by Dr. Jean Houston
Since we are getting close to Easter I thought that the essential
ritual drama of the West would be an evocative way to explore ritual in
its mythic and profoundly psychological dimension.
In the story of Jesus the resurrection is the essential miracle, the
deepest mystery, and the greatest stumbling block. For us, it actually
has more validity, greater personal meaning and power. How dare I make
so blasphemous a statement? Easy. Consider it's history.
The miracle of the godded one who dies or is killed and comes back to
life has a long and extraordinary history in the myths and ritual
patterns of many cultures, most familiarly those of ancient Greece and
the ancient Near East. Isis searches for the scattered parts of her
husband, Osiris, binds them together and animates him to produce new
life; Demeter calls forth her daughter, Persephone, from her dwelling
place in the Kingdom of the Dead; Tammuz, Adonis, Dionysius all are
destroyed and all are remade.
In the Greco-Roman world these acts of resurrection were celebrated
in the Mystery Religions. These ecstatic forms of piety involved
dramatic, highly ritualized inward journeys of anguish, grief, loss,
resurrection, redemption, joy, and ecstasy. The Mystery Religions
provided the alienated individual lost in the nameless masses of the
Roman Empire with an intimate environment and community of the saved, in
which he counted as a real person and in which he found a deeper
identity. Identifying with the God-man or the Goddess-woman of the
mystery cult, the initiate died to the old self and was resurrected to
personal transfiguration and eternal life.
We know that in Egypt, Chaldea, Greece, and India the Mysteries
sometimes involved initiation rites in which sufficiently trained
neophytes were put into a three day death-like sleep by a hierophant or
priest. In the esoteric schools it was thought that in these states the
subtle body received the training it needed to impress upon the physical
body a new order of being. This process involved the temporary
surrender of the life spirit. There are even those who believe that
Lazarus was in a state of death-like sleep when Christ called him forth.
The resurrection story of Jesus differs radically from that of the
traditional mystery cult figures. By being historical, by living a human
existence in space and time, Jesus brought a new dimension, that of
human experience, to the trans personal and archetypal dimension of
God-Identity. Read More