Coffee & Wisdom 02.86: Mystery and the Inner Sactum Part 2
David Breeden is speaking all week about hidden knowledge.
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Hello, I’m David Breeden, the Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a historically humanist congregation, and this is Coffee and Wisdom. We are in summer wisdom now in which we’re live on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:00 a.m. Central Time. And this week we’ve been talking about Mystery and the Inner Sanctum. That is, the idea that there are mystical things that can be discovered within certain wisdom traditions. We believe that the truth is out there, has to be, and as this magazine says, the Hunger for Secret Knowledge. But, of course, the question is, is there any? And that’s not such an easy question to answer. I mentioned on Tuesday that there’s one thing we have to remember when we talk about mystery religions, and that is that mystes in Greek didn’t mean what we mean by mystery these days. The mystes was an initiate into a mystery religion and then the mystical part of the mystery religion meant “that which awaits disclosure or interpretation.” So the mystery is not a mystery for those who are initiated into these particular cults, mystery religions. Some existed apparently in Egypt and then most in the Greco Roman world, first in Greece and then on over into Rome when the Roman Empire defeated Greece. Now, one thing we have to remember is that, in the ancient world, people thought that even more ancient wisdom was the best sort of wisdom. So the oldest traditions were the ones that must be closest to the truth. Now, why this would be true is a question that we have to beg, but this was definitely a belief in the ancient world. That’s one reason that Judaism was very much respected in the Roman Empire period, because the Romans knew that this was a very old religion. But the Romans also knew that it probably the oldest oldest, at least in the Mediterranean basin, is going to be in Egypt. So we’re going to have to go to Egypt to find out some things. But first, yes, we’ve got to talk about a civilization that probably didn’t exist at all, and that is Atlantis. Atlantis has been a mythical thing for a very long time. The idea here is an ideal Greek civilization on a continent called Atlantis, somewhere in the Atlantic that was somehow sunk into the sea, it disappeared. But it was one of one of the great civilizations. And, of course, as you know, there’s all kinds of books, movies, etc., about Atlantis. Now, where does this even come from? Well, Atlantis is first described in writing by Plato in a book called The Timaeus that he wrote in 360 BCE. Socrates is talking, but as we know, Plato fictionalizes Socrates’ language. So this is part of the description of Atlantis, this ideal civilization. “They despised everything but virtue…” (Now, those of you who have been following, along with Coffee and Wisdom, know that this virtue is the main good thing in Greek philosophy.) “…They despised everything but virtue, not caring for their present state of life, and thinking lightly on the possession of gold and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtuous friendship with one another, and that by excessive zeal for them, and honor of them, the good of them is lost, and friendship perishes with them.” So in Atlantis, the people put their priorities properly in the world, that is, friendship, goodwill and virtue are the good things. Money, luxury, gold. No, we don’t treasure those. Now you can see why this is an ideal situation. I think it’s probably fairly clear from the text itself that Plato doesn’t mean to say that Atlantis ever was real, even though it does appear to have been a legend from ancient days. But it’s really a utopia. It’s an ideal situation that we’re going to talk about as an ideal that we know that we no longer live up to. But the legend of Atlantis has kept going for many years now. We have to add this again to the idea that the most ancient wisdom is the best wisdom. And so we do know that there is the mystery cult of Isis that existed in Greece coming out of Egypt. And, of course, you see there the ankh, which is very important, as I will show in a little bit. And yes, we all know that those pyramids have long held great fascination for people. The Romans, too, knew that they were absolute masterpieces of architecture. Today, you can go into a bookstore and buy The Secrets of the Great Pyramid, The Secret Chamber of Osiris. You can learn how aliens built them, and all kinds of secret things about pyramids because they fascinate people today, just as they always have. They’re pretty fascinating things. Well, and I mentioned on Tuesday that there were several known mystery cults in Greece. One was Dionysus, the god of wine, who wouldn’t want to have a festival of wine? Later in the period was Mithraism. That was also a mystery cult that spread all over the Roman Empire. It was a cult that was big among Roman soldiers because Mithras was supposed to help with victory. A Cybele Cult, the Magna Mater, the great mother. Well, again, the feminine principle being very important in these mystery cults. The Sabazios Cult, also a female cult. Isis, again, out of Egypt. The Cabeiri Cult and then the Eleusinian Mysteries, that was the one that lasted the longest, was finally stamped out by Christianity when the Christians took over the Roman Empire. So all of these were floating around at one time or another. And there’s one more that I will mention in just a bit. Common Features of the Mystery Cults. Well, one thing is the rites were tied to the seasons. Another is that there was a revelation to early initiates about something about the god. Then the cult claimed some sort of victory over reality, either political or life after death, which becomes increasingly popular as the Roman Empire begins to decay. Then the cults focused on emotion, not on creed or theology. That’s why there’s not a lot of writing about these things. Yes, they were a mystery, but also they didn’t sit around talking about how angels dance on pins. They were about emotion. They were about festivals. And then the cults aimed at some sort of mystical experience or an epiphany at which one felt at one with the universe suddenly. Now, the meaning of the symbols then is revealed to the initiates. You’re going to be told that, oh, this cross means this. And then the initiates are asked to ponder the symbols. That is, you’re supposed to look at them and say, oh, I now I really understand what that symbol means. Then after some fasting and self-examination, the initiate dies to the old self. And yes, Christian baptism exactly follows into this pattern. And those who grew up Christian, yeah, you can see how the pattern of the mystery religions definitely becomes the pattern of Christianity. Scholars still debate which came first, the chicken or the egg, but it definitely is true that these follow that pattern. And then at the end, the deepest secret, usually in the form of sacred objects, is revealed, an epiphany! And suddenly the initiate lives enlightened life. And so there are degrees, there are categories of initiates, until you get into this inner sanctum, which would be a dark and scary place. And then the god is revealed. Well, what’s going on here? Well, one idea that people have long had is that there is some kind of primordial tradition or religion. Again, the ancients thought that ancient wisdom was the best kind of wisdom. And a lot of people still think that somewhere back there, there must have been some kind of truth that humanity understood that we don’t get anymore. That’s debatable, but it is very much part of a lot of traditions to say that there is this primordial idea out there about god, human life, the meaning of life, etc., and that then all contemporary human religions somehow flow back to this primordial truth. And so the Masons and the Rosicrucians, we have these ideas that they are somehow pulling together the threads of the truth of the various religions that go all the way back to something. Now, one of the secrets to all of these, and it becomes more important in medieval Europe, is the saying, “As above so below.” The idea of a cultism is that by studying the human and the natural world that we are currently in, we will see suddenly out into how the entire world works. So, you see here in my little slide, if you can see it, it says Microcosmos, right there, and that’s the person, the microcosm. Well, we’re going to go from the microcosm, the man, the person, all the way up to the macrocosm. And it’s all connected. At the bottom we have the human being, and then we have this spiritual world. And then we have a vegetable and mineral world. So suddenly we have animals, vegetables and minerals. And in these days, people are separated out from the idea of animal. And then we have above that something we can’t exactly see. We have Ignis, Terra, Aqua and Aer: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. We have the four elements there that are abstractions that lead to all the things that we see on the Earth. And then nature is above that. This is the nature that we study from natural law that the Roman Catholic Church began to talk about in the Middle Ages. And then above that, we have the all encompassing thing which is god or whatever, so as above, so below is the idea of alchemy and primordial religion, and they were going to think about these things. And you’re going to see that symbol in various forms as you go through any kind of these these mystery religions. Here is a picture painted in the early medieval period in which we have Bible verses written all over the walls and all kinds of ways to study these secrets to the universe. Well, I want to focus in on the Rosicrucians. The Masons, the Rosicrucians are a couple of groups that still survive today in various forms. We can’t say the Masons because there’s a bunch of different kinds of Freemasonry. We can’t say the Rosicrucians, although there is a particular American one. They trace their ideas back to three books that many scholars think were probably forgeries even at the time. But they came out in the 1600s. One was the Fame of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, the Rosicrucians. The Confessions of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, and then this Chemical Wedding. Many people think that this might be the first science fiction novel, by the way. It’s according to how seriously you want to take the Chemical Wedding that pretends to have been from 1459, but was actually written sometime in the 1600s, according to the evidence. But these three books come out in the 1600s, they’re very alchemical and then they are traced back in these contemporary mystery traditions. They must be true in some way, shape or form. In Rosicrucianism you see symbols like this all the time, circles being the whole, that is everything, the universe, all of reality, in the center is usually the human being. And then above that would be God or Jesus, and below that would be Satan, Lucifer, Hell, etc.. You enter into death and you’re going to go up or down as part of the idea here into the darkness at the bottom or into the light at the top. Now, what’s the secret there? Right. Well, again, the idea from Alchemy is that we live on a planet that reveals how the planet above operates. Yes, this is very much a Earth-centric belief system, you got to say. So the Rosicrucians do trace their their founding all the way back to the Egyptians. Certainly they do come out of the 1600s anyway. And Rosicrucian is Rosie Cross. The symbols of Rosicrucianism are based in ancient primordial religion. In the middle I have a pendant that you too can go to Etsy and buy. In it you will see an upside down pyramid or triangle, you will see a Christian cross and above it a circle that tells you that that cross is actually an ankh, that’s the Egyptian cross, that pretty clearly is the actual source of the Christian symbol for cross. And in Egyptian symbology, the ankh was the symbol for life itself. So we have triangles. We’ve studied before about the geometric understandings during this time period. And you too can join the Rosicrucians even today. They are a secret society, but you can sign up and go online to Rosicrucian.org/join and join up. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, you can go there also and watch some videos and read up on some material in which they’re going to tell you that Atlantis was true and that there is ancient wisdom that escaped Atlantis, went to Egypt, then went to Greece, then went to Rome and then went to Europe somewhere, usually Paris, and then got to the U.S. eventually. So that’s generally the way the contemporary mystery traditions will say these things operate. They do say on their website: “Our origins are Egyptian, Brahmanic, derived from the mysteries of Eleusis and Samothrace, the Magi of Persia, the Pythagoreans, and the Arabs.” All right. So those mysteries that I’ve talked about before, I did mentioned that there was one other one that’s not on the list, and that is the Samothrace Mystery. The reason it’s not on the list is it wasn’t a mystery, anyone could join. It was founded by Alexander the Great. He wanted everyone to get in the club, but some of the traditions gathered there were part of the traditions of other mystery religions. The Magi of Persia are supposed to be the three wise men. They would have been Zoroastrians. And then, yeah, we’ve got some mathematicians and then the Arabs keeping this Western tradition alive during the dark ages of Christianity. So that’s the claim that goes all the way back then to primordial religion. So what’s the big reveal? Well, we really don’t know. There’re some kind of symbols that will tell you how the universe works. The Gnostic Christians, for example, their big reveal was that the god who thinks he’s God is actually not God. He’s a confused god. And that’s why the world is really messed up. And some day, however, the real God will show up and the world will be just fine. And you, Mr. Christian Gnostic, need to realize this so that you can understand why the world is a bad place. But it all will work out in the end when the bad god is put in his place because he is actually Lucifer. So there you go. Big reveal, but yeah, mystery. We like it. It’s a it’s a cool thing for humanity. You can read lots about this online and it is a lot of fun to look into alchemical things and the hidden mysteries. But what’s the big mystery? Well, we humanists don’t tend to think there is very much mystical out there. I’ll be talking with you again next week. And we do have our assembly at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning Central Time. And we are now live on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:00 a.m. and at First Unitarian Society, “We aspire to make the change we need for a more just, compassionate, and peaceful world.” Thanks a lot and I’ll see you next Tuesday.