they were also competition.

Christianity had become the religion of the ruling class, God the Father had proved Himself as an efficient war-lord and Constantine embraced the simplicity of this religion in the hope of binding the disparate religions of his subjects, together. The mysteries had to go!

Christianity was so similar to the older Dionysian religion that it was able to obliterate Persephone and Demeter as the symbols and means of achieving redemption, thus Persephone was buried within in the mythology of Mary Mother of Jesus. Nor is from rape victim to virgin too large a change for Persephone as her cult, especially in its older form, required celibacy. As Mistress of the Animals, as Artemis as Potnia Theron it is not such a big step from abducted child to Virgin Queen of Heaven, paradoxical as that may seem. Persephone herself once represented salvation, she was the dread goddess of the underworld; the only one who could intercede on behalf of the dead. She was the force that impelled a soul towards bliss. Though the name of Persephone was drained of all power by Christianity, her role remains, as Mary to whom people still pray today.

In AD 364 the Catholic Emperor Valantinian had prohibited 'all nocturnal celebrations...' but the Roman proconsul in Greece (Vettius Agorius Praetextatus) had protested that without the Eleusinian mysteries, life itself would become unlivable (bios becomes abiostos) for
"The rites hold the whole human race together".
So important were the Eleusinian mysteries believed to be that the famously Pagan proconsul got his way.

Thirty two years latter in AD 396 Eleusis was finally destroyed by Alaric the Goth.

The key factor to the destruction of the Eleusinian rites was the change in philosophy, rather than in religion itself. The combination of Roman rule and Christianity though formidable would not have been enough to destroy the mysteries. The will to rebuild and maintain the Eleusinian mysteries had protected them before, but this time the will had gone..

And so the Eleusinian mysteries were abandoned.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Renaissance Serapis.The myth of the secret nature of Pagan myth..

...declared that philosophy itself was a mystical initiation.

Rigorous intellectual effort could accomplish the cleansing of the soul, free it from ignorance.

Philosophy, according to Plato, closed the distance between the individual and Ultimate Truth.

Despite his best intentions, Plato created a new modification of an old theme, Platonism  in its turn became a mystery religion, offering initiations that promise the soul a better after-life, after death. One assumes that these grades of initiation were exams!

The essential difference between what is labelled Platonism and labelled Orphism is the imperative to think ones way into a higher reality, as opposed to the sufficiency of experience for an Orphic initiation. Both Platonism and Orpheus had their mysteries, but in an Orphic religion, initiations were marked on a calendar  The location and date of the initiation was not a closed secret, whilst what happened during the mystery was another matter.

Mysteries were necessarily incomprehensible to most initiates.

Being off your head after fasting and sleep deprivation were considered beneficial or at least helpful in opening the mind of the initiate to a state beyond words.

What experience was held to accomplish, Plato demands that it be done by pure reason alone: no drugs, no priests, no mystical experiences; only by rational exercise in the art of dialectic may the soul be purged of error.

Being off your head would not help at all.

Over a thousand years latter, there remains within Platonism a belief in codes, hidden messages, magic numbers; keys to unlock secret knowledge left by those who know, for those who seek to know.

This more mystical version of Plato came primarily through translations of Plotinus.

In the fifteenth century, Plotinus was translated into Latin in the fifteenth century by De Bussi, Beroaldo, Perotti, Landino and especially Ficino and Mirandola. The Neoplatonists believed that the interpretation of images was part of Plato's original philosophy: that statues, paintings, buildings and even music perhaps, contained secret messages. Any secrets hidden within the work of the ancients would be encoded in form that  could be read only by a very select few.

Pico della Mirandola
(24 February 1463 – 17 November 1494)
"that divine subjects and the secret Mysteries must not be rashly divulged...that is why the Egyptians had sculptures of sphinxes in all their temples, to indicate that divine knowledge, if committed to writing at all, must be covered with enigmatic veils and poetic dissimulation"


... Serapis was a deity instituted by Ptolemy Sotor, the Greek ruler of Egypt who needed a deity that could be worshipped by both his Greek and his Egyptian subjects.

The name Serapis is a combination of the names Osiris and Apis. Osiris is the Egyptian lord of the dead, and the Greeks associated Serapis with their own ruler of the underworld, Hades.

Plutarch records:(On Isis and Osiris) that Ptolemy had a dream about a statue that would be found in the Greek town of Sinope.

The statue spoke in the dream to Ptolemy and told the king to move it to Alexandria. Three years latter, this was done.

Plutarch again:
"Timotheus the Interpreter, and Manetho, as soon as the statue was shown to them, from the Cerberus and Dragon that accompanied it, concluded that it was designed to represent Pluto, and persuaded the king that it was in reality none other than the Egyptian Sarapis; for it must be observed, that the statue had not this name before it was brought to Alexandria, it being given to it afterwards by the Egyptians, as equivelent, in their opinion, to its old one of Pluto."
By Serapis-Pluto sits the three headed dog, Cerberus.

Now why or even if the dog who guards the gates of the Underworld has three heads, is a bit of a problem. Sometimes images show three dogs, Cerberus and his pups, three distinct dogs, other times a two headed dog.

Hesiod describes a fifty-headed dog:

Men say that Typhaon the terrible, outrageous and lawless, was joined in love to her, the maid with glancing eyes. So she conceived and brought forth fierce offspring; first she bare Orthus the hound of Geryones, and then again she bare a second, a monster not to be overcome and that may not be described, Cerberus who eats raw flesh, the brazen-voiced hound of Hades, fifty-headed, relentless and strong.

This vase made in Caere in 525 BC shows Cerberus with three heads.

But for the Neoplatonists, the three headed Cerberus was a symbol rich with inner meanings

Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius was a Roman grammarian and Neoplatonist philosopher (395–423 AD) describes the stature of Serapis at Alexandria. Unfortunately it is unlikely that he ever saw because it was destroyed  in 392 AD after the decree of Theodosius I (378 to 395 AD) outlawing non-Christian worship.
"no one is to go to the sanctuaries, walk through the temples, or raise his eyes to statues created by the labor of man"

Nevertheless Macrobius undaunted, describes the statue.
Here is his account:
"In the city on the borders of Egypt which boasts Alexander of Macedon as its founder, Sarapis and Isis are worshiped with a reverence that is almost fanatical. Evidence that the sun, under the name of Sarapis, is the object of all this reverence is either the basket set on the head of the god or the figure of a three-headed creature placed by his statue. The middle head of this figure, which is also the largest, represents a lion's; on the right a dog raises its head with a gentle and fawning air; and on the left the neck ends in the head of a ravening wolf. All three beasts are joined together by the coils of a serpent whose head returns to the god's right hand which keeps the monster in check." - Macrobius, Saturnalia I.20.13

Perhaps there were other statues of Serapis for him to study..
But his Serapis has gained a lion, a wolf, and a snake instead of his triple headed dog.

It is clear from his writing that Macrobius believes that Serapis is a sun god- that all gods are the sun, whilst he includes the snake because it is an emblem of sovereignty as depicted on the headdress of ancient Egyptian rulers and deities. He also includes the snake as the flow of time, linking the past to the present to the future.

His Cerbeus becomes a chimera.

The three heads signify the three parts of time: the ferocious wolf facing left, represents vanished time -the past.

The hopeful dog looks to the right, anticipating something good, the future.

While the splendid lion faces directly ahead, embodying the present.

Titian: Allegory.
The images remain remarkably constant.

Though it seems obvious that the past has gone, devoured by time, this isn't the only way to perceive time. Both in Hebrew and Akkadian it is implied that we face the past and the past is all we see. Meanwhile the future is impossible to see because it is behind us.


There is a time-god called Aion by the Greeks, known as Zervan in Persian literature; a lion headed man, serpent coiled around his legs.

He holds a hammer/thunderbolt and is associated with the cult of Mithras.

As Chronos (Time), Zervan became Kronos and, in the Roman world, Saturn. In the Mithraic version, the birth of Mithras portrays the god, entwined by a serpent, is surrounded by the signs of the zodiac and the four Wind-gods.

As Mahakala- Great Time

And so the image rolls on and on...


Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Bull of Heaven.

One thing I didn't concentrate on, when I wrote a possible explanations of religion as practiced in Bronze Age Britain, was the bull. The bull has a long association with death rituals from the sacrifice of the sacred Apis bull, to the bull fight in Spain.

In Britain cattle bones are sometimes found in connection with Neolithic and Bronze Age burials, and inside the henge circles; as if cattle in particular were chosen as the animal for 'the underworld'.

The man buried in the ditch at Woodhenge was buried with three vertebrae from a cow or a bull.

In the outer ditches and circles of henges it is pig bones that predominate. In Greek mythology, especially the Persephone myth, pigs are sacrificed it seems, to pay a blood dept, a way to 'wash away sins'.

In Britain, pigs were for feasts.

To go way, way back -to Sumerian myth the consort of Ereshkigal (the Sumerian Persephone) was Gugulanna -the Bull of Heaven.

In myth cattle seem to represent all the fertile powers of the springtime skies: rain-clouds, rays of sunlight and the newborn sun.

More specifically though, the Sumerian Bull of Heaven is described as a destructive force which came down from heaven to drink the rivers dry and to scorch the land.

These seem to be seasonal changes. [LINK].
From Wiki:
Taurus was the constellation of the Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox from about 3,200 BCE. It marked the start of the agricultural year with the New Year Akitu festival (from á-ki-ti-še-gur10-ku5, = sowing of the barley), an important date in Mespotamian religion.

The "death" of Gugalanna, represents the obscuring disappearance of this constellation as a result of the light of the sun, with whom Gilgamesh was identified.

In the time in which this myth was composed, the New Year Festival, or Akitu, at the Spring Equinox, due to the Precession of the Equinoxes did not occur in Aries, but in Taurus. At this time of the year, Taurus would have disappeared as it was obscured by the sun.
But the bull was also an earthquake [From the Epic of Gilgamesh.]:
At the snort of the Bull of Heaven a huge pit opened up,
and 100 Young Men of Uruk fell in.
At his second snort a huge pit opened up,
and 200 Young Men of Uruk fell in.
At his third snort a huge pit opened up,
and Enkidu fell in up to his waist.
The bull is a lunar creature, due to his moon-like crescent hornes and his testicles which are full of fertilizing 'dew'. In the Sumerian tale, the Bull of Heaven as consort of the Queen of the underworld would have been more lunar than solar.

But a few thousand years latter in Akkadian times, Marduk is called 'The Bull of the Sun'.

The 'underground' power of The Bull of Heaven always has a starry connection; and over time its power becomes man shaped -as Ereshkigal's consort changes from bull to God, in the form of the plague god: Nergal.

Marduk is hardly man-shaped, but he is seen as the archetypal leader, the super hero, and his powerful courage means that he is bull-like, bull of the sun.

Reading the symbols leads me to interpret the bull as representing at first man's fertility and his role as protector of his family and finally his capacity for war.

Meanwhile in Egypt, somewhere between 323 BC – 283 BC the cult of the Apis bull becomes linked to Hades in the form of Serapis -a syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god. Combining Osiris with Hades for the Greeks, and Osiris and Apis for the Eqyptians.

The name Serapis seems to have got into the Greek language from Babylon ;The Akkadian god Ea (Sumerian Enki) was titled Serapsi, meaning 'king of the deep'.

It seems that the priests of Ea were consulted in hope of them being able to help, as Alexandra The Great, lay dying.

Thus the name Sarapsi became known to the Greeks; but Sarapis is not exactly Ea or Enki.

The Greeks didn't bother too much with Akkadian myth, besides which they were in Egypt! Osirus as Lord of the Dead was an important god for the Egyptians and so Ptolomy's statue of Sarapis shows a bearded man with a basket/grain-measure, on his head; a Greek symbol for the land of the dead.

Cerberus, the three -headed dog plays around his knees; though I have heard it explained that the three heads represent a wolf, a dog and something else (sorry...) symbolizing 'the three times'

Apis was an Egyptian god who became associated with Ptah, but once again I cannot find a connecting myth.

Herodotus wrote that the Apis was the "calf of a cow which is never afterwards able to have another. The Egyptian belief is that a flash of lightning descends upon the cow from heaven, and this causes her to receive Apis."

Ptah, in the Memphis mythology, was the creator of the primeval mound.

Sumerian myth contains references to a primeval mound -the Du.Ku- but Enki isn't its creator.

Sumerian tradition holds that the knowledge of agriculture, animal husbandry and weaving were brought to mankind from the "Du-Ku", which was inhabited by the Anunna gods, but I do not know if there is a myth to connect Enki with the knowledge held by the Anunna?

But, back to Egypt.

Plutarch wrote that the "Apis was a fair and beautiful image of the soul of Osiris"

Osiris was lord of the dead and the Apis bull (chosen for his distinctive markings) became known as the living deceased one. When the Apis bull reached the age of twenty-eight (the age when Osiris was said to have been killed by Set and symbolic of the lunar month) the bull was put to death with a great sacrificial ceremony.

For more about Egyptian bull cults continue...

A temple of Serapis is a Serapeum; and it contains the graveyard of the bulls.
The Serapeum was the centre of a cult relating to the Apis bull, a bull selected from the sacred flock of bulls and cows. It was believed to be the incarnation of the blessed soul of Ptah and Osiris after his death. All through its life it was treated as a deity with its own priests and a harem of cows.

When it died it was buried at the Serapeum with the finest of ceremonies. The bull was lain in a sarcophagus which could weight up to 80 tons, and a new sacred bull was selected. There is a story that women during the first 40 days of the selection of a new Apis bull, 'would pose in front of it exposing their private parts for fertility'. The cult of the Apis bull lasted from early 14th century BCE until 30 BCE. The great cult of Serapis survived until 385 AD, when early Christians destroyed the Serapeum of Alexandria, and subsequently the cult was forbidden by the Theodosian decree.

The Serapeum at Saqqara was known of since ancient times, but not located until 1851 by Auguste Mariette.[LINK]
Of ancient Britain there is unfortunately little to say; no one wrote anything down.

All we have is what we find.

Some of the posts of Woodhenge had offerings of cremated cattle bone and horns placed around and inside them, some barrows -particularly Neolithic, contained the skulls of cattle- bucrania...