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Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 1 month ago

Legends of the Saviour


In the mystery traditions of the late classical world, there were many saviour-figures.  Orpheus, who descended to the Underworld, but failed to rescue Eurydice, was celebrated in the Orphic Mysteries, and was often referred to as Orpheus Soter (Orpheus the Saviour) and depicted crucified.  Many other dying and resurrecting gods, usually associated with vegetation, were celebrated: Dionysos, Bacchus, Tammuz, Adonis, and so on.  Many of their attributes were attached to the Christos, perhaps in order to make the Christian Mysteries attractive to Greek and Roman converts.


The full story of the death, descent into the underworld, and resurrection of the Christos reads like a classic hero journey as described by Joseph Campbell.


They were often regarded as being born of a Virgin (for example, Mithras was born of Cybele without the assistance of a male).



Meaning of the legends


Pagan saviour figures were generally regarded as restoring some kind of balance by their sacrifice, and helping initiates of their mysteries to make the transition from one life to the next (whether reincarnation or the journey to Elysium) a transition in full awareness and knowledge of what is happening, rather than a fearful leap into the unknown.


The attraction of Christianity was that you didn't have to be special to become an initiate of their mysteries - anyone could join, from the slave to the emperor.  The theology surrounding the death and resurrection of Yeshua differs from one Christian tradition to another.  The closest to Pagan Mystery traditions is that of Eastern Orthdoxy, whose aim is theosis -- literally, becoming divine (the Catholic equivalent is sanctification by grace).


Much of the meaning of the ancient mysteries has been lost in the mists of time, though we know that their initiations generally involved the symbolic death and resurrection of the initiate.  (For example, in Freemasonry, a modern mystery tradition, the initiate descends into a grave and is 'reborn'; and the symbolic death and rebirth in Christianity is the rite of baptism.)


The idea of a deity actually taking human form and suffering with humanity is a very powerful image; and actually being able to conquer death is also a very powerful idea.  The idea that this death and rebirth will eventually transform all who are initiated into the mysteries of it is also powerful.


However, in a (neo)Pagan context, all these death and resurrection myths become powerful metaphors for the inward journey and transformation of the psyche (based on the writings of Joseph Campbell and CG Jung) rather than an external process of "being saved".


Further reading


Altreligion: The Mysterious dying God: Pre-Christian resurrected Gods

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