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.
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. 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.
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.
 According to Greek historians Strabo and Herodotus.
 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.
 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/