My Mystery School Experience–Facing Life Part II by Janet Rudolph


This post builds on Facing Life Part I.

I love the concept of ancient mystery schools. I found a modern one in Maine in 1997. The mystery school experience allowed me to delve into life’s meanings and magic in a very visceral and personal way. In my youth, I had intensely studied and adored Greek myths. Through the activities of the school, I got to live the myths. I became my own hero. I got to do the work on transforming painful aspects of my life into my own personal wisdom teachings.

Fundamentally, mystery schools teach the lessons of Mama Nature in a very intimate and vital manner. Mother Nature, Herself, provides the original and powerful mystery teachings. These include lessons of spirit, creation, life/death/rebirth, oneness, and harmony. They also include fear, longing, love and blessing.

There are three primary mystery school tools. The labyrinth, the mystery play, and baptism.  These rites all have the same goal: To reveal the mysteries of the spiritual world. All three tools are still used in some form today. All three focus on issues of life, death, and the veils between the worlds.

Labyrinths have become a popular focal point of meditations. They are considered the birth canal of the great mother goddess, symbolically representing the passageways that give rise to life here on earth. The labyrinth is meditation walkway that physically brings us inward and then outward back into the world. Egypt had a labyrinth that was said to be more impressive than the pyramids.[1]

Perhaps the most famous mystery play of all time is Christ’s passion play performed at Easter. Earlier passion plays told the stories of Persephone and Demeter at Eleusis or Isis and Osiris in Egypt. All these have commonalities. They involve trips to the underworld, a death, and a return to the living or a rebirth. Performing in a passion play or even witnessing one creates the conditions for personal transformation.

Baptism is perhaps best known as a Christian rite, although the Jewish mikvah is another form of purification by water. Jesus himself was baptized in the Jordan River. When I was at Mystery School, we did old-style baptisms which was in rushing mountain rivers in pre-dawn hours. The concept was to go into the watery womb-y waters in the dark, another symbolic death, and arise in the light, a rebirth.

Baptism was, by far, the most frightening of the three tools. In fact, it was terrifying. We had to walk cold and dark paths in the middle of the night to get to the streams. The waters were icy cold and rushing quickly. An amazing thing happened though. When we did our water dipping, our blood would turn hot. We called it “icy fire.” We considered baptism to be an on-going purification ritual and did it several times a year.

Below is a fictional story of an Egyptian who was historical according to the ancient historian Manetho. The description of the bathing is based on my own experience put into the structure of Egyptian mythology. There is no extant evidence that Egyptians engaged in baptism although they had the Nile at their doorstep and temples dedicated to rebirth experiences all along its banks.

Osarseph attended the ancient Mystery School at Giza, the most ancient of the ancients.  It was said that the school had its roots in the mists of the north from time before memory.  He sat at the feet of the elders and listened to their teachings.  He participated in the mystery plays of Osiris, Isis and Horus.  And when the Nile flooded, Osarseph, along with other initiates, went down to its banks in silence, in the darkness of the pre-dawn hours.  They had been preparing for days to participate in the sacred rite of water purification, older than Egypt itself.

In the days before their rite, the air had grown heavy as a silence and sadness descended upon the initiates.  They whispered among themselves about how they could feel Isis mourning for her lost husband, Osiris. They cried along with her. Their tears mingled with those of Isis dripping into the Nile causing it to swell with such ferocity.[2]  They were all wrapped in blankets, all frightened, all breathing deeply, attempting to keep their hearts from running right out of their chests. They left their blankets at the edge of the Nile while, naked and blinded by the night, they stepped into the roiling waters and faced those darkest, churning watery depths, the very essence of death itself.  They immersed themselves completely in the powerful currents and then rose straight up out of the maelstrom.  It would feel like the heavens and the earth were gathering to swallow them whole in fiery embrace.  A gasp of shivering cold mixed with shivering fear, a drowning death, then a gulp of life-affirming air as they each arose out of the waters. Each initiate completed three such immersions. Then they stepped out of the waters and experienced their rebirth in parallel to the sun just as it began to kiss the horizons of the land. Dawn, the Morning Star, blessed their journey. The remnants of the fiery purification would still be pumping through their veins.[3]

What have I learned from this repeated experience over 17 years? I have come to know that there are veils between the worlds. We come to our earth walk through the veils of mystery to experience, to learn and to love. We will all leave our bodies at some point and again walk through the veils to another mysterious adventure. And it is beautiful.

 

[1] According to Greek historians Strabo and Herodotus.
[2] Frazer, Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Macmillan Publishing Co, 1922; 429.  The Egyptians believed that the tears of Isis were mythically responsible for the yearly rising of the Nile.
[3] Osarseph was known as a liberator of his people. He changed his name to Moses. It is the only mention of a man named Moses in any extra-Biblical history. There is no known or obvious connection, though, between the famous Biblical Moses and Osarseph. Moses in Egyptian means son.

Janet Rudolph has written three books on the subject of ancient Biblical Teachings.  One Gods: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible, When Eve Was a Goddess: A Shamanic Look at the Bible, and the just recently released book, When Moses Was a Shaman. For more information visit her website at /www.mysticpagan.com/



Categories: General, Myth, Women's Voices

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15 replies

  1. I have heard people refer to ancient mystery schools off and on for decades, but I never been able to track them down to a source. Is there one tradition or many? Is the wisdom coming from western gnosticism and Neoplatonism via the alchemical or magical traditions, which broadly speaking are the source or one of the sources for for theosophy, rosacrucianism, the masons, christian science, new thought, the wiccans, etc? Has there been a feminist critique of the sources or teachings of the mystery traditions? Do they all view Christianity (understood through their hermeneutic of course) as one of the mystery traditions? Do they believe in great teachers/wise men? Is the symbol system/s focused on male or female deities (you mention Osiris)? Do they all focus on providing some kind of individual immortality?

    I really don’t know and have not been able to find out much through internet searches over the years. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Wow Carol so many and such thoughtful questions! I will have to take them one by one. While undergoing mystery school training, it was quite experiential. There were cross-cultural studies but I do not come from an academic background and so I am not all that familiar with all your vocabulary and references. I was at the school for 17 years. I have been away from it for 5 years and am now just settling in with the lessons and wisdoms of the experiences. I will try to express as best I can. This will take me some time to wend through all your points.

      #1) “Is there one tradition or many?” In my experience, the mystery school comes from paganism. “Pagan” in general has gotten a bad rap. It simply means “people of the earth.” These were/are the people who watch and pay attention to the stars. Who follow the seasons. Who are deeply connected with the cycles of life and how they feel in our bodies, how they manifest here on Earth. This experience is universal because we all share our precious planet and the experience of being human. But how those lessons have been expressed, manifested and taught grew differently in different cultures and places.

      Some of this was because of different terrain. For example people of the desert would have different rituals than those of the rain forest. People on islands had different creation stories than those who were land-locked. Then there is the beauty of each culture’s intrinsic knowledge and wisdom.

      So short answer: In my experience, the font of knowledge that grew into the mystery schools is ONE. The way it is expressed is many.

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    • #2 (skipping around a bit) “Do they believe in great teachers/wise men?” Yes wise women too. I think the wise, the elders, the wisdom teachers would be called shamans. That’s why I titled my latest book “When Moses Was a Shaman.”

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    • Hi Carol, here is #3, your question about wisdom coming from so many different threads of traditions. I really don’t know any of them well enough to comment on who took what from where and whom. When I have read about these different traditions however, I have found that they have taken strands from the mystery school tradition and either made it their own and/or changed it to their particular philosophy is some way – and then brought in other strands. I have perhaps read the most about the Masons and I do find their “mysteries” to be fascinating and connected

      #4) Christianity? This is a tough one, and please remember I do not come from a background of these traditional religions. There have been pockets of Christian thought that I do find alluring and follow the mystery school trains of thought. Thomas Merton, Matthew Fox, Sr. Miriam MacGillis from Genesis Farms in NJ, Frederick Franck of Pacem in Terris in NY are some who come to mind for me.

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    • #5) Symbols and systems focused on male or female deities? I have found that the process is a coming together of qualities of deities that would be considered male and those that were once considered female. The energies of duality in whatever form people all them, come together to create energy, to stir the cauldron of creation (usually connected with females), and to push renewal out into the world.

      There isn’t much extant information about women partaking or leading such rituals in the distant past. Its my personal view that that has been scrubbed but I can’t prove it. Look at Miriam and her role in the Exodus, doesn’t it feel like there is so much more that isn’t there anymore?

      #6) Feminist critique? I don’t know anyone else who does this work so no . . .I don’t know of any.

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    • Final one: “Individual immortality.” I wouldn’t use the world immortality because people can interpret that word is so many ways. Rather, I would call these experiences, meditations or musings where we come from before we take this Earth walk and who are after we have completed this Earth walk. All we truly know for certainty is that it is part of a great mystery of creation.

      There were authors who wrote about the mysteries who were contemporaneous to the time they were performed in Greece. I quote them in my Moses book and can write more about them here if there is interest. Here is one such quote from Sophocles speaking about the Eleusinian mysteries: “Thrice happy are those of mortals, who having seen those rites depart for Hades; for to them alone is granted to have a true life there;to the rest, all there is evil.”

      Does that speak immortality to you or does it speak to gaining a deeper understanding and acceptance about the mortality of life that we all face?

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  2. Very interesting, thought provoking and informative, thank you! And I have entered to the divine feminine app to share! <3

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  3. I love it that you and perhaps initiates throughout time went to rivers, braved darkness and cold, greeted the dawn. Whatever does or doesn’t come after this earth experience/initiation, the elements of life, earth, air, fire,and water are there to challenge, transform and embrace us. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Like Carol I seem to be very ignorant about mystery schools so I thoroughly appreciated your detailed reply… thank you.

    I am struck by the commonalities. That most religious practices involve trips to the underworld, a death, and a return to the living or a rebirth suggests that this archetypal theme belongs to every one of us…

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  5. An interesting and beautiful description. It underscores the power of the concept of baptism, a symbol of birth that includes all the scary, messy, painful, laboring darkness of the unknowing and the liberation, wisdom, and healing that it brings. Birth – the birth of the cosmos, the birth of communities, the birth of a new day of peace – all these are so powerful, yet also terrifying, as you say. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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