See Holy Coat.


I. Tribal Mysteries.
Definitions (§ 1).
Basal Factors (§ 2).
Developments of Tribal Societies (§ 3).
Social Character (§ 4).
Magical Fraternities (§ 5).
The "Men's House" (§ 6).
Methods of Initiation (§ 7).
Educational Value (§ 8).
Influence on Social Development (§ 9).
II. Cultic Mysteries.
1. The Eleusinia.
Greek Religious Background (§ 1).
Origin of the Eleusinia (§ 2).
Estimates of the Eleusinia (§ 3).
The Kore Myth (§ 4).
Lesser Mysteries (§ 5).
Greater Mysteries; Initial Ceremonies (§ 6).
The Mysteries Proper (§ 7).
Essentials and Sacra (§ 8).
Officials (§ 9).
Significance (§ 10).
2. Dionysiac-Orphic Mysteries.
Character of Dionysiac Celebration (§ 1).
Significance of Orpheus (§ 2).
Orphie Teachings (§ 3).
Summary (§ 4).

I. Tribal Mysteries:

1. Definitions.

A mystery is defined by Miss Jane Ellen Harrison (Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, p. 151, 2d ed., Cambridge, 1908) as "a rite in which certain sacra are exhibited which can not be safely seen by the worshiper till he has undergone certain purifications." This holds true both for tribal and cultic mysteries. Primitive peoples restrain non-initiates from sight of sacra for the reasons that such sight is a breach of taboo which (they suppose) would bring evil on the tribe, and punish such breach in order to expurgate the crime and relieve the tribe of the onus of guilt and the evil consequences supposed to result from the transgression. By tribal mysteries are meant those rites of initiation of boys (and in some regions of girls) at the time of reaching manhood (or womanhood) into the rights of adultship as conceived by the tribe, together with the later developments, coming with advance in civilization,


into tribal and magical fraternities. By cultic mysteries are meant the more advanced organizations which found place, e.g., in Greece and the Roman Empire and are best exemplified by the Eleusinian, Dionysiac (Bacchic), and Orphic celebrations. The reason for treating these together will be found from the discussion which follows to rest upon an actual genetic relationship and upon a real resemblance in aim, allowance being made for the difference in the grade of culture reached. The reason for discussing the subject at all is its fundamental importance not only in religion but in society, these institutions having had much to do with molding the social, ethical, and religious life of the peoples among which they have existed.

2. Basal Factors.

The two bases in nature of the institution here called tribal mysteries are (1) the ineffaceable distinction of sex, the female being almost universally regarded in primitive society as the inferior and therefore limited in natural privileges; and (2) the distinction, effaceable by age, of the boy from the man, the former being classed in society with the women. Initiation marks the formal separation of the boy from social classification with women and from tutelage by them, together with release from the disabilities which that classification imposes and the assumption of the rights and duties of manhood, or, at any rate, the taking of the first steps toward that assumption. But among primitive peoples in probably most cases the distinction between man and boy not being regarded as erased by age alone, ceremonial must come to the aid of nature. An unitiated male, even though aged, is classed with the women and rests under their tribal disabilities (A. W. Howitt, Native Tribes of South-Eastern Australia, p. 530, London, 1904). It is quite in accordance with primitive logic that the ceremonial should have the two characteristics of secrecy and an ordeal. The change from boyhood to manhood involves the power to procreate, and before the mystery of new life the savage stands in awe. It is in his mind related with the power of spirits, therefore within the realm of religion; the favor of these spirits and the successful use of the powers of manhood depend upon a certain correctness of procedure, hence it comes within the domain also of primitive magic. In both of these regions there rule the ideas which under the Romans came to be expressed as sacra and profana, involving the participation in certain rites by definite classes and the exclusion from them of other classes. Because of the assumed inferiority of the women, on account of their natural disabilities as conceived by primitive logic, they and all who were classed with them could not participate in or even witness the ceremonial which began the transformation of the boy into the man. The adult males alone were possessed of knowledge of the means by which aspirants to adult male rights could attain those rights, or, to express the idea in other words, could become members of the tribe in full standing, sharing by favor of the spirits in its government and in such duties as fell to the men. Hence it was the initiated adult males and the candidates alone who might be present either to participate in or to witness the initiation, and in many cases only the elders, those retired from such services as fighting and the like, conducted the ceremonies: Further, because the initiation marked the admission of the candidate to manhood with its responsibilities, the rites most often assumed the character of an ordeal which aimed to test his qualifications for the rank to which he aspired. Once more, because the successful passing of the ordeal involved ultimate eligibility to marriage, rites were performed looking to the married state, such as Circumcision and sometimes subincision.

3. Developments of Tribal Societies.

It follows directly from the foregoing that the tribe divides into two broad sections, the initiated (males) and the women and non-initiates. The former constitute what is to all intents and purposes a secret society. Secrecy is enforced by a series of taboos, the breach of which involves severe penalties. Thus over a wide area including Australia the sight of a bullroarer1 by a woman subjects her to death. The matter which is kept secret varies with the tribe, but may be described in general terms as the rites of initiation and the methods of performing them, including the masks, disguises of the performers, the dances, and the songs which constitute part of the ceremonies, as well as the traditional significance of them all. The broad division of tribal members into two classes gives place as social order advances into a more complex system which works out in three ways: (1) It may split up into societies in which there are various degrees with admission from one to another and rising in importance and prestige. The basal distinction here is age; but the number of degrees or other distinguishing characteristics varies with the tribe or people. The influence of the individual in the tribe generally depends upon his advancement through and status in the various grades. (2) On the other hand, the society may become intertribal, like the totem gens, and the occasion of initiation, often becoming stated, is an affair not of a single tribe alone, but of the initiates and candidates of the several tribes thus affiliated. The effect of this in the direction of social development will be seen at once. It is wholly natural that at such assemblages intertribal matters be discussed, occasions of dispute be talked over, and that causes that might lead to war, to say nothing of individual differences, may be so considered as to lead to complete pacification. At such times an intertribal peace prevails under penalty of death for its breach. The immediate consequences are a decided advance in social structure and ethical well-being. (3) The third method of development is into what may be described as the magical fraternity, the total results


of which are often the reverse of good in their effects upon the social organization.

4. Social Character.

The initiations being of moment to the tribe, they are celebrated as occasions of festivity which appeal to every initiated member. The materials for the festivities are provided in part by the fathers of the candidates, in part by the tribe at large. As culture advances, the number of the initiated comes to be less than all the males of the tribe. In the case where centralization of power in the hands of the chief has not developed, where the government is rather by elders, the ideal fostered by the mysteries is strongly that of fidelity to the tribe as represented by the elders, who conduct the ceremonies in the presence of the initiates. Where centralization has occurred, a less democratic organization may arise, various secret societies may form, more or less limited in membership and with different demands for qualification on the part of aspirants to membership. In these cases the ceremonies may grow in complexity and impressiveness, and the religious element is often more stressed, so that these become largely the guardian of religion. In such a situation puberty ceremonies become more curtailed and do not carry with them membership in the societies. These more aristocratic organizations involve not universal obligation, as do the moat primitive type, but special privilege, the obtaining of which requires not only the suffrage of members, but also no slight expenditure, which in turn secures such a degree of consideration in the tribe as seems quite commensurate with the difficulty and expense attendant. The performance of the rites still required at puberty devolves upon the higher grades in the societies, each of which grades has its own ceremony of initiation possibly performed at considerable intervals. Entrance into these, therefore, becomes a desideratum to the ambitious. Where this stage of civilization is reached, the separation of the boy from his parents may take place at as early an age as five years, and the course of instruction and service to the tribe may last till he is forty or till his father dies and he enters upon his inheritance. In the tribal societies the simplicity and naiveté of primitive faith dies, and self-seeking enters in with an almost inevitable duplicity and deceit, advancing to extortion and governing by oppression and even murder, as in the interior of Africa. In cases not a few the tribal society becomes a means of perpetuating the power of the elders and of securing for them an easy support in their old age. Necessarily, the conditions described in the preceding paragraphs tend to die out with progress in culture, the mysteries may come to be no secret, and the proscribed classes may obtain admission at any rate as witnesses. Among the North American Indians, who are in this stage, the institution of initiation has as its central feature the lonely puberty watch of the candidate, who under the stress of fasting and mental effort dreams of an animal or spirit which thus becomes his guardian genius. Still, the fraternities which are associated with this stage evidently often perpetuate the principal religious beliefs and cere monies of earlier conditions.

5. Magical Fraternities.

With the belief in the virtue of magic invariable among primitive peoples, it is not strange that magical fraternities should form about the rites of initiation, and that the ceremonies should not seldom come to have association with the purpose of securing success in hunting and agriculture. One of the fundamental ideas of initiation is correctness of one's status with respect to marriage (and therefore the obtaining of progeny). In primitive logic the step from this end to consideration of the means of living is a short one. Mimetic magic is resorted to for success in various undertakings, as in the buffalo dance of the Indians (G. Catlin, Report of Smithsonian Institution for 1885, ii. 309-311, Washington, 1886). And as deceased ancestors are supposed to have power for good or ill in the directions of increase of progeny and of the fruits of the chase and of toil, it is not strange that societies form around the cult of ancestors. In many societies the dead are regarded as members still active though unseen. Such organizations, in this way bound to the past yet actively interested in present welfare, become repositories of tradition, creators of secret ritual, and protectors of such rude poetic art as exists under such conditions. On the other hand, they may and do degenerate and become the centers of orgies and practises too horrible to describe, especially in Africa, where the worst results of this species of domination are found. In short, the phenomena attending the initiation into the mysteries among primitives illustrate both the noblest and the meanest qualities of humanity. They have contributed both to the uplift and to the degeneration of peoples, and exhibit the lofty and worthy aspirations of man as well as his most lamentable failings.

6. The "Men's House:"

In the most primitive conditions and when tribes are migratory, no exact location other than some place apart from the tribal camp is fixed for the ceremonies. In these circumstances it is usual for the bachelors and boys to camp apart from the place where the families are settled for the time being. The rites are in a still more retired location, guarded from intrusion by the noise of the bull-roarer or other instrument, the sound of which indicates that the ceremonies are in progress. Where settled habitations are the rule, the separation of the sexes already referred to has brought about in many communities the establishment of the "men's house." This is usually the most conspicuous structure in the place, and admission to it is denied to the non-initiates, or at least to those not eligible to initiation. There the unmarried males may live, or at the most sleep; their separation from the women necessitating nonparticipation in family life. This house becomes the center and locus of the mysteries, and as development proceeds, societies and fraternities make it their home. With the multiplication of fraternities, there may be several of these houses in a community. This house serves the purpose also of council house, may answer the uses of the modern club, or may even become the center of defense in case of attack. Celebrations take place in or before it, and


to it news is brought which is of importance to the tribe. The area where the "men's house" is known to have existed within the modern period is essentially conterminous with the regions inhabited by primitive peoples in Asia, Oceanica, the New World, and rarely in Australia.

7. Methods of Initiation.

Inasmuch as the reason for the existence of the mysteries is in general the induction of the pubescent youth into the rights and proper manner of performing the duties of manhood, there is involved preparation for marriage in certain ways deemed necessary by peoples in that stage of civilization. The particular methods depend upon the traditions, usages, and ideas of the tribe, group of tribes, or people. The practises that prevail imply two salient ideas: (1) the ordeal, in volving much of severe pain, physical and mental, and suffering that may and sometimes does ter minate fatally, while successful passing of the trial establishes the right of the candidate to admission to the ranks of warriors, or at least to such instruction as will fit him for that status; (2) instruction in the manner of performing the duties, religious and social, which the new position involves. Very often the ordeal involves mutilations which are permanent, and supposedly may serve the triple purpose of marks that prove the fact of initiation and the right to manhood's privileges, of testing the aspirant's courage and power to endure pain without complaint and even with indifference, and in the most common rite (that of circumcision) of fitting the candidate for the duties of marriage. At the time of initiation the boys are taken from the women and girls, occasionally assuming a particular garb indicative of their candidateship. They are conducted to the men's encampment or men's house (see above, § 6); in some cases the surrender of the boys by the women is the occasion of ceremonies that are dramatic and impressive, and emphasize the new status to which the boys aspire. After their separation the boys are instructed by precept and often by ceremonial, are told that they have passed from childhood and its ways, and that their place is henceforth with the men, from whom they are to receive the lessons in war or hunting or other duties which are to make them worthy members of society. The novice after initiation is supposed to be a new being. Quite generally his death and resurrection are dramatically represented. In the light of more developed institutions it is evident that this ceremonial is a crude way of expressing purification; the fundamental notion is not altogether foreign to the Pauline idea "dead to sin" (Rom. vi. 2). It is not impossible that under hypnotic influence the candidate actually believes that he has died and come again to life. The women either hold this belief or feign it. The candidates are daubed with filth, mud, powder, or gypsum, and the removal of this is symbolic of the casting off of that which had separated them from the full measure of manhood. Sometimes they are believed to pass away and to be reborn. Indeed, it is often startling to find the very arcana of Christianity an ticipated in the rites and beliefs and even the words of Australian or primitive American savages. The period of seclusion varies from a few days to a year, often on scanty, even repulsive, rations. The fact of the new birth or resurrection is signalized by the reception of a new and (it may be) secret name (this feature continues in the cultic mysteries; cf. also Rev. ii. 17 and often, for that book lays great emphasis upon the new name), and even by acquiring a new and mystic language. The initiates may pretend that they have lost all their former stock of knowledge. Over a large area, besides the mutilations already named, depilation, tattooing, painting, boring of nose, lip, or ear, loss of one or more teeth (generally incisors), scorching by fire, drinking of blood, or heavy floggings may serve as accompaniments. Especially is much made of the exhibition of certain paraphernalia, such as the instruments of noise and certain symbolic articles which vary in different surroundings, but may not be spoken of in mixed company.

8. Educational Value.

The instruction during the period of seclusion is in general, even among the rudest tribes, of a character which must astonish by its salutariness those who suppose that with a high grade of civilization alone are developed the moralities, especially those concerning sex and property. Altogether outside of what pertains to every-day necessities (which in this type of society include besides the ways of obtaining food by hunting and fishing, as well as its preparation, also the art and methods of war), there is the education of the boys in conduct toward women which is not a whit lower than is involved by standards of sexual morality in "enlightened" lands. By inculcation of sheer self-control a restraint upon indulgence is achieved which more pretentious grades of culture accomplish only through the seclusion of women. And the task of self-control is made the more difficult because of the system of taboo and the restrictions imposed by the rules which complicate the ideas of relationship and prevent intermarriage between certain classes within the tribe. So the candidate receives instruction regarding the choice of a wife which may legally be made, and is charged to keep strictly within those lines. He is cautioned against promiscuity and unchastity (though in a few regions the period of initiation is followed by a sort of orgy). He is taught the necessity of obedience to the elders, of fidelity to tribal obligations, is instructed in the geography of the tribal possessions and the necessity in the public interest of remaining within the tribal boundaries. The qualities of truthfulness, justness, honesty, generosity, kindness to the weak, filial regard, courage, good judgment are enjoined, while even the principle of eugenics from the viewpoint of tribal advantage is emphasized. Fidelity to the tribe is urged through the impartation of its history and its relations with other tribes, and the native games, songs, and dances (having religious purport); the secrets and obligations of the system of totems and taboos are also communicated. Through the advice coming from the elders around the camp-fire after the daily labors are ended, the admiration and regard of the youth are won, the feeling of brotherhood is fostered, and a sobering effect is produced. So pronounced are these effects


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there was evidence of a dissatisfaction with the state religion, a waking of the soul to life and of a desire for nobler things, which was in a manner met by the acceptance and symbolic interpretation of primitive performances. In this movement the mysteries described above had the leading part. But other secret cults in considerable numbers had their vogue, some merely local, others (like those of the Great Mother) pervasive, and still others the invention of mountebanks, intent upon using the trend of things in the religious world to their own advantage. Of the first and second, part were associated with the deities already named. Others, like the Pythagorean and Isiac, were on a different basis. But together the effect upon religion was profound, and was by no means unfelt in Christianity (cf. G. Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen in seinem Einfluss auf das Christentum, Göttingen, 1894; E. H. Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, London, 1890). Greek tragedians and philosophers were hardly less under the spell of these performances and ideas. So that the mysteries, tribal and cultic, are among the forces the vast effects of which are only now beginning to be appreciated.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: For tribal mysteries incomparably the best works for the student are those which deal with the life of savages in different lands, compiled by competent observers. Among the best and indispensable works of this kind are: L. Fison and A. W. Howitt, Kamilaroi and Kurnai, Melbourne, 1880; R. H. Codrington, Melanesian Studies, London, 1891; A. Hamilton, Maori Art, Wellington, 1896; B. Spencer and F. J. Gillen; Native Tribes of Central Australia, London, 1899; idem, Northern Tribes of Central Australia, ib. 1904; F. H. Cushing, Zuni Folk Tales, New York, 1902; W. H. Furness, Borneo Head Hunters, London, 1902; A. W. Howitt, Native Tribes of South-East Australia, ib. 1904; Mrs. K. L. Parker, Euahlayi Tribe, ib. 1905; and the Reports and Bulletins of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. The material has been brought together in two books of the highest value: H. Schurtz, Altersklassen und Münnerbunde, Berlin, 1902; and H. Webster, Primitive Secret Societies, a Study in Early Politics and Religion, New York, 1908 (an excellent handbook on the subject). Consult further: E. B. Tylor, in Journal of Anthropological Studies, xxviii (1898), 145 sqq.; idem, Primitive Culture, new ed., London, 1903; J. G. Frazer, Golden Bough, iii. 422-445, ib. 1900; E. Crawley, Mystic Rose, pp. 215-223, 270-314, New York, 1902; G. S. Hall, Adolescence, ii. 232-260, ib. 1904.

On Greek Mysteries the work of Miss Harrison cited so frequently in the text is of prime importance, adducing evidence which is frequently unique. Consult further: C. A. Lobeck, Aglaophamus, Regensburg, 1829 (indispensable for the collection of materials from the classics); L. Preller, Demeter und Persephone, Hamburg, 1837; idem, Griechische Mythologie, ed. C. Robert, Berlin, 1894; F. Lenormant, Monographic de la voie sacriée eleusinienne, Paris, 1864; idem, in Contemporary Review, 1880, i. 847 sqq., ii. 119 sqq., 412 sqq.; A. Mommsen, Heortologie, Leipsic, 1864; C. Strube, Ueber den Bilderkreis von Eleusis, Leipsic, 1870; C. S. Wake, Evolution of Morality, ii., chap. vi., London, 1878; W. Mannhardt, Mythologische Forschungen, Strasburg, 1884; H. Junker, Die Studenwachen in den Osirismysterien nach den Inschriften von Dendera, Edfu, und Philae, Vienna, 1890; L. Dyer, Gods in Greece, pp. 174-218, London, 1891; P. Gardner, New Chapters in Greek Hist., ib. 1892; H. Rubensohn, Die Mysterienheiligtümer in Eleusis und Samothrace, Berlin, 1892; A. Dieterich, Nekyia, Leipsic, 1893 (important); P. Foucart, Recherches sur l'origine et la nature des mysteres d'Eleusis, Paris, 1895 (of very considerable value); E. Maass, Orpheus, Munich, 1895; D. Philios, Eleusis, ses mystères, ses ruines, et son musee, Athens, 1896, Eng. transl., Eleusis, her Mysteries, Ruins, and Museum, London, 1906 (the treatment of the mysteries is rather superficial); T. Mommsen, Die Feste der Stadt Athen, Leipsic, 1898; A. Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, i. 270 sqq., ii. 286 sqq., London, 1899; idem, Homeric Hymns, pp. 55-100, 183-210, ib. 1899; G. D'Alviella, in RHR, xlvi (1902), nos. 2 and 3, xlvii (1903), nos. 1 and 2; idem, Eleusinia, Paris, 1903; E. Rohde, Psyche, 3d ed., Tübingen, 1902(indispensable); O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte, Munich, 1906; R. Reitzenstein, Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligion, ihre Grundgedanken und Wirkungen, Leipsic, 1910; F. Cumont, Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, Chicago, 1911; Ersch and Gruber, Encyklopädie, I., xxxiii. 268-298, lxxxii. 219-380.

1 A bull-roarer is a piece of wood carved in the shape of an elongated rhomboid or modification of that form, attached by one end to a string, and swung rapidly around the head by the string, producing a peculiar and very penetrating sound. It was used by the Greeks and by them called a rhombus. The sound made by this instrument is often the signal that puberty rites are being or are about to be celebrated and that the profane are to remain at a distance and out of sight. The exhibition of the instrument is usually an invitation or a command to attend the ceremonies.


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