Category Archives: Pagan

Greek & Roman Mythology – The Eleusinian Mysteries

 

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Oracles and Mysteries: Mankind has been the victims of oracles and mysteries, and preteneded conjurors, and what they have chosen to call ‘wise men’ from the beginning of time.

Excerpt from from The Covenant Volume 2 by James  Ridgely published in 1843

The Eleusinian Mysteries

The mysteries of Isis, and the Eleusinian mysteries, were kept up by subterranean caverns, so constructed as to throw strange images before the eyes of the initiated, by means of moveable lights, and by tubes conveying strange sounds, when they were in darkness, to frighten them. Every one can tell how busy the imagination is when we are a little alarmed for our safety. These strange sounds, persons accompanying those about to be initiated, were allowed to hear, and sometimes they saw flashes of strange lights. There can be no doubt but that some of these ceremonies were awfully imposing. The higher orders unquestionably understood the whole thing, but the lower did not.

From the whole concurrent testimony of ancient history, we must believe that the Eleusinian mysteries were used for good purposes, for there is not an instance on record that the honour of an initiation was ever obtained by a very bad man. The hierophants; the higher priests of the order; were always exemplary in their morals, and became sanctified in the eyes of the people. The high-priesthood of this order in Greece was continued in one family, the Eumolpidae, for ages. In this they resembled both the egyptians and the Jews.

The Eleusinian mysteries in Rome took another form, and were called the rites of Bona Dea; but she was the same Ceres that was worshipped in Greece. All the distinguished Roman authors speak of these rites, and in terms of profound respect. Horace denounces the wretch who should attempt to reveal the secrets of these rites; Virgil mentions these mysteries with great respect; and Cicero alludes to them with a greater reverence than either of the poets we have named. Both the Greeks and Romans punished any insult offered to these mysteries with the most persevering vindictiveness. Alcibiades was charged with insulting these religious rites; and although the proof of his offence was quite doubtful, yet he suffered for it for years in exile and misery; and it must be allowed that he was the most popular man of his age.

These mysteries were continued until some time after the days of Constantine, in the sixth century, when they were prohibited. Sad stories have been conjured up to give importance to the Egyptian mysteries, but no one has attempted to throw any dark shade over those of Greece or Rome. The philosopher will readily believe that there was nothing supernatural in any of their mysteries; and all may set it down as a fact, that the initiated never pretended to any thing like a commerce with the inhabitants of the invisible world. They unquestionably often assumed to possess wondrous powers and great secrets; but this was only a means of keeping knowledge from becoming too common; and this was an error which lasted for ages, even down to our times.

Excerpt from from The Covenant Volume 2 by James  Ridgely published in 1843

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Further Reading and External Links

www.eleusinianmysteries.org/

 

Santa Claus and St Nicholas

 

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Old years have been – new years have been – and fleeted away, since the first brave Father Christmas came and caroll’d at the door.  He always found a cheerful cup and a jesting word to say, and a thousand fervent wishes – he deserves a thousand more.

The excerpt below is from the book – The Life Story of Father Christmas by Sarah A Tooley in the English Illustrated Magazine December 1905

The Good Bishop St Nicholas

Santa Claus began his career as the good Bishop St. Nicholas, and doubtless considers that he scores heavily over Father Christmas by having a recorded history.  St. Nicholas was born of wealthy parents, in the City of Patara, in Asia Minor, and gave evidence that he was not an ordinary child by standing upright in his bath, immediately after his birth. He appears to have known nothing of original sin, for such was his infantile piety, that on fast days he declined the natural nourishment offered by his mother.  Of course he entered the Church, and became a bishop.

For many years he ruled over the See of Myra, and by several miraculous deeds on behalf of young people, became known as the special benefactor of children. There are several versions of the famous miracle he performed in raising three boys to life.  One relates that a wealthy gentleman sent his two sons to Myra to pay their respects to the good Bishop Nicholas.  As the youths arrived late in the city they went to an inn for the night, intending to call on the bishop next morning.  During the night they were murdered by the landlord, in order to secure their belongings, and he concealed their bodies in a pickling tub.

St. Nicholas saw in a vision what had taken place, and, crozier in hand, went to the inn.  The landlord confessed his crime, and the bishop, on being shown the pickling tub, waved his hand over it, and the boys hopped out alive, none the worse for their adventure.

Although two boys are mentioned in this story, the representations of St. Nicholas performing the miracle invariably show three.  There is a picture over the altar of the Church of St. Nicholas, in Ghent, in which the bishop, in full robes, stands with uplifted forefinger beside a tub, in which the three boys, restored to life, are praising him with uplifted hands.  There is a similar representation in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

One of a more gruesome character appears in the Salisbury Missal of 1534, in which a butcher man is shown in the act of chopping the limb of one of the unfortunate boys, while under the table is seen the pickle tub, in which the three boys have been brought to life by St. Nicholas, who stands over them.  This latter picture illustrates another version of the legend which has been described in doggerel verse, and is the favourite with children.

Excerpt from the English Illustrated Magazine – 1905

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Further Reading and External Links

The History of Santa Claus and Father Christmas

Saturnus – The Roman God of Christmas

 

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In the spirit of the season we are highlighting some of the books in our library that have a Christmas theme, whether it be Mythology, ancient customs or traditions, or actual events that took place – with excerpts from personal diaries and logs.  We begin with the Roman god Saturnus and the festival Saturnalia often associated with the Christian feast of Christmas.

Saturnus – The Roman God of Christmas – Saturnalia

SaturnusSATURNUS – According to the popular belief of the Romans, made his first appearance in Italy at a time when Janus was reigning king of the fertile region that stretches along the banks of the Tiber on either side. Presenting himself to Janus, and being kindly received, he proceeded to instruct the subjects of the latter in agriculture, gardening, and many other arts then quite unknown to them: as, for example, how to train and nurse the vine, and how to tend and cultivate fruit-trees.  By such means he at length raised the people from a rude and comparatively barbarous condition to one of order and peaceful occupations, in consequence of which he was everywhere held in high esteem, and in course of time was selected by Janus to share with him the government of the kingdom, which thereupon assumed the name of Saturnia, “a land of seed and fruit.”

The period of Saturn’s government was in later times sung of by poets as a happy time when sorrows and cares of life were unknown, when innocence, freedom, and gladness reigned throughout the land, in such a degree as to deserve the title of the golden age.  Greek mythology also has its golden age, said to have occurred during the reign of Cronus, and this, perhaps, more than any other circumstance, led to the identification of Saturnus and Cronus, in spite of the real difference between the two deities.

The name of Saturn’s wife was Ops.  Once a year, in the month of December, the Romans held a festival called Saturnalia in his honor.  It lasted from five to seven days, and was accompanied by amusements of all kinds.  During those days the ordinary distinctions were done away with between master and servant or slave.  No assemblies were held to discuss public affairs, and no punishments for crimes were judged.  Servants or slaves went about dressed like their masters and neighbors and received from them costly presents.  Children gave their parents or relatives presents of pictures, notably of a gaudy type, purchased in the street where the  picture dealers lived.

Mommsen has shown that even during the Empire the Saturnalia proper was a single day, December 19th.  It was the great holiday of the Roman year, not unlike our Christmas, and people greeted each other with the words ‘bona Saturnalia.’  Lucian tells us that the receiver of a book at that time was in honor bound to read it, no matter how long or uninteresting it might be.

There was a temple of Saturn in Rome, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, containing a figure of him with his feet wrapped round with pieces of woollen cloth, which could only be removed during the festival of the Saturnalia.  In one hand he held a curved garden-knife, as a sign of his having been the first to teach the people how to trim the vine and olive.   In this temple were preserved the state chest and the standards of the army.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

The Temple of Saturn in Rome

Saturnalia

The Old Bridge at Mostar

The Old Bridge at Mostar

The Old Bridge at MostarMostar has long been celebrated for its beautiful bridge, “It is of a single arch, 95 feet 3 inches in span, and, when the Narenta is low, about 70 feet from the water, or, to the top of the parapet, 76 feet.  The river, at the season I visited it, being unusually high, it was only 44.9 from the water’s surface; but even then the beauty of its arch and the lightness of its proportions were not diminished, and I have seen none that can surpass it.  The depth of the water was said to be about 34 feet, and in summer not more than 10.  The breadth of the arch is only 14.2, the road over it 13.2, and, with the two parapets, 14.10.  

On its north side is a raised conduit of stone, looking like a footway, which conveys water over the bridge to the eastern part of the city, and is supplied from a source in the undulating valley to the west.  The bridge rises about 10 feet in the centre; but this does not appear to have been so originally; and, though the lightness of its appearance may have been increased by lowering the two ends, the convenience of the bridge is much diminished, as it abuts on the east against a rising ground.  On each bank is a tower, built to command it; and the passage may be closed by the gate of the guard-house at the west end, in case of need.  Tradition pretends that the towers are on Roman substructions, and that the one on the eastern side is the most ancient.  The building of the bridge is attributed to Trajan, or, according to some, to Adrian; and report speaks of an inscription that once existed upon it with the name of one of those emperors.  The Turks attribute its erection to Suleyman the Magnificent; but the Visir, in answer to my question respecting its date, said that, though they claim it as a work of that sultan, the truth is it was there long before his time, and was probably built by the Pagans.’

excerpt by Sir J Gardner Wilkinson from The Gentlemans Magazine Volume 31 1849

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The Old Bridge on Unesco World Heritage Site

Stari Most on Archnet

The Old Bridge – Stari Most – Location on Google Maps