Classical Greek Mythology

The Greek Mystery Cults and Hero Sagas

What were the Dionysian mysteries?

The Dionysian mysteries were a ritualized worship of Dionysos and the aspect of life he represented—the freedom from conventional mores and taboos to allow a natural ecstatic expression of the inner self in a ceremonial process. That process involved wine or some other intoxicant, wild music, and equally wild dancing to overcome ordinary inhibitions. Some say it culminated in orgies. Processions involved in the mysteries included the carrying of a representation of the god’s phallus. The source of the mysteries was perhaps the mystery religion of Osiris in Egypt. Both Dionysos and Osiris were dying gods whose life-death-rebirth processes reflected seasonal or agricultural patterns and extended into the sometimes spiritual or even mystical realm of personal or communal renewal. The mysteries were well outside the traditions of the patriarchal Olympian religion and even involved women and slaves, but parts of the mysteries were incorporated more formally into the City Dionysia, the festival that included the production of the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides in the fifth century B.C.E.


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