The English word “mystery” is derived from the Greek word “musterion” (plural: musteria). The closest equivalent in English would be “sacraments,” though they’re not equivalent. The word sacrament is derived from the Latin word sacramentum, a sign and what is seen. Mustērion, in contrast, refers to something hidden and stresses the power of the Good as made manifest in an unseen way through their holy rites.
There were plenty of mysteries across the Hellenic world, and Julian the Philosopher is known to have at least been in three. The intended effects of the mysteries are to lead practitioners from a state of ignorance and occlusion to gnosis and henosis through the measured steps appropriate to each soul. It is through the mysteries the human soul can escape the confines of fate and more fully participate in the providence of the divine. Likewise, it is through the mysteries that the One makes itself known to the cosmos through the soul of humanity.
A mystery is a sacred rite that has hidden within it the power and providence of the One. These rites are both mysterious and hieratic, containing the sacred and hidden powers of the unseen world. Tradition holds that hieratic (proper) rites were originally instituted by Julian the Chaldean and his son, Julian the Theurgist. As theurgic rites, however, they have their origins in the One, the Celestial Demiurge, and the divine intelligibles. They were fully brought into by the divine Iamblichus, who himself first applied the term “hieratic” to theurgic rites. It is a two-fold allusion:
- First to that which is sacred and priestly
- Second to ancient Egyptian sacred writings.
How they function
Not only were the mysteries so varied, but they also, by large, never let most of their information leak. However, we can gather some rather broad information on how they functioned.
Firstly, one must be in a proper spiritual state to both give and receive a mystery if there are any hopes of the intelligible rites having success. Both the giver of the mystery and the receiver of a mystery must commit to several spiritual preparations, such as contemplation, purification and potentially some sacred rites. If a mystery is received in an unprepared state, at best, nothing happens. At worst, however, the mystery may have the opposite of its intended result; moving the soul farther away from the Good instead of closer via antipathy.
By large the efficiency of a mystery would depend on the person administering it. The administer of a mystery isn’t merely a conduit for divine power, but rather a participant in that power. Without proper participation, a mystery can only be performed in its outer form with an absent inner power.
If performed by a fully purified and illuminated soul a mystery will always produce the desired result. However, since these souls being few are far between, it’s possible for mysteries to fail depending on the state of the soul performing it and the capacity of the soul receiving it. If both souls are in a properly prepared state, a mystery will always be successful, to varying degrees, depending on the differing states of those involved.
Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, and Wilmer Cave. Wright. The works of emperor Julian. London: Heinemann etc., 1962.
Bremmer, Jan N. Initiation into the mysteries of the Ancient world. Berlin, Boston, Mass.: Gruyter, Walter de, & Co., 2014.
Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia. “Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia Catechism.” Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia. Accessed July 17, 2017. http://theourgia.org/catechism/.
Karoglou, Author: Kiki. “Mystery Cults in the Greek and Roman World | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. October 2015. Accessed September 03, 2017. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/myst/hd_myst.htm.