W. Bro. D. McLaren, P.P.G.D. (Ches.).
Part 2
Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic
Research - 1929
After the expulsion of the Shepherd Kings, Egypt reached
the zenith of her power. Her armies fought successful wars
not only in Africa, but extended their victories to Asia and
Europe, while her navy is said to have reached India. But her
success was the cause of her undoing. Luxuriousness and
indolence took hold of her peoples, and she had to submit to
oppression under Ethiopia, until the priests elected to be
king one of their own number, Sethos, who brought back
peace to the land. On his death the land was divided into
several states; over the province at the mouth of the Nile
was a ruler, Psammetichus by name, who engaged Greek
mercenaries in his armies, and was sympathetic to Greek
emigrants, and the Greek language, which resulted in Egypt
becoming more and more under the sway of Greece.
After a short period of Persian domination, Alexander the
Great added Egypt to his immense dominion and founded
Alexandria 330 B.C. This became the focus of Hellenistic,
Egyptian, and Eastern ideas. Here was established the
famous library which was burnt down by the order of Caliph
Omar in 642 A.D. The Greeks ransacked the scientific,
literary, and mystical treasures of the East and South and
with the accession of numerous Jews fleeing from the
powers of Syria, Alexander developed a mystical kabbalism
that penetrated the whole eastern Mediterranean and was
known to St. Paul. What is more important than the
employment of Greek mercenaries in the armies of Egypt is
the fact that, in order to receive further learning, Egypt was
visited by so many of Greece's greatest teachers and
philosophers, either, like Thales, who had no other teachers
and was the first Greek to go to Egypt for instruction from the
priests, or, like Pythagorus, Democrates, Anaxagorus,
Eudoxus, Plato, Euclid, Archimedes, to add to their learning
by becoming pupils of the priests.
But gradually Rome became in the ascendant. In 200 B.C.
Egypt first entered the arena of Roman politics. Speaking of
this period Livy makes use of a peculiar expression when he
says he feels as though he were carried into a bottomless
sea. Some see in this a reference to the fact that the sun
entered the Sign of Pisces a little before 200 B.C. Moreover,
at this date (i.e. about 250 B.C.), civilisation began to hide
itself in symbolism and secret societies and that is why some
of the knowledge enshrined in the Greek mysteria and
Roman Collegia passed into the Christian Church and the
New Testament, so quietly, and is still so little recognised
there. St. Paul says that he was " a Stewart of the
Mysteries." About 30 B.C. Augustus imposed Rome's
Imperium on the fertile province of Cleopatra.
This knowledge acquired in Egypt became the common
possession of the pupils who sat at the feet of these doctors
of Egyptian philosophy. Facts show clearly a contact
between Egypt and Greece lasting some 1500 years.
In addition, Greek tradition fixes the foundation of Tyre and
Sidon by Phoenix from Thebes, in Egypt, the foundation of
Athens by Cecrops, from Sais, in Egypt, of Thebes in Central
Greece by Cadmus, from Egyptian Thebes, and of Argos by
Danaus from Libya about 1582 B.C.
Tradition refers the institution of the Greek Mysteries to
Orpheus or Dionysus whose legendary date I believe to be
1600 B.C. The chief of these, the Eleusinian Mysteries in
Attica, was said to have been imported by King Erechtheus,
who in a time of scarcity, like Jacob's sons, sought corn for
his country in Egypt, and to have been instituted according
to the writers, Diodorus and Isocrates, by order of Demeter,
the Great Mother, herself.
Historically, it would seem that the mysteries were
re-established, consequent upon the invasion of Greece,
about 1000 years B.C., by fierce Dorian tribes from the
north. Greek and Phoenician colonies began to intermingle
as early as 700 B.C., perhaps earlier, and Greece's great
struggle against Persia at Marathon, 490 B.C., is evidence of
much connection with the East via the Ionian Islands and
Asia Minor. Certainly from the fifth century B.C., the Egyptian
Trinity of Isis, Osiris and Horus, were represented in Greece
by Demeter, Dionysus and Apollo respectively.
It is not to be assumed that Greek initiates, though they took
vows of secrecy, were as uncommunicative, in their best
period, to the educated world, as were the Egyptians. Such a
babbling race, as gave democratic ideas to Europe, was well
able to throw out hints, before the dark hand of pagan Rome
made secret societies dangerous; and as a matter of fact,
the Eleusinian schools were open to all free men,
indiscriminately, and included the most distinguished
statesmen and philosophers of the 5th and 4th centuries
B.C. Egypt is almost certainly the home of mysteries, but the
Greeks imparted to their representations a measure of art
and beauty.
The public observances of the initiates consisted of
sacrificial ceremonies (orgia) and purifications to avoid some
calamity in this life ; but private and personal purifications
were enioined. against danger in a life to come. At Athens,
violation of the mysteries was indictable under the
jurisdiction of the Archon or chief magistrate with a jury of
initiates. The mysteries celebrated were those of Zeus in
Crete, Hera in Argolis, Athene and Dionysus (i.e. Bacchus)
in Athens, Artemis (i.e. Diana) in Arcadia, Hecate in AEgina ;
and those of the Cabiri in Samothrace. But by far the most
famous, and the only ones with which I shall deal, were
those at Attica in honour of Demeter and Persephone,
mother and daughter. These were considered most holy and
venerable throughout Greece, and laid hold on the popular
imagination as did no worship of the Olympians. The
Homeric Hymn to Demeter tells us that Demeter, sister and
wife of Zeus, had a daughter Persephone, whom Hades
(God of the Unseen) carried off while she gathered flowers in
the Nvsian Plains in Asia Minor. Demeter, Mother of Earth,
and Goddess of the Seedtime and Harvest, now cut off fruits
from men till Zeus sent Mercury, his winged messenger, to
Hades, to recover Persephone on condition that she had
eaten nothing in the Kingdom of Hades. But Hades, that very
morning, had caused her to eat some grains of a
pomegranate. Hence, she still spends one half of the year
with Hades and one half only in the upper air.
Latin poets placed the seizure of Persephone in the
Ashphodel Meadows of Sicilian Enna.
This legend has a wonderful fascination, and if it can be said
to enshrine any divine truth it would be that of a divine
mother and daughter, a feminine counterpart of the Christian
father and son; the daughter also "descending into hell" till
rescued by the son in the form of the word (Mercury). Now I
think that all religions, anciently, were based on prophecy of
a divine feminine revelation. To the ancients, a goddess
mother was no difficulty. Demeter, Cybele, Isis, Magna
Mater, and the Virgin Mother are all akin : and only
Protestants in cold Latitudes would see anything strange in a
"Jerusalem, Mother of us all." However that may be, the
worship of Demeter and Persephone was of Catholic
acceptance in Greece and by numerous testimonies was of
a moralising and uplifting nature. This is borne witness to by
the Greek writers, Pindar, Sophocles, Isocrates, Plutarch,
and Plato. The mysteries were of two kinds, the Lesser and
the Greater. Both kinds included spectacles as grand and
impressive as painting, sculpture, music, and dancing could
make them. The priests were called kerukes or heralds. The
lesser Eleusinia were held at Agrae, on the Ilissus Stream, in
honour of the daughter, Persephone, alone.
Only Barbarians were excluded. The initiated were named
Mystae and they had to wait a year before admittance to the
greater mysteries. The candidate took and washed a sow,
then sacrificed it, symbolising that he purposed not to "
return like a sow to his wallowing in the mire." He was then
sprinkled with water by a priest (Hydranos) and a
Mystagogus, (Hierophant or Prophet) administered an oath
of secrecy. He was not admitted at once to Demeter's
Shrine, but remained during subsequent instruction in the
porch or vestibule. Aristotle, however, asserts that no
instruction was given to the Mystae but that while in a state
of receptivity-a psychic state-their emotions and character
were acted upon, The rape of Persephone having taken
place in the winter, the lesser mysteries were held in
The greater mysteries were held annually for nine days in
September, Athens being thronged with visitors from all
parts. The first day was that of assembling. On the second, a
solemn "Pomp" or procession wended its way to the coast
with the cry "Mystae, to the sea," and purificatory rites were
performed. The third day was a day of fasting. In the evening
a frugal meal was taken of sesame and honey, and
sacrifices offered of fish and barley. Some maintain that
there was a nine days' fast. On the fourth a procession
displayed the "Sacred Things of Demeter," including
pomegranates and poppy seeds in a basket. The fifth day
became famous. The Mystae, led by torch bearer, went in ,
the dark evening with torches to the Temple of Demeter at
Eleusis to search (in imitation of her) for Persephone.
Claudian gives a poetic picture of the shores and Bay of
Eleusis, lit up by a myriad lamps in the gloom. They
remained all night. The sixth day was sacred to Iacchus, son
of Demeter, the Bacchus or Dionysus "Lord of Earth." His
statue was carried along the sacred road amid joyous shouts
: 30,000 spectators was nothing uncommon. In the night of
the sixth and seventh the Mystae were initiated into the
greater mysteries and became " Seers " (Epoptae), " Seers
of Future Things," as St. Paul says, using the same word. In
the lighted sanctuary they were shown (Autopsy) what none
but Epoptae ever saw - a dramatic representation to the
accompaniment of ancient hymns of the death and
resurrection of the Holy Child, Iacchus and of the life of the
gods. These mystic sights are described as divinely
ineffable. On the same night, they performed a sacrament
with the words, " I have fasted and I have drunk the Kukeon.
I have taken from the chest. After tasting I have deposited in
the basket and from the basket into the chest." The words of
dismissal were "konx ompax." On the seventh day they
returned to Athens with happy jests, in imitation of those with
which the sorrows of Demeter had been lightened. " A
mystical drama," says Clement of Alexandria. Athletic games
were held, the prize being a full corn in the ear. On the
eighth were initiated those who were unable to be present on
the sixth. The ninth was the day of full cups. Two cups were
filled with water or wine and the contents were thrown, one
to the east, and one to the west. These Eleusinian mysteries
long survived the independence of Greece. The general
belief of the ancients was that they opened a comforting
prospect of a future life. The most Holy and perfect of the
rites was to show an ear of corn mowed down in silence.
One can not but think of the text, " Except a corn of wheat
fall to the ground and die." In my opinion it is certain that the
mysteries were, in a measure, a "praeparatio evangelica" for
had I time I could indicate very much mystery phraseology in
the Epistles and Book of Revelations.
Gradually, the Egyptian gods, notwithstanding fierce
persecution raged for a time against their worshippers,
ousted the old religion of Rome, until its Emperors were
found filling their houses with the Egyptian Gods and
building temples to them in the public parks of Rome, while
soldiers of the Sixth Legion indulged in Isiac worship in York.
And so it comes, as Dill, in his " Roman Society " says: "The
scenes which were so common at Rome, or Pompeii, or
Corinth, the procession of shaven, white-robed priests and
acolytes marching to the sound of chants and barbaric
music, with the sacred images and symbols of a worship
which had been cradled on the Nile ages before the time of
Romulus . . . . . . were reproduced in the remote villages on
the edge of the Sahara and the Atlantic, in the valleys of the
Alps or the Yorkshire dales."
I highly venerate the Masonic Institution, under the fullest persuasion
that, when its principles are acknowledged and its laws and precepts
obeyed, it comes nearest to the Christian religion, in its moral effects
and influence, of any institution with which I am acquainted.