The Scapegoat Syndrome
The ancient Greeks had a custom in which an individual was chosen, how we don’t know, to take on the sins of the people. This was a religious ceremony. After being prepared for sacrifice by special treatment, including a special diet, he was expelled from the city or put to death.
Dionysus died for the sins of the world and his followers were ritually beaten and insulted as they walked the sacred way to Eleusis to participate in and re-enact the man/god’s sacrificial death.
In Asia Minor, at the ceremonies of the man/god Attis, animals were sacrificed and the initiates, having bathed in the blood of the animal, which represented the blood of Attis, were said to be born again.
In the ceremonies of Mithras in Persia the sacrifice was conducted symbolically rather then literally. What were all these sacrifices, whether symbolical or literal, about?
The notion of original sin did not originate with Christianity. Centuries before Jesus the Mystery religions believed that some unnamed, catastrophic offence had occurred when we inhabited the divine world. As a punishment our souls, the divine part of us, were imprisoned in our bodies and expelled.
Now we were prey to all the lower, selfish, carnal impulses and inclinations of our disordered physical bodies. It was the work
of the Mystery religions, by repeated initiations, to deliver us from this slavery, so that the spark of the divine which is in all of us might shine forth and take control of our human lives making us capable of returning to the full participation in divine life after death.
Easter and Resurrection
The followers of Attis, born of a virgin on Dec 25th, crucified and rose on the third day, can be traced back to 2250 BC in Phrygia. They celebrated a spring festival which lasted for three days. During that festival the passion and death of Attis was performed in the manner of a passion play.
An effigy of Attis was embalmed and buried but on the third day (March 25th) the high priest opened the tomb which was empty. The High priest told the mourners that they too would rise again. There followed a day of celebration.
Attis entered the Greek world in the 4th century BC and was still an active religion at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD
Christians believe that Jesus died to atone for original sin. In Mark’s gospel 15 v 17-20 Jesus predicts his own death in a manner similar to the Mystery religions. “They will make fun of him and spit at him and kill him.”
The gospel tells us that Jesus’ body was wrapped in a linen sheet together with half a hundred weight of myrrh and aloes. (Matthew 27. 59, John 19. 39-40 Plutarch (46 -120 AD) records that Osiris was wrapped in linen and anointed with myrrh.
On dying Jesus descends to Hell, the place of the dead to bring them the news of salvation then rises from the dead on the third day as, according to Plutarch and Origen does Osiris. So also do Adonis, Dionysus and Mithras.
This is the religious world, with thousands of years of history behind it, into which the Jesus story came. It is hardly surprising that the initiates of the Mystery religions, many of whom were highly educated, were indignant at the Christian claim that their story was unique and historical.
If it had it stopped at that the two sides might be debating and insulting each other to this day. But some Christians claimed that their god was the one, only true god. As we shall see, that was to change everything.
Mother of God
Semele, the mortal mother of Dionysus, was raised up to heaven and honoured as an immortal alongside her son. The Christian festival of the Assumption of Mary into heaven in August replaced the pagan festival of Diana.
Statues of Isis holding her child could easily be mistaken – and sometimes were so mistaken – for Christian statues of Mary holding her son, Jesus. In Isis’ role as patroness of mariners we may see the origins of Mary’s title of Stella Maris, Star of the sea.
An early Christian tradition in Mark’s gospel said that three of Jesus’ female followers were the discoverers of the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome. Why was this significant, because it echoes a centuries pagan tradition?
The triple goddess was a familiar figure in the ancient world. When a new temple in honour of Dionysus was being ‘consecrated’ the triple goddess was represented by three priestesses who organised three choirs of women for the ceremonies.
We are already familiar with the central teaching of the Mystery religions that the death and resurrection/rebirth of the pagan gods was a story which encoded a mystical teaching.
That Mystical teaching was decoded for initiates in what we would call a ‘son et lumiere’, a sound and light performance designed, together with drums, explosions, choirs etc., to engage all the senses. The teaching could also be expressed in a series of metaphors.
That humans have a spark of the divine in them • That spark was buried/imprisoned in flesh and blood • That the divine in us was suffocated by the disorderly passions of our fallen state • That this fallen state had come about by some unknown event in our past (what Christians call original sin) • That the various stories of the pagan gods, represented by Osiris the goddess and Dionysus the god all have one single message • That we all need to go through a mystical form of death and rebirth (Christian baptism?) • That the stories of the pagan gods are not ancient superstitions which we sophisticated people of the twenty- first centaury can dismiss with an indulgent smile. • They are mystical metaphors which teach that we need to go through a mystical/metaphorical death and resurrection • Why? Because our task on this earth is to liberate the spark of the divine in us so that it becomes the compass which guides and directs our lives • How? By repeatedly experiencing the initiations which teach us the meaning of the myth while always understanding that this is a mystical journey not an historical one which makes the question, “Did this really happen,” irrelevant.
Now read pp 65 – 76 of
The Jesus Mysteries by
Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
Pay particular attention to their conclusion which lists thirty points of close similarity between paganism and Christianity.