ORPHIC MYSTERIES [Orphic Mysteries] or Orphism, religious cult of
ancient Greece, prominent in the 6th cent. BC According to legend
Orpheus founded these mysteries
and was the author of the sacred poems from which the Orphic
doctrines were drawn. The rites were based on the myth of Dionysus
Zagreus, the son of Zeus and Persephone. When Zeus proposed to make
Zagreus the ruler of the universe, the Titans were so enraged that
they dismembered the boy and devoured him. Athena saved Zagreus'
heart and gave it to Zeus, who thereupon swallowed the heart (from
which was born the second Dionysus Zagreus) and destroyed the Titans
with lightning. From the ashes of the Titans sprang the human race,
who were part divine (Dionysus) and part evil (Titan). This double
aspect of human nature, the Dionysian and the Titanic, is essential
to the understanding of Orphism. The Orphics affirmed the divine
origin of the soul, but it was through initiation into the Orphic
Mysteries and through the process of transmigration that the soul
could be liberated from its Titanic inheritance and could achieve
eternal blessedness. Orphism stressed a strict standard of ethical
and moral conduct. Initiates purified themselves and adopted ascetic
practices (e.g., abstinence from eating animal flesh) for the
purpose of purging evil and cultivating the Dionysian side of the
Bibliography: See W. C.
Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion (rev. ed. 1953, repr.
Author not available, ORPHIC
MYSTERIES., The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
Copyright 2006 Columbia University Press