Mysteries (Gr. , from, to shut the lips), ceremonies in ancient religions to which only the initiated were admitted. They may be obscurely traced in the early Orient, in the rites of Isis and Osiris in Egypt, in the Persian Mithraic solemnities, and in the festivals introduced into Greece with the worship of Bacchus and Cybele; and they lingered through the decline of Rome, and perhaps left their traces in the ceremonies of freemasonry. They consisted, in general, of rites of purification and expiation, of sacrifices and processions, of ecstatic or orgiastic songs and dances, of nocturnal festivals fit to impress the imagination, and of spectacles designed to excite the most diverse emotions, terror and trust, sorrow and joy, hope and despair. The celebration was chiefly by symbolical acts and spectacles; yet sacred mystical words, formulas, fragments of liturgies, or hymns were also employed. There were likewise certain objects with wmich occult meanings that were imparted to the initiated were associated, or which were used in the various ceremonies in the ascending scale of initiation. The sacred phrases, the, concerning which silence was imposed, were themselves symbolical legends, and probably not statements of speculative truths.
The most diverse theories have been suggested concerning the origin, nature, and significance of the Hellenic mysteries. As Schomann remarks (Griechisclie Altcrtliumer, 3d ed., Berlin, 1873), the very fact that it was not permitted to reveal to the uninitiated wherein these cults consisted, what were the rites peculiar to them, for what the gods were invoked, or what were the names of the divinities worshipped, has been the cause of our extremely incomplete information in regard to them. - The oldest of the Hellenic mysteries are believed to be those of the Cabiri in Samothrace and Lemnos, which were renowned through the whole period of pagan antiquity. Though they were only less august than the Eleusinian, nothing is certain concerning them, and even the names of the divinities are known to us only by the profanation of Mnaseas. (See Cabiri.) The Eleusinian were the most venerable of the mysteries. Happy," says Pindar, " is he who lias beheld them, and descends beneath the hollow earth; he knows the end, he knows the divine origin of life".
They comprised a long series of ceremonies, concluding with complete initiation or perfection. The fundamental legend on which the ritual seems to have been based was the search of the goddess Demeter or Ceres for her daughter Proserpine, her sorrows and her joys, her descent into Hades, and her return into the realm of light. The rites were thought to prefigure the scenes of a future life. The same symbol was the foundation of the Thes-mophoria, which were celebrated exclusively by married women, rendering it probable that initiation into it was designed to protect against the dangers of childbirth. The Orphic and Dionysiac mysteries seem to have designed a reformation of the popular religion. Founded upon the worship of the Thracian Dionysus or Bacchus, they tended to ascetic rather than orgiastic practices. Other mysteries were those of Zeus or Jupiter in Crete, of Hera or Juno in Argolis, of Athena or Minerva in Athens, of Artemis or Diana in Arcadia, of Hecate in Aegina, and of Rhea in Phrygia. The worship of the last under different names prevailed in divers forms and places in Greece and the East, and was associated with the orgiastic rites of the Corybantes. - More important were the Persian mysteries of Mithra, which appeared in Rome about the beginning of the 2d Christian century.
They were propagated by Chaldean and Syrian priests. The austerity of the doctrine, the real perils of initiation which neophytes were obliged to encounter, the title of soldier of Mithra which was bestowed upon them, and the crowns which were offered to them after the combats preceding every grade of advancement, were among the peculiarities which gave to these rites a military and bellicose character; and Roman soldiers eagerly sought initiation into them. The fundamental dogma of the Mithraic doctrine was the transmigration of souls under the influence of the seven planets, over whose operations Mithra presided. The whole fraternity of the initiated was divided into seven classes or grades, which were, named successively soldiers, lions, hyaenas, etc, after animals sacred to Mithra. The sacrifice of the bull was characteristic of his worship. On the monuments which have been found in Italy, the Tyrol, and other parts of Europe, inscribed Deo Mithra) Soli Tnvicto, Mithra is usually represented as a young man in a flowing robe, surrounded with mystical figures, seated on a bull, which he is pressing down, or into which he is plunging the sacrificial knife. A dog, a serpent, a scorpion, and a lion are arranged near him. Nothing is certain concerning the signification of this scene.
After the adoption of some of the ideas connected with other religious systems, as those of the Alexandrian Serapis, the Syrian Baal, and the Greek Apollo, the Mithra worship disappeared in the 5th or 6th century. - See Creuzer, Symoolik und My-tliologie (1810-'12), translated into French with elaborate annotations by Guigniaut and others (1825-'36); Sainte-Croix, Recherches historiques et critiques sur les mysteres du paganisme, edited by Sylvestre de Sacy (1817); Seel, Die Mithra- Geheimnisse während der vor- und ur-christlichen Zeit (1823); Limbourg-Brouwer, Histoire de la civilisation morale et religievse des Grecs (1833-'41); Lajard, Recherches sur le culte public et les mysteres de Mithra (1847-'8); Maury, Histoire des religions de la Gréce antique (1857); and Preller, Römische Mythologie (2d ed., 1865), and Griechische Mythologie (3d ed., 1872).